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House of Commons Hansard

Commons Chamber

12 January 2017
Volume 619

    House of Commons

    Thursday 12 January 2017

    The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


    [Mr Speaker in the Chair]

    Oral Answers to Questions


    The Secretary of State was asked—

    Network Rail

  • 1. What discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on further devolution of Network Rail. [908115]

  • 5. What discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on further devolution of Network Rail. [908119]

  • I met the Minister for Transport and the Islands in the Scottish Government, Humza Yousaf, in October last year. I welcome working together to improve services for rail passengers within the current devolution settlement.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but can he explain why the Government are happy to devolve responsibility for maintenance and track operations on the Oxford to Cambridge line, yet they are so reluctant to devolve the same responsibility to the Scottish Government for Scotland?

  • The point we have consistently made is that there was no recommendation by the Smith commission to devolve the whole of Network Rail to Scotland. The Scottish Government can specify, fund and procure for ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper. They can also specify and fund all major projects, and we are devolving the British Transport police. That strikes me as a hefty menu for the Scottish Government to be engaged with.

  • I thank the Minister for his reply. The Reform Scotland think-tank published a report in November calling for Network Rail to be devolved—perhaps the Secretary of State has read it. The Minister will also be aware that an ever-growing list of people advocate further rail devolution, so will he do the right thing and commit to a date for opening discussions with the Scottish Government on this matter?

  • Devolution does not just occur within Governments and within Whitehall, and between Whitehall and Scotland. A significant amount of operational devolution is occurring within Network Rail as we speak. A Scottish route within Network Rail that will have much more independence and freedom of action is being set up. I urge the Scottish Government and Scottish Members to engage in that devolution process, not least because the Scottish Government are co-operating with the Office of Rail and Road on the periodic review that will determine the output for control period 6 within Scotland.

  • A report commissioned by Transport Scotland showed that Network Rail’s original cost estimates for Scottish projects were unreliable. Does the Minister agree that, especially when projects overrun by hundreds of millions of pounds, those who commission the work should have the power to hold Network Rail to account?

  • I reiterate the point that with the new devolution settlement within Network Rail and the growing independence of the Scottish route within Network Rail, there are ample levers available to Members here and indeed the Scottish Government to influence how the Scottish route director delivers those infrastructure projects.

  • Why does the Minister feel that Scotland does not need a rail project capability based in Scotland that is accountable to the people of Scotland?

  • I return to how I started my answer and remind the hon. Gentleman that we had a lengthy discussion about what was contained in the Smith commission. This did not emerge from that commission, so we are not taking it forward.

  • Southeastern Rail

  • 2. What plans he has to improve services for passengers on Southeastern rail. [908116]

  • We will launch the formal consultation on proposals for the new Southeastern franchise in February. I hope that people across the franchise area will participate in it, enabling my Department and the team working within the franchise to make informed decisions about the specification for the next franchise, particularly regarding how we expand capacity for passengers.

  • Not only are my constituents of all political persuasions disgusted by the manner in which the Secretary of State has politicised this issue, but they have absolutely no confidence in his proposed solution for the Southeastern franchise. A previous attempt to merely involve Transport for London in the design of Southern’s 2009 to 2015 franchise failed because that did not involve its proven concession model for suburban rail services, so can the Secretary of State tell us why on earth he thinks that repeating this failed approach will deliver much-needed improvements for Southeastern passengers?

  • There has been no politicisation of this discussion. This decision was taken after the Mayor’s business plan was analysed across government, and after discussions with neighbouring authorities and people who know the route. The truth is that the Mayor’s proposals offered no extra capacity for passengers but a whole lot of uncosted, unfunded promises. They also involved a very substantial top-down reorganisation. The approach we have chosen is the same one that we have taken for Northern and in the midlands, which is to create a partnership to develop a franchise that will work for all passengers in Kent and south-east London to deliver the capacity that we need.

  • I support the Transport Secretary on that. My constituents in Kent are deeply concerned that, for too long, London has acted as a selfish city seeking to benefit itself at the expense of the people of Kent and the other home counties. It is not right for London to act like a “Hunger Games”-style capital seeking to subjugate the districts. We need fair rail services for Kent, Essex and the other home counties, and I urge the Secretary of State to carry on and to uphold his decision.

  • I assure my hon. Friend that I have every intention of doing so. This is a partnership arrangement that brings together London, Kent County Council and my Department to do the right thing for passengers. It is interesting that the Mayor could offer no proposals to expand capacity on these routes. I intend to bring forward proposals that do offer expanded capacity for passengers on those routes.

  • The Secretary of State’s leaked letter reveals that he reneged on the suburban rail agreement because of his obsession with keeping services “out of the clutches” of a potential Labour Mayor—those are his words. He has put party politics ahead of passengers and clearly prefers to see trains running late than running on time under Labour. Will he now agree to an independent assessment of the proposal by a respected figure outwith his Department, given yesterday’s revelations of conflicting commercial interests, to restore credibility to the process and ensure proper consideration of the needs of long-suffering passengers?

  • I cannot believe what I have just heard from the hon. Gentleman. He talks about putting party politics before passengers in the week when the Leader of the Opposition said that he would join a picket line to perpetuate the unnecessary strikes on Southern rail that are causing so much damage to passengers. I will not take the hon. Gentleman seriously until I hear him condemning those strikes and telling the workers to go back to work.

  • Cross-border Transport

  • 3. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Welsh Government on cross-border transport. [908117]

  • My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Mr Ken Skates. Their positive and useful discussion recognised the importance of cross-border transport and our commitment to deliver improvements, such as the investment we are making in the Halton curve.

  • The investment by the Welsh Government of £43 million in the Wrexham to Chester line, mainly in England, will lead to a partial dualling of that line by April this year. What more will it take to persuade the UK Conservative Government to match the Welsh Government’s investment by investing in more transport infrastructure in that region, for which an unanswerable case has been made?

  • The Government are already investing significantly in our rail network—more than at any point since the Victorian era. The Mersey Dee rail taskforce has produced its growth prospectus—Growth Track 360—and it is working with the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). I understand that it is now prioritising its objectives, and we will continue to work closely with it.

  • The case for reopening the station at Bristol Road, Stonehouse, has been well argued and firmly established. Does the Minister agree that that is exactly the kind of initiative we need to enhance links between Wales, Gloucestershire and the south-west of England?

  • My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and I agree with him.

  • The Minister mentioned the Halton curve; he will know that it is an important part of the cross-border links between my constituency and Wales. Will he confirm that the project is on time, and tell us the date on which it will be completed?

  • I will check the latest information and write to the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is that it is exactly on time.

  • As the Minister knows, the Operation Stack relief lorry park is vital for cross-border transport links between Kent and the continent. The owner of Westenhanger castle has been actively seeking a meeting with the Department for the past six weeks to discuss accessing the compensation package that he has agreed with Highways England, in return for which he will withdraw his application for a judicial review against the park. Will the Minister urge one of his ministerial colleagues to meet me and the owner of Westenhanger castle so that we can resolve this matter and get on with building the lorry park?

  • Focusing on cross-border matters relating to Wales would help.

  • That was a very entrepreneurial question, Mr Speaker. I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that the roads Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), will indeed meet him.

  • The Government could do something about the cross-border position between the Rhondda valley and the upper Afan valley because they still own the tunnel that was used by the train from Treherbert down to Swansea. Will the Government please make sure that I can have the meeting with the Secretary of State for which I have been asking for several weeks to come up with innovative ideas so that this can become a major new cycle track?

  • I am afraid that my local knowledge of those tunnels has not kept pace with the hon. Gentleman’s. All I can say is that I have heard his point and will take it forward with my colleagues.

  • Six lines radiate out from Chester, two of which are cross-border lines, hence the “360” in Growth Track 360. Chester is recognised as a pinch point within that railway development, so may I invite the Minister to have his next meeting on cross-border transport with Ken Skates in Chester so that he can see what preliminary work might be done before he presses ahead with the main work?

  • It is always delightful to visit the city of Chester, and I look forward to doing so.

  • Transport Infrastructure: Teesside

  • 4. What recent investment his Department has made in transport infrastructure in Teesside. [908118]

  • The Tees valley is benefiting from the Government’s significant investment in transport infrastructure across the country. Most recently, we have agreed to fund the Tees valley authorities to develop their plans for a new Tees crossing and to improve connectivity from Teesport to the A1.

  • I thank the Minister for his reply. Last week we received the welcome news that Tesco will be basing all its non-food warehousing at its existing centre in Teesport. Given that economic and employment boost for Teesside, will the Minister reciprocate by pledging full backing and funding for the A66 and a second Tees crossing, as called for by the Teesside combined authority?

  • My right hon. Friend the Chancellor committed to dualling the A66 in last year’s autumn statement. On the new Tees crossing, we have provided funding to take the business case to the next stage. We will happily work with the area’s local authorities. I recognise the importance of Teesport to the local economy and the value that a new Tees crossing would provide, so I am very keen to see that take shape.

  • High Speed 2: Costs

  • 6. What recent estimate he has made of the cost to date of High Speed 2. [908120]

  • I am committed to managing the cost of HS2 and ensuring maximum value for the taxpayer. Total expenditure on HS2 in the period from 2009-10 to 2015-16 was £1.4 billion, of which £450 million was spent on land and property. The rest has ensured that HS2 is on track for delivery, and includes money for developing the scheme design, consulting affected communities, bringing the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill to Parliament and developing HS2 Ltd. Figures for the current financial year will be available in the summer.

  • The cost of HS2 is not just to the taxpayer but to those it affects. The House of Lords Select Committee on the HS2 Bill has recommended amending it to ensure that HS2 Ltd does not have a blanket power to compulsorily purchase land for regeneration or development, and to provide that it must limit its land acquisitions to what is needed for the scheme, particularly in relation to clause 48. As you know only too well, Mr Speaker, farmers, landowners and communities have been blighted for years by the scheme, and the threat of further compulsory purchase orders is truly worrying. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that he will accept the Committee’s important and very welcome recommendation on clause 48 and alleviate the anxiety of those affected by this project?

  • First, on behalf of the Government, I thank all members of the House of Lords Select Committee for their work over the past few months. Indeed, I thank those who served on the equivalent Committee in this House, for whom this was a long and arduous task. We are carefully considering the Lords recommendations and we will publish our response shortly. If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I will save my detailed response for that publication, but I am looking extremely carefully at the recommendation to which she referred.

  • I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that, with regard to the option to have a station in the centre of Sheffield, there is currently no money to get trains out of the station and north to Leeds, and there is no money to increase the station’s capacity at the southern end to get better connectivity to trans-Pennine trains. There is even no money to electrify the line between Sheffield station and the main HS2 route. Does this not increasingly look like a cut-price option? Will he agree to meet local MPs and councillors, and other interested parties, to discuss these matters?

  • May I start by wishing the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday? [Hon. Members: “For tomorrow.”] For tomorrow. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), has indeed been involved in such discussions, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the original proposal for a station at Meadowhall was opposed by the city council, which wanted the route to pass through the city centre. It is in response to pressure from within Sheffield that we have revisited those original plans, but I assure him that those discussions will continue.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the costs of the project need to be kept under control, the economic benefits it will bring to areas such as Long Eaton in my constituency will far outweigh some of the costs that we are talking about today?

  • This is one of the key aspects of the development of this project, so my hon. Friend makes an important point. What is happening in the area around Long Eaton, and the new development of a station and surrounding facilities at Toton, will make a huge difference to her area. As she knows, we have been discussing how best to make sure that we get the right solution for Long Eaton, but we will continue to work for her constituents to reflect in the final design what works best for them.

  • Given what will be the eye-wateringly huge final costs of HS2, surely it makes sense to maximise the use of this asset, so will the Secretary of State tell us whether the line will be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week? If not, will the otherwise wasted capacity be used for freight—and if not, why not?

  • Of course the whole point about HS2 is that it releases capacity on the existing west coast main line for freight. As a result, I see the potential for significant increases in freight across the west coast main line area. As for timetabling, that is a matter for those who decide what is the best commercial proposition for that route, but we expect, and are planning for, very intensive use of the route across a wide variety of destinations, including Stoke-on-Trent.

  • My right hon. Friend’s last answer worries me slightly. Lichfield suffers all the disadvantages of having the line go through it and no station, because it is too small. I was hoping that he would say that the freeing up of capacity would mean that the west coast main line could have more trains stopping at Lichfield Trent Valley, but is that now not going to be the case, because the line will be blocked up with freight?

  • No, I think there will be room for both. The benefit of HS2 is that it provides an opportunity for more commuter trains, more intermediate trains and more services to places that do not currently receive them. By taking the fast trains off the west coast main line—trains that go straight up to places such as Manchester and Liverpool—more opportunity is provided for better services in places such as Lichfield and the Trent valley, which the current mix of services makes it difficult to achieve.

  • Mr Speaker, you and the Minister will remember that when I said that the cost of HS2 would soar past £60 billion I was mocked, but it is now past £60 billion and rising. The chief executive has quit and the people in my constituency would like this folly to be stopped now, with the money—£60 billion and rising—put into saving the health service and into our local government, which is going bankrupt.

  • I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but actually the plans for HS2 have been widely welcomed across the north of England. The project will make a significant difference to the economy of his region. The point I would make to him about cost is that one reason why we are spending more money than is spent on equivalent lines in some other countries is because we are spending money on amelioration measures that minimise the impact on the environment.

  • As well as updating the costs of the project, may I urge my right hon. Friend to update the economic benefits to communities such as mine in Milton Keynes, which, as he says, will benefit from a significant increase in commuter and inter-city traffic as a result of the release of capacity on the west coast line?

  • We will continue to provide information about the benefits of this project, but my hon. Friend is right to say that in places such as Milton Keynes—it is one of our most important growth areas, and it will need more commuter services north to south and east to west—the introduction of HS2 will make it possible to deliver a much better service for his constituents and others.

  • The Adam Smith Institute has warned that HS2 could end up costing up to £80 billion, which would equate to nine times more per mile than comparable high-speed tracks in France. How can the Government assure the public that the already sky-high costs of this project are not going to spiral even further out of control?

  • As I said, this is a choice; we want not only to deliver high-quality infrastructure for the future, but to do so in a way that is environmentally sensitive. That means spending money on tunnels, cuttings and things that other countries would perhaps choose not to do. I want to retain a careful stewardship of Britain’s green and pleasant land while delivering what we need for the future, and that is what we are doing.

  • Access for All

  • 7. What recent assessment he has made of progress on delivery of Access for All projects by Network Rail. [908122]

  • Since 2014, the Access for All programme has completed accessible routes at 25 stations, with 12 more currently in construction, and a further 52 at various stages of design and development.

  • The Minister will understand the real anger in Alfreton at the further delays in the Access for All programme at the station there, where many passengers still cannot use the southbound platform. Can he at least reassure them that the station will be prioritised in the next block of funding, so that the improvements are done in 2019?

  • We had to delay 26 Access for All projects into control period 6, one of which was, unfortunately, Alfreton, because the project there was less developed than others we were considering. Nevertheless, I can reassure my hon. Friend that I am making it clear to Network Rail that I expect the improvements to be delivered early in control period 6, after 2019.

  • Does the Minister recognise the importance of the maximum number of people being able to use our rail services? Why are schemes such as Access for All seen as expendable?

  • I certainly do not agree that they are regarded as expendable. We have reached a point at which roughly 70% of passenger journeys are from step-free access stations, of which there are roughly 450 throughout the network. The hon. Lady wrote to me regarding a station in her constituency, and I have asked my officials to look into that more closely to make sure we fully understand what has occurred there. I hope to reply to her soon.

  • The McNulty report said that the rail industry had to do more to operate efficiently and bring down costs. Will the Minister say what he is doing to persuade the rail industry to do that in relation to step-free access, so that it can be extended to more stations, such as New Barnet?

  • My right hon. Friend makes an important point. When we are looking at improving our accessibility projects throughout the network, we need to ensure that the solutions we come up with are cost-effective but not gold-plated. I am sure that when she was in my role she found what I find now, which is that sometimes projects come before us the cost of which can scarcely be justified and that the same outcome can be achieved much more cheaply.

  • Confusion and frustration abound in the Lawrence Hill area of my constituency, in relation to step-free access and other disability access improvements to the Lawrence Hill station. Local people have been frustrated by the works there, and rumours abound that they are being cancelled, postponed or just stopped. Will the Minister agree to meet me and visit Lawrence Hill station to talk to local residents about the situation? Preferably, he could clear the matter up right now.

  • I am not familiar with the exact details for that station, but I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discover what is occurring there.

  • Rail: Accessibility

  • 8. What progress is being made on ensuring that trains and stations are fully accessible to disabled people. [908123]

  • We are committed to improving accessibility on the rail network. Roughly 70% of train fleets operating passenger services currently meet modern accessibility standards, with work on the remaining vehicles due to be completed by 2020.

  • A moment ago, I was engrossed in the answer to the question asked by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), as that issue also affects my constituency. I very much hope that we make progress on the Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road stations.

    On accessibility on trains, the Minister will be aware of the recent case of the Team GB Paralympian, Anne Wafula Strike. It was very brave of her to come forward and speak about what must have been a humiliating experience when no disabled-access toilet was available on the train. What is the Minister doing to ensure that situations like that do not occur and that disabled people are treated with respect?

  • I am glad that the hon. Lady brings up that case. I am sure she shared the same sentiments that I am sure every Member felt on reading that story: it was simply unacceptable. We have made it clear to CrossCountry, through officials, that it was not good enough, and I will reiterate that when I next speak to the company. More importantly, I want to ensure that we meet our target of every rail carriage, including the toilets, being fully accessible by 2020. In situations in which the accessible toilet is out of order, for whatever reason, either that carriage must be taken out of service or, if that would have unacceptable service consequences, any individual on the train who might need the accessible toilet must be made aware of the situation before boarding and thereby have the chance to make alternative arrangements.

  • Money was secured more than three years ago for step-free access, not only for disabled people but for all people, at Garforth train station. Network Rail has been stalling and delaying. I have secured a commitment to the printing of a poster advertising that the work will happen by May, but may I urge my hon. Friend to speak to Network Rail to get the work done as soon as possible? The money has been in place for three years; delays are not necessary.

  • I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend. My initial understanding at this stage is that the works at Garforth, as indeed with many on the trans-Pennine routes, are interlinked with the upgrades we are planning on the trans-Pennine network. I am happy to have a further discussion with him.

  • Last Friday, a disabled wheelchair user, Sandra Nighy, on Southern was left stranded on the train platform in the freezing cold for two hours because there was no one to help her on to the train despite booking assistance 48 hours in advance. She was on an unmanned station, and the trains that passed her by were driver-only with no on-board supervisor. The law is absolutely clear: train operating companies must provide reasonable access for disabled passengers. Does the Minister agree that the failure to do so strips disabled passengers of their dignity and of their right to travel and breaches the Disability Discrimination Act 1995?

  • I am glad that the hon. Lady raises that case. When I heard about it, my interpretation was that, in this case, Southern had not applied the policies that it said were in place for all disabled passengers. The issue is that the situation was far worse because the lady in question booked through Passenger Assist, so the company had plenty of notice that she was on her way. However, under the unions’ proposals, that train would have been cancelled in the first place and unable to depart.

  • Access for so many disabled and particularly elderly passengers is dependent on advice that can be had from ticket offices. In that respect, can the Minister give me any reassurance about proposals to close the ticket office in God’s own town of New Milton?

  • I am not specifically familiar with proposals in New Milton, but I see no reason why we should have fewer people employed in our stations over the coming years, but the roles that they discharge need to be broadened out to involve helping more passengers, not fewer.

  • Penalty Fares

  • 9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the use of the Strategic Rail Authority’s penalty fare rules 2002 by train operating companies on staff meeting revenue targets; and if he will make a statement. [908125]

  • Train operators are permitted to use penalty fare schemes to deter fare evasion, while allowing inspectors to apply discretion when dealing with passengers. In December 2016, the Department announced planned improvements to the penalty fares regime by including a new third stage independent appeals panel. This and all existing appeals bodies will be independent of train operators and owning groups.

  • I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree that train operating companies should not be putting their staff under undue pressure to issue penalty fares? Will he commit to look at the rules to ensure that discretion is always an option where appropriate?

  • I understand the point that my hon. Friend seeks to make. Although revenue protection is very important on our railways, so, too, is proportionality and discretion, hence the changes that I have made not just to the appeals regime, but to the fares and ticketing action plan that I announced last month. For example, those who forget their railcards now have more option to ensure that they are not unfairly penalised. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss his concerns further.

  • Ticketless travel and fare dodging is one of many issues on the Chase line. I experienced it at first hand when I joined the London Midland revenue protection team last month. The £20 penalty is insufficient to deter fare dodging. Will my hon. Friend agree to review penalty fares, so that they do become an effective deterrent?

  • I am more than aware of the sterling work that my hon. Friend has done to further the cause of revenue protection by checking tickets on the Chase line, for which I congratulate her. She is quite right that there are concerns within the industry that the penalty fares are set too low. At the moment, I am focusing on reviewing the appeals system to make sure that it is fair and proportionate, and discretion has a role to play. I will keep penalty fares under review.

  • Wales and Borders: Rail Franchise

  • 10. What his plans are for the next rail franchise for Wales and Borders; and if he will make a statement. [908126]

  • It has been agreed in principle that Welsh Government Ministers will procure and manage the next Wales and Borders rail franchise. My Department is working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure the appropriate transfer of the necessary powers. However, I want to make it absolutely clear that, as part of those arrangements, we are ensuring that the train services and stations used by passengers in England are protected and, importantly, treated consistently with those in Wales, both during this procurement process and across the whole life of the franchise.

  • That is a very welcome answer from the Secretary of State. We have briefed him about the extraordinary overcrowding on Arriva trains over the past few years, particularly in the summer months—with the windows sealed and a lot of people cramming into the carriages, it has been intolerable. Will he ensure that the next franchise accommodates the levels required for passengers to travel safely and more services from Shrewsbury to Birmingham airport?

  • I am aware of the capacity issues on the Wales and the Borders franchise and, indeed, on the CrossCountry franchise. One of the challenges, owing to the rapid growth in recent years, is that there are not enough diesel trains to go around at the moment. I had the great pleasure of being at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham for the launch of the first new hybrid train to be manufactured there. That will open up the opportunity for us to deliver significant change to rolling stock across our network, and will enable us to address many of the overcrowding challenges to which my hon. Friend refers.

  • The Secretary of State will be aware that he decided last October to devolve the cross-border franchise to the Welsh Government, but current legislation does not allow a public sector organisation to bid for the new franchise. Will he think again and allow public sector organisations the ability to bid for the franchise, to allow the public the best possible service when it begins?

  • The Labour party is keen on renationalising our railways. What I would remind it is that if its policies were implemented we would lose the ability to deliver the new trains that are being delivered right across this country, paid for by private sector investment. What Labour Members are calling for is turning back the clock and having older trains on our network. I am afraid that that is not my view.

  • Rail Franchising: Public Sector

  • 11. What plans he has for the future role of the public sector as a result of the development of rail franchising policy. [908128]

  • Franchising has been instrumental in improving the railways for passengers and as part of the enormous growth in rail usage since privatisation 20 years ago. Our approach to rail reform is about delivering an improved service for passengers through better teamwork between Network Rail and passenger rail franchises, and making Network Rail more customer focused by giving more power to its local route managers.

  • We now know that the Secretary of State is putting politics before the interests of passengers, and he is taking a dogmatic approach by ignoring what could improve our railway system. He has refused to allow the Mayor of London to take over suburban services, in spite of the fact that his predecessor thought that that was a good idea. The public are in favour of public ownership: 58% of people polled by Transport for London are in favour of the Mayor having greater control over suburban services and only 14% support his position. Is it not time that public ownership of our railways was considered by the Government, and are not the public in favour of it?

  • It is hardly a surprise that Conservative Members for constituencies outside London have doubts about a Labour Mayor inside London running local services, particularly when the Mayor delivered a business plan that did not offer improved capacity and was founded on a lot of uncosted promises. So far from this Mayor, we have seen a fare freeze that was not a fare freeze and a London of no rail strikes with a rail strike last Monday. I do not take the Mayor’s promises at face value, I am afraid. We have taken a partnership approach that also listens to the people of Kent, who are equally important in this franchise and said they should be equal partners with the people of London in designing it.

  • In 1993, the public sector British Rail withdrew services on the Cleethorpes to Sheffield line, making it a Saturdays-only service, which means that people in Gainsborough, Brigg and such towns cannot get to Cleethorpes to enjoy all that it has to offer. As yet, the private sector has not seen fit to restore that service to six days a week. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers meet me and Members for neighbouring constituencies to discuss the issue?

  • We are always happy to talk to my hon. Friend, who remains a doughty champion of his constituency, but he is right to make the point that if we turned the clock back 30 or 40 years to the days of British Rail, the debate in the House today would be about line closures, station closures and a reduction in services. Today, the issues are overcrowding due to numbers rising so fast, new stations, improved facilities and new trains. That is the difference between the policies we have followed and the policies Labour Members want to follow.

  • The Government’s franchising policy lies in tatters, with desperate attempts to retrofit contracts to protect operators’ profits and, as revealed yesterday, National Express taking the money and running, selling the c2c franchise to the Italian state. The Secretary of State’s director of passenger services awarded the disastrous Southern franchise, while owning shares in the company and advising the winner bidder. The country has had enough of these sleazy deals. Is it not way past time for franchising to be scrapped and the UK rail industry to be revitalised through public ownership?

  • The clock ticks ever backwards. The Opposition do not want inward investment or private sector investment in our railways, but, of course, we still do not hear from them any words on behalf of passengers about the strikes. The Labour party takes money from the rail unions and defends them when they are on strike, no matter what the inconvenience to passengers is. The Opposition are a disgrace. They should stand up and say that these strikes should stop. I will say one thing about the Mayor of London: at least he had the wit and wisdom this week to say that the strikes are wrong. I hear nothing from the hon. Gentleman about the strikes being wrong.

  • Ultra-low Emission Vehicles

  • 12. What progress has been made in encouraging the use of ultra-low emission vehicles. [908129]

  • Ah, we are blessed.

  • Mr Speaker, I waited to rise to build excited anticipation. We want the UK to be the world leader in the take-up and manufacture of ultra-low emission vehicles. Last year, more ultra-low emission vehicles were sold in the UK than in any other country in Europe.

  • The British built Nissan Leaf continues to be one of the most popular electric cars in the world, but what are the Government doing to support the uptake of other types of vehicles?

  • Like Cicero, we believe that the good of the people is the chief law, so it is for public wellbeing that we want to see low emissions from all types of vehicles. Just yesterday, I announced the results of the low emission freight and logistics trial, which will see the Government providing no less than £24 million to help place about 300 low and zero-emission vehicles into commercial fleets across the UK.

  • One rather wonders whether the results of the trial were communicated to the right hon. Gentleman’s hero, Cicero.

  • The Minister says that he wants to see emissions reduced in all types of vehicles, so will he explain to the House why just 160,000 of the polluting cheat devices in Volkswagen cars have been remediated out of the 1.2 million cheat devices that are currently on the roads in the UK? At this rate of reparation, it will take three years to clean up Volkswagen’s dirty diesel cheat devices.

  • The hon. Lady is right. Volkswagen needs to do more, which is why I am going to meet its representatives at the beginning of next week to tell them exactly that. I insisted that the company paid £1.1 million, which we received on Christmas eve—I demanded it as a Christmas present—because that was the money that taxpayers had to spend as a result of the emissions scandal.

  • I am sorry to say that, since Transport questions began, news broke in my constituency that another person has lost their life as a result of a fatal car accident. I hope that the Minister and the House will join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of the victim.

    I welcome the fact that the Government will be doing an awful lot more to encourage the use of ultra-low emission vehicles. However, councils such as mine want to introduce a low emission zone, and they will struggle to introduce electric car charging points and new enforcement cameras without planning and regulatory changes. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these issues will be at the top of his agenda with the Department for Communities and Local Government?

  • To start with—road safety is a concern of the whole House. My hon. Friend was right to mention the tragedy that he did.

    Charging points are vital. One of the great challenges for industry and Government is to ensure that there are adequate numbers of charging points across the whole country. That particularly applies in rural areas such as the one I represent. There may be a need for legislative change to that effect, and we are considering that. We are introducing a modern transport Bill, in which we will address the issue of charging points.

  • Will any Volkswagen executives face criminal damages here for the diesel emissions scandal?

  • I hold no candle for those businesses that do not do right by consumers or, by the way, by their workers. The actions that have taken place in the United States, which I guess is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to and the actions that are being considered by Volkswagen customers oblige the Government to think again about what further steps we can take, and we are doing so. I have not ruled out a further investigation. I will discuss that with the Secretary of State and raise it with Volkswagen at the meeting I described.

  • Constituents tell me that one of the barriers to their buying electric vehicles is the complexity and variety of public charging facilities, which require them to carry numerous cards and forms of payment. Does the Minister have any plans to bring some regulation to this market to simplify it and make it more accessible and to encourage more people to purchase electric cars?

  • Indeed. Was it not Ronald Reagan who said that the future does not belong to the fainthearted? We must be big-hearted and far-sighted in respect of electric vehicles, and that does mean more charging points. We will create a regulatory regime sufficient to provide those charging points and, therefore, to assuage the public doubts to which my hon. Friend has drawn the House’s attention.

  • Despite all the inducements, only 3% of new car sales are of electric cars. Should the Minister be doing more to encourage liquefied petroleum gas switching or hydrogen fuel cell cars?

  • The hon. Gentleman will know about our Go Ultra Low campaign, which is match funded by industry, and which is designed to encourage the kind of learning he described. We need to persuade people that that switching is desirable. It is partly about charging points, partly about battery reliability and partly about people simply knowing that electric vehicles can be good for them. We will continue that campaign in exactly the spirit he recommends.

  • The VW emissions defeat device cynically deceived 1.2 million vehicle owners in the UK, and I declare that I am one of them. I am delighted that the Minister is going to have VW in next week, because drivers in the UK are being tret unfairly compared with VW drivers in the US. In the absence of any action by the Government so far, UK motorists are having to pursue private group litigation against VW. I want the Minister to understand how badly let down UK VW drivers feel because it appears that the Government are letting VW off the hook, although I hope that that is not the case. Will he, even at this late stage, offer support to the motorists in the UK pursuing their own action?

  • Yes. I am actually on the same page as the hon. Lady. By the way, I am glad we have moved on from the belligerent bombast of earlier—I do not think it did the Opposition any favours—and she makes her case reasonably. There is a case for further steps. That is partly about the retrofit described earlier by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), it is partly about the payment of taxpayer money I described, and it is partly about the consumer. We should consider further steps and, having considered them, take them as and when necessary.

  • Road Infrastructure and Capacity: North-West

  • 14. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of road infrastructure and capacity in the north-west. [908131]

  • The Government recently published three strategic studies into long-standing transport challenges in the north-west and have committed to major investment based on the findings. Highways England’s route strategies —by the way, I set up Highways England on my last visit to the Department—have assessed the performance of the strategic roads network and the pressures it faces. Three strategic studies relate to the north-west. Refreshed versions, drawing on the evidence submitted by local stakeholders last year, will be published, and I think they should be published soon, so let us make it March—we will publish them then.

  • In 2014, the roads investment strategy proposed nine new projects in the north-west, but, to date, the plans for just one of them have been announced, while the Government spend six times more on transport infrastructure in London than in the north. How does the Minister think the whole northern powerhouse thing is going, because, when it comes to transport, like much of the traffic in St Helens, it seems to be going nowhere and not very fast?

  • I do not think that is typical of the hon. Gentleman—at least, I hope it is not—because he is being ungenerous and, to some degree, might I say, not admitting all he knows. For surely he will know of the A570 linkway, valued at £3.2 million—that is in St Helens, by the way. He will know of the Windle Island junction improvements, valued at £3.2 million—again in St Helens. He will also know of the Newton-le-Willows interchange, valued at £14.4 million. We are not only acting in the north-west but in his constituency, and he does not want to tell us about it.

  • Order. This question is about the north-west of England. I am not a geographer, but I say to the hon. Lady that last time I looked, it seemed to me that Taunton Deane was rather a long way from the north-west of England.

  • It is the surface of the roads in the north-west within the existing infrastructure that worries me; it is a bit like driving on the surface of the moon at times. Where county councils fail to tackle the problem of the plague of potholes that besets motorists in the north-west, will the Minister be imaginative and look at ways whereby district councils could bid for the money that the Government make available so that they can tackle this problem?

  • My hon. Friend is right that the noise and disturbance from poor road surfaces has a significant effect on the journeys of those who use cars and trucks. As he knows, I have been in the north-west in a vehicle with him—an open-top vehicle, I hasten to add—waving to his constituents. I know how important road surfaces are, so I will certainly look at his suggestion, not only for the north-west but across the whole nation.

  • Topical Questions

  • T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908105]

  • As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, I have said in this House and elsewhere that I am very committed to improving the transport situation in the south-west, and I am pleased today to announce a new phase in our £7 billion plan for that region. We are launching the next stage of the formal consultation on a major upgrade to the A303—the main A road into Devon and Cornwall. This involves the development of the 1.8-mile tunnel past Stonehenge, which will protect that world heritage site from traffic, reduce local congestion, and speed up journeys to and from the region. We will now be talking to local people to the west of that tunnel about precisely which route it should take around the village immediately to the left. In addition, we are committed to upgrading the remaining sections of the A303 between the M3 and the M5 to dual carriageway. The next step will be public consultations on the A303 Sparkford to Ilchester and A358 Taunton to Southfields schemes that will come very shortly.

  • A 79-year-old constituent has been repeatedly refused car hire contracts by leading rental companies. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of any restrictions that are being placed on OAPs by these rental companies?

  • I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. This is a very difficult issue. The Equality Act 2010 provides general protection against age discrimination for people of all ages, but there is an exemption for a person conducting an assessment of risk for the purposes of providing a financial service to another person. My Department has not made the assessment that my hon. Friend describes, but I encourage his constituent to contact the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, which should be able to help him in identifying a suitable provider.

  • An icy chill is about to descend on parts of the country. That is not an impending DFT ministerial visit, I hasten to add—it is of course the impending weather front. Will the Secretary of State tell us about the state of preparations for gritting our roads in the coming days? What discussions has he had with his colleagues and those in local government to ensure that at least our roads run more smoothly than our railways?

  • I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there was no icy chill last time I visited Cambridge, when he and I were there for the first bit of work, albeit a rather small bit of work with a spade, on the A14 project, which will make a big difference to Cambridge. My ministerial team and I have had detailed discussions about this in recent weeks, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), has been in regular contact with local authorities. We have in this country, if not a salt mountain, plenty of salt and plenty of grit. We estimate that we have what is necessary to cope with the winter ahead, but we will obviously keep that under review.

  • I thank the Secretary of State; let us hope that we are well prepared. Taking him back to the time just before Christmas, given that soon after his visit to Cambridge he told the Evening Standard that cycle lanes cause problems for road users, will he clarify exactly who he thinks road users are? While he is thinking about cyclists—a helpful clue—could he explain why it is taking such an extraordinarily long time to produce a cycling and walking investment strategy?

  • Cyclists use cycle lanes, and motorists and other road users use the roads alongside them. That is fairly straightforward, to be honest. If the hon. Gentleman is eagerly anticipating our cycling and walking strategy, he does not have long to wait.

  • T2. Will the Minister of State’s inspirational words about beauty be matched by the deeds of Highways England? [908106]

  • It does not surprise me that my right hon. Friend has drawn attention to my rapturously received and beautifully articulated speech on beauty. He is right to say that we now need action. We have established a design panel at Highways England, and in a few weeks’ time we will produce a new design guide. It will dismay all the crass modernists and harsh brutalists, but it will delight all those who believe that our public infrastructure can be stylish and elegant as well as deliver the necessary utility. My role is only this: to rediscover the age-old golden thread with which all of that will be woven.

  • Almost as stylish and elegant as the right hon. Gentleman, I do not doubt.

  • T3. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), is as frustrated as I am by the constant delays to the tram-train project between Sheffield and Rotherham. Will he confirm that passenger services will start next year? Will he also give a date by which lessons can be learned from that project and rolled out across the country? Will he give particular consideration to the availability of hybrid tram-trains, which would mean that the vehicles could run on non-electrified heavy rail routes? [908107]

  • The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about hybrid tram-trains and I will look into it. As far as I am aware, the project is on track and on schedule, but I am particularly keen to understand the lessons that can be learned from it, to make sure that any projects elsewhere are done properly and to time the first time around.

  • T6. The excellent report “The Free Ports Opportunity”, written by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), sets out the possibilities for UK ports to become free ports, post-Brexit. It estimates that that could create 86,000 jobs in the UK. Will the Minister of State outline the possibilities for ports such as that in Newhaven in my constituency to become free ports, post-Brexit? [908111]

  • I have with me the report to which my hon. Friend refers. It is an excellent piece of work, and I have already arranged to meet its author. I initiated the maritime growth study when I was last in the Department, but it is time to refresh that. It must be a living document. As part of that exercise, we will consider the role of ports now that we are freed from the clutches of the European Union. My ambitions are, as ever, measured and modest: I seek nothing more than for Britannia to rule the waves.

  • T4. Ministers will be aware of the comments in Public Health England’s recent alcohol evidence review that drinking alcohol up to England’s drink-drive limit increases the risks of fatal accidents by 13 times. We have the highest drink-drive limit of any country in Europe expect for Malta, so will the Government look again at reducing the limit as a matter of urgency, in line with the views of the Police Federation, the RAC, the House of Lords, the Fire Brigades Union and 77% of the public? [908108]

  • We have no plans to review the drink-drive limit. The level of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood is one of the higher ones, but no country has a better record than us on road safety and improving performance in tackling drink-driving. Taken together, it is the combination of the right limit and enforcement and the cultural belief that drink-driving is wrong that makes progress.

  • Before Christmas, a parent at Morley Primary School in my constituency was badly injured when driving in the school’s vicinity, because another car was going too fast, which is a regular occurrence. I have consistently requested that the county council change the speed limit and move the signs—only move them—but it consistently refuses to do so because, it says, nobody has been killed yet. I do not want a child, parent or anybody else to be killed. Is there any way that the Minister can change the criteria by which councils decide to change such speed limits?

  • Let’s hear from the fella.

  • Local authorities already have the powers to introduce lower speed limits where they think it is appropriate. I think that that should apply especially around schools. The decision does not have to be a reactive one—waiting until something happens—and it is inappropriate to think in such a way. I suggest that I write to the Highways Authority in Derbyshire to highlight the powers that it already has. My right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for roads will visit my hon. Friend’s constituency in a fortnight or so to discuss roads, so perhaps she could pick the matter up with him then.

  • T7. Brexit will cause a dangerous free-for-all in cabotage. Will the Minister agree to meet the Scottish Government to consider how to avoid that? [908113]

  • I think we are some way away from that. Discussions have to take place between our Government and the European Union on arrangements post-Brexit. They will take place, and we will inform the House of progress on the matter in due course.

  • A start has been made in the first road investment strategy on upgrading the A47 from Lowestoft to the A1. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that he will work with me and other East Anglian colleagues on the second road investment strategy to ensure that this good work continues.

  • My hon. Friend will know that we managed to achieve what he wanted in respect of the bridge in his constituency, but he is right that we need to do more in respect of RIS2. To his customary eloquence and commitment he has added prophetic powers, because just this morning I am writing to all the colleagues he describes inviting them to participate in that process. This will be for the people and shaped by the people’s representatives.

  • T8. The A75 in my constituency benefits from Euro-route designation. Will the Secretary of State assure my constituents that he will support the continued designation of Euro-routes after the UK leaves the European Union? [908114]

  • I have to confess that I have never heard anyone in this country, north or south of the border, refer to an A road in the United Kingdom as a Euro-route. If they cease to be Euro-routes after we leave the European Union, I suspect that we will be able to count the number of people who miss that on the fingers of one hand.

  • I declare an interest as a daily commuter on the east coast main line, which is a very well run strategic route. Service outages, infrequent as they are, can be very disruptive. May I ask the Minister to prevail on train operating companies and Network Rail to improve communications with passengers in real time, to ensure that passengers are made aware of these problems and can make alternative arrangements as necessary?

  • It is entirely right to say that passenger information during disruption is something that all train operating companies and Network Rail need to improve. Not only do we need a single source of information that is consistent, but it needs to provide the most up-to-date information. It is not acceptable for people who have checked their phones on leaving home and thought that their train was on time to find, by the time they get to the station, that the train has been cancelled. That is not good enough.

  • Will the Secretary of State reject the new proposal of a spur line from HS2 in the constituency of Bolsover between Hilcote and Morton? Not only will it cut the Blackwell council in two, but it will destroy scores of houses in the village of Newton. Will he have a look at the letter I have sent him, in order to pacify the people of Blackwell about this mad idea?

  • Of course I will. I have taken a close interest in the eastern leg, and I have been up and down most of the route myself. I am very keen that we deliver the economic benefits, but that we do so in the way that works best for local communities. I am happy to take a look at the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

  • It has been yet another week of misery for hundreds of thousands of passengers on Southern rail. Given that the unions have received guarantees on jobs, on pay and—from the independent rail safety regulator—on safety, would the Government now support Conservative proposals to limit strikes, or at least the impact of strikes, via legislation?

  • There is a lot of interest in the matter, and a lot of calls have been made for such measures to be taken. We are considering carefully how we approach future issues. Of course, nothing in legislative terms would solve the current dispute. I think my hon. Friend will join me in expressing the disappointment of Conservative Members about the fact that we have not heard from the Opposition today one word of regret or condemnation, and not one call for the unions to go back to work. They just do not care.

  • The RAC has estimated that drivers have been over-charged by hundreds of millions of pounds owing to over-zealous enforcement by private car parks. Requiring operators to sign up to accredited trade associations would help to stop that type of behaviour. Does the Secretary of State agree that having all companies sign up would ensure that their business models were based on fair treatment of the motorist?

  • I will happily look into the matter that the hon. Lady raises. It is actually the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government, but I will take it up with my ministerial colleagues.

  • In view of the increasing number of passengers and employees using Stansted airport, the growth of the Cambridge biomedical campus, the prospect of Crossrail 2, the announcement of major housing developments and the welcome prospect of new, high-performance trains, what plans has my hon. Friend for increasing track capacity on the West Anglia line to take advantage of those factors?

  • My right hon. Friend is right to raise all those factors. He will know of the important work that the taskforce has done. We are also looking at timetabling, to which I hope he can make substantial contribution. He is right to raise the matter and we are looking at it very closely. Control period 6 announcements are on the way and I hope that his concerns will be reflected in them.

  • This time two years ago, when the Blackpool North electrification scheme faced delays and the rail Minister was a Back Bencher, he rightly demanded answers from Ministers. There is now real concern that the electrification of the midland main line will be further postponed or even cancelled north of Corby and Kettering. Will the Minister provide the House with the clarity that he sought for his constituency and give an unequivocal assurance that this key Conservative manifesto promise will not be broken?

  • We are continuing to work towards the key outputs that matter most to passengers. I recognise the importance of the network, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) will work on a cross-party basis to identify the key regional priorities that we want to be reflected in the new franchise. I look forward to working with the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood).

  • In Broxtowe, there is widespread and cross-party support for HS2. Of course, we get the east midlands hub at Towton, but there is still concern about the route. Will my right hon. Friend assure residents in Trowell, Strelley Village and Nuthall that their voices will be listened to and that, if necessary, changes to the route will be made without affecting the timetable for delivery?

  • I can absolutely give my right hon. Friend that commitment, as I did to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) a moment ago. The route will bring huge benefits to the east midlands and to Yorkshire, including the areas around Sheffield, but I want to make it clear that we will be as thoughtful and careful as we can about the detail of the route. The reason for the consultation is that it gives us a chance to listen to those views, and we will.

  • Mr Speaker, you will be aware of the Vauxhall car fire scandal. Last month, I hosted in the House of Commons around 25 people who had been affected, and heard about traumatised children and how the incidents led to increases in insurance excesses and cost families thousands of pounds. Will a Minister agree to meet not me—I am not interested in meeting Ministers myself—but the families of those affected?

  • I am aware of the issue and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is taking action with Vauxhall to remedy the situation. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and some of the families affected.

  • Finally, Mr Nuttall.

  • Will my right hon. Friend provide an update on the progress of plans for a new cross-Pennine road link?

  • As my hon. Friend will know, we have recently announced plans to dual the A66. We are currently waiting for the conclusion of the work on the potential for a trans-Pennine tunnel. I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that whether or not it is recommended that that work go ahead, our commitment to delivering trans-Pennine improvements will not be affected in any way by the outcome of that study.

  • Business of the House

  • Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

  • The business for the next week is as follows:

    Monday 16 January—Second Reading of the National Citizen Service Bill [Lords].

    Tuesday 17 January—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Impact of leaving the EU on the rural economy”, followed by a debate entitled “Impact of Department for Work and Pensions policies on low income households”. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party.

    Wednesday 18 January—General debate on exiting the EU and security, law enforcement and criminal justice.

    Thursday 19 January—Debate on a motion relating to Kashmir, followed by a general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2017. Both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 20 January—Private Members’ Bills.

    The provisional business for the week commencing 23 January will include:

    Monday 23 January—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.

    Tuesday 24 January—Consideration of Lords amendments followed by a motion relating to the charter for budget responsibility.

    Wednesday 25 January—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

    Thursday 26 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

    Friday 27 January— Private Members’ Bills.

    I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 19 January will be:

    Thursday 19 January—General debate on decommissioning of in vitro fertilisation and other NHS fertility services.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, although I am concerned that it appears we are not going to rise for the summer recess. We still do not have a date. I warn everyone to be prepared to work through the summer. I wish Members and staff a very happy new year. We are going to need all the wisdom and strength we can get for the task ahead.

    Following on from your remarks, Mr Speaker, hon. Members have raised with me the issue of extending the time for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions. Never before has the reasonable voice of Britain been so needed in international affairs. Questions could just be extended by an hour. We have excellent diplomats with institutional memory who can make a big difference in the world.

    May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to two reports from the Procedure Committee that may have got lost in the Christmas revelry? The press release for the report published on 18 October had the headline: “Procedure Committee rails ‘against handouts and talked out’ Private Member’s Bill”. Sadly, there was a further incident on Friday 16 December, in relation to a private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), when one speech took one hour and 17 minutes. The vote, with 133 Ayes to 2 Noes, showed the will of the House to be clearly in favour of the Bill. It cannot be right, therefore, that Members who wanted to speak in favour of the Bill could not do so.

    One of the report’s recommendations is that you, Mr Speaker, invoke Standing Order 47, which would put a time limit on the consideration of private Members’ Bills. Since I have been in the House, this Standing Order has been used in every single debate apart from on Fridays. In a letter to the Clerk of the House, the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), indicates that this change may need a resolution of the House. A further report of the Procedure Committee, on 14 December 2016, recommended the use of Welsh at Westminster in the Welsh Grand Committee. This was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who indicated to me that it is cheaper to do that here. The Official Reporters say there would be no problem with that. Rather than eat into Back-Bench time, could those two resolutions be taken together in Government time?

    We need clarification on the waiting time target. Is it for urgent or non-urgent cases? Earlier this week on a radio programme, the Secretary of State for Health said that Simons Stevens is running the NHS. May we have confirmation that it is the Secretary of State who is running the NHS? We had the bizarre scene of the Secretary of State running down the road. I thought he was doing his 30 minutes’ activity as required by the Health Department, but he then jumped into his car. Having served on the Health Committee for five years, I know about the chaos of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In an unprecedented move, the passage of the Bill was paused by the then Prime Minister. The shadow Secretary of State for Health has written to the Secretary of State for Health with 25 questions. Will the Leader of the House provide those answers within the target time?

    Returning to Brexit, a report before Christmas from the other place, “Brexit: financial services”, confirmed that London was ranked as the leading financial services sector in the world and called for a transition period to protect jobs. Page 3, paragraph 2, in the summary of a report by the Environmental Audit Committee, states:

    “The Prime Minister has indicated that the UK is likely to leave the single European market and the Customs Union.”

    I had not understood that to be settled Government policy. That is why we need these proper debates. The EAC calls for a new environmental protection Act while negotiations are ongoing and a list of zombie legislation—legislation transposed into British law but not updated. It is possible that the confusion has arisen because the Departments have proliferated like amoebae. It cannot be right that, according to figures from the House of Commons Library in December 2016, the Department for Exiting the European Union has only 300 staff, while the Department for International Trade has 2,709 staff. DExEU is getting £94 million a year, while £26 million is going to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DIT, but DIT has taken staff from the FCO. We need clarity.

    We, Her Majesty’s Opposition, have a proposal. In view of the judgment about to be handed down by the Supreme Court on the triggering of article 50 at the end of March, the Leader of the House should consider a review of what each Department does, because the British public will never forgive this Government if they see people dying on trolleys while vanity Departments are set up to keep hon. Members inside the tent rather than outside it. The task before us is enormous, but we need to remember the reasons we joined the EU and why there was a vote to leave. That way, all views can be respected and we can negotiate from a position that protects jobs, workers’ rights, the environment and our security. We need to do what is best for the UK, not base our approach on the rhetoric of the campaign and a clueless Government.

  • I join the hon. Lady in wishing you, Mr Speaker, and House of Commons staff a happy new year.

    The hon. Lady mentioned the duration of Foreign Office questions. I accept that there is a great deal of demand from Members across the House to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team, but in fairness I think she will acknowledge that there have also been several opportunities to question Foreign Office Ministers when they have volunteered oral statements, responded to urgent questions, spoken at Backbench Business Committee debates here, as is happening again later today and next week, on Kashmir, and in Westminster Hall. It has always been the case, since I have been in the House, that the allocation of time for questions between different Departments has been a matter for discussion within the usual channels. If the Opposition want to put forward ideas, obviously the Government will look at them, but in fairness one has to say that if time were added to Foreign Office questions, it would have to be subtracted from some other House business, and that needs to be weighed in the balance too.

    On the Procedure Committee, the very last thing I would accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) of is ranting. Whether I have agreed with him or not on particular issues, he has always expressed his views in a civilised manner, and the Government will respond to the Committee’s report in the way we do to other Select Committee reports.

    The hon. Lady made various points about exiting the EU. On article 50 and the changes within Whitehall, we must not underestimate the reality that the decision the electorate took in the referendum represented a profound and far-reaching change to the policies pursued by successive Governments and to the character of the UK’s international relationships, which for half a century have been built very much around our membership—whether aspiring to it or operating within it—of the EU. It seems perfectly reasonable that, in those circumstances, there should be a reconfiguration of resources and Departments in Whitehall to deal with the complex task of handling the negotiations that lie before us. It is not just the Department for Exiting the European Union that is involved. Many Departments throughout the Government are also involved, at ministerial and official level. On the question of the single market and the customs union, let me repeat what the Prime Minister has often said: one of the core objectives of our negotiation will be to achieve the best possible freedom for British companies to continue to operate within, and trade with, the single European market.

    The hon. Lady’s request for an early reply to the questions asked by her hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) will obviously have been noted by the Ministers concerned, and I will ensure that it is properly reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. As for waiting time targets, the Secretary of State made very clear during yesterday’s debate that we continued to be committed to the four-hour target, and that we took pride in it.

    It is worth noting that despite the pressures being experienced this winter, NHS staff, through their immense professionalism and hard work, have been treating record numbers of patients at A&E departments in hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. It is also the case, however, that NHS England’s director of acute care has estimated that about 30% of the people who currently present themselves at A&E departments really ought to be seen elsewhere in the NHS, or might even benefit from self-treatment at home. It seems sensible for us to think actively—in terms of national policy but also, critically, in terms of local NHS organisations—about how we can provide alternative sources of advice and routes to treatment for people who do not actually need specific A&E services.

  • The Government must be applauded for making it a manifesto promise to leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the environment, on the potential opportunities presented to us to become world leaders on the issue, and on the technologies related to it—for example, the tidal lagoon technology that is mentioned in the press this morning? If we are to deliver more for less, increasing productivity and resilience in line with our industrial strategy, the environment must become a cornerstone of our social and economic thinking.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot offer an early debate in Government time, although she may find that this is a subject in which the Backbench Business Committee takes an interest; alternatively, there may be an opportunity for a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall. However, I think that the Government will want to pay close attention to the report that has been published today by our former colleague Charles Hendry. I hope the House will welcome the news that last year was the first year on record in which more electricity in this country was generated from renewables than from coal: that was a good step forward.

  • I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

    I wish you, Mr Speaker, all hon. Members, and all the staff who serve us so well a happy new year. It is a new year in which there is now a maximum of 10 weeks before the Government trigger article 50, as is their intention, but we still do not have a Scooby about what type of article 50 and Brexit plan they have in mind for us. The only Government who have attempted to come up with any Brexit solution are the Scottish Government, who are endeavouring to stay in line with the views of the people of Scotland. Will the Leader of the House tell us what type of debates we shall have on the triggering of article 50, and will he confirm that, regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, the House will have a vote and a say on what will be the biggest single decision that the country will undertake?

    After yesterday’s extraordinary press conference in the United States and what might or might not have happened in that Russian hotel room—I do not want to focus on that—may we have a debate on fake news in this country? I remember the days before fake news was cool, when we were told weapons of mass destruction could reach the United Kingdom within 45 minutes. We are also told by some news organisations that this Government are competent and know what they are going to be doing in terms of Brexit. So may we have a debate about fake news in this country?

    Can the Leader of the House tell us what exactly is going on with English votes for English laws, because it seems that nobody wants it anymore? We had another English Legislative Grand Committee on Monday. The bells went on, the House was adjourned, the bells went on again, the House was back in session—the mace went down, the mace went up—and not one word was said. This is now beginning to embarrass this House; this is now beginning to make this House look extremely foolish. When will this bizarre and unnecessary practice end?

  • On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, if the EVEL rules are operating in an uncontroversial and consensual manner, that is something the entire House ought to welcome. If that means the Scottish National party is accommodating itself to the need for English Members to have the final say on laws relating to England which in Scotland relate to policies devolved to the Scottish Parliament, that is a good thing.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about article 50. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will publish a document setting out our negotiating objectives before we come to trigger article 50 later this year. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister also intends to make a speech on this subject in the next few weeks. Clearly the character of any parliamentary proceedings on article 50 will depend to some extent on the Supreme Court judgment.

    On the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the media, clearly what is said in the United States is a matter for the people of the United States. While all of us from time to time have reasons to complain about the character or accuracy of various news reports or articles in the press, that is a fact of life in a free society, and I would always want to err on the side of saying that there should be many and discordant voices without the state interfering in what is said by either broadcast or written media. That is the better way to proceed, and the sort of attempts we sometimes have to intimidate individual journalists, as we saw shamefully in the closing weeks of the referendum campaign in Scotland in 2014, when individual journalists were singled out for attack, is not something in which any Member of the House should take pride.

  • My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently raised the prospect of the European Court of Justice requiring everyone who uses a vehicle to have insurance, including, for example, householders who mow their lawns on ride-on mowers. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we can prevent this absurd requirement from being brought into UK legislation?

  • As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, this issue derives from the Vnuk judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport are actively involved in the negotiations about the response to this, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make his representations in particular to Transport Ministers, who will be in the frontline of trying to make sure that judgment is implemented in a way that causes as few difficulties as possible for the users of those vehicles.

  • on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee I should like to wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House a very happy new year.

    I thank the Leader of the House for advertising the wares of the Committee when he advises right hon. and hon. Members of their opportunity to apply to us for debates. May I also remind Members to look at the calendar and think ahead? Time-sensitive debates can be very important. For example, we have a debate next week on Holocaust Memorial Day, in the week before the memorial day itself. If anyone would like a debate on a particular time-sensitive subject, will they please make an application to the Committee in good time?

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his new year wishes and his kind remarks. It is good news that there is now greater awareness across the House of the role of the Backbench Business Committee, and if that can lead to more timely debates and debates on subjects in which electors are interested but which might not be the subject of legislation, that can only be a good thing.

  • I call Mims Davies.

  • May we have a debate—

  • Order. I said “Mims” rather than “Philip”.

  • I am sorry, Mr Speaker. I heard “Davies”.

  • I know that the hon. Gentleman has secured election to the Women and Equalities Committee—although he was the only candidate, so his election was not very burdensome. But he should not worry; he will never be overlooked. We will get to him.

  • My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did take my place on that Committee, so there is obviously something going on here.

    Air pollution, standing traffic and unpredictable journey times cause stress and have an impact on productivity, on jobs and on the good health of UK plc as well as on us humans. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on critical infrastructure that can benefit business and communities? An example is the Chickenhall link road, which will be a game-changer for the Solent area and for Southampton airport. We should look at business and communities in a holistic way.

  • I think pretty well every Member of the House would agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes. That is why the Chancellor’s inclusion in his autumn statement of £23 billion of expenditure on infrastructure, including transport infrastructure and broadband, is so important.

  • When may we have a debate on early-day motion 852?

    [That this House congratulates the Welsh Government on the introduction of presumed consent for organ donation in Wales; notes that 39 lives have been saved in the past year; is concerned that the UK has one of the lowest rates of organ donation consent in Europe; notes the UK target to increase organ donation consent rates to 80 per cent by 2020; and further notes the model successes of presumed consent in Wales which could be replicated across the UK to increase numbers of organs available for donation.]

    The motion draws attention to the huge success of the presumed consent to organ transplant in Wales. May I also urge the Government to support the private Member’s Bill that will be presented on Monday that calls for the advantages of presumed consent to be spread to the rest of the United Kingdom? We now know that this is a practical law that is popular with the public and saves many lives.

  • I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but the private Member’s Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers will provide an opportunity for further debate on the subject. There might also be opportunities for a debate through the Backbench Business Committee or in Westminster Hall.

  • In considering its budgets for next year, Labour-led North East Lincolnshire Council is considering the closure of Cleethorpes library, a much-loved local facility. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the value of libraries to local communities?

  • My hon. Friend might like to seek an Adjournment debate on the issue of Cleethorpes library. I am sure that he and his constituents will be urging the council to look seriously at its priorities and at how to ensure that library services can continue to be provided to the people of Cleethorpes. The provision of library services is clearly the objective that must be sustained.

  • I hope the Leader of the House agrees that future generations of British people will be very unforgiving if this generation of politicians allows a catastrophic failure to damage or destroy this House in any way, in the knowledge that we did nothing about it now. Will he update the House on when he intends to timetable a debate on the Joint Committee’s recommendations for refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster?

  • The hon. Gentleman served on the Joint Committee that made that recommendation. I hope that we can bring this to a debate and get a decision as soon as possible.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • I simply do not wish to wait any longer. The voice of Shipley must be heard.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker, for highlighting the fact that my nomination for membership of the Women and Equalities Committee was so popular that nobody wanted to oppose me. May we have a debate on the outrageous plans of Jockey Club Racecourses to close Kempton Park racecourse? If Jockey Club Racecourses is not about the protection of racecourses and the heritage of British racing, Lord knows what on earth it is about. If the closure had been proposed by Arena Racing Company, members of the Jockey Club would have been the first to complain, particularly given that Kempton Park is a profitable racecourse. May we have a debate to find out what this House can do to stop these outrageous plans, which will be a hammer blow to national hunt racing in this country and will concrete over a huge swathe of the area’s greenbelt, too?

  • As my hon. Friend will understand, this site is ultimately a matter for the Jockey Club, on the one hand—the Jockey Club has a royal charter that obliges it to act for the long-term good of British racing—and the local planning authorities, on the other, but I completely understand his point. I understand not only the importance of Kempton Park to the horseracing industry but the importance of horseracing both as a source of great pleasure to millions of British people but as an industry for this country. Whatever decisions are ultimately taken about Kempton Park, I hope that we will continue to ensure that the horseracing industry thrives, generates jobs and continues to bring great enjoyment and pleasure to so many people.

  • I will endeavour to behave on this occasion, Mr Speaker. Well over a year ago I told the House that there is not a single NHS dentist available in my constituency and that the incidence of child tooth decay is five times the national average. Indeed, I understand that my constituency is one of the worst in the country, if not the worst, for dentist provision. I further raised the issue in a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), on 7 November 2016, and I have heard absolutely nothing, despite his promises. Can the Leader of the House advise the House on why the Government do not appear to care about the teeth of people in the Dewsbury constituency?

  • The hon. Lady says that she had a meeting a few weeks ago, before Christmas, with the Minister concerned, but I will ask the Department of Health to follow up in writing on the outcome of the meeting.

  • As we all know, our country is about to go into its most important negotiations in decades, with consequences for generations to come, yet the three big issues—these issues divide within parties, not just across the House—of the single market, free movement and the customs union have still not been debated in this place. Some think that that verges on being disgraceful. Will the Leader of the House please now assure the House that we will debate those issues, and not only for the obvious reasons but in order to bring together everybody in this country, however they voted in the referendum—as the Prime Minister quite properly said in her new year’s message that she seeks to do—so that we get the very best deal for everybody and for as long as we possibly can?

  • There will of course be further debates, both general debates on exiting the European Union and others on that matter, as we approach the decision on article 50 and, I am very confident, in the months that follow that. My hon. Friend might also like to know, although this will not satisfy her demand for a debate, that in the next fortnight we will have both Home Office questions, which would cover the free movement issue, and questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on 26 January.

  • May we have a debate on what constitutes a crisis in accident and emergency in the national health service? The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary refuse to accept that there is a crisis, but the Welsh Tories say that there is a crisis in A&E in Wales, and the Health Secretary says that the English figures are better that those for Wales but fails to point out that, on the basis of what was released this morning, the Scottish figures are 5% better than those in England. May we have that debate on the definition of what represents “a crisis” before the Government fiddle the figures in their response to patients suffering?

  • We have had both a statement and a lengthy exchange of questions to and answers from the Health Secretary on Monday, and then we had a full day’s debate in the Labour party’s time yesterday on this subject, when all these issues were thoroughly aired. I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought not to be too complacent about the situation in Scotland, given that the latest figures I have seen show that NHS Scotland was meeting only one of eight key targets and that one in 12 hospital bed days in Scotland were being lost because of delayed discharges.

  • In wishing happy new year to the Leader of the House, may I say that I hope 2017 is as good for the United Kingdom as 2016 was? In relation to business next week or perhaps the week after—or perhaps even the week after that—will he guarantee that when the Supreme Court makes its decision a Minister will come to the House to give a statement? Will he also agree that no prior comment will be made to the media before this House is informed of what the Government are thinking?

  • We do not yet know the timing of the Supreme Court decision, which makes it slightly difficult for me to give the firm assurance that my hon. Friend wants. Let there be no doubt: the Government will want to come—and I suspect, Mr Speaker, that you will insist that the Government come—to Parliament at the earliest opportunity to explain their response to the judgment.

  • First, may I wish you a happy Kiss a Ginger Day, Mr Speaker? [Laughter.] I am sure you can look it up!

    The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) rightly raised a serious question about the Committee report, which was produced 18 weeks ago, on the future of the Palace of Westminster. It is now becoming irresponsible that we have not yet had a debate, because a fire in one of the 98 risers in this building would spread very rapidly; if asbestos in any part of this building were discovered it could lead to the closing of this building immediately and indefinitely; and any problem with the 1880s sewerage at the bottom of the building could also close it immediately. Will the Leader of the House therefore make sure that we get on with this immediately, because we are running unnecessary costs and unnecessary risks?

  • The hon. Gentleman summarises the points that were made at much greater length in the Committee’s report about the very real challenges in managing risks that there are with the Palace of Westminster building. As I said to the hon. Member for North Antrim, I would hope that we can have a debate as soon as possible.

  • This Kiss a Ginger activity is probably perfectly lawful but I have no plans to partake of it myself. It strikes me as a very rum business altogether; as colleagues can probably tell, I have not the slightest idea about what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was prating, so the matter had to be Googled for me.

  • Yesterday, the European Commission took the retrograde decision to restore GSP plus—generalised system of preferences plus—trade status to Sri Lanka. The Commission withdrew that status in 2010 because of concerns about human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Government. Despite that Government not yet complying with United Nations Human Rights Council resolution 31, and a damning report from the UN Committee Against Torture, the decision has been made. It has still to go through the European Parliament, but may we have a debate in this House to consider the European Commission’s bad decision, which I know is a matter of concern to Members from both sides of the House?

  • I encourage my hon. Friend to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for that debate. I am sure he will acknowledge that the British Government have always been in the front rank of those pressing not only for an end to human rights abuses under the previous Sri Lankan Government, but subsequently for reconciliation and peace-building in Sri Lanka. That was symbolised by the visit by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, to Jaffna and the north of Sri Lanka during the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference a year or so ago. The British Government’s support for reconciliation and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka is real and continuing.

  • Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to all those who contribute to and work in food banks—such as The Gate in Alloa and Broke Not Broken in Kinross in my constituency—throughout the country, particularly over the Christmas period when demand was so high? May we please have a debate in Government time about the worrying and increasing rise in the use of food banks, which all evidence suggests is a direct result of the Government’s attitude to and policies in respect of social security?

  • I agree that we should pay tribute to those who organise and work in food banks. Only since 2010 have Department for Work and Pensions offices been formally encouraged to refer to food banks people in a family crisis and in urgent need; previously, that was forbidden. People use food banks for complex reasons. First, if the hon. Lady looks at the figures she will see that the number of people receiving the key benefits who are subject to a sanction in any one month is very small, and there is not a neat relationship between that and the use of food banks. Secondly, I wish she would acknowledge that the Government’s decision to establish and then increase the national living wage has led to the biggest pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in this country on record.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. May I gently point out to the House that a further 33 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye? Colleagues know that my normal practice is to facilitate everyone who wishes to take part in the business question, and I am keen to sustain that record, but they should be aware that the debate on Yemen is heavily subscribed and some priority has also to be attached to that. In short, we need short questions and short answers if I am not to leave colleagues disappointed.

  • May we have a debate on Government support for UK businesses to export? There has been a welcome increase in UK export finance facilities, but we lag behind other competitors on further support to get companies into markets and support for them when they are already there.

  • It is particularly important that we encourage more small and medium-sized businesses to take part in exports—they often do so through supply chains, rather than exporting directly. I shall flag up my hon. Friend’s focus on the subject to the Secretary of State for International Trade, although I suspect the Backbench Business Committee is the best way forward for him.

  • Greater Manchester police are losing control of Rochdale town centre. Not enough priority is being given to policing begging, street drinking, antisocial behaviour and shoplifting. Surely that warrants a debate in Parliament.

  • Those are clearly matters primarily for the area commander, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner in the hon. Gentleman’s area, but he might be lucky in securing a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate to make his points in more detail.

  • In Labour’s la-la land, nuclear energy has no part to play in the UK’s nuclear energy mix. In fact, the Labour leader said:

    “I say no nuclear power, decommission the stations we’ve got”.

    May we have a debate sometime soon to establish which is the party of nuclear energy, as nuclear energy creates wealth, jobs and prosperity in Weaver Vale and elsewhere in the north-west of England?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right that nuclear energy plays a critical role in ensuring that we have the right energy mix in the future. We have a key area for the nuclear sector in the north-west. Places such as Sellafield and Springfields provide high-quality, well-paid jobs in areas where they are much needed.

  • Can we have a debate in Government time on the cost of telephone calls to UK Government Departments, particularly in relation to yesterday’s revelation that the Home Office spousal visa helpline is £1.37 a minute over and above network charges? Is it not time that this telephone tax is ended by this Government?

  • I am not aware of the details, but I will ask the relevant Home Office Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman.

  • Next week, I will be speaking at an event about energy switching, or should I say lack of energy switching because the majority of consumers do not switch their energy supplier and get a poor deal. May we have a debate about what can be done to engage consumers, such as those in Cannock Chase, in this market?

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point. Record numbers of people have been switching suppliers, but she is right to say that most people stick with the one that they happen to have. It is something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at very closely indeed to see what more can be done.

  • Women face intimidation on a daily basis as they enter the Mattock Lane Marie Stopes pregnancy clinic from protesters who weaponise rosary beads and use gruesome images of foetuses. The police say that existing public order legislation is insufficient to keep the pavement a safe space. Can we have a statement from the Government on establishing buffer zones so that women can be protected in their hour of need, as the group Sister Supporter advocates?

  • Any situation that involves balancing the right of people to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and the right of other people to go about their lawful business will, inevitably, require local police judgment of some sort. There are questions to the Home Secretary on Monday 23 January, which will give the hon. Lady the opportunity to put that point directly to Ministers.

  • I am saddened to have to inform the House that my constituent, Rolf Noskwith, passed away last week. Not only was Mr Noskwith a distinguished businessman and generous community benefactor, but he worked alongside Alan Turing as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park. His death reminds us that we are rapidly losing the last of this heroic generation. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in expressing our condolences to his widow and family. Will my right hon. Friend investigate the possibility of establishing a permanent memorial here in Parliament to commemorate the pioneering work of the men and women of Bletchley, whose vital contribution undoubtedly shortened the war by at least two years?

  • I join my hon. Friend in expressing condolences to Mr Noskwith’s family and friends and to salute the vital and secret work that he and so many other men and women did at Bletchley Park during the second world war. They really are the unsung heroes of that period. My hon. Friend may wish to write formally to the House of Commons Commission about a memorial. She will be reassured to know that the Bletchley Park Trust has reconfigured the museum at Bletchley Park so that it is much more of a memorial than it has sometimes been in the past to the heroic work of those men and women.

  • I understand that my private Member’s Bill is mentioned regularly in the House in business questions and that the Leader of the House’s response is that he is waiting for me to come forward with some costs. We are talking about a private Member’s Bill, which means that there is only me. The Leader of the House has an array of civil servants who are willing and able to provide those figures for him. However, if he wants to let me know in detail what exactly he wants, he can write to me, and I will be happy to provide it—I will try on my own—for him and his civil servants. He must accept that this is the will of this House and that Members, from every part of this country and from right across this House, gave up their Friday surgeries to be in the Chamber when the Bill was debated. Will he stop trying to prevent the passage of this Bill and let me know when he will put it into Committee and come forward with a money resolution?

  • The hon. Lady is sincere, as always, in speaking up for her private Member’s Bill, but it is also the case that the Bill was published, I think, only two or three days before it was introduced, and there was no memorandum of costs associated with it. Frankly, it is also the case—[Interruption.] She is sincere in her championship. The Bill is not exactly a disinterested initiative, but a deliberate effort to try to ensure that we have very unequal-sized constituencies. As I have said before, the Government are continuing to consider the financial implications of her Bill.

  • May we please have a debate on immigration policy? That would give the Government the opportunity to explain what progress they are making on meeting the immigration target. Of course, it would give Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition an opportunity to explain what their policy is.

  • Yes; my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to pursue Home Office Ministers on Monday 23 January. I fear that, even during a whole day’s debate, getting a reliable policy out of the Leader of the Opposition might be beyond us.

  • First, I wish the Leader of the House a happy new year and welcome the Hendry report on tidal energy. May we have a debate in Government time on transmission lines? Low-carbon 21st-century energy comes from wind, civil nuclear and tidal power situated in coastal areas, which are sensitive. However, National Grid proposes only one system: pylons, which are 1950s technology. We want 21st-century technology for 21st-century low-carbon energy. May we have a debate on National Grid and its role in disregarding the will of many communities?

  • The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that I know matters to a lot of people living in rural areas in particular, and coastal areas too. I would encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate. There are also questions next week to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which might give him an additional peg on which to hang those arguments.

  • On Saturday, I took part in the Corby park run, which is brilliantly organised week in, week out by Paul Humphreys and his brilliant team. They are also fundraising for a new defibrillator in West Glebe Park. May we have a debate next week to recognise the enormous community contribution that park runs make across the country, and also to say a huge thank you to all those who give up their free time to organise them?

  • I cannot offer a debate in Government time. My hon. Friend is right to salute the importance of the park run movement as an entirely voluntary body that has energised, in more than one sense, thousands of people around the country to get more active and fitter in the way that every doctor would recommend. Also, as he says of Corby, it has helped to raise significant sums of money for charities.

  • Teachers at Whitehaven Academy in west Cumbria have been striking over the crumbling buildings and meagre resources. In 2010, the Government scrapped the Building Schools for the Future programme, under which Whitehaven Academy was to get significant funding. Netherhall and Millom schools are also waiting for funding. Will the Secretary of State for Education make a statement to the House about exactly how the Government are going to sort out this mess so that Cumbrian children can have the education they deserve?

  • I will ask the Education Secretary or one of her team to write to the hon. Lady about that particular issue. I am sure that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the national funding formula for schools will ensure a fairer distribution of available resources than has been the case in the past.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. In order to try to accommodate everybody, might I suggest that we now move to single-sentence questions and, of course, pithy replies?

  • Mr Speaker, may I use your good offices to remind colleagues that we debate Holocaust Memorial Day next week? The book of commitment is open from Monday for two weeks, thanks to your good offices, Mr Speaker, in the corridor between the Members’ Staircase and the Members’ Cloakroom.

    I also ask that we have a statement following Sunday’s conference on the middle east in Paris. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions went on far longer this week because the Government did not give a statement or respond to an urgent question on the subject. It would be far better to have a statement in Government time on the outcome of that conference.

  • It will be for Foreign Office Ministers to hear my hon. Friend’s comments and to decide whether they can offer a statement. I am sure that, as in previous years, many hon. Members from all parties will want to sign the Holocaust remembrance book.

  • Can we have a further debate on the crisis in social care? Today, Nottingham University hospitals have more than 200 patients who are medically safe to be discharged, but cannot be. Is it any wonder that Nottingham University hospital is on black alert yet again and that Nottinghamshire County Council is calling on the Government to take some action? When are the Government going to wake up to this crisis?

  • While it is undoubtedly true that there are pressures on the national health service and on social care at this time, the Government have acted through the better care fund and the social care precept and, most recently, by bringing forward £900 million of additional spending to give local authorities additional resources. It is also the case that there is a lot of local variation. More than half of the delayed discharges in our hospitals relate to just 24 local authorities, so it is also a case of disseminating best practice and embedding that everywhere in the country.

  • Late last year, the Government confirmed that this House would be presented with a plan on how the Government will begin their process of exiting the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend outline the potential processes by which this House will be engaged on that plan?

  • I am sure that there will be opportunities for that plan to be debated here. I am sure, too, that when that is published, the relevant Select Committees will probably want to take a look at it. I do not think my hon. Friend will be disappointed regarding parliamentary scrutiny.

  • A Government reason for the closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is that it will lessen the use of police cells, yet it turns out that the Home Office does not hold information on how many times police cells are used. Can we have a debate in Government time about the farcical ongoing estate management reviews?

  • The current state of affairs regarding Dungavel is that the planning application for the new facility that would replace it was refused by Renfrewshire planning committee in November last year. Dungavel will remain open. Its future is dependent on a successful planning application for the new short-term holding facility.

  • Can we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on his assessment of the credibility of the allegations made in the dossier about President-elect Trump? It is clear that the UK Government have a great deal of knowledge about these things. The dossier was written in the UK, and the UK Government have placed and lifted a D notice on the former MI6 officer who wrote the allegations. We had a warning before Christmas from the head of MI6 about hostile states attempting to subvert western democratic processes. Can we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what action he is taking to prevent us and our NATO allies from being subject to cyber-attacks and propaganda attacks from hostile states?

  • The Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister have repeatedly made clear their concerns about the cyber-capacity and cyber-tactics of Russia and other countries with regard to the interests of the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot go into details about these matters, but the issues are considered regularly by the National Security Council.

  • Can we have a statement from the Government about the increased role of the Ministry of Defence police in undertaking duties in civilian areas outside Faslane and Coulport, to establish who took the decision, why it was made, whether these officers are armed and under what chain of command they operate?

  • I was checking whether Defence questions were coming up next week, and since they are not, I will ask the relevant Defence Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman.

  • The Leader of the House is in denial. We need a debate, which needs to be led by the Prime Minister, so that we can ask her very pertinent questions about what she is doing about the NHS. For instance, Simon Stevens yesterday said that it was obviously “stretching” the truth to say that the NHS had got more than it had asked for, and we are spending less than other developed countries. Those are the types of issues we need to ask questions about, and that is why the Prime Minister needs to be here. The NHS is in crisis, and the Government are doing nothing about it.

  • The Government are actually meeting the spending commitment that the NHS wanted to support its plan. Yes, there are pressures—nobody denies that—but since 2010 we have seen significant increases in the number of doctors, nurses, diagnostic tests and A&E attendances and treatments. There is real improvement, and we should pay tribute to the NHS staff who are delivering that.

  • Can we have a debate about how the Government could take a more proactive role to preserve banking and post office services on our local high streets? In the space of two years, the Bank of Scotland has closed one branch in my constituency, and the Royal Bank of Scotland will have closed three. We have had announcements this week that four post offices are under threat across Scotland, and I am very conscious, given the experience in my constituency, of the burden falling on small convenience store managers and shop owners and of the lack of service to customers and small business.

  • My understanding is that the Post Office proposes that the Crown post offices that it closes will instead become sub-post offices, or sub-post offices on a franchise basis will continue in those communities. It is the provision of the service that seems to be to be important. It is right that there should be full consultation with local communities about any of these proposed closures, but it is also a reality that more and more of our constituents are using online banking services, and that is bound to have an impact on the economic viability of branch networks.

  • Can we have an urgent statement from the energy Minister on the forthcoming industrial action in the nuclear industry, which is a direct result of the Government’s betrayal of workers in that industry, despite the amendments that the Opposition put down to the Enterprise Bill and despite the promises that were made at the time of privatisation?

  • I cannot offer the promise of a statement, but this may be something the hon. Gentleman wishes to seek an Adjournment debate on.

  • Following on from the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), can the postal services Minister give a statement on the Government’s role in the Post Office and its future? I received a letter this week saying that Morningside post office would be closed and franchised. It is a very profitable and well-used post office, and that closure should be stopped. Can we have a statement about what the Government are going to do about these closures?

  • There is, as with all such proposals, a process that the Post Office operates for consultation and decision. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to use that opportunity on behalf of his constituents. However, it is also the case that the vast majority, some 97%, of the Post Office’s branches around the country are already operated on the basis that they are sub-post offices—independent businesses with a post office franchise.

  • Can we have a statement on the unlawful implementation of various provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, including its use regarding internet connection records and bulk personal data sets, following the ruling by the European Court of Justice that general and indiscriminate retention of emails and communications by Governments is illegal—a point made frequently and at length by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and I during the Act’s progress through the House?

  • The Government are considering their response to that judgment, but it is certainly the view of those who serve us in the security and intelligence agencies that the ability to collect bulk data is of vital importance in the continuing battle against terrorism.

  • May we have a debate on the excellent report by the Defence Committee on decision making in defence policy? In particular, it notes the lack of understanding of military strategy among key decision makers. May we have a debate on military strategy that will allow us to look at issues such as whether forward deployment of personnel represents deterrence or provocation?

  • We would welcome the possibility of a debate, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee. The forward deployment of UK forces as part of NATO contingents in Estonia and in Poland is all about deterrence and solidarity with a NATO ally. NATO is an organisation that Clem Attlee and Ernie Bevin helped to create. I look forward to the day when we have a Labour leadership that again gives full-hearted support to NATO.

  • The Government have talked out three out of four SNP private Members’ Bills, their treatment of the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) is completely appalling, and their response to the Procedure Committee’s report is as inadequate as the system itself. They did accept, however, that there should be a change to Standing Orders to require private Members’ Bills to be published slightly earlier than currently. When will they give us time to debate that proposal?

  • We are looking at a number of proposed changes to Standing Orders, many of which have come from the Procedure Committee and some from other Committees of the House. It will probably be for the convenience of the House if we can find an opportunity to deal with all those as a block rather than considering them piecemeal, so that is the kind of arrangement I am hoping to secure.

  • I am very sorry to be called so late on Kiss a Ginger Day, Mr Speaker. We only get one day a year, after all—I am wondering whether you might be colour-blind.

    May we have a debate on the future of our parks funding? Graves park in my constituency receives EU higher-level stewardship funding because of its high value regarding nature conservation, and the park’s budget has already been under serious pressure because of slashed local authority funding. I would be grateful if we could have a debate on this in Government time.

  • Questions to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers next Thursday or questions to Communities and Local Government Ministers next Monday might provide an opportunity to raise that matter. Clearly the future of stewardship funding is one of the matters that the Government are considering in the context of the negotiations overall.

  • Dozens of my constituents in Blantyre have complained to me about being mis-sold solar panels by Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems under the Government’s green deal programme. By way of an answer to a written parliamentary question, I have learned that that company, which has since gone into liquidation, was sanctioned by the Government in November 2015 for breaches of the green deal code of practice. May we have a statement from the Government on what support they will offer to my constituents who have been left struggling to pay their electricity bills which, in some cases, have tripled?

  • There is a risk in any system that somebody might seek to abuse it. I suggest that the hon. Lady writes either to me or directly to the Minister responsible for these matters setting out the detail of what has happened to her constituents to try to secure a more detailed response to their concerns.

  • As a brown-haired Member of the House, I am delighted to be the last Labour Member to be called.

    The Leader of the House has already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) about her Bill. She has offered support in relation to whatever problems he has, and he is now saying that it is an issue of time. By anyone’s maths, if the Bill was published only three days before it was supported in this House, that is eight weeks and two days ago. Will he clearly explain what the problem is with bringing this Bill into Committee, or is it that there are problems on his own Back Benches because it had too much support from Conservative Members?

  • As I said earlier, the Government continue to consider the financial implications of the Bill.

  • The Leader of the House has been asked twice for an important debate about the Post Office. The Government cannot simply wash their hands of the matter. The general post office in my Dundee constituency has been in the centre of town for almost a century but is set to close, and arguments for a sub-post office are simply not good enough. Furthermore, many pensioners do not go online to do their banking or to check their pensions, so may I ask the Leader of the House, for the third time, for an urgent debate on the very serious matter of closing post offices?

  • I think that the key concern of pensioners and others in the hon. Gentleman’s Dundee constituency would surely be whether they continue to have access to the post office services that they need. Whether those are provided via a Crown post office or through a franchised sub-post office is a separate issue; it is the quality and accessibility of the service that should surely come first.

  • May we have a debate in Government time on the future and current performance of UK Border Force at airports? According to the Tourism Industry Council, if the 23 million EU nationals who visit every year are subject to full border checks, staffing would have to increase by 200%—and that is on top of current failures. What are the Government’s plans?

  • The hon. Gentleman will be able to make that point to the Home Secretary during Home Office questions on 23 January.

  • The plight of religious minorities such as the Yazidi people, who are subject to terrible conditions under Daesh, including sexual slavery, should be a primary consideration for us all. Will the Government make a statement on what more we will do and on whether we will institute programmes such as that operating in Baden-Württemberg in Germany to support those people at their time of terrible need?

  • We are providing an enormous amount of support—almost £2.5 billion—to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries. That is helping people in the region, including Yazidi refugees. Our resettlement schemes are also giving as much priority as possible to people who have been victims or who are at risk of sexual abuse, and to women and children who are particularly vulnerable. Clearly we always look actively at other ways in which we can help those people. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has responsibility for the middle east, is sitting alongside me on the Front Bench and he will have heard the points made by the hon. Lady.

  • There cannot be much that cheapens the honours system more than dishing out gongs to people who have been found by a UN committee to have breached human rights, including those of disabled people. I am talking not of a despotic regime, but of two senior civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate on how we can reform the honours system?

  • No. The Government have already made it clear that we regard the report from that particular UN committee as a grotesque misrepresentation of the state of affairs in the United Kingdom. For one thing, it took no account of our very successful record in getting a record number of disabled people into work, or of the support programmes for disabled people who are in work.

  • Women in the House of Commons

    Women and Equalities Committee

    Select Committee statement

  • We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), will speak for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of her statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and, of course, call Mrs Maria Miller to respond to them in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions, and should be brief. Those on the Front Bench may take part in questioning. I remind the House that ordinarily such a statement, and the questioning on it, can be expected to take, in total, approximately 20 minutes.

  • I thank the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to make a statement to the House on the fifth report of the Women and Equalities Committee on women in the House of Commons after the next general election, in 2020. The successful preparation of all our reports depends on the hard work of the Committee’s Clerks and staff, the diligence of hon. Members who make up our Committee—I am glad to see my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) and for Bath (Ben Howlett) in the Chamber—and the generosity of our witnesses, who give up their time to prepare for and take part in our sessions. I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), the right hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Moray (Angus Robertson), and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), all of whom enthusiastically shared their views with the Committee and told us about the work of their respective parties.

    If, 100 years ago, the suffragettes who fought for women’s rights—for our right to be elected and to sit in this place—had been told that just 455 women would be elected to this place over the next 10 decades, I am not sure whether they would have laughed or cried. I think they would be proud of the fact that the United Kingdom has had two female Prime Ministers, but the fact is that there are as many men sitting in this place today as there have ever been women elected to be Members of Parliament.

    At the moment, we have 195 women MPs and 455 men. I am yet to see any evidence to suggest that women are less qualified than men to represent their communities, or that women do not want the opportunity to be a Member of Parliament and to improve the lives of those who live in their community. Therefore, this startling imbalance should cause us all a great deal of concern. At best we are failing to reach out; at worst the parties, which are, for the most part, responsible for selecting candidates, are failing in their duty. The Committee’s report provides an evidence-based set of recommendations to change that, to help to ensure that Britain does not slip further down the global rankings for female parliamentary participation, to promote a more representative Parliament and to make this place stronger.

    Our report has consciously focused on female representation, but our recommendations should, we feel, also open up discussions about how to secure improved diversity in other areas so that we have a Parliament with more black and minority ethnic representation and more disabled members. All that will help to ensure that the debates that we have and the laws that we make are better. Of course, the report builds on significant work that has already been done on representation in Parliament, such as the 2010 report of the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation —convened by you, Mr Speaker—and the comprehensive work done by Professor Sarah Childs, who produced “The Good Parliament”.

    The trigger for the Committee’s new report was the Boundary Commission’s initial proposals about reducing the size of Parliament to 600 constituencies. There is no reason why that process should adversely impact women or any particular group, but the proposals mean that the seats of more than 20 women MPs would, to all intents and purposes, disappear. If political parties do not take action, it could mean that there is a smaller proportion of women MPs after the next general election.

    The Committee’s recommendations are for the Government, political parties and, indeed, Parliament, because we all have to take responsibility. The first of our key recommendations is for more transparency from parties about the work that they are doing to improve candidate selection. We feel that the Government should immediately bring into force the statutory requirement for political parties to publish their parliamentary candidate diversity data for general elections, as set out in section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, so that we can properly scrutinise parties’ records of selecting a diverse slate of parliamentary candidates.

    Secondly, we recommend that the Government should seek to introduce in legislation in this Parliament a statutory minimum proportion of female parliamentary candidates in general elections for each political party. We have proposed a minimum of 45% of women. This measure would be brought into force only if the number and proportion of women MPs failed to increase significantly after the next general election.

    Thirdly, we have set out in our recommendations a domestic target of 45% for the representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030. That is to inform the work being done by the Office for National Statistics to establish domestic indicators for the UN sustainable development goals—particularly goal 5, an indicator for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and David Cameron fought hard when these goals, which apply to the UK as well as to other members of the UN, were established. To make progress, the measures need to have teeth, so the Committee has recommended the extension of the Electoral Commission’s remit to introduce fines for non-compliance.

    In our evidence sessions with the chairman and leaders of the political parties, it was evident that there is enormous support for a more representative Parliament. Indeed, each of them agreed that Parliament would be a better place if 50% of MPs were women. However, we need to turn those warm sentiments into bums on seats—I hope that that is not unparliamentary language. The parties lack clear and comprehensive plans to turn those important warm words into clear action.

    This Parliament is the mother of all Parliaments, but at the moment, on our watch, we are letting ourselves down on the global stage. Since 1999, Britain has fallen from 25th to 48th in the world for female representation. Parliament should have a clear aspiration to be the global leader for female representation and diversity more generally. The recommendations in the report can help us to achieve that.

  • I thank the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the Women and Equalities Committee for this important report. The Labour party is committed to increasing the representation of women in Parliament and at every level of politics. As the report recognises, more than half of women Members of Parliament are Labour Members—women make up 43.7% of the parliamentary Labour party. Much of that is to do with Labour’s commitment to all-women shortlists. Does the right hon. Lady think that other parties should introduce all-women shortlists for their parliamentary selections? Does she agree that parties that are not already taking direct positive action to tackle the under-representation of women in Parliament should do so as a matter of urgency?

  • The parties should look at the evidence of what works. Our report clearly states that there is a body of evidence that parties can look at. It is not for a Select Committee to dictate to parliamentary parties how they run their selection procedures. That is for them, but they should also consider the evidence.

  • Recalling that the Labour party lost one of its safest seats—Blaenau Gwent—in 2005 over the imposition of a women-only shortlist, what role does my right hon. Friend see for local associations in choosing the candidate who is best for the area, or for voters in deciding to vote for the person they think is the best to represent that area, irrespective of gender?

  • I thank my hon. Friend and fellow Select Committee member for that question. He is right that associations or local parties have a huge role to play in ensuring that they get the right person for the job in their area. However, it is surprising that just one in four candidates at the last general election was female. Perhaps we need to ensure that the right training and support are in place so that there is a diversity of candidates for associations and parties to choose from.

  • The Scottish National party welcomes the publication of the report and we are grateful for being able to contribute in the Select Committee. We firmly believe that all political parties should be held to account for their action to tackle this democratic deficit. It is simply not acceptable in 2017 for women to be discriminated against or under-represented in the boardroom, in politics or anywhere else.

    The SNP is committed to increasing the number of female elected representatives. For example, we have increased the number of women Members of Parliament and Members of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government’s gender-balanced Cabinet is one of the few in the world. The SNP Scottish Government are also taking decisive action to ensure that women are represented in senior and decision-making roles, including in the boardroom. Our “Programme for Government” contains many ambitious commitments that support women’s equality. Are the UK Government considering similar measures? When will they bring them to fruition?

  • The recommendations in our report are for the Government to consider. It is important that significant progress is made at the next general election, at which 45% of candidates should be female. The hon. Lady mentioned equal representation in Cabinets. I was heartened that Justin Trudeau had a gender-balanced Cabinet when he became premier in Canada and that he said, “What do you expect in 2016?” I think that we should ask, “What do we expect in 2017?”

  • My right hon. Friend mentioned the excellent report by Professor Sarah Childs. Does she agree that some of its recommendations would also help to bring more women into Parliament?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are building on firm foundations. Parliament has to look carefully at its operation to ensure that it is doing everything it can to encourage more women to come forward. Historically, we have looked very closely at childcare and family-friendly working. We should also be looking very carefully at how the dissuading effects—the violence and online abuse that female Members experience—can put people off. They are just as important and the House needs to take them very seriously.

  • When John Bright first coined the term “the mother of Parliaments” he was saying that even England, the mother of Parliaments, had still not brought full democracy to the country because the vast majority of its people were not able to vote. We are coming up to the 100th anniversary of some women, in 1918, being allowed to vote. Is not one of the biggest problems finance? Many women are still paid less than men, and working-class candidates still find it difficult to get selected, because it is a very expensive business.

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This came out in relation to fairer child support. The cost of becoming a Member of Parliament can be very steep indeed and is therefore out of the reach of some people, whether they are male or female. The parties need to think carefully about whether they can lessen the obstacles that they put in the way of candidates, whether through financial support or other measures. I know that my own party, the Conservative party, has looked at that very carefully and provided practical help.

  • I basically back what my right hon. Friend is aiming for, but with caution on one or two issues. Does she accept that at some stage the number of women MPs had to match the number of men still in Parliament? It was only some 30 years ago, when my wife was elected, that fewer than 5% of MPs were female. To reach nearly 30% is quite some progress, and I am glad we have met the equality my right hon. Friend has spoken about.

    It is important not to think that the Government should require parties and Parliament to do things; Parliament and parties should require the Government to do things. One of those things is not putting people into Parliament, but giving people the opportunities and experience so that they can, with the necessary luck, be chosen on merit.

  • My hon. Friend makes some interesting points. His wife, of course, was one of my role models when I looked at Parliament and saw the effective nature of women and the work they did here. The University of London only started to admit women in 1878, but now more than 50% of its students are female. Other institutions have made the journey more successfully than we have, so it is right that we ask questions about why progress has not been made more quickly.

  • As national secretary of the Scottish National party until the end of the last year, I saw the successes but also the struggles that come with implementing all-women shortlists. In some cases, despite having the requirement, we struggled to find women candidates. What more does the right hon. Lady think can be done at that formative point at which people might become candidates, for example in terms of work experience with local politicians, standing for a local council or taking on responsibilities at a local party level?

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the work needs to go in early. I applaud 50:50 Parliament’s work and its current campaign #AskHerToStand. Many hon. Ladies here today will know that it often takes asking women to stand for Parliament before they do so. Such early work, particularly standing for local government, can be an effective way of building people’s confidence to take this on as a career choice.

  • Does my right hon. Friend have any concerns that a man from a working-class background could be discriminated against if all the proposals and recommendations contained in her report are accepted?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Speaking as someone who was born in a council house and went to a comprehensive school, I do not want to see this place becoming populated by an unrepresentative group of people, but it is unrepresentative at the moment. We have to take some tough decisions, rather than failing to take action because of the threat that some groups might feel discriminated against, to put right what is a real injustice in terms of female representation.

  • I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement and the hard work she does in leading our Committee. The UK has signed up to the universal UN sustainable development goals, in which the international community vowed to leave no one behind. While African nations have achieved over 50% female representation, it is embarrassing that in our Parliament that figure is only 30%. Will she join me in calling on the Department for International Development to focus on parliamentary representation as it publishes its SDG implementation plan?

  • I thank my hon. Friend and fellow Committee member for his comment. As he knows, we heard yesterday in our evidence session on the SDGs that the credibility of our country will be in jeopardy if we do not do more to implement those goals, particularly goal 5, which was fought for so hard by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney and David Cameron. Part of that is about ensuring that we make significant improvements in parliamentary representation.

  • Points of Order

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have heard you on occasion, Sir, advise Ministers at the Dispatch Box to address the House, not their own Back Benchers. I wonder whether you have noticed that the Leader of the House has developed an unfortunate habit of staring either at the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) or vacantly into space when answering questions from the quarter of the House where Scottish National party Members sit. There is an issue here not only of audibility but of non-verbal communication. For example, when the Leader of the House was unable to distinguish between a 94% performance in accident and emergency in Scotland, compared with 88% in England, had he been looking our way, he would have seen SNP Members shaking their heads. When he made an unfounded allegation about the conduct of the Scottish referendum campaign, which was impeccable, he would have seen us laughing at him. I do not want to pick out the Leader of the House in particular, but perhaps you could encourage all Ministers to do Members the courtesy of responding to them when being asked questions in debates and statements.

  • My first point is that statements made in the Chamber should always be communicated through the Chair. The second is that people speaking from the Dispatch Box should address and, in so doing, look at the House, rather than behind them at the Member to whom they might be responding. Beyond that I will not venture. If I were uncharitable, I would imagine that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking, against all precedent and expectation of him, to propagandise, but because I am not uncharitable, I cannot imagine that he was seeking to do anything of the kind.

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are a staunch defender of Back-Bench Members’ rights, so may I ask your advice? A Government proposal to site an asylum hostel in my constituency has caused great angst and concern there. It is an inappropriate place. It is the wrong decision. In connection with that, I have been pursuing questions with the Minister for Immigration. The Government seem to have taken a decision to put these hostels in mostly Labour areas. I have been trying to ascertain in which constituencies the hostels are being sited. The Minister has replied several times, but his last reply said that he could not give me the individual locations for the safety of the asylum seekers. That is odd because on Monday night Halton Borough Council will be considering the planning application for the asylum hostel, which has gone through full public consultation. I cannot see, therefore, how the Minister can give such an answer. I have tabled a further question to the Minister. If he still refuses to answer, given the information I have put before the House today, what advice would you give me, Mr Speaker?

  • Off the top of my head, my advice is as follows. My principal suggestion is that the hon. Gentleman go to the Table Office and seek its advice on the nature and terms of the questions to be tabled. [Interruption.] He mutters, I think, that he has already done that.

  • If that has not availed him, I am disappointed to hear it. Having had no prior notification of this matter, and therefore off the top of my head, I have two further thoughts. One is that the hon. Gentleman can, without delay, seek an Adjournment debate with the relevant Minister, in which he would have a face-to-face opportunity, over a decent period, to probe the Minister with the relentlessness and tenacity for which he is renowned in all parts of the House. Secondly, he can use freedom of information opportunities to try to ascertain the facts that he wants to ascertain. I have a hunch that, if neither of those approaches helps, he will be raising his concern with me on the Floor again.

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Momentarily, I felt moved to be charitable. I always thought that when I addressed the Chair, I was addressing the House—and, if I may say so, my pleasure in so doing is magnified when I address the Chair and you, Sir, are occupying it. [Laughter.]

  • Well! My cup runneth over. To be complimented by a parliamentarian of the repute of the right hon. Gentleman really does cause me, for the rest of the day, to go about my business with an additional glint in my eye and a spring in my step.

  • And two inches taller.

  • And possibly two inches taller. I am a happy man indeed. I have always liked the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), in the 20 years I have known him, and I like him even more now.

  • Eleanor is not going to call him. [Laughter.]

  • I think the hon. Gentleman had better watch himself a little bit with the Deputy Speakers in the coming days.

  • Backbench Business


    [Relevant Document: First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen, HC 679.]

  • I beg to move,

    That this House notes the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the impact of the conflict on civilians; condemns any breach of international humanitarian law; and calls for an urgent independent investigation into reports of breaches of international humanitarian law on both sides of the conflict.

    I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this very important and timely debate. It is good to see members of all parties in the Chamber. I pay tribute to those who have worked on Yemen for much longer than I have; my interest has arisen over the past year or so, as a result of my role as Chair of the International Development Committee.

    I shall focus first on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and then on the specific issue raised in the motion: the alleged violations of international humanitarian law by those on all sides. I shall not address the specific matter of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as I know that my friend and co-sponsor of the motion, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White)—who chairs the Committees on Arms Export Controls—will address that important issue if he catches your eye, Mr Speaker.

    The Yemen conflict began early in 2015, less than two years ago, but it has its roots in the Arab spring of 2011. When Ali Abdullah Saleh was succeeded by President Hadi, the Houthi movement took advantage of the new President’s weakness, took control of parts of northern Yemen and later took the capital, Sana’a. From there the conflict intensified, with the intervention in 2015 of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition, backed by United States, United Kingdom and French intelligence, and on the other side the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran.

    Yemen has been called the forgotten crisis—for example, by Amnesty International—but it is a crisis that we surely cannot ignore. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the intensity and severity of the fighting in Yemen has left the country looking as Syria did after five years of conflict. It is estimated that since the conflict began nearly 10,000 people have been killed, roughly 4,000 civilians have lost their lives and 37,000 have been injured, which amounts to an average of 75 deaths or injuries on each day of the conflict. Surely, we cannot allow that to continue.

  • I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Committee for the work that they have done on Yemen, and, indeed, to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White),

    The issue here is not just the scorecard of shame to which my hon. Friend has referred, but the granting of access to those amazing aid organisations. Does he agree that the most important aspect of what we are discussing today is the need for a ceasefire, which will allow the aid to get through?

  • I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s own long-standing work on the issue and to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen. He is absolutely right to say that a ceasefire is crucial, and I shall come on to access for humanitarian organisations.

    At the end of 2015, the International Development Committee decided to conduct an inquiry into the crisis. Last year, we published two reports on Yemen. The first, which we produced on our own, related specifically to the humanitarian crisis, and the second was produced in conjunction with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, through the work of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. One of the recommendations in our first report was that the UK Government should put pressure on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. That includes, very importantly, measures to protect civilians and, as we have been reminded by my right hon. Friend, to allow humanitarian agencies a safe space in which to operate.

    The humanitarian situation is grave. Our own Government have described the crisis in Yemen as one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world. The United Nations estimates that more than 80% of the population—more than 20 million people—are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Fourteen million people face food shortages, 19 million have no access to safe drinking water, and more than 3 million have had to flee their homes because of the conflict. The situation is particularly dire for children: the United Nations has estimated that eight children are killed or maimed every day in Yemen and that nearly 50% of school-age children are not at school.

    The situation is exacerbated by the difficulty of gaining access for imports of essential supplies such as energy, food and medicine. That fuels the humanitarian crisis. Supplies are filtering through to the country more quickly than they were six months ago, and that progress is obviously welcome, but levels remain significantly below those of March 2015. Not only is that damaging the economy, but any further changes in the availability of food will pose a risk of famine. It is to DFID’s credit—I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is present—that it is putting more than £100 million into Yemen to help to relieve some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges. The UK is the fourth largest donor to Yemen, and we are leading the way in many respects, as we so often do in humanitarian crises, but we need to do more to press other countries to fund relief.

  • If DFID is giving £100 million to Yemen—I totally support that—what is happening to the money? Presumably, it is blocked, because we cannot get through to the people who really need it. I suppose that it is in some bank or food store somewhere.

  • The situation varies in different parts of the country, but I remember that when the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne)—who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman—was a DFID Minister, we discussed this issue when he appeared before the Select Committee nearly a year ago to give evidence. One of the challenges is precisely the one of which the hon. Gentleman has reminded us: securing access within the country, so that the aid can get through. The UK does not necessarily need to spend more money, but we should do our utmost to get the aid through. That brings us on to the challenges of achieving a ceasefire but also political progress in Yemen.

    Even in the present challenging circumstances, DFID is working to improve food and water security and to provide emergency resilience for those who are most at risk. Unfortunately, the organisations that have been, and in some cases still are, on the ground helping to alleviate the humanitarian situation have told the Select Committee that their work has been threatened by the conflict. Since March 2015, 13 health workers have died and 31 have been injured. The World Health Organisation tells us that more than 70 health centres have been damaged or destroyed completely and that more than 600 have closed owing to damage or shortage of supplies or staff. Last year, the non-governmental organisation, Doctors of the World, withdrew from Yemen because it simply could not guarantee the safety of its volunteers on the ground. A number of non-governmental organisations have told us that the humanitarian space in Yemen is shrinking, making it even more difficult for them to carry out their work. All sides in the conflict need to comply with international humanitarian law, and one of the ways they should do so is to ensure humanitarian organisations can work unimpeded in Yemen.

  • Does my hon. Friend share my concern that attacks on humanitarian operations have occurred on both sides, including by the Saudi-led coalition sometimes even when co-ordinates have been provided? On 27 October 2015 it was reported that there had been an attack on a Médecins sans Frontières hospital, even though the co-ordinates had been provided to the coalition two weeks before.

  • I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this issue and agree entirely with what he says, which brings me to the second part of my speech.

    The second major recommendation that came out of both reports—it was also recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee report, which disagreed with us on the question of arms sales but agreed with us on this issue—is that there must be an independent, United Nations-led investigation of alleged violations of international humanitarian law by both sides in this conflict.

  • I just want to make the point that not all Foreign Affairs Committee members disagreed with the report; a minority agreed with it.

  • I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for her long-standing interest in, and activity on, these issues, not least her active participation in the Committees on Arms Export Controls, which I believe perform a vital function and should continue.

  • I had not intended to intervene at this point, but as the FAC report has been mentioned, is it not a fact that all three reports—those of the Business, Innovation and Skills, the International Development and the Foreign Affairs Committees—were agreed by majority votes?

  • I believe that is the case; certainly ours was agreed by a majority vote. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to make the different point that all three reports are in support of this motion. I am not aware of any of those voting in the minority in any of those three Committees doing so because they disagreed with this recommendation. I hope that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington and I have framed a motion that can enjoy support across the House, because it focuses on the issue of an independent investigation.

  • The Chairman of our Select Committee will recall that when we took that vote—my decision is on record—it was my particular concern that the independent investigation take place. I feel strongly about that and want to put it on record today.

  • I thank the hon. Lady, who is an assiduous member of the International Development Committee. I do indeed recall that her focus was very much on needing to see the independent investigation first, and that was why she voted in the way she did. However, we all agreed across the Committee that there should be an independent international investigation, and that, indeed, featured in our first report as well as the second.

    Let me now focus on the proposal for an investigation that is independent and international. In May 2015, at the beginning of the conflict, Human Rights Watch accused the Houthi rebels of violations of international law in the southern seaport city of Aden; the crimes highlighted included the killing of civilians and the arrest of aid workers at gunpoint. Since then the Houthis have been accused of a range of other violations of international humanitarian law, such as the prevention of the import of basic commodities, as well as medicine, propane, and oxygen cylinders, into the besieged city of Taiz.

    A United Nations expert panel has documented 185 alleged abuses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) reminded us, Médecins sans Frontières, which often works in the most difficult and challenging humanitarian situations, suffered attacks on three hospitals in three months. In September 2016, the Yemen Data Project reported that one third of all Saudi-led raids on Yemen have hit civilian sites, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that 66% of all civilian deaths in Yemen have been caused by Saudi-led air strikes.

  • I agree with my hon. Friend and concur with his point, but the UN panel also said that the problem facing the Saudi coalition and the Gulf Co-operation Council countries was that the Houthi rebels are operating in urban areas and against international law; they are effectively using civilians as human shields. There are problems with Saudi air strikes—they are killing civilians—but that point helps provide a more balanced picture of how this is occurring.

  • Yes, indeed. I was seeking to be absolutely balanced in making the point that very serious allegations have been made against the Houthis, and I gave just two examples—one from Aden and one from Taiz—but I reiterate the point of the UN panel that there have been 185 alleged abuses. I very deliberately say alleged abuses; that is why this motion argues for an independent investigation into all of those alleged abuses.

  • I am concerned that, as usual in these debates, I will not have enough time to answer all the questions asked, although I will do my best. I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s speech, from which the House is learning a lot, and I hope he will concede that we take every report seriously, but the panel of experts that put the report together did not actually visit the country. We need to take account of that context when monitoring and understanding what is going on. I am not saying that we should ignore the report, but it is being used here today as if somehow we should add value to it. They did not enter the country; they were not able to provide the necessary intelligence that we would expect from a panel of UN experts.

  • Surely they did not enter the country because of the challenges that I have been describing; they did not wilfully decide, “We’re not going to bother going”, and just come up with the figure of 185. This was based on serious research and work done by the United Nations and I am disappointed that the Minister is so dismissive of that.

  • This is important, because the lines “There are 105” or “There are over 100” do get used. The Ministry of Defence has looked at every single one of the allegations, and we have asked for more information on a number of them. I am sorry to labour the point, but to offer clarification and give information to the House, the assessment was made by aerial photography with months in between, and therefore we cannot ascertain what has happened unless we have more information as to whether these acts of atrocity were caused by the Houthis or the coalition. That is the point I am trying to make.

  • I agree with that, and that is precisely why the motion says we should have a fully independent international investigation into all allegations against “both sides”. It may well be that some of these violations have been committed by the Houthis. I did not say that there were 105 alleged abuses by the Saudi-led coalition; there are alleged abuses by it, and there are alleged abuses by the Houthis as well.

  • I should say in support of my hon. Friend that the UN panel was blocked from entering the country by the Houthis. The panel explains that in the report and points out that it tried everything to get in. Furthermore, the Houthis also blocked the peace negotiators from leaving Sana’a to go to Geneva for the peace talks. So the Houthis have been complicit in creating this problem of evidence.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have heard nobody in all the debates in the International Development Committee and other Committees of the House in any sense suggest that the Houthis are not to blame, and that is why the proposal is that we should have an investigation into abuses by both sides in this conflict.

  • Perhaps my hon. Friend is going to come on to this, but our discussion seems to be being conducted on the basis of the Saudi-led coalition versus the Houthis. Does this not miss the very unhelpful, and indeed sinister, role played by the Iranians, particularly in providing conventional weaponry? Without going into all the data, I would suspect that many more people have been killed, injured and dispossessed by the use of conventional weaponry, of which there is a steady pipeline coming into Yemen from Iran, than they have by air action.

  • I have already mentioned the role of Iran in supporting the Houthis, and any independent international UN-led investigation would certainly address the issue of Iranian involvement, but I reiterate the point that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that two thirds of all the civilian deaths in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition.

  • Surely one of the reasons that we need a full and independent investigation is that we are not clear about what has been assessed, and by whom. The Saudis have not produced reports through the joint incidents assessment team on the vast majority of the allegations, whether they are correct or not, and we are not clear about what this Government have assessed. Indeed, they have changed their position a number of times on the question of whether they have made an assessment or not. This has involved providing corrections to the House, in which it was revealed that they made mistakes in the evidence that they provided to us.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his comments because they enable me to move on to the question of the timeline—

  • Will my hon. Friend give way?

  • I will not give way now, because I want to move on to talk about the timeline of the Government’s response on this matter.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council discussed Yemen in September 2015. The Government of the Netherlands tabled a motion to the Human Rights Council that would have mandated what today’s emotion is proposing. That motion, tabled 16 months ago, would have set up a UN mission to document violations by all sides in the conflict since it began. The Netherlands withdrew the draft on 30 September 2015, and instead the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution tabled by Arab states which deleted calls for an independent inquiry.

    On 24 November 2015, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is in his place today, told this House that Saudi Arabia was investigating reported allegations of violation of international humanitarian law. He said:

    “These investigations must be concluded…The situation on the ground is very difficult and, in many cases, we are unable to have access to verify what has happened…We have been wanting to encourage Saudi Arabia and other parties that are involved…and we want these cases looked into efficiently and properly by the country itself.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1184-5.]

    That was 14 months ago.

    On 3 February last year—almost a year ago—during Department for International Development questions, the former DFID Minister, the right hon. Member for New Forest West, said:

    “We have supported the UN Human Rights Council resolution that requires the Government of Yemen to investigate those matters”.—[Official Report, 3 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 907.]

    He said that the Government of Yemen should investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law that were happening during the conflict. The following day, during a Back-Bench business debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East said again that he had raised the issue of an investigation directly with the Government of Saudi Arabia. That was almost a year ago.

    Then the International Development Committee conducted its first inquiry, and on 8 July last year, the Government published their response to our report. Their response stated:

    “The UK Government is not opposing calls for an international independent investigation into the alleged breaches of IHL but, first and foremost, we want to see the Saudi Arabian Government investigate allegations of breaches of IHL which are attributed to them”.

    That was six months ago. In August last year, following the ministerial corrections to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth referred, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary regarding the corrections to parliamentary questions and Westminster Hall debates relating to allegations of violations of IHL. The Foreign Office’s response in August reiterated what had been said in response to our inquiry—namely, that the Saudis should be the ones to investigate first and foremost.

    Last September, during a debate on an urgent question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East said that Saudi Arabia had to conduct thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where breaches of IHL had been alleged. He praised the fact that Saudi Arabia had released the results of eight reports in the previous month. That was four months ago. Then in October, during an Adjournment debate led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who is in his place today, reiterated that Saudi Arabia needed to be the party that investigated violations. He stated that the Government were

    “very clear that the investigation needs to be led, in the first instance, by the Saudi Government”.—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 782.]

    So, over the past 14 months, the Government have repeatedly been asked about Saudi Arabia’s own investigations. To my knowledge—the Minister might be able to update us today—Saudi Arabia has produced nine reports on violations, even though there have been many more allegations made. Progress on this matter has been glacial, and I find it remarkable that the Government are still holding the line that Saudi Arabia must take responsibility for investigating its own alleged violations.

  • I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him again, but I think it will be helpful if I provide further clarity as he develops his argument. First, on the Human Rights Council and the formation of texts, there is the question of consensus, as we have seen more recently in relation to UN Security Council resolution 2334. He knows this from his own experience. It is consensus that eventually leads to the creation of a text that is agreed by everyone so that it can actually pass. I hope that he recognises that fact. My second point—just to test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker—is that I agree absolutely that the production of these reports has been far too slow. The reason for that is that we are dealing with a country that has never written a report like this in its life and it is having to learn the hard way how to show the transparency that the international community expects.

  • I thank the Minister for those points of clarification, which I understand and appreciate. Of course I recognise the way in which United Nations bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, operate. The point that I was seeking to make is that the original text from the Netherlands would have enabled the independent investigation to begin more than a year ago. Because of the diplomacy involved—I accept some of the realities of that—that did not happen. My argument today is that that has been a missed opportunity and that we could have started on this path at a much earlier stage.

  • The process is slow because Saudi Arabia is a fledgling state. It is still a very young state that is not used to this level of scrutiny and transparency, and it will therefore take a long time for these reports to come out.

  • The hon. Lady anticipates my final remarks. She used the word “slow”, as did the Minister. I have used the word “glacial”. The process is too slow, and I look forward to hearing the Minister tell us at what point the British Government will take the view that we need to move to an independent inquiry. I quoted the Government saying six months ago that they were not opposed to calls for an independent international inquiry but that first and foremost they wanted to see the Saudi Arabian Government carry out their own investigation. This situation has pertained for 14 months. How much longer do we have to wait before we can move to an independent investigation?

  • Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Ministry of Defence has delivered two training sessions in Saudi Arabia on the process of investigating alleged violations of international humanitarian law? I hope, as I am sure he does, that the MOD will have underlined the importance of dealing with these matters in an expedited manner.

  • Absolutely, and I am sure that the Minister will have more to say on that when he speaks later. If it was the purpose of those sessions to remind all parties concerned that they have obligations under international humanitarian law, it is vital that those obligations should be fulfilled quickly.

    The view taken by the International Development Committee and other Select Committees of this House was that we would only get the full investigation that we need if it was completely independent. It is now long overdue for us as a country to move to support a fully independent international investigation. It is simply not acceptable for us to wait indefinitely for the Saudi Arabians to conduct their own investigations while people are still dying in this conflict.

  • Morocco has 15 jets, Jordan has 15 jets, Kuwait has 15 jets, Bahrain has 15 jets, Qatar has 10 jets, the United Arab Emirates have 30 jets and Sudan has 15 jets. This is not just about Saudi Arabia; it involves the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Arab League as well. Will all those countries be involved in the inquiry?

  • As I have made clear throughout every intervention that I have taken, the inquiry would cover all allegations made against any party to the conflict, but it is quite clear that the Saudis lead the coalition and their alleged violations will be investigated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), who is no longer in his place, reminded us earlier that the Iranians will also require investigation.

  • Who dropped the bombs then? What do the allegations say about who carried out the air strikes and dropped the bombs?

  • They say it was predominantly Saudi Arabia. There is little doubt that the Saudis have the predominant air power. But of course it is not only about the alleged violations involving air power; it is about all the alleged violations by all sides, including shelling by the Houthis, which must be investigated. That is the purpose of saying today that we want to see an independent international investigation.

    I finish by saying that the motion enables the House to come together and to put to one side our different points of view on the question of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and others—the motion is not about that. I reiterate that, although the International Development Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee took one view on arms sales and the Foreign Affairs Committee took another, all three Committees took the view that we should have an independent, UN-led international investigation. This debate provides Members on both sides of the House with an opportunity to send a clear message to the Government and the wider international community that we want to see urgent and immediate progress to enable a fully independent investigation to take place.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Before I call the next speaker, it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon and that there is limited time. I would like to try not to impose a time limit, because the debate flows better if we do not have a time limit. I trust hon. Members to behave courteously to their colleagues by speaking for around seven minutes. If lots of people speak for considerably longer than that, we will have a time limit, which will be unfair to some people. I know that I can trust Alistair Burt to begin.

  • I much appreciate your introduction, Madam Deputy Speaker.

    I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), the Chair of the International Development Committee, and his colleagues on both Committees for their thorough report. I also thank him for the way he introduced this difficult and complex situation. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), and the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). We will listen carefully to their responses.

    I was Minister with responsibility for the middle east between 2010 and 2013, and I also had departmental responsibility for arms control, so I have some background and feel for these difficult and complex issues. I do not want to spend a huge amount of time on the humanitarian statistics, simply because we are well aware of them—the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby got the statistics into the public domain quite effectively. I thank the Library of the House of Commons for producing yet another excellent background briefing. I am sure we all also want to thank Stephen O’Brien for his remarkable work through the UN relief agencies. To put one quotation in Hansard, he said of the recent attack on a funeral:

    “This attack took place against the backdrop of a desperately worsening humanitarian situation across Yemen, with four out of every five of Yemen’s 28 million people in real and immediate need of assistance.

    I was in Sana’a only last week and saw the relentless heart-breaking situation for myself: medical facilities with no medicines to treat basic conditions; parents struggling to put food in the mouths of their children even once a day; and entire communities terrifyingly affected by conflict and without access to basic services or livelihoods.”

    The issue before us, as always, is not simply the relief of humanitarian pressures. We can do more on that, but it does not solve the problem.

    I will talk about the elements of the motion that address the conflict, the impact on civilians and how the conflict can be resolved, because that is the most important thing. If the humanitarian crisis is to be ended, it will not be through more aid but through an end to the conflict.

    I am exceptionally fond of Yemen. My visits between 2010 and 2013 introduced me to some of the country’s leaders, whose despair as events evolved was obvious. In 2011, I met some of the young people and women in the squares of Sana’a who helped to start changing the country. Things have not gone well, and the people of Yemen have been betrayed once again by those in their country who have responsibility for them, but I hope the spark of reform that was there with the youth and the women is not lost in the Yemen of the future. I hope that the political settlement, which will eventually come, includes those who were not included in the past—those people have a role to play.

    We have this conflict because of that past betrayal, because of the manipulation by Ali Abdullah Saleh of all sides in the various conflicts over a lengthy time, because aid money that went into the country was used for the wrong purposes, and because there was a failure of governance and a failure in the process to deal with internal grievances, including those of the Houthis. All that led to a situation where it suits some to continue the conflict internally, but the cost is borne by the people of Yemen. It is essential that we recognise and understand that.

    From the outside, it is understandable that we focus on the humanitarian crisis and that, to a degree, we focus overmuch on the role of Saudi Arabia—I will come to that in a second—but it is essential to recognise that, if we want to make a difference, we have to look at and understand why the conflict has persisted as long as it has. The conflict exists on the back of the civil strife that has been going on in Yemen for a long time. It exists because Yemen is genuinely important. Yemen matters, and this should not be a forgotten war in a forgotten country.

    First, in a basic human sense, Yemen is a country of art, culture and music. It is a country of gentle people who have given a great deal to the world, and it is terrible that in our time we associate Yemen with conflict. Secondly, Yemen overlooks important sea lanes, and the Houthis have already attacked ships in the area. Thirdly, Yemen is ungoverned space. It matters to us if there is instability in the region. Yemen may be a faraway place of which many people know not very much, but it matters. Accordingly, Yemen’s location and the ability of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to exploit that ungoverned space mean that AQAP’s ability to direct attacks towards us and others in the west has increasingly become a matter of concern and importance for us. None of us in this House needs further information on the general instability in the region.

    Understanding all that gives us an understanding of why the coalition came together, of why there is a UN resolution and of why the United Kingdom has an involvement. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is directly affected by instability in Yemen. It can be, and has been, physically attacked. Between 2015 and 2016, some 37 ballistic missiles were fired by Houthi rebels towards Saudi Arabia, inflicting damage. It is important that that is known, because sometimes the conflict is considered purely to be an internal issue in Yemen. The Houthis are sometimes not considered to be well armed, or anything else, but they are.

  • The missiles supplied by North Korea in the 1990s, Scud-Bs, have a range of 300 to 500 km and are being shot down by Patriot defence missile systems procured by Saudi Arabia from the United States.

  • As the hon. Gentleman indicates, there are serious armaments in the area, which causes concern to all sides. That is a reason why the coalition is there, and I maintain that it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to continue supporting the coalition, to continue supporting the partners in the coalition and to recognise what is being challenged in Yemen—it is not only the loss of the democratically supported Government of President Hadi but, as has already been mentioned, the degree of Iranian influence. The Iranians have said publicly that they see Sana’a as yet another capital that they hold, and the risk and danger of that is that Iran is a regime with a clear intent to destabilise the region, to use terrorism to do so and to threaten stability in other areas. The consequence of that, not only in an unstable region but for those outside, is that the degree of risk to the United Kingdom and others has increased. Accordingly, it is not in the United Kingdom’s interests if the outcome of the conflict is that the Iranians are successful and terrorism is successful.

  • The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) mentioned the fewer than 20 Scud strikes, which should be deplored, but coalition air forces are engaging in 150 air strikes, and more, a day. There is a disproportionality here that everyone in this House should recognise.

  • It is very easy for us on these comfortable Benches here in Westminster to talk about disproportionality in a conflict far away. My point is that the United Kingdom has focused on the activities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without truly understanding why it is engaged, why the coalition is there and why the United Kingdom has an interest. I simply want to put that on the record. That is not, in any way, to minimise the reason and need for humanitarian law to be respected and for the activities of those who engage in warfare to conduct it according to the rules, but it does raise the rarely made argument about why on earth we are engaged in this and why the outcome matters to the United Kingdom.

  • Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

  • I will just this once, as I am running short of time.