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Commons Chamber

Volume 622: debated on Wednesday 1 March 2017

House of Commons

Wednesday 1 March 2017

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Middle Level Bill (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Wednesday 8 March (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Taxation Powers

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a Joint Exchequer Committee with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution in November. They discussed the ongoing work between both Governments to implement these and other powers. There are, of course, regular and ongoing discussions between officials from both Governments.

Does my hon. Friend agree that these taxation powers, coupled with other powers that have been devolved to Holyrood, make it one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world? Does she also agree that, quite rightly, they make the Scottish Government accountable for their actions in respect of taxation, and that the Scottish Government are responsible for making Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The new devolution settlement does indeed deliver one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, and the people of Scotland will look to their Government to use those tax powers wisely to make Scotland as competitive and attractive a place as possible in which to do business. We obviously want the Scottish Government to use those powers to deliver that and it is for them to choose how they use them, but they do have to account for their use to the people of Scotland.

Does my hon. Friend share my confusion that the Scottish Government prefer the narrative of whinge, whine and waffle to using the powers that this Parliament has given them to prove their competence in running the country?

As I am sure many hon. Members also know, I am very aware from many of my conversations with businesses—particularly those thinking about their plans for the future, especially since the referendum last year—that they often see competitiveness through the prism of tax and that they want to know the Government are entirely focused on creating the conditions in which businesses can grow and thrive. I really think that all of us need to focus on pursuing our plans to make our respective countries very competitive. In Scotland, the Government have to understand that the decisions they take about using their powers are part of such a package for businesses.

The Tories at Westminster are facing rebellion on their Back Benches on business rates. What advice are they taking from the Government in Scotland, who have listened to local businesses and put on a cap of 12.5% for businesses in the hospitality sector and particularly those in Aberdeen that have been hard hit by the oil price?

I think that is just an attempt to make a political bragging point. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have made it quite clear that they will have more to say about that. They are listening carefully to the concerns of particularly the smallest businesses and of those hardest hit by business rates in England.

Will the Minister explain to me how, simultaneously, the Scottish Government can, first, be not using the taxation powers they have, and secondly, be the highest taxed part of the country, particularly when neither of those statements is in fact true?

It is for the Scottish Government to account to the Scottish people for their plans. These points might be interesting ones to bring to Westminster and knock about in this Chamber, but real people are looking at the impact of those plans on their family income and the Scottish Government will have to account to them for those plans. It is far more than just a debating point.

13. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government’s decision to make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom will reduce the country’s competitiveness and ultimately make Scotland a less attractive place in which to live, work or do business? (908910)

These are all very important points. It is for the Scottish Government to use the powers that have been devolved to them and to account to their people for using them, but there is no doubt that people look at the competitiveness of tax regimes, whether personal or business, and that those regimes are important in the key decisions that people make about competitiveness and other things.

Leaving the EU: Trade

Following the EU referendum, Scotland Office Ministers have regularly met representatives of Scottish industry and business. What comes out clearly is the appetite to seize and make a success of the opportunities afforded to us by leaving the EU, forging a new role for ourselves in the world to negotiate our own trade agreements and be a champion for free trade.

I am a bit scared to ask my supplementary question because I think my Scottish National party colleagues have had three Weetabix this morning. My question is about exports, of which Scotland has made a fantastic success, particularly in food and drink. How confident or worried should we be if we come out of Europe that those markets will be damaged, and what can the Government do to support them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight food and drink as Scotland’s top manufacturing export, accounting for £8.9 billion in 2015. Leaving the EU offers us the opportunity to negotiate new trade deals across the globe and create even more opportunities for Scotland’s world-renowned food and drink.

Agriculture and fisheries are key parts of the Scottish economy and Scotland’s export sector. Powers for both are devolved to the Scottish Government. Under the Secretary of State’s Government’s plans, will all decisions on agriculture and fisheries be taken by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government after Brexit?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have confirmed in the White Paper that all the powers that the Scottish Parliament currently exercises in relation to agriculture, fisheries and all other issues will continue. We wish to have a dialogue with the Scottish Government, the other devolved Administrations and stakeholders about what happens to powers that are currently held in Brussels and where they will rightly rest after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

Anybody watching this will realise that the Secretary of State did not answer the question. During the Brexit referendum campaign, people were told that decisions currently taken in Brussels on agriculture and fisheries would revert to the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State has not given a clear answer to the question, which really matters to our rural industries, our rural economy and Scotland as a trading nation. Let me try the same question again, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State answered it. Under his Government’s plans, will all decisions on agriculture and fisheries be taken by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government after Brexit—yes or no?

This Government’s plan is to engage with the Scottish Government and with the other devolved Administrations to discuss those serious issues. It is not to go out and tell the people of Scotland that the devolved settlement is being undermined by Brexit, which will lead to the Scottish Parliament exercising more powers. I can give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute guarantee that, after the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers will have more powers than they have today.

Before I ask a question, I take the opportunity to send my condolences to the family of my great comrade, Gerald Kaufman, a genuine parliamentarian.

On 12 October, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c.287.]

That was in relation to the deal struck with Nissan. Does he stand by that promise?

I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Gerald Kaufman. He was a near neighbour of mine in the previous Parliament and I always found him to be the perfect gentleman.

I made it clear in previous answers that the Government’s approach will be consistent across the United Kingdom.

While some businesses and workers are aware of that welcome reassurance, I have yet to meet any businesses in Scotland that know about the commitment to give them the same deal as was done with Nissan. Why has the Secretary of State not been more public about the commitment? Why is it the best kept secret in Scotland?

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman how the UK Government are approaching the Brexit negotiations and how we are fully engaged with businesses in Scotland to ensure that we understand their concerns. We can go forward on a basis that will ensure that Scotland and the whole United Kingdom get the best possible deal from the UK leaving the EU.

Scotland’s international exports have increased by 41% since the Scottish National party Government came into office in 2007, which is a fantastic success story for Scotland. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why the UK Government failed to negotiate any geographical indications for Scottish produce in the EU-Canada CETA trade deal?

I hope the hon. Lady’s approach on the EU-CETA trade deal is more consistent than that of her parliamentary group. On the Monday of the week when the Canada deal was discussed, SNP Members voted in favour. By the Wednesday, they somehow found that they were against.

Scottish Government: Draft Budget

As I have mentioned, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has regular engagement with the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister. They discussed matters relating to the Scottish Government’s budget for 2017-18 at a joint Exchequer committee in November, and at a Finance Ministers’ quadrilateral in February.

What does my hon. Friend believe will be the consequences of the Scottish Government using their new powers for the Scottish economy to make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom?

Colleagues are rightly focused on tax and competitiveness. The increased tax powers delivered through the Scotland Act 2016 mean that the Scottish Government have responsibility for raising more of what they spend. It is for them to decide how to use those tax powers to shape Scotland’s economy, growth and jobs. I might not like their plans to make Scotland a higher-tax nation—it is up to them—but they have to explain those plans to the people they represent.

The publication of this year’s draft Scottish budget had to be delayed because the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not make financial information available until the autumn statement. What impact will the move to the autumn Budget have on the Scottish Government’s ability to plan effectively for their budget process?

There are many good reasons for moving to a single fiscal event in the autumn—allowing for longer-term planning is one of them. On the subject of planning for the long term and increasing certainty, I would add that taking the threat of a second referendum off the table is the single biggest thing that the SNP and the Scottish Government could do for certainty and confidence among the business community.

Leaving the EU: EU Nationals in Scotland

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on the status of EU nationals living in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (908901)

I have regular conversations with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on a number of issues. The UK Government have made it absolutely clear in their White Paper that securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the EU is one of our top priorities in the Brexit negotiations.

The Secretary of State’s answer is not very reassuring given the speculation about a potential cut-off date for EU nationals later this month. The other place will vote on an amendment today that will secure the residency rights of EU nationals. If that is passed, will the Secretary of State urge his colleagues to end this disgraceful uncertainty on residency rights for EU nationals, who contribute so much to the Scottish and UK economies? If he does not, he will send out a very strong message that he is willing to use the lives of EU nationals as a bargaining chip for a hard Tory Brexit.

I agree with one thing the hon. Gentleman says: EU citizens in Scotland, and indeed in the whole United Kingdom, make a significant contribution to civic life and the economy of our country. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, we want those people to stay. She has sent out a very clear message, and it is clearly set out in the White Paper. We do not believe that the Article 50 Bill is the place to set it out.

12. I will certainly bear it in mind that it is a similar question, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the business community in Scotland shares a far more positive and optimistic outlook, rather than the forever-negative comments from the Scottish Government? (908909)

Order. This is on the importance of the rights of EU nationals. I am sure that that is what the hon. Gentleman meant.

I know that businesses across Scotland value the contribution that EU citizens make to their businesses, and I am clear with them that even when the UK leaves the EU, it will be important for EU citizens still to come to Scotland and play an important part in our economy.

A recent report from the British Medical Association shows that 40% of European doctors might leave the UK after Brexit because of the Government’s shameful inaction on giving a clear guarantee to EU nationals. Why will the UK Government not do the right thing and give a clear guarantee to EU nationals, who are a valued part of our society in Scotland, that they have the right to remain?

I am absolutely clear about the importance we place on the role of EU nationals in the economy and the health service, but I would take the hon. Lady’s comments about encouraging doctors and other medical professionals to come to Scotland a lot more seriously if her Government had not decided to tax them more than any other part of the UK.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as safeguarding the role of EU citizens in the UK after we leave the EU, it is vital that we safeguard Scots people who have gone to live in other parts of the EU?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we secure the position of UK citizens in the EU, many of whom are Scots, and it is perfectly legitimate to take forward that issue in conjunction with securing the rights of EU citizens in Scotland and the rest of the UK. I am hopeful that that can be dealt with very early in the negotiations.

It is clear that the Government are happy to play political football with these people’s lives. It shows contempt for 12,000 people working in our health and social care service in Scotland and for 20,000 people working in the food industry, which the Secretary of State has just bragged is the most important part of Scottish industry. When will he stop treating these people this way and give them the guarantee they need to live a happy and secure life in Scotland?

I have made it absolutely clear, as has the Prime Minister, how much we value the contribution that EU nationals make in Scotland to both the economy and civic society. We want them to stay, but we also want UK nationals elsewhere in the EU to be able to stay where they are.

Joint Ministerial Committee

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Joint Ministerial Committee. (908902)

The Government are committed to getting the best deal for Scotland and the UK in the negotiations with the EU. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations was established to facilitate engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations and has had substantive and constructive discussions in monthly meetings since November.

At the last meeting of the JMC, the Prime Minister committed to an intensified engagement with the Scottish Government on their EU proposals. Can he update the House on that process?

When I appeared last week before the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, I was able to tell it that in the two weeks since the plenary meeting of the JMC, six substantive meetings had taken place between senior officials so that both Governments could discuss the proposals set out in the document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. We regard this as a serious contribution to the debate and continue to engage with it.

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has been taking a great interest in the inter-institutional relationships within the UK, that we produced a report in December on this subject, which I commend to him, and that the main thrust of the recommendations are not about structures and institutions but about natural adversaries sitting down together and developing relationships and bonds of trust and understanding?

Obviously, I very much take my hon. Friend’s work seriously. Despite what often appears in the media, it is possible for the two Governments to engage in a constructive way. We are already in agreement on many issues in the Scottish Government’s document.

It is not just a matter of trying to keep the EU nationals who are currently in our health and social care service. The workforce is the biggest challenge that NHS Scotland faces, so will the Secretary of State support Scotland having the powers to attract EU nationals in future, not just keeping the ones who are here now?

I have said previously from this Dispatch Box that I do not support the devolution of immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament, but I do support arrangements that will ensure that the vital workers needed in depopulating areas, skilled areas and in areas that rely on seasonal workers can come to Scotland.

Earlier, the Secretary of State refused to confirm that Scottish fishing and Scottish agriculture would become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. When will his Department present to the Joint Ministerial Committee a list of powers that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit, or will he refuse to do so and simply follow instructions from No. 10?

What I want to do and what I have attempted to do is engage in a constructive discussion and dialogue with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament about how we repatriate powers from Brussels. I do not try to make a serious and wrong political point that this is an attempt to destabilise the Scottish Parliament, because I know that when the process is complete, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers than it does today.

UK Single Market and Scotland’s Economy

6. What assessment he has made of the importance of the UK single market to Scotland’s economy. (908903)

7. What assessment he has made of the importance of the UK single market to Scotland’s economy. (908904)

Sales from Scotland to the rest of the UK are worth nearly £50 billion, a figure that has increased by over 70% since 2002 and that is four times greater than the value of exports from Scotland to the EU. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom is the vital Union for Scotland’s economy.

Does the Secretary of State agree that we must not create barriers or do anything to impede the functioning of the UK domestic market as we leave the EU, given its vital importance to the economy of Scotland?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I find it strange that those who make such a fuss about the EU single market seem to have a complete disregard for a market that is four times as large to Scotland’s economy.

Given that Scottish whisky is the largest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade and goods, is the Secretary of State encouraged by the fact that if we move from the single market to World Trade Organisation arrangements, Scottish whisky will have a zero tariff?

It is important to note that there is a zero tariff for Scotch whisky under WTO rules. As to our future relationship with the EU, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we want to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, which would be enormously to the benefit of the Scotch whisky industry.

All this UK single market business is quite interesting, but is the Secretary of State trying to suggest that a Brexitised isolated UK, desperate for friends and any trading partners, would not trade with an independent Scotland?

What I am suggesting is that if an independent Scotland were to put up tariffs and barriers with its vital largest trading partner, which provides four times as much economic development as the EU, that would be a disastrous series of events.

It is vital that both the UK and the Scottish Governments work together to maximise the number of jobs created, but it is clear that the one thing the Scottish Government could do to help job creation in Scotland most is take the suggestion of a divisive independence referendum off the table.

8. The Secretary of State previously told the Scottish Affairs Committee that he attends Cabinet Brexit meetings based on whether he thinks the agenda items are important to Scotland. Will he tell the House which Brexit policy areas he thinks are important to Scotland and which areas he thinks are not important? (908905)

I also made it clear to that Committee that it was not appropriate to give a running commentary on the Government’s internal discussions on Brexit. What I am committed to do is delivering the best possible deal for Scotland in these Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing people in the UK, and across the world, a happy St David’s day. I am also sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who died over the weekend. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and a committed MP who dedicated his life to the service of his constituents. As Father of the House, his wisdom and experience will be very much missed right across this House. I am sure that our thoughts are with his friends and family.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks, and assure the many relatives and friends of our former colleague that they are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that last week’s historic by-election victory in Copeland was an endorsement of her Government’s plans to maintain a strong economy, bring our society together and ensure that we make a huge success of leaving the European Union?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend, the new Member for Copeland, and look forward to welcoming her to this House very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is absolutely right that last week’s historic result in Copeland was an endorsement of our plans to keep the economy strong and to ensure that places such as Copeland share in the economic success after years of Labour neglect. It was also an endorsement of our plans to unite communities where Labour seeks to sow division and of offering strong, competent leadership in the face of Labour’s chaos.

May I join the Prime Minister in wishing everyone in Wales, and all Welsh people around the world, a very happy St David’s day? May I also express the hope that, today, the workers at the Ford plant in Bridgend get the assurances that they need about their job security and their futures?

I echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to Gerald Kaufman, who served in this House since 1970 and was the longest serving Member. He started in political life as an adviser to Harold Wilson in the 1960s. He was an iconic, irascible figure in the Labour party and in British politics. He was a champion for peace and justice in the middle east and around the world. Yesterday at his funeral, Mr Speaker, the rabbi who conducted the service conveyed your message on behalf of the House to his family, which was very much appreciated. Afterwards, I spoke to his family and to his great nephews and great nieces and asked them how they would describe Gerald, and they said that he was an “awesome uncle”. We should remember Gerald as that, and convey our condolences to all his family.

Just after the last Budget, the then Work and Pensions Secretary resigned, accusing the Government of

“balancing the books on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.”

Last week, the Government sneaked out a decision to overrule a court decision to extend personal independence payments to people with severe mental health conditions. A Government who found £1 billion in inheritance tax cuts to benefit 26,000 families seem unable to find the money to support 160,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions. Will the Prime Minister change her mind?

Let me be very clear about what is being proposed in relation to personal independence payments. This is not a policy change—[Interruption.] This is not a cut in the amount spent on disability benefits, and no one is going to see a reduction in their benefits from that previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions. What we are doing is restoring the original intention of the payment agreed by the coalition Government, and agreed by this Parliament after extensive consultation.

Extensive consultation is an interesting idea, because the court made its decision last year, the Government did not consult the Social Security Advisory Committee and, at the last minute, sneaked out their decision.

The court ruled that the payments should be made because the people who were to benefit from them were suffering “overwhelming psychological distress”. Just a year ago, the then new Work and Pensions Secretary said:

“I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 1268.]

The court has since made a ruling. The Prime Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), said:

“In my view, the courts are there for a reason. If they have come up with this ruling, which says that the criteria should be extended, then I believe we have a duty to honour that.”

Is she not right?

First, on the issue of these payments and those with mental health conditions, the personal independence payment is better for people with mental health conditions. The figures show that two thirds of people with mental health conditions who are claiming personal independence payments and in receipt of it are awarded the higher daily living rate allowance, compared with less than a quarter under the previous disability living allowance arrangements.

This is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that somehow the change was sneaked out. It was in a written ministerial statement to Parliament. I might remind him that week after week he talks to me about the importance of Parliament; well, we accepted the importance of Parliament and made the statement to Parliament. He also referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee, and it can look at this matter. My right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary called the Chairman of the SSAC and spoke to him about the regulations on the day they were being introduced; he also called the Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions and spoke to him about the regulations that were being introduced; and he called both offices of the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, but there was no answer and they did not come back to him for four days.

Calling—[Interruption.] Calling the Chairs of two Committees and making a written statement to the House does not add up to scrutiny, and as I understand it no call was made to the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the shadow Secretary of State.

The reality is that this is a shameful decision that will affect people with dementia, those suffering cognitive disorders due to a stroke, military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and those with schizophrenia. Will the Prime Minister look at the effects of her decision to override what an independent court has decided, and think again?

The issues and conditions that the right hon. Gentleman raises are taken into account when decisions are made about personal independence payments. The court said that the regulations were unclear; that is why we are clarifying the regulations and ensuring that they respect and reflect the original intention that was agreed by this Parliament.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the support being given to people with disabilities, I say to him that this Government are spending more than ever in support for people with disability and health conditions, and we are spending more than ever on people with mental health conditions. What we are doing with personal independence payments is ensuring that those who are most in need get most support.

The Government have overridden an independent court decision, and they should think long and hard about that. The Prime Minister’s hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), said this week that the Government have to

“make it very clear that physical and mental health has the same priority”.

In 2002, the Prime Minister made a speech to the Conservative party conference. I remember it very well; I was watching it on television. She described her party as the “nasty party” and said:

“Some Tories have tried to make political capital by demonising minorities”.

This week, her policy chair suggested that people with debilitating conditions were those who were

“taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”

and were not “really disabled”. Is that not proof that the “nasty party” is still around?

My right hon. Friend has rightly apologised for the comments that he made, and I hope that the whole House will accept his apology. The right hon. Gentleman asks me about parity between mental health conditions and physical conditions. It is this Conservative Government who introduced parity of esteem in dealing with mental health in the national health service. How many years were Labour in government and did nothing about it? Thirteen years!

It was a Labour amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that resulted in parity of esteem being put on the face of the Bill. I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has forgotten that; she could have taken this opportunity to thank the Labour party for putting it forward. The Prime Minister made a speech earlier this year supporting parity of esteem for mental health, and I am glad she did so. However, 40% of NHS mental health trusts are having their budgets cut, and there are 6,600 fewer mental health nurses and 160,000 people with severe mental health conditions who are about to lose out on support. Can she not recognise that parity of esteem means funding it properly and not overriding court decisions that would benefit people suffering from very difficult conditions? We should reach out to them, not deny them the support they need.

As I say, we are spending more than ever on mental health—£11.4 billion a year. More people each week are now receiving treatment in relation to mental health than previously. Is there more for us to do on mental health? Yes, there is. I have said that in this Chamber in answer to questions that I have received—

The shadow Foreign Secretary shouts, “Well, do it” from her normal sedentary position—[Interruption.] We are doing it. That is why we are putting record amounts of money into mental health. That is why we are seeing more people being provided with mental health treatment every week under this Government. There is one thing that I know: if we are going to be able to provide that extra support for people with disabilities and health conditions and provide treatment for people with mental health conditions, we need a strong economy that enables us to pay for it. And the one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain.

That is rich, coming from a Government who, by 2020, will have borrowed more and increased the national debt by the total borrowing of all Labour Governments.

The mental health charity Rethink has said:

“The Government has spoken forcefully about the importance of parity esteem between physical and mental health, yet when presented with the chance to make this a has passed on the opportunity”.

As a society, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable. The respected mental health charity Mind has said:

“This misguided legislation must be reversed”.

Will the Prime Minister look again at the decision of the court and its consequences, withdraw this nasty decision, accept the court’s judgment and support those who are going through a very difficult time in their lives? That is how we will all be judged.

The way we are dealing with disability benefits is to ensure that payments are going to those who are most vulnerable. What we are doing in relation to personal independence payments is ensuring that the agreement of this Parliament is being put into practice. The right hon. Gentleman talks about funding and he talks about borrowing. I understand that today—[Interruption.]

Order. We cannot have a constant debate while the Prime Minister is answering the question. The question has been put and was heard, and the answer must be heard without a constant hubbub in the background.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about accepting the court’s decision and paying for that. When asked how Labour would pay for the increase if it was put in place, I understand that the Labour shadow Health Secretary said today, “Err, we’ve not outlined that yet.” That just sums up the Labour party and the Labour party leadership. After the result in Copeland last week, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) summed up the by-election result by saying that it was an “incredible result” for the Labour party. I think that word describes the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership: incredible.

Q3. On Monday, I chaired a seminar at the Royal Society looking at the priorities for the science community as we start our Brexit negotiations, and a report of the meeting will be launched here in Parliament on 21 March. While I of course understand that the Prime Minister may be too busy to attend, will she meet me once the report is published so that I can present to her in person the collective concerns of the science community, particularly those around collaboration and people? (908985)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which he is right to raise. We want the UK to be the go-to place for innovators and investors across the world, and we want to secure the best possible outcomes for the UK research base as we leave the European Union. Indeed, one of the objectives that I set out for our negotiations with the European Union relates to science and research. We already are a leading destination for science and innovation, and we would welcome an agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners. I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that that report will be looked at carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

We on the SNP Benches join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party in extending our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Gerald Kaufman. We also extend our best wishes to the people of Wales on St David’s Day.

In Scottish questions just prior to PMQs today, Ministers were unable to answer basic questions about the Government’s plans for agriculture and for fisheries. Those are important industries for the rural economy and are devolved to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. With Brexit ending the role of Brussels in those areas, will all decisions about agriculture and fisheries be made at Holyrood—yes or no?

The right hon. Gentleman knows well that we are discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of the UK framework and devolution of issues as they come back from Brussels. The overriding aim for everything that we do when we make those decisions is to ensure that we do not damage the important single market of the United Kingdom, a market which I remind the right hon. Gentleman is more important to Scotland than the European Union is.

That is a very interesting answer because people in Scotland, including those working in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, were told during the Brexit referendum that farming and fisheries powers would be exercised fully by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Judging by the Prime Minister’s answer, however, it seems that that will not be true. Will the Prime Minister confirm today—she has the opportunity—that it is her intention to ensure that UK Ministers will negotiate and regulate over large areas that impact on Scottish fisheries and agriculture post-Brexit?

The right hon. Gentleman seems not to have understood this point, so I will repeat it. We are in the process of discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of which of the powers that currently reside in Brussels will be returned and will remain at a UK level for decisions and which powers will be further devolved to the devolved Administrations. That is the discussion that is taking place at the moment. He asks about the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, and it will be the UK Government that will be negotiating with the European Union, taking full account of the interests and concerns of the devolved Administrations and, indeed, of all the regions of England.

Q8. Does the Prime Minister agree that, when tickets to a teenage cancer charity gig by Ed Sheeran are being resold on the viagogo ticket website for more than £1,000, with none of that money going to the charity, and tickets to the hit musical “Hamilton” are being touted for upwards of £5,000 when viagogo knows only too well that resold tickets are invalid for entry, it is unfair and not indicative of a market that works for everyone? What will the Government do to ensure that genuine fans are not fleeced by ticket touts and rogues? (908990)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which I know he has been working on for some time. He is absolutely right to identify circumstances where websites are acting in that way and causing those problems for people who genuinely believe that they are able to buy tickets for what they wish to attend. I understand that he recently met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture to discuss the issue. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced new rules on ticketing and a review of online ticket sales. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will shortly respond to the independent report by Professor Michael Waterson on this issue, but as a Government we are looking at the general issue of where markets are not working in the interest of consumers.

Q2. I add my condolences to those already expressed about the former Father of the House, and I welcome my new hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to his place.Young black men who use mental health services are more likely than other people to be subject to detention, extreme forms of medication and severe physical restraint, and, in extreme cases, this has led to death, including that of my constituent Seni Lewis. Too many black people with mental ill health are afraid to seek treatment from a service they fear will not treat them fairly. Will the Prime Minister meet me and some of the affected families to discuss the need for an inquiry into institutional racism in the mental health service? (908984)

I am happy to welcome the new hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to this House.

It is precisely because of concern about how various people were being treated within our public services that last year I introduced a racial audit of the disparity of treatment within public services. As Home Secretary, I saw this when I looked at the way that people, particularly black people with mental health issues, were being dealt with by the police and in various forms of detention. That is exactly the sort of issue that we are looking at. I am very happy for the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to write to me with the details of the particular issue that he set out.

Q9. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my West Suffolk College, all its staff and, in particular, its principal, Nikos Savvas, on winning the prestigious teaching and learning initiative award for the whole country at last week’s Times Educational Supplement further education awards by combining the teaching of maths, art, religion and science? I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that that initiative drives forward inquisitive minds and grows the skills that future generations will need to succeed. (908991)

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Suffolk College on being given that award for best teaching and learning initiative for its MARS initiative. The college has put in place a really interesting initiative, and I congratulate all its staff. This award is a sign of the dedication of the staff and students at West Suffolk College. All colleges across the country should be aspiring to reach these standards, and she is absolutely right that we need to ensure that young people have not just a skillset but an inquiring mind that enables them, as they look forward to what may be different careers throughout their life, to embrace new skills and change.

Q4. My constituent Joanne Good’s 16-year-old daughter, Megan, tragically died after drinking half a three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s cider, which is 7.5% and, at under £4 a bottle, contains 22 vodka-shot equivalents. Does the Prime Minister accept that cheap, super-strength, white cider is a health hazard and should be banned or at the very least carry a much higher duty per unit? (908986)

First, I am sure that Members from across the whole House will want to join me in offering our deepest sympathies to the family of this 16-year-old constituent—former constituent—of the hon. Lady. She raises an important issue, which is why the Government recognise the harm associated with the problem consumption of alcohol. We have taken action through the duty system, so that high-strength ciders and beers are taxed more than equivalent lower-strength products. We have also, of course, taken action on the very cheap alcohol by banning sales below duty plus VAT. But another element is involved, too, which is making sure that young people are aware of the dangers and harms of alcohol misuse. Public Health England and the NHS have run campaigns offering advice and support to young people, and they also work with charities and in schools to help to raise that awareness. I think that is an important part of this.

Q11. We are rightly proud that young people can study at our colleges and universities regardless of race, creed or colour, yet this week Jewish students are being subjected to intimidation, fear and anti-Semitism as the result of the so-called Israeli apartheid week. What action can my right hon. Friend take to make sure that chancellors and principals ensure that anti-Semitism is not allowed to prosper on campuses? (908993)

First, I want to assure my hon. Friend that higher education institutions have a responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We expect them to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address hate crime, including any anti-Semitic incidents that are reported. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has recently written to remind institutions of these expectations, and he has also urged them to follow the Government’s lead in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

Q5. There is a flaw in the legislative reform order with which the Government are seeking to create private fund limited partnerships, which allows criminal-owned Scottish limited partnerships to convert easily to these new types of partnerships. Will the Prime Minister step in and delay the LRO until such time as the current Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy review on SLPs is completed? (908987)

We have taken important steps to tackle money laundering, terrorist financing and other economic crimes; I oversaw the establishment of the economic crime command in the National Crime Agency. On the question the hon. Gentleman raises on SLPs, I understand that BEIS consulted last year on further transparency requirements for SLPs and will be publishing proposals soon, and that my right hon. Friend the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary is gathering evidence which may lead to further reform.

Q13. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concerns about the new business rates. Although there is a welcome from many of the businesses in the High Peak that will be taken out of business rates, there is a concern among those who have seen an increase—in one case one of as much as 85%. Can she give me an assurance, and give those businesses an assurance, that we will do all we can for these people, who work incredibly hard to be the engine room of our economy, as a rise of this size may threaten their livelihoods? (908995)

As my hon. Friend will know, business rates are based on property value and it has been seven years since property values were last looked at, so I think it is absolutely right that we update them. But of course, as I recognised last week, there are different impacts on different businesses, and it is important that we have already put significant sums into transitional support for businesses so that we help the companies that are facing increased bills. As I said in this House last week, I have asked my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Communities and Local Government Secretary to make sure that the support that is provided is appropriate and is in place for the hardest cases. I would expect my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to say more about this next week in the Budget.

Q6. A recent National Audit Office report exposed massive Government overspend on new free school sites, and the Department for Education estimates that it will need to spend a further £2.5 billion on land for these schools. Schools throughout my constituency are reporting chronic levels of underfunding. Will the Prime Minister please review the plans for new free schools and provide existing schools with the investment they need? (908988)

I am happy to say to the hon. Lady that we have, of course, protected the core schools budget in real terms. Yes, we have had free schools—I understand that she raises a concern about them—but we have seen the programme of free schools and academies continue under this Government to ensure that we are creating more good school places throughout the country. That is what we want to do and that is what our policy will continue to do.

Q14. I join the Prime Minister in wishing Wales a happy dydd Dewi Sant—St David’s day. The Secretary of State for Wales has been working with colleagues across Government to send out to the world the message that Wales is one of the best places in the United Kingdom to live, work, visit and trade with. Does the Prime Minister agree that Welsh interests must remain at the heart of our United Kingdom? As we leave the European Union, the future of the UK Union has never been more important. (908996)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right to raise the importance of Wales. My right hon. Friend the Wales Secretary is doing important work to remind the world that Wales is one of the best places in the UK to live, work and trade with. In the forthcoming negotiations we are committed to getting a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including Wales. The best way to achieve that is for the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to continue to work together. I am pleased to say that I am going to be hosting a St David’s day reception in Downing Street tonight to celebrate everything that Wales has to offer. I once again wish all Members of this House dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus.

Q7. Congestion, journey times and connectivity between Bradford and Leeds are among the worst in the country. Will the Prime Minister support the campaign to ensure that Bradford is part of the High Speed 3 network? Will she commit to delivering the investments we so desperately need for our West Yorkshire powerhouse? (908989)

I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I missed the first part of her question. I think she was talking about investment in infrastructure in her area. [Interruption.] HS3, right. The Government have obviously already set out the commitments we have made on infrastructure. As she will know, we believe infrastructure plays an important part in encouraging the growth of the economy and ensuring that we see increased productivity around the rest of the country. Over time, we will of course be looking at further projects that can do just that.

Q15. When I was canvassing in Copeland recently, people there wanted to talk about the future of their local maternity unit; it was just like being at home in Banbury. Rather than politicise the NHS, would the Prime Minister agree to a review of maternity services, encouraging care that is not just safe but kind and close to home? (908997)

My hon. Friend makes an important point about local maternity services. As I have said, I am looking forward to welcoming the new Member for Copeland to this House very shortly. During the recent campaign, she made it very clear that she did not want to see any downgrading of the West Cumberland hospital services. She also did something else. She put forward a powerful case for what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) has just suggested: a review to tackle the recruitment issues that affect the maternity services up there. A professionally led review seems very sensible, and I know that the Health Minister is looking into it.

Q10. A 19-year-old constituent of mine faces being discharged by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley mental health trust for a second time because the trust has neither the skills nor the cash to provide the support he needs. What is the Prime Minister’s message to him? (908992)

I am sorry, but I obviously do not know the full details of the individual case raised by the hon. Gentleman. We are ensuring that more money is being—and will continue to be—put into mental health conditions over the year. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will look into that case, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to him about it.

As a leader who wants to spread wealth and opportunity as widely as possible, will the Prime Minister ensure that we end the practice of developers buying freehold land on which they then sell new houses on a leasehold basis? Many first time buyers on Help to Buy feel that they are being ripped off by this practice and look to the Government for help.

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning that issue, which he has raised with me previously. I know he is concerned about it and working on it. Our housing White Paper clearly sets out that developers should be building homes for people to live in. That means that we will act to promote fairness for the growing number of leaseholders, but we will consult on a range of measures to tackle unfair and unreasonable abuses of leasehold, as the Housing Minister has said. Other than in certain exceptional circumstances, I do not see why new homes should not be built and sold with the freehold interest at the point of sale.

Q12. May I add my condolences to the family of Gerald Kaufman, who was one of my friends in this place?I received an email yesterday from a local pharmacist who, since the Government announcement in October last year, has had to implement cost-cutting measures, including to staff and services. This week he received a notification of the payment for prescriptions dispensed in December last year, and has had a reduction of nearly £9,000, which represents an 18.8% cut—well beyond the 4% that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat)—the pharmacies Minister—spoke about in October. Will the Government commit to revisit community pharmacy funding as a matter of urgency? (908994)

We all recognise the important service that pharmacies provide, which is why spending on them has actually risen in recent years. There has been an increase of more than 18% in the number of pharmacies over the past decade. The system needs to reform so that NHS resources are spent efficiently and effectively. Let us look at some of the figures: two fifths of pharmacies are within 10 minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies; the average pharmacy receives roughly £220,000 a year in NHS funding; and most pharmacies receive the £25,000 establishment payment, regardless of size or quality. We looked at this concern when it was raised last summer, and made changes to ensure that greater support was available to pharmacies in particular areas.

One of David Cameron’s greatest legacies was his effort to fight human trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Last year, this country looked after 800,000 children in Syria or the surrounding countries for the same investment as looking after 3,000 in this country. By doing that, we help to defeat human trafficking. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we will continue with that policy?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to David Cameron. I was pleased that he supported the Modern Slavery Act when I proposed introducing it. We are, indeed, committed to continuing our policy in this area. I have set up, and chair, a modern slavery taskforce at No. 10, bringing together various parties to ensure that we are doing what is necessary across Government to break the criminal gangs, deal with the perpetrators and provide the necessary support for victims.

May I, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing condolences to the family of the late Father of the House? He will be greatly missed.

The Prime Minister cannot fail to have noticed the recent intervention in the Brexit debate by two former Prime Ministers; I am sure they were very helpful. I am sure that she will know what they and everybody else mean by “hard Brexit” and by “soft Brexit”, but we are all now wondering what is meant by a “soft coup”, when it might be triggered, and when, indeed, we will know whether it has been triggered. Perhaps the Prime Minister will elucidate on that since she has been so helpful in many other ways. Will she take the opportunity today, however, to make it clear that, whatever former Prime Ministers or Members of the unelected upper House may say, the reality is that her plan to trigger article 50 by the end of March is now clearly on track?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. It is, indeed, my plan to trigger by the end of March, and when I refer to that, I refer, of course, to the triggering of article 50, rather than attempting to trigger any coup, soft or otherwise, that might take place. It is still our intention to do that. It is important; the article 50 Bill, of course, does respond to the judgment of the Supreme Court, but it also ensures that we are responding to the voice of the United Kingdom, when people voted to ensure that we do leave the European Union, and that is what we will do.

Mr Speaker, perhaps you, like many other hon. Members here today, took a shower this morning—[Laughter.] I am sure you were very careful to check whether the shower gel contained microbeads. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”]

Shower gel products containing microbeads can result in 100,000 microbeads or microplastics being washed down the drain every time we use them—into the water system, and then into the marine environment, damaging these precious habitats. Would the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the steps this Government are taking to introduce a ban on microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products, with the consultation ending just a few days ago?

I think I should say for clarity to Members of this House that I am not in a position to know whether or not you took a shower this morning, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. It is completely unnecessary to add plastics to products like face washes and body scrub, where harmless alternatives can be used. As she said at the end of her question, our consultation to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products closed recently. We are aiming to change legislation by October 2017, and we also ask for evidence of what more can be done in future to prevent other sources of plastic from entering the marine environment, because we are committed to being the first generation ever to leave the environment in a better state than when it was inherited. I am sure that, together, we can all work to bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans.

Along the M4 corridor in south Wales, over 1,000 families woke up this morning deeply worried about potential job losses at Ford in Bridgend. Families in Ogmore and Bridgend are particularly frightened—frightened that Ford is not going to be able to bring new contracts into the factory, with the uncertainty of Brexit ahead. Can I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that she will arrange for her Ministers to meet Ford and Unite the union to see what can be done to support Ford to ensure continuity of engine production in the Bridgend plant?

Can I reassure the hon. Lady that our automotive sector is one of the most productive in the world? We want to see it going from strength to strength. That is why Ministers in this Government have been engaging with various companies within the automotive sector, including Ford and other companies. Ford is an important investor here; it has been established here for over 100 years. We now account for around a third of Ford’s global engine production, and Bridgend continues to be an important part of that. We have had, as I said, dialogue with Ford; we will continue to have a regular dialogue with Ford about the ways in which Government can help to make sure that this success continues.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Trudy Lynne Harrison, for Copeland.

Points of Order

May I associate myself and Liberal Democrat colleagues with the tributes paid to Sir Gerald Kaufman and express our condolences to his family?

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. I am concerned that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, indeed, the Prime Minister may have inadvertently misled the House in relation to claims that they have made about the changes to the personal independence payment. I have checked the Government’s response to the PIP consultation dated 13 December 2012, sections 6.13 and 6.14 of which make it clear that the Government were going to award points to those whose mobility was impaired by their mental health. How can I set the record straight to make it clear that the policy change to restrict PIP is a wholly unacceptable policy change for which this Conservative Government are solely responsible?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the warmth and courtesy of his remarks in respect of the late Sir Gerald Kaufman.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important matter, but it is a matter of debate. I would say two things to him. First, as he will probably have noticed, this matter was treated of by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and others yesterday, although that does not preclude further consideration of it today. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is a wily old hand in this House, and he knows that by raising the matter in this way on the Floor of the House in front of Members on the Treasury Bench, he has found his own salvation. I cannot help but think that on this occasion he is more interested, as I often observe, in what he has to say to me than in anything I have to say to him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you give guidance to the House? Is it not more appropriate that these matters are raised in departmental questions, and is it not a fact that no Liberal Democrat was present during Work and Pensions questions?

It is better for these matters to be raised in the relevant Question Time session. The hon. Gentleman is well seized of that age-old principle of campaigning, namely quantity, persistence and, above all, repetition. I think my short-term memory serves me well. His observation about the absence of members of a particular political party was made the other day, but he has opportunistically seized his chance to repeat it this afternoon. He has made his own point in his own inimitable way.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you for responding to my point of order yesterday, which had the immediate effect of securing answers to overdue parliamentary questions from the Department for Communities and Local Government? One question that was due for answer last Friday has still not been answered and you, Mr Speaker, may think that it is very exacting. It asked the Secretary of State when he intends to respond to the letter from the mayor of Christchurch. I cannot understand why we cannot get an answer to that question and I hope that this point of order will embarrass the Department into giving an immediate response.

As I advised the hon. Gentleman yesterday, it is the normal expectation that responses from Ministers to written parliamentary questions are both timely and substantive. Moreover, I suggested to the hon. Gentleman that there was a growing spectre of potential embarrassment for Ministers from the relevant Department, the Department for Communities and Local Government—namely, if they did not respond speedily to his question, he might feel inclined to raise points of order over and over and over again about the matter. That would be gravely embarrassing to Ministers and I was sure that they would not want that to happen.

Ministers will have heard, or will hear very soon, of the hon. Gentleman’s perfectly reasonable question last week and of his point of order about it today and I am sure that they will not want the embarrassment of his coming back to the Floor and raising further points of order about the non-answer. The hon. Gentleman is starting to copy the tactic that has long been followed by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and that was followed regularly by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, the late Sir Gerald Kaufman, of raising in the form of either a further written question or a point of order the fact of a non-answer. That is gravely embarrassing and I feel sure that Ministers will not want it to continue for any length of time. I know the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—I have known him for 30 years—and he is a very persistent fellow.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I be the first to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is from a part of the country I know well from when I lived in Cumbria?

I was fortunate, Mr Speaker, to be selected for the 90-minute debate this morning in Westminster Hall on Iran’s influence in the middle east, but I was unfortunate in taking the Northern line from my Hendon constituency to the Houses of Parliament. The Northern line was suspended, meaning that I and many of my constituents were unable to get here. First, on that basis, may I ask whether a mechanism can be introduced so that if a Member is physically prevented from attending a debate or any other business of the House, someone else can take their place? Secondly, will you look favourably on having an Adjournment debate or another Westminster Hall debate on this issue before the festival of Nowruz on 21 March?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and, first, thank him for his courteous tribute to the new Member for Copeland, which will be warmly received and appreciated by her and a great many other colleagues to boot.

Secondly, I am sure that the delay on the Northern line, which is not an uncommon phenomenon—a fact of which I am well aware, hailing from that part of the world myself—was not deliberately contrived to disadvantage the hon. Gentleman in pursuit of his Adjournment debate, but it is nevertheless a very considerable inconvenience.

Thirdly, I would say to him that hard cases make bad law and I am cautious about the idea—I hope that he will forgive me—that on the basis of his bad experience a new rule should suddenly be introduced. That is something that the Procedure Committee could consider and I would be advised by the House, but I would be reluctant to make any precipitate judgment in his favour on that point.

Fourthly and finally, seeing as the hon. Gentleman raises his concern with me, I would simply say that the track record shows that on the very rare occasions—two spring to mind, but I will not name the Members for obvious reasons—on which Members unavoidably missed their Adjournment debates, their applications for another such debate soon in substitution were met favourably. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said and recognise the importance and urgency of the matter. Perhaps we can leave it there for now.

Companies Documentation (Transgender Persons)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable transgender persons to apply to the registrar of companies for England and Wales for documentation relating to their change of name to be treated as protected information under the Gender Recognition Act 2004; and for connected purposes.

May I, too, welcome my hon. Friend the new Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) and wish her every success in her tenure?

One of the privileges of being a Minister is having the opportunity to find out more about other people’s lives and concerns. In July last year, I was pleased to be able to publish the Government’s response to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee’s report on transgender equality. I am sure that the response did not satisfy all the Committee’s demands, but I believe that it was another step to acknowledging that although we have the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and although the coalition Government published the world’s first transgender action plan in 2011, there is more that could be done by the Government, among others, to address the remaining inequalities, unfairness, violence and discrimination faced by trans people.

I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to steer the Government’s continued response on these matters, but I know that my successor as Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the excellent Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), are continuing that important work.

We were aware that many loopholes remained, and that for every loophole a trans person can worry that something will inadvertently reveal their transition. In my experience, some trans people are quite comfortable telling their own stories. In fact, many trans people are doing inspirational advocacy work in our schools and across our society to break down barriers and to tackle stigma and discrimination about transgender issues. However, for some trans people, their transition and history are very personal and something that they want to choose to share, rather than being forced to do so by someone else. That is the situation that my Bill aims to address.

In September 2016, I received a letter from Alex, who wrote:

“I am the sole director of a company I set up some years back to manage a small property portfolio…When I changed my name and title the process to inform Companies House was actually very easy and my name was updated quickly…I noticed afterwards however, that this change of name and title was recorded in the company filings that are freely available for public inspection on the Companies House website. The document in question is a…Change of Particulars for Director form and clearly states my original name and title and subsequently my new name and title. This very obviously discloses my change of gender to anyone who happens to look at the filing history of my company, publically outing me without my consent. The main issue I take with this is that of safety. In future there will be many people I meet and interact with who will have no idea of my transgender status because I simply will not tell them. If someone later finds out, this could potentially lead to violence, which is a reality that you are already aware the trans community faces.”

The potential for inadvertent disclosure comes about because of a conflict between section 22(4)(j) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and section 1087(1)(k) of the Companies Act 2006. In her letter to me dated November 2016, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James)—the Minister responsible for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility—makes it clear that the companies registrar must make available to the public all information held on the public register unless he is specifically forbidden to do so by section 1087 of the Companies Act.

Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act generally prohibits the publication of protected information held on a transgender person. However, section 22(4) details the circumstances under which it is not an offence to disclose protected information, which are if

“the disclosure is in accordance with any provision of, or made by virtue of, an enactment other than this section.”

The Minister’s letter states:

“The Government is satisfied that this applies to the disclosure of a director’s former name as this is required to be placed on the public record by enactments in the Companies Act. In conclusion the data is not considered to be material excluded from public inspection by the Gender Recognition Act for the purposes of section 1087 of the Companies Act.”

I do not disagree with this interpretation, but I think that this is an unintended loophole that needs to be closed. That is what my Bill would do.

Alex also told me:

“In 2004 the GRA came in to place with the clear main goal of protecting people who were at risk of being vulnerable, and it was a world-leading piece of legislation which frankly I’m proud to say came out of the UK. What is happening now with Companies House is an entirely accidental and unfortunate flaw in the way that the GRA 2004 and CA 2006 interact with each other. This flaw is entirely against the spirit of the GRA 2004, and I think that anyone would be hard pushed to argue against that...I’m currently able to protect myself when it comes to my credit profile, my tax profile at HMRC, the FCA register, Government Gateway. I just personally think it is the right thing to do to force Companies House to be held to the same standard.”

The Bill would close the loophole by amending the 2004 Act in a way that would allow transgender persons to apply to Companies House to withhold from public inspection information about a director’s former name and for that information to be treated as protected information under section 22 of the 2004 Act.

Hon. Members and people outside this House might ask why such a disclosure matters. I argue that, as a country, we have provided a legal mechanism for people to change their gender. In my experience, this is not a decision that anyone enters into lightly, and nor does it happen quickly. Again, in my experience, once that decision is made, transgender people want to be able to move on with their lives, to be treated with respect, and to live without the fear of being inadvertently outed or subject to violence.

I am afraid to say that violence and discrimination do still occur. Home Office figures show that, in England and Wales in 2015-16, there were 858 transgender hate crimes, a 41% increase from the previous year. Living in fear because of who you are is unacceptable in the modern United Kingdom. Can hon. Members imagine what it must like for someone to live in fear of violence because of official documents that they have filed in compliance with a particular Act of Parliament?

Amending the law can be, even for lawyers, a rather dry topic. As always, however, behind the law lie real lives. In spite of such a fear, I thank those who have contacted me, including Alex. For example, in the course of preparing for these proceedings, I was contacted by another trans person who said to me:

“My current position is that I am unable to start my business without running the very real risk of outing myself as a transgender woman. Presently I want to start a business to provide technology and web development services. However as I cannot yet transition I am in the unfortunate position where if I started a business now and then transitioned this information would be publicly available.”

I thank the accountant who told me that the advice that they were given was to resign as an existing director and register a new director’s appointment in the new name, although clearly details such as their date of birth would be the same; or to close the company down, have it struck off and then set up a new company, with all the administrative expenses entailed in that course of action.

Just to illustrate the point, let me quote another message that I received:

“I used to do IT contracting and did so via a limited company. I changed my name and title by deed poll in 2012 and also need to change my details at Companies House as a director of my company. I’ve now had gender reassignment surgery and will be applying for my gender recognition certificate as soon as I receive the necessary report from the Gender Identity Clinic. Whilst this will give me a lot of protection in law it will still be possible for people to find out my deadname by interrogating the records of my company at Companies House which could possibly put me at risk if someone found out those details for malicious purposes.”

This small legal change would send out a big signal. Altering the Gender Recognition Act would be a simple change to make, yet it would mean a great deal to the many trans people who suffer this problem in silence. The House has an opportunity, by giving me leave to bring in this Bill, to close this inadvertent loophole and to show that we will tackle unfairnesses wherever we find them. I hope that hon. Members will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That Nicky Morgan, Mrs Maria Miller, Ben Howlett, Mike Freer, Mrs Flick Drummond, Norman Lamb, Angela Crawley, Jess Phillips, Peter Kyle and Anna Turley present the Bill.

Nicky Morgan accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 149).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The next item on the agenda is Second and Third Reading of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill. Standing Order No. 56 states that we shall not have a debate and that both Questions will be put forthwith. The Bill says that we will spend £254,713,662,000, but we will be agreeing to it without any debate or scrutiny. We have had the estimates days, but on those days we are not supposed to talk about the estimates and the budget lines provided. Will you give me some guidance, Mr Speaker? At what stage is this House able to scrutinise properly the departmental estimates that come before it, and is there any place in which we can do so adequately?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. Now is not the occasion for me to dilate on the procedure for such matters. I can tell her that her hon. Friend sitting immediately behind her, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), is very familiar with this procedure; he is certainly very familiar with his own discontent with it, upon which he briefly expatiated earlier in the week.

The way in which we treat of these matters is based on decisions that the House has made, and on the relationship between the House as a collective entity on the one hand, and our Committees on the other. If the hon. Lady is dissatisfied with the procedure—she has every right to be—that is a matter she should properly pursue through the appropriate channels in the House. For example, she could legitimately raise her concern with the Procedure Committee. My responsibility as the occupant of the Chair is to give effect to the procedure that is extant and has been approved by the House. If she wishes to change it, she can seek to do so, and if it were changed, I would operate the changed procedure. I think we had better leave it there for today.

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Bus Services Bill [Lords]

[Eighth Report of the Transport Committee, Bus Services Bill, HC 611, and the Governments response, HC 918.]

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Buses are England’s most used form of public transport. With over 4.65 billion passenger journeys a year, they account for over 60% of all public transport trips. Buses support our economy, and they connect our communities to the workplace and vital public services, such as healthcare and education. They help to reduce congestion, and cleaner bus technologies also contribute significantly to improving air quality. The Government continue to regard this as a priority, and we are helping to drive it forward through investing in schemes such as the £30 million low emission bus scheme and the £7 million in the clean bus technology fund.

Across England, the bus industry is delivering excellent services for passengers. According to the most recent bus passenger survey by Transport Focus, 86% of passengers were satisfied with their services. Buses today are very different from the buses of 30 years ago: over 90% are accessible; many have free wi-fi, CCTV and USB charging points; and nine out of 10 have smart ticketing equipment. That is all thanks to significant private sector investment in the industry. I am particularly pleased that the five largest operators are continuing to invest in better services and that they will bring contactless payment to every bus outside London during the next five years. We have an industry of large and small firms, with large firms doing a good job and small firms doing a good job.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate our municipal transport company, Blackpool Transport, on not only introducing a new fleet of accessible buses, but making a profit last year of £1.38 million, £1 million of which was returned as a dividend to the council? Does not that make the case for extending rather than stifling municipal bus companies?

There is no doubt that in a small number of places, municipal bus companies have survived and that, in a place such as Blackpool, they play an important role in the local transport system. However, the Government do not believe that extending the provision of bus services to council after council is the right approach. It will stifle the private sector investment that has made such a significant difference. However, I pay tribute to Blackpool, which has also done excellent work on the tram system. Those of us who look back to the days of taking “The Ship” and the other historic trams up and down the seafront are slightly disappointed that that can now happen only at illumination time.

The Secretary of State has talked about the bus service 30 years ago. Of course, the biggest difference is that buses are now genuinely accessible. Does he agree that it is welcome to see provision for audio-visual information, which my constituents have regularly raised with me?

My hon. Friend is right. It is of paramount importance that we look after people with disabilities on our buses. An important part of that is ensuring that the right information is available and that we have the most accessible possible bus fleet. I am particularly pleased about the number of our newest buses that are manufactured in this country by some excellent firms.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm my understanding that the Bill is an enabling measure, and that there will be no compulsion on local authorities to change bus services when the arrangements between the council and the bus operators mean that a good service is already provided?

As I go on to talk about the Government’s approach to the Bill, I absolutely assure my right hon. Friend that it is not about forcing anybody down a route to change. No local areas should countenance asking or pushing for change unless they have a clear plan for delivering improvements for passengers. The Bill is not and should not be simply about moving deckchairs around.

I am listening carefully to the Secretary of State. Bus passengers in many parts of England will think that he is living in a different world from them. In the 30 years since the deregulation of buses, fares have gone up and services have been withdrawn from poorer, often isolated communities. The picture that the Secretary of State paints would not be recognised in Greater Manchester. If the policy has been a success, would not bus patronage have increased? Will he confirm that, in those 30 years, it has gone down, down and down throughout England?

If people step on to a bus today, it is a wholly different experience from doing so in the past. We have a relatively new fleet and much better buses, and the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we have the best possible services for passengers in future. I made the point to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) that any change that arises out of the Bill should happen only if it will benefit passengers. My expectation and belief is that mayoral authorities and others will pursue change only if it will obviously improve things.

I agree with the Secretary of State—change should be made if will improve benefits to passengers. That will certainly be the case for my constituents, as I am sure he will agree. Currently, one company serves the route in one direction, a different company serves the journey back and my constituents have to buy two tickets. Does he agree that that is nonsense?

Having parties on both sides for several years has led to partnership agreements and now the Bill will ensure that we have the best possible arrangements for passengers. It is indisputable that the investment from the private sector over a long period has led to the improvements that I described in the bus fleet.

I have a note from the chief executive of one of the main bus operators in South Dorset. Although, as private bus operator, he welcomes the Bill, believing that working together is a good idea, he thinks that franchising is a slightly perverse route for a Conservative Government to follow. He states:

“If a franchise model was adopted, this could lead to a future layer of bureaucracy being introduced, and the local authority would be designing the bus network and setting prices.”

Will my right hon. Friend comment on that point?

The essence of the Bill is that franchising will be available to mayoral authorities automatically, but to deliver change, they will still have to demonstrate that it would benefit passengers. They will have a legal duty to do that, otherwise their decision will be subject to judicial review. Other authorities will have a duty to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that they will transform services to get permission to make a change. Ultimately, the Bill is about the passenger, who has to come first.

Bus networks in England’s six metropolitan areas are estimated to generate £2.5 billion of economic benefits every year. They are a lifeline for many rural communities, which I will talk about shortly.

Let me make it very clear: the Bill does not introduce wholesale re-regulation of the bus market. It is not a return to a pre-1986 world of local councils running bus services. Private operators will continue to dominate the bus market. They will still deliver services, whether through the current arrangements, improved partnerships or franchising. The aim of the Bill is to increase bus passenger numbers and to improve bus services by giving local authorities and operators new options. The Bill builds on existing partnership powers, making them more attractive and easier to use, and introduces new, enhanced partnership scheme powers, which will enable local authorities to work with bus operators and introduce a set of standards for bus services in their areas. They both operate in a deregulated environment where commercial operators can make decisions about where and when buses run.

The Bill also refreshes bus franchising powers, honours our devolution deal commitments and recognises the successes of the franchising model that was introduced for London in 1984. One of those successes is the easy access that London bus passengers have to information about their bus services, with over 500 smartphone apps available. The Bill will make it easier for passengers throughout England to get such information on timetables, fares and routes. That is particularly valuable in rural areas where bus services may be less frequent.

In 1986, South Yorkshire had a renowned bus service. It was cheap, frequent and comprehensive and 268 million passenger journeys were made. Since deregulation, that figure has fallen by 62% to 102 million. I welcome the regulatory powers in the Bill, but if the Secretary of State does not extend them beyond mayoral combined authorities, what criteria will he use to judge other requests for franchising from areas that do not automatically get it under the Bill?

As I said earlier, there has to be a point of accountability. That is the mayor in a mayoral authority and the Secretary of State in other areas. Any change must deliver benefits to passengers. Since 1986, this country is more prosperous, with broader car use. We want improved public transport, particularly in cities, where there is congestion and better bus services can make a real difference. We will offer those cities the opportunities to develop schemes that they believe will work for them locally, but we are clear that any change should deliver benefits to the public.

On data, in London, Transport for London owns the data and was able to make them freely available to all the creative web developers out there who wanted to make interesting apps. The problem outside London is that the data are owned by private sector companies, which hoard them in the hope of monetising them in some way. The powers in the Bill to force those companies to make the data open source and stimulate innovation in the app market are important.

The hon. Lady is right. There is no reason in today’s world for such information to be anything but widely available to the public. We believe in open data and the best possible passenger information right across our transport system. The Bill will make a significant difference in that respect.

That point is important. The focus of every option in the Bill should be on what delivers for the passenger. I want and expect the industry and local authorities to use the powers in the Bill, whether on franchising or enhanced partnership, to work together to put the travelling public first.

I make it absolutely clear that the Bill in its current form is not the Act that the Government wish or intend to pass. A number of changes were made to the Bill and the proposals we tabled that we believe are not in the interests of passengers, and that we will seek the consent of the House to reverse. The changes are also not in the spirit of the devolution deals we have reached. After I have given way a couple more times, I will describe what the Government intend each of the main parts of the Bill to achieve.

I remember you, Mr Speaker, warning me that making remarks about bus companies is one of the most dangerous things any MP can ever do. Nevertheless, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), I have had representations from my local bus company, Bluestar, which welcomes the provisions of the Bill in so far as they enhance partnership schemes, but which worries about the potential of franchising arrangements to introduce rigidity into the system and lessen the circumstances in which an enterprising bus company will introduce, for example, new routes at its own risk, unlike a cautious local authority that would be unprepared to take that risk. Will the Secretary of State comment on that?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I make it clear again that, while we are extending the kind of franchising powers we see in London to other big cities and mayoral areas, it is not the Government’s intention to offer automatic franchising powers to other areas. Other areas that want to make franchising proposals will have to demonstrate clearly that they can provide an improved service for passengers. When making those decisions, we should bear in mind the flexibility and rapid innovation he describes.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Government signed a devolution deal with Cornwall in 2015 to give Cornwall Council bus franchising powers. Does he agree that, in a county that has historically suffered from poor public transport, that will enable more buses to be on the road and more routes, and make Cornish communities more resilient and connected?

My hon. Friend is right, but the interesting thing about Cornwall is that it is proceeding without seeking to use those powers, precisely because it has forged a better and stronger partnership with the local bus companies, which are already enhancing those services. That is my point. We are not seeking particular structures in particular places. We are seeking to ensure that we provide the best possible services for passengers around the country. Cornwall is already doing a very good job of that.

I will give way one more time and then make a good deal of progress, because other hon. Members wish to speak.

The Bill will do all sorts of good things, but it conspicuously fails to do anything for young people’s travel or mandate local authorities to consider it. Why not?

It is somewhat ironic that the hon. Gentleman, whose party has always argued for localism, argues for centralisation of something that I believe should be a local decision. That is a matter for local decision making and local priorities. I have no doubt that Southport Council will take wise decisions about what is best for that town, as will others around the country.

As I said, the franchising powers are not entirely new—they have been available in London for many years—but are being refreshed. Franchising enables local authorities to specify the services that should be provided to local communities, with bus companies competing for contracts to provide those services. Local authorities that implement franchising will have more influence on where and when services run, but they will remain commercial operations, with the private sector providing those services.

That is what happens in London. The deregulation of the London bus market took place in the 1980s, but took a path different from the market outside London. Competitive tendering in London was introduced in 1985, and privatisation of the bus companies took place in the mid-1990s. That has evolved into a network with almost 2.3 billion passenger journeys a year. Those powers are being extended to other Mayors in other parts of the country, to give them the opportunity to operate in the same way as London. The Bill therefore provides for the Government’s intention for all combined authorities with elected Mayors to have automatic access to franchising powers.

I am listening carefully to the Secretary of State. He praises the London model. Is he therefore saying that the model and experiment inflicted on the rest of the country has, as Labour Members believe, been a total disaster? Is he saying that deregulation as introduced in 1985 was, in hindsight, a major mistake?

I do not believe it was a major mistake, because we have seen substantial investment from the private sector that would not otherwise have happened. The interesting test for the right hon. Gentleman if he is successful in his mayoral bid in Greater Manchester—I say “if” because he has issues to deal with, such as the reputation of his party leader and the strength of other candidates—is whether he manages to use those powers to deliver the better bus services for which he argues. I will watch with interest if he is successful.

I welcome the Bill, but the Secretary of State is on a very thin point when he justifies what has happened over the past 31 years with investment in new buses. Does he realise that that investment has come from the extreme exploitation of bus passengers, particularly in metropolitan areas, where bus companies exploiting monopoly positions have been able to get a rate of return on capital that is much higher than they would get from real competition, and much higher than companies get in the franchised London area?

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman argues against himself. He complains about competition in those areas, but at the same time says that bus companies have been able to exploit monopoly positions. That is inconsistent. We will see whether the next Mayor of Manchester manages to demonstrate that he or she can do a better job than the private sector. That is the test. Let us see whether they can deliver that. If the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is successful in his campaign, we will watch with interest.

This is not just about mayoral authorities but about authorities elsewhere. I want to be clear that, while we are open to plans from other authorities to take franchising powers, we will give them only if they can demonstrate that they can do a better job than the current one. A compelling case needs to be made before any other authority receives consent. The key point is that we have the point of accountability with the Mayor, who will have a legal duty to demonstrate an enhanced service, or a point of accountability in the Government, who likewise will judge whether a proposal will deliver that enhanced service.

One of the great successes in London was the introduction of smartcard ticketing, which increased the number of passengers on public transport. Will our excellent Conservative candidate for the West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, be able to introduce smartcard ticketing using the Bill?

Smartcard ticketing is important, and the Bill should give the powers and flexibility to introduce it. I want not smartcard ticketing that links simply to one mode of transport, but integrated ticketing on a common platform, so people do not have to have a different card for every city. One of the good things we see is bus companies almost entirely using ITSO technology. The same technology is now used for smartcards on most of our railways, so we have the potential for interoperability and to make our transport system properly integrated.

Ninety per cent. of buses operating local services in England are fitted with smart ticketing. Major operators have committed to introducing contactless payment on all their buses by 2022, but the vast majority of bus fares are still payed in cash. Some operators even require exactly the right change. In response to my hon. Friend’s point, we are updating in the Bill the existing powers to establish multi-operator ticketing schemes to recognise that latest technology. The Bill will allow a local authority to require all operators within its area to sell and accept a particular multi-operator smartcard. Under the powers, local authorities will not be able to set the price of the products—they cannot fix the fares, but will be able to determine the technology, which is important in ensuring that we get integration locally.

That might be enough to improve services for passengers in some areas, but if not, the Bill offers further options. For example, new enhanced partnership schemes enable greater integration of ticketing. They allow authorities and operators not only to agree the price of multi-operator tickets, but to set common ticket zones or concessions and to join other modes, with their agreement, to offer an integrated ticket.

I will pick up briefly on the open data point made by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). I want to make it simpler for passengers to plan their journey and to know when their bus will arrive and how much it will cost. She is absolutely right that there is enormous variability across England, and it is essential that that changes. Where the service is good, passengers have access to real-time information, but where it is not good, they do not, and it is important that the former becomes universal. The open data provisions in the Bill are designed to allow public transport app providers, such as Citymapper and Traveline, among others, to develop a new generation of products that will do precisely that.

The Bill will also introduce new arrangements for local authorities and bus operators to work together in partnership. Partnerships between bus operators and local authorities appear to be working well in some areas and passengers are happy. Liverpool, for example, the city of origin of the right hon. Member for Leigh, the Labour mayoral candidate in Manchester—an unusual achievement, if I might say so—has developed strong partnerships with the private sector. It might be something that the next Mayor of Manchester, Conservative Councillor—[Interruption]—Sean Anstee, will decide to introduce when he beats the right hon. Gentleman to the post. [Hon. Members: “He didn’t know his name!”] The note is about something completely different.

Now that the Secretary of State has found out the name of the Conservative mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, and given that the Labour candidate has said what his policies are, can he name one policy on transport from the Conservative candidate in Greater Manchester?

The note is actually about my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).

I will tell the House what my colleague in Manchester will do. He will deliver an efficient system, end some of the failures of Labour administrations of Greater Manchester and build on the excellent work done by Conservatives in councils such as Trafford. We will work together to deliver improvements on the Northern rail franchise that will benefit Greater Manchester and the rest of the north and we will discuss ways to improve further the Metrolink, in which the Government have invested. I am proud of the work the Government are doing in Greater Manchester. The Ordsall Chord, the construction of which, funded by the Government, has already begun, will deliver trains between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria for the first time, creating a wholly different experience from the days when I commuted into Manchester city centre by bus from the other side of Salford.

I had not wanted to divert the House from buses to trains, but happily the Secretary of State has already done it. He is right that the Ordsall Chord is incredibly important for transport links in Greater Manchester. Will he confirm that the Government will also ensure investment in platforms 15 and 16 at Piccadilly station, because without it the investment in the Ordsall Chord will be wasted?

I am committed to ensuring that we enhance Manchester suburban rail networks and have the capacity we need to deliver it. Going back to buses, I remember what the buses in Manchester were like back in the early 1980s. I used to commute from Worsley into the centre of Manchester on a bus through Salford, and believe me the quality of bus today is better than it was then.

In reflecting upon regional mayors, will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the policy focus from Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, on east-to-west connectivity across rail and bus networks? Is this not in the sharp contrast to Sion Simon, the Labour Mayor—

Order. I have two problems: they cannot both be Mayor—they are both candidates—and I do not want us to get into electioneering.

I suspect that none of us knows the name of any Lib Dem mayoral candidate in any part of the country. That certainly unites us today. On Andy Street and Birmingham, I would say that Birmingham is a great city that would really benefit from the wisdom and expertise of an experienced business leader, rather than a failed Labour MP.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way to me one more time, and I hope he will forgive me for butting in on his eloquent address, but I have to go to a Committee in 10 minutes. My bus operator is concerned that, if in the franchise modelling the revenue is reduced, there is a risk that the shortfall will be made up from other means that will affect the local taxpayer and business rates payer.

This is the essential point. We have to ensure both public and private funding for buses. Those who seek to make a change need to understand the impact and be certain that they will bring improvements to passengers. There is sometimes a dogma and ideology that assumes that greater state control means a better service, but often a lack of private sector investment means nothing happens at all—so it is the other way around.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State is as familiar with the bus services in Newcastle as he is with those in other parts of the country. In Newcastle in the ’80s, we had a bus service where someone could travel across the region, on Nexus, and use the metro and the buses on one ticket using a transfer. He says that it is not likely that the state will be as innovative as the private sector. Will he acknowledge that in Newcastle we have been innovative, and hope to be again when we have proper control of our buses?

We have never argued, and I do not seek to argue, that the state has no role to play. Indeed, one of my Department’s priorities is to drive forward with smart ticketing across the country on our rail networks in a way that integrates with our bus networks, given the widespread use of the ITSO system on our buses. I do not disagree with the hon. Lady about the desirability of integration, although we might differ over the role of the private sector, which I think adds value that the public sector cannot add.

It is interesting to hear colleagues representing metropolitan areas talk about the hundreds of routes they have available. Will the Secretary of State comment on the effect of the Bill in rural areas where there are no routes? I welcome the flexibility and focus on community transport it will bring, but will he say how it might lead to a greater provision of bus services in rural areas?

I was about to come to that. The essence of the Bill is partnership. In the public transport arena, partnership between the state and private sector is really important. Through the provision of greater flexibility, the Bill will allow for enhanced partnerships that take forward existing partnership arrangements. In a rural area—where it is not always about building bus lanes, for example, but about other ways of improving services—the Bill will give local authorities greater flexibility to work with a private operator in a new and enhanced partnership that delivers improvements without some of the straitjackets in the previous arrangements. And of course we will continue to fund community transport, which plays an important role in many parts of the country, particularly rural areas. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who will speak later, plays an active role in making sure we do the right thing by community transport.

I will wrap up now to give others time to speak. I want to make clear what the Government do not want the Bill to do. As I said, this is not the Bill the Government originally introduced or the Bill we intend to deliver on to the statute book, subject to the consent of the House. The amendments in the other place on opening up the automatic access to franchising powers to all local authorities would reduce certainty in the bus market and reduce investment and the attractiveness of bus services being offered. It would not be good news for bus passengers and certainly not for bus manufacturers and the people who work in those factories right across the UK, from Ballymena to Stirling and Yorkshire. We will therefore bring forward an amendment to reinstate the two-step process for non-mayoral combined authorities wishing to access franchising powers.

We shall also seek to reinstate the ban on local authorities setting up new municipal bus companies. My view is that local authorities have other priorities today, and this is about partnership between the private sector and the public sector. That is the big difference between the Government and the Opposition. They do not want the private sector investment that comes in and delivers better and newer buses, providing jobs in Ballymena. They want to go back to the days of the past, but we are not going there as well.

No, I am going to conclude, I am afraid. I have given way extensively already.

The Government strongly believe that striking a balance between local authority influence and the role that private sector bus operators can play will help to ensure that both are incentivised to deliver the best services for passengers. We are not going back to the 1970s world of local authority-planned and delivered bus services. That was not a golden era, but one of indifferent services that cost the taxpayer. As far as possible, we want the commissioning and provision of bus services to be kept separate, and to ensure that we retain the strengths of the private sector.

We will therefore seek to return this Bill to what was tabled in the first place. We welcome and accept the thoughts of the other place on some amendments—on accessibility, for example—but not the broad principles of change that were written in the House of Lords.

I shall take up that opportunity. I was seeking to understand the Secretary of State’s approach to municipal bus operators. If we look at the UK bus awards, we find that they have been won by a municipal bus operator in four out of the last five years. I do not believe that municipals are the answer to everything, and I certainly would not expect every local authority to want to set one up. Why will the right hon. Gentleman not let local authorities decide what is best for them?

That is the point of difference between us. We do not want to go back to the situation in which every Labour council is trying to set up its own bus company. We think that will absorb public sector capital that could be more wisely used elsewhere, take up essential time that should be devoted to other services and not deliver a good deal for passengers.

I do not want my right hon. Friend to look backwards; I want him to look forwards in this Bill, particularly with respect to the provisions on accessibility, which are most welcome. Could he ask his excellent ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who will be winding up the debate later—I know that my right hon. Friend is wrapping up his contribution now—to respond on the issue of the sense of timing for when the regulations will require operators to provide the bus services? If that could be clarified to a certain extent today, it would be very helpful.

The simple answer is that once the Bill is passed, we shall seek to move ahead as quickly as possible. It cannot be done overnight. We cannot simply wave a wand and bring in new systems immediately. As the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman rightly said, shortly.

The Bill seeks to do one thing; our goal is to do one thing; my Department’s work is all about one thing—to improve services for passengers. The Bill offers a balanced set of tools for local authorities and operators to use to make bus services even better than they are today. The Bill as originally drafted—I stress that proviso—provides an opportunity to make a real difference to passengers in all parts of the country. Through franchising and enhanced partnerships, this Bill provides councils with new ways to co-operate with bus operators to improve journeys for passengers. Open data provisions will allow passengers to plan their journeys better, while on-board information will help all passengers to get where they need to be and will reinforce the message of accessibility that is so important to all Members. Together, all these measures will put passengers at the heart of improvements to bus services. That is the simple and only goal of this Bill, which I commend to the House.

I begin by placing on the record my relief that the Bus Services Bill is finally having its day in the House of Commons. We have been waiting for this piece of legislation for some time—and you know what happens, Mr Deputy Speaker, you wait an age for a Bill and then another one comes along in a minute, namely the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.

I would like to thank all those involved in the passage of this Bill so far—the noble Lords on both the Government and Opposition Benches, members of staff and Clerks of the House, as well as my Labour colleagues, of course, both Front and Back Benchers, who have campaigned relentlessly for better bus services and have paved the way for the Government’s change in policy and this Bill.

The original Bus Services Bill has been expertly scrutinised and amended, leaving us with a much improved piece of legislation. Labour supports the Bus Services Bill, and we welcome the changes made in the Lords, which we hope to retain as the Bill goes forward.

Buses are an integral part of the UK’s economy and social life. Sometimes, a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to our railways and to aviation, but it is buses that play by far the most important public transport role for the greatest number of people. This is clear when looking at the number of passenger journeys alone. For example, there were 1.7 billion passenger journeys on our railways last year, a figure dwarfed by the 5.2 billion passenger journeys made by bus. Whether people are travelling to work or school, visiting family or attending a hospital appointment, it is more likely that they will do so by bus than by any other form of public transport. Buses provide a vital service to people in all areas of the country, supporting local economies, tackling congestion, combating social exclusion, and lessening environmental and climate change impacts.

This is why we want to see local authorities empowered and enabled to support thriving bus services, and to reverse the long-term decline of bus services that was brought about by the disastrous deregulation of bus services in England outside London by the Conservative Government in 1986. This Bill is an acknowledgment that the deregulation of bus services has not worked.

I apologise to my hon. Friend for being late for the debate. Members will know that I have other duties on a Wednesday. Does he agree that the Bill and its related secondary legislation and guidance should enable a simple and straightforward process for metro mayors to introduce bus franchising in their area if that is what they and their combined authorities wish to do?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. If this is to mean anything, making this happen in reality must be a smooth and quick process rather than a long and protracted one.

The rationale behind deregulation was that turning services over to the market would give the customer the final say; companies would compete and, as a consequence, would better cater their services to passengers. In theory, it is a competitive market, but in reality most bus services are provided by five large companies that avoid competing against each other. Since deregulation, bus use in metropolitan areas has decreased by a half and in non-metropolitan areas by a fifth. Meanwhile, in London, where buses were not deregulated, bus journeys have increased by 227%, mileage has increased by 74% and London journeys now outnumber bus journeys in the rest of England, while fare increases have been lower than in the city regions.

In London, a lot more schoolchildren use buses. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that more could be done in the context of this Bill to encourage youth to use buses?

I would always want to see our young people encouraged to use our bus services. I was somewhat disappointed when I heard what the Secretary of State said about young people and their access to buses. He might want to reflect on that as the Bill proceeds.