House of Commons
Thursday 30 March 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 13th March, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Professor Elan Closs Stephens as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 13 March 2017 for the period ending on 12 March 2021, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Cabotage
The Government are carefully considering the potential impacts on cabotage as part of our preparations for negotiating our departure from the EU. The Department for Transport is engaging with industry on the matter. It is too soon to say what arrangements will be in place, but we are very conscious of the interest of the transport industry in future arrangements.
The open skies agreement has provided great opportunities for EU-registered airlines, including UK companies such as easyJet that fly largely unrestricted between and within member states, as well as from the EU to the US, but Brexit could change all that. Can the Secretary of State reassure industry and passengers that the UK will remain part of open skies arrangements?
As I said a moment ago, we will reach that agreement in due course. It is our intention across the sectors, whether haulage or aviation, to secure the best possible agreement for the future that will benefit those from elsewhere in the European Union who seek to do business in the UK and those from the UK who seek to do business elsewhere in the European Union.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that the Government of course take steps to prepare for all eventualities, but we enter the negotiations with good faith and the intention to secure a deal, because we believe very strongly that that is in everybody’s interests, both here in the United Kingdom and across the European Union.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the worst-case scenario is no arrangement at all, that airlines have to schedule 12 to 18 months in advance, and that he therefore has to resolve the issue within the next six months?
I never speculate on these things, but I have had detailed discussions with the aviation industry over the past few weeks. I am well aware of the challenges it faces with regard to its business models. Of course the Government listen very carefully to it about how best to approach that important sector in the context of the negotiations.
Like the aviation sector, the maritime industry relies heavily on the EU with regard to cabotage. The shipping sector warned that Brexit may well cost UK-flagged and owned shipping companies the right to trade in EU coastal waters, which would entail a heavy financial price. What assurances will the Secretary of State give today that he will maintain the same access, and what discussions has he had with the Scottish Government about the implications?
As I said a moment ago, the Government are focused on ensuring that we have the best possible arrangements across the transport sector. We have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on a wide variety of issues. What I will say—I think this is good news for all us—is that the UK flag is increasing in size again, which we all welcome.
The Prime Minister told the House yesterday that she will “deliver certainty” to UK businesses about their position post-Brexit, but without agreement on the principles behind cabotage, trucking companies are already warning that new customer checks will gridlock roads leading to the channel ports. UK-based airlines are already warning that they may need to relocate their bases across the channel if the UK falls out of the common aviation area. Just how and when are Ministers going to deliver the certainty that those companies need now, rather than a ministerial aspiration that everything is going to be all right on the night?
Of course, this is not simply about UK companies, because the vast majority of haulage-based cabotage that takes place in the United Kingdom is undertaken by international hauliers operating in the UK, so they themselves have a vested interested in ensuring that their politicians work with us to make sure that we have the best possible arrangements for the future. That is what we will do, and I am confident that other European Governments will want to do the same.
Northern Powerhouse Rail
As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, Northern Powerhouse Rail will provide faster and more frequent rail services across the region. We have committed £60 million to developing the scheme and we are working closely with Transport for the North on potential route options and their costs and benefits. That analysis is due to arrive with us by the end of 2017.
I am sure the Minister will be aware that Bradford has launched the “Next Stop Bradford” campaign to secure a High Speed 3 station in our city centre. Will the Minister join me in supporting a Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford city centre and thereby support the huge £1.3 billion boost to the northern powerhouse economy that the new station promises?
I am indeed aware of Bradford’s campaign. The leader of the council has already written to me, and I was grateful for that communication. It is important to stress that Northern Powerhouse Rail is about linking not just the major cities in the north but some of the smaller towns and cities where connectivity can be significantly improved.
Is the Minister aware of the economic study on east-west trans-Pennine connectivity that was recently published on behalf of the Lancashire and Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships? The report finds that taking steps such as reopening the Skipton to Colne rail route would boost economic prosperity across the north, but that a failure to improve connectivity from east to west would
“critically restrict the growth potential of the Pennine Corridor economy—a key driver of the Northern Powerhouse”.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct to point to the importance of trans-Pennine links, be they road or rail. I am very familiar, as I am sure he is, with the Skipton to Colne campaign and the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership. I wish it well, and I hope that it features strongly on all the local growth fund bids that come in to the Department.
Transport for the North has great potential to transform the northern economies, but what powers will it actually have? When will it become a statutory body, and will it have the same powers as Transport for London?
We continue to consider carefully what powers we want to give to Transport for the North. I very much hope that it will be placed on a statutory basis in the future, and we will make an announcement in due course. There is an awful lot we can do together with Transport for the North even now, on matters such as smart ticketing and infrastructure improvements. Transport for the North is a great success already, whatever its basis.
There can be no doubt that the Government and Transport for the North have a plethora of plans, strategies and proposals. They are all wonderful, but what mechanisms are in place to ensure that all these plans are turned into some real action?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the immense creativity that exists in the north of England in terms of recommending potential new pieces of infrastructure, but it is vital to remember that there is only a finite amount of money at any one time. That is why in the Department, in the devolved Administrations and in Transport for the North, we have very complicated and, I think, sensible ways to judge the impact of any infrastructure and calculate the benefit-cost ratio.
Switch Island, Sefton
Highways England acknowledged concerns about the safety performance of the Switch Island junction following the opening of the new Broom’s Cross Road and has since implemented interim measures to improve safety. Highways England has also identified options for a further safety improvement scheme and is discussing them with the hon. Gentleman’s local council. Those options include changes to lane markings and traffic signs and the introduction of gantries to make the road layout clearer.
I had two letters from the Minister of State last week, one describing work on the M25 and the other about Switch Island, which he describes. We all know that the Government have a Surrey-first approach to spending money, but my constituents want to know about Switch Island. It has a very serious safety problem. There are accidents nearly every week, and there was one just two days ago. Will he change the priority of this scheme? I was told it would happen next year, but it needs to happen much sooner than that. Safety must come first.
I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would be delighted to hear about our range of plans right across the country. The funding for the Switch Island project has been identified, and the various options are being worked through. Highways England has to work out what is feasible, plan the design side of it and implement the plan. The implementation is planned for the early part of 2018, but of course the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about road safety are part of the consideration.
No, no. The junction would have to be the biggest in human history if it were to stretch from Sefton in the north-west of England to Stroud in Gloucestershire, and it does not. We will accommodate the hon. Gentleman at a later stage, but for now he can resume his seat. We are grateful to the fella.
The Department continues to work with the industry to explore what further improvements can be made to simplify fares. The action plan we announced in December will drive improvement for passengers, including removing jargon, improving ticket vending machines and trialling approaches to simplifying the fares structure.
Many of my constituents travel frequently by train, but not every day and not always at peak hours, so the traditional season ticket is not appropriate for them. What new ticket products is the Minister encouraging train operating companies to introduce to meet and encourage such demand?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue of part-time season tickets. This is a matter of personal importance to me, and I encourage all train operating companies to consider whether the range of products they have on offer actually meets their customers’ needs. With regard to his own route to Milton Keynes, I am sure he will be pleased to know that the next West Midlands franchise will require that a part-time flexible season ticket be offered by the winning bidder, and I look forward to seeing what those bids contain.
Will the Government also simplify the process of compensation for customers when a train is cancelled? The school run train in the Rhondda is often cancelled, as for that matter are First Great Western trains from London to Cardiff. There is no automatic compensation on either of those lines, which other providers give. Why can we not have automatic compensation when a train is cancelled?
There is a very lengthy answer, but I am sure you would not indulge me if I gave it, Mr Speaker. I say briefly to the hon. Gentleman that we need to ensure that whenever a passenger makes a claim for compensation, they can demonstrate they were on the train in question. Automatic compensation can be achieved if they have either a season ticket or an advance purchase ticket. I would also observe that compensation arrangements on the Wales and Borders franchise are a matter for the Welsh Assembly.
One aspect of the ticketing system is that a lot of the money paid in compensation by Network Rail to the rail companies does not reach the passengers, which is quite scandalous. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that that money in fact ends up in passengers’ bank accounts?
We had a very fruitful discussion of schedule 8 payments in the Transport Committee last week, when I explained at some length why the two are not directly comparable. My hon. Friend will have heard what the chief executive of the Office of Rail and Road had to say about trying to make schedule 8 payments more transparent and more closely related to what the passengers themselves have experienced. I look forward to hearing the Select Committee’s recommendations in due course.
Night Flights: Regional Airports
The Government set noise night flight restrictions only at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We believe that noise is usually best managed locally, so we do not monitor the number of night flights outside those three airports. At Scottish airports, the powers to set night flight restrictions and other noise controls are of course devolved, and therefore lie with Scottish Ministers.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. I acknowledge that the night flight proposals extend only to the three London airports, but given the anticipated growth in night flights generally, does that not seem rather short-sighted? We want such growth in airports because of the gross value added that that brings, but we have to recognise the rights of constituents everywhere, including those in Scotland.
This is clearly a live issue for people living around airports. The airspace modernisation programme will provide additional tools to improve things. I assume the hon. Lady is not asking me to take back powers from the Scottish Government to regulate night flights at Scotland’s airports; were she doing so, she would have to talk to her colleagues in Edinburgh.
We have no plans to nationalise regional airports. In some cases, local authorities—or, indeed, local authorities in partnership with the private sector—control regional airports, and that is a matter for those local authorities and the current and past owners of those airports. We have no plans to nationalise airports.
It is important to ensure that international flights to regional airports are facilitated, but does the Minister acknowledge that it is equally important not to cause unbearable disruption to neighbourhoods? Does he believe that such a balance is being achieved under the current monitoring process?
The big difference that will come from the airspace modernisation programme is that by moving from systems that are 50 years out of date to ones that use the most modern technology, it will be possible to manage approaches to and departure paths from airports much more exactly, to provide more variation for local communities and to deliver a much smarter way of managing our aviation as a whole. That is why we are consulting on what will be a big change for this country.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has responsibility for off-street parking. I have had discussions with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and we have further meetings planned. Officials from my Department also have regular contact with their DCLG and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency counterparts to discuss issues relating to parking.
Motorists must be able to challenge unfair parking fines. When my constituents were punished by Excel Parking’s poor signage in Ebbw Vale town centre, many were forced to come to me to have any hope of a refund. Have the Government assessed how effective the appeals service POPLA—Parking on Private Land Appeals—has been in protecting motorists? Does the service live up to its name?
That is actually a DCLG matter. We are discussing the independent appeals process, and the DVLA’s role in that in supplying driver information, but also up for consideration is the vigour with which the codes of practice of the two accredited trade associations are enforced. While we recognise that there are many good parking companies, there are some whose standards of customer service do not meet expectations. We had a very good debate on this in Westminster Hall last week, and I look forward to standing up for consumers to make sure they get a better deal.
The British Parking Association represents many of the operators of private car parks, and the Minister has just referred to its code of practice for the industry. What discussions has he had with the association about improving the performance of parking operators?
I have met the British Parking Association and will be having further meetings. This is all about making sure that its independent appeals process and codes of practice work on behalf of consumers. That is our objective and that is what we will be taking forward in discussions with the DCLG.
A constituent of mine, Lisa Smith, was given a ticket for parking on the line. Another constituent of mine, Catherine Cheeseman, saw a £60 fine very quickly escalate to a £180 fine, with threats of court action, and a disabled constituent of mine whose blue badge was out of date by a week was given a fine. When are the Government going to bring forward legislation to deal with rogue private parking companies and those who rip off British motorists?
That was a point the hon. Gentleman made in the debate we had last week. I cannot tell him when the DCLG will be responding to the consultation that it has been running, but I can tell him that my Department will be working with the DVLA and the DCLG to do all we can to ensure that the consumer gets a better deal by tackling some of the bigger rogue parking companies.
Last week in Westminster Hall the Minister told me that the provision of DVLA data to private car parking companies is not subsidised, yet a House of Commons Library report and a 2015 report by the Select Committee on Transport stated that it charges £2.50 for each inquiry. It costs the DVLA £2.84 to process each request. The difference in the cost of the service last year was a shortfall of around £700,000. Will the Minister publish current figures on the cost of DVLA data to back up his claim, or is the taxpayer indeed funding the disgraceful practices of private companies such as Smart Parking in many constituencies, including my own?
The charge is £2.50 for the data. It is basically set on a cost-recovery basis. It is not possible to predict entirely accurately how many claims there will be during the financial year; some years there could be a small deficit, some years a small surplus. As I undertook to do in the debate last week, I will put all the data in a letter in the House of Commons Library.
We have heard about the Westminster Hall debate last week and we have heard complaints from Members across the country about the practices of cowboy parking operators. Extraordinarily, in that debate the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) revealed hitherto undiscovered socialist tendencies by demanding that the Government act and introduce regulation. These cowboy operators need DVLA data to fleece their victims. How many operators have been struck off for poor practice? After years of dithering on this, when are the Government going to step in to protect innocent motorists?
There were a few points there. I shall relay to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) his socialist tendencies, which will be a surprise to him. The answer on suspensions is 18, and I cannot answer for the DCLG on when it will respond to the consultation.
Rail Network: Investment
Network Rail is responsible for delivering a safe, reliable and efficient railway, and is regulated by the Office of Rail and Road. Over the longer term the company has reduced the cost of the railway significantly, and asset reliability has improved. The trend in spending on maintenance at present is broadly stable, but it is vital that the company continues to drive efficiency to ensure a good service to passengers while reducing the burden on passengers and taxpayers.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but the overhead line equipment on the east coast main line route is in urgent need of renewal, having been installed in the 1970s and ’80s. We already know that there is six-times higher spend in the south than in the north on rail and transport infrastructure, but we also seem to have an east-west divide in rail: the east coast route has received £3 billion less than that of the west. Will the Government bring forward their funding to upgrade the east coast main line infrastructure, since the passenger performance measure is now at 25.1% because of overhead line failure? In layman’s terms, my constituents’ journeys are being delayed and seriously diverted.
I predicted that the hon. Lady would raise the issue of overhead line equipment. I have already met the route managing director Rob McIntosh to discuss that specific issue. He said to me that he is looking carefully at how to best improve reliability of the overhead lines, particularly during periods of high winds and heavy storms, which often cause a problem. They are looking at sites with significant gradient and reviewing vegetation management near overhead lines, track geometry and the reliability of system tension during periods of high winds.
Despite all the investment in maintenance, passengers in south-east London who use Southeastern services desperately need investment in rolling stock to deal with the serious overcrowding on the line. Will the Minister tell the House whether he is looking favourably on the revised bid that Southeastern has put forward?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has already noticed our consultation on the future of the Southeastern franchise, which was released last week and clearly puts capacity front and centre. He is right to point out that we received a proposal from Southeastern, as a result of a personal request from me to the parent company for it to come up with better ideas. We have had it for a week now, and are looking carefully to make sure that it at all makes sense and adds up. I hope that those carriages will be hitting the network as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that we expect both those train operating companies to work more closely together, because they have a similar parent company and the rolling stock that they need. I expect a solution to this problem. We have had a proposal, and I want to see it introduced as soon as possible.
As we move towards the post-Brexit world, and as the Scottish Parliament is supposedly going to get new powers, will this Government do something that is already in their gift—devolve the power in Network Rail to Scotland, so that the Scottish Government can fully take control of investment and maintenance delivery and programming in Scotland?
National Road Safety Targets
The Government are not setting national targets and are not considering reinstating them. We do not believe that targets will provide further persuasion on the importance of road safety; it is already at the heart of departmental thinking.
Is the Minister aware that between September 2015 and September 2016 there was a 2% increase in deaths on roads, and a 6% increase in casualties? The rate of casualties in my constituency of Blackburn is 49% higher than the national average and, shockingly, child casualties are 102% higher than the national average rate. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of dedicated road traffic police officers in England and Wales, outside the Met, has fallen by over a quarter from 5,338 to 3,901. Does the Minister see a direct link between reduced capacity to enforce road laws and the annual increases in road deaths and serious casualties?
I have obviously considered this matter. I look at road safety data on a quarterly basis and an annual basis. On enforcement, how the police use their resource is a matter for individual police authorities and police and crime commissioners, but as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has made clear, there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels. The key is the output achieved, rather than simply measuring how many. It is important to point out that in 2015 we had the second lowest road safety data for those killed or seriously injured in British road history. That is positive and we are working to make our roads even safer.
Most certainly. I am acutely aware of the impact of cycling infrastructure on road safety. It is clearly part of our consideration. We hoped to launch our cycling and walking investment strategy last week, but for very obvious reasons there was a change to the timetable of Government announcements.
That comes down to activity undertaken to enforce the rules and to educating cyclists about the importance of following road safety directions. I am aware of cyclists who go through red lights. It is unsafe. It is part of our THINK! education campaign to help cyclists to know what is good behaviour on our roads.
Two people died in November on the A52 in Bramcote, a suburban part of my constituency. There was another accident just a few weeks ago. In both of those cases, and after many complaints from residents for many years, there is clearly a real problem with people racing at very high speeds. Would the Minister be so good as to meet my constituent Tony Smith, who organised a petition, presented in this place only last month, of 1,600 people calling on Highways England to introduce speed regulation measures? We would be very grateful for that meeting in order to advance the campaign.
National road safety targets were introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1980 at a time when deaths and serious injuries on our roads were at horrendous levels. The numbers fell consistently until 2011, when the coalition Government abolished targets almost at the same time as they abolished the grant for speed cameras. Surprisingly, the numbers have started to increase. I accept that we are nowhere near the levels of 1980, but if it is your loved one or your child, that is matterless. The last time the Minister was asked about this he said that he was open to any useful ideas on how to turn the trend, so is it not time to accept that road safety targets decrease the numbers of deaths and injuries on our roads? They worked, and at the moment nothing the Government seem to be doing is reversing that trend.
I simply do not accept that policymaking is as simple as setting targets. If we look at all the action the Government are undertaking—the changes to the statutory option on drink driving, drug driving legislation, the THINK! campaign, the increase in penalties in relation to mobile phone use and so on—we see that our efforts to take road safety further are significant. If policymaking was as simple as setting targets, Gordon Brown would have left us a very well-run Government and nobody pretends he did that.
Heathrow: Noise Monitoring
Noise is measured around Heathrow airport by a set of fixed and mobile monitors. To ensure effective monitoring, the Government have instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to validate the data from the monitors, and reports based on that information are published annually.
Planes are currently flying at too low an altitude, which is causing excessive noise pollution over homes and schools in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how the new noise commission will be able to prevent medically unsafe noise levels from aircraft flying over residential areas?
I am well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents and others, particularly about aircraft such as the A380 as it comes in on the flightpath into Heathrow airport. Obviously we need to get this right, and I hope that the airspace modernisation programme will help in that regard. We are pressing ahead with the establishment of an independent commission on civil aviation noise, and consulting on the powers that it should have. My hon. Friend has had a number of sensible thoughts about how we might address the problem, and I should be happy to meet her to discuss it.
Thousands of my constituents will live under an extremely loud noise environment if and when runway 3 goes ahead, but they do not at present, and I welcome the formation of the new community campaign group Brentford and Hounslow Stop Heathrow Expansion. Will the Government insist that if runway 3 goes ahead, Heathrow must match Gatwick’s offer to pay all council tax payers within the 57 dBA contour £1,000 per annum in compensation?
I do not think that it is a question of comparison between airports. What we have at Heathrow is a world-beating package of compensation for those affected, combined with a rapid change in aircraft technology which means that the new generation of aircraft coming on stream are much quieter than any we have seen before. Alongside that are our plans for the modernisation of airspace. We also need to ensure that the angles of approach to Heathrow are the best possible, in order to minimise the impact on local residents. I believe that, overall, we are taking the right approach to what I know is a difficult issue for the hon. Lady’s constituents and others. We have tried to get the balance right.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of reducing congestion and noise pollution around Heathrow would be better use of regional airports, and does he agree that a reduction in air passenger duty for regional airports would be a good incentive?
I am a strong supporter of our regional airports. There are some great success stories, including what I suspect is my hon. Friend’s pet regional local airport, Birmingham: it has been enormously successful in recent years. However, I fear that my hon. Friend will have to make representations about air passenger duty to the Chancellor during Treasury questions.
Can the Secretary of State explain why the consultation on the draft national policy statement promoted improved certainty of respite from aircraft noise from an expanded Heathrow, but failed to mention that that respite would be reduced from eight hours a day to just six, or even four?
We have tried to set out the impact of the change in broad terms. It is certainly the case that in comparison with Gatwick and its fully mixed-mode operation, Heathrow, across three runways, is able to offer respite in a way that was not assumed by the Airports Commission in its consideration of both proposals. The impact on neighbouring communities is one factor among many that the commission considered, as did the Government.
Road Collision Investigation Unit
No assessment has been made of the merits of establishing a road collision investigation unit, as there are well-established collision investigation units in the police service, and effective ways of reporting conclusions and outcomes. The Department does, however, directly fund a programme of detailed investigation under the road accident in-depth study, in conjunction with police forces, coroners and several hospitals.
The Minister knows of the interest that I take in this matter, as chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety and the international council for road safety research. There is no doubt that we need an investigation unit to deal with sea, air and rail transport. All the transport safety interests across the board are in favour of the establishment of such a unit. We do not think that it would be costly, and it would be effective. Will the Minister think again?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s long-established campaigning interest in road safety, and I would just refer back to the earlier answer: we have well-established collision investigation units within the police service, so I see no point in duplication.
Collisions have a range of causes, but one of them is undoubtedly the poor condition of our local roads. The Minister will be aware of the ALARM—annual local authority road maintenance—survey published this week showing that one in six local roads will not be fit for purpose in five years’ time, and that the number of potholes filled per authority fell by 19% last year. I anticipate that he will tell me how just much money is being poured into those potholes, but does he accept that short-term fixes are no substitute for proper resurfacing, which for most roads currently happens just once every 55 years?
The condition of the local roads is the responsibility of the local highways authorities, and we are very keen to support them in their work. I fully recognise that there is a backlog and have seen various projections of how much that might cost to fill, which is why we have allocated a record amount of money to support local highways authorities. The sum stands at over £6 billion during this Parliament, including £250 million specifically to help fix potholes.
The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion right across the country. In Oxfordshire this includes investing £35 million for public transport improvements on the A40 and a £9.5 million budget for Didcot station car park expansion, as well as investing some £19.4 million in the next financial year to reduce congestion at key locations across the county.
Congestion on the A40 between Witney and Oxford causes daily misery for commuters and restricts the economic growth of this vital dynamic area. It is essential that a complete solution to this problem is found. The £35 million for the public transport solution is welcome, but what steps will the Government take to provide funding for a complete solution to the congestion on that busy road?
As ever, my hon. Friend speaks up vigorously on behalf of his constituency. We recognise the importance of that local road to the economic growth of the area, which is why we are supporting the A40 science transit scheme, with £35 million of local growth funding for enhancements to the A40 corridor. I encourage local partners to continue to work together to explore further options to address the issues along that stretch of road. I would of course be happy to discuss any of the options with my hon. Friend.
North Wales-England Transport Links
The Government are investing in major signalling renewals on the north Wales line to improve reliability and, after years of waiting, in the Halton curve. This will improve rail connectivity between north Wales, west Cheshire and the Liverpool city region, including Liverpool John Lennon airport. Our recently announced national productivity investment fund will also support local authority investment on the A483 corridor between Chester and Wrexham.
I am grateful for that answer, and the Minister knows that I support all of those initiatives, but will he consider the letter sent to him by Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament on behalf of the Mersey Dee Alliance and Cheshire East council asking him to look at the developments of High Speed 2 and the hub at Crewe? Building on that progress will help connectivity on behalf of all of us in the region.
I know all about the letter, and indeed had a meeting to discuss the issue yesterday. I am seized of the necessity to make sure that north Wales does not miss out in the investment that we are putting into our rail network. We will bring forward our thoughts in due course, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is very much top of mind in the Department.
Mid Wales has difficulty with transport links to both north and south Wales, and indeed to England—although I can assure everyone that it is worth the difficulty of the journey in getting to mid Wales. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that road links to mid Wales are improved?
We will do our bit on the English side of the border—we are spending more money than ever on the road network in England—but I fear that it is to Cardiff that my hon. Friend will have to look for the improvements that will provide that final link into his constituency. His is, of course, a beautiful part of the country, and all of us would want to be able to visit it.
The Secretary of State rightly mentioned the Halton curve, for which I have campaigned for many years. It opens up all sorts of possibilities, not least in respect of our connectivity with north Wales. Will he look at the importance of reopening Ditton station in Halton and, when the new city region mayor is elected, talk to them about how that can be brought about much more quickly?
I had a meeting yesterday with the man who I hope will be the next city region mayor, the Conservative candidate Tony Caldeira, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he has ambitious plans to improve the transport infrastructure in and around the Merseyside region.
East Midlands Rail Franchise
On 1 March this year, the Department announced the three companies that are shortlisted to bid for the next east midlands franchise. A public consultation will be held in due course, followed by the publication of the invitation to tender and the stakeholder briefing document.
I welcome that answer. In the context of my hon. Friend’s work on the franchise, can he reassure me and my constituents that when the new franchise is awarded we will see new, modern rolling stock capable of operating on diesel and electric lines on that route, as well as later services and Sunday services operating on the popular local Ivanhoe line?
My hon. Friend is quite right to campaign on behalf of the Ivanhoe line and of his constituents. I hope that all Members of Parliament across the east midlands will contribute to the consultation and make it clear what they want to see in the new franchise. We look forward to reading their responses to the consultation.
May I press the Minister again on that point? When the franchise is let, the HSTs are going to be phased out, having reached the end of their very long lives, and will need to be replaced. Will they be replaced with hybrid trains that will not have to be changed again when the midland main line is eventually electrified?
The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me for making a somewhat elliptical response. We are continuing to look at the options for rolling stock on that route, working closely with the current franchisee and other bidders for the franchise. We hope to make an announcement in due course.
Kettering Rail Service
As my hon. Friend has just heard, the train timetable options for the new east midlands franchise are still under development. Once it is complete and we have reviewed the responses to the public consultation, we will have a much better idea of what we want the bidders to deliver against. This will clearly include significant improvements, where possible to services to and from Kettering.
This relates to the junction between the suburban service out of St Pancras to Corby and the midland main line service from St Pancras to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. The connectivity from Kettering northward was halved by the last Labour Government to one train per hour. Will the Minister make it one of his top priorities to reinstate the half-hourly service northward?
My hon. Friend and I have already discussed at some length the opportunities to improve services from Kettering, and everyone in the House knows what a doughty campaigner he is for his constituency. I am sure that I will be reminded time and again of these issues. A sixth path is being created on the route, and I look forward to seeing how the consultation recommends that it be best deployed. I am sure that Kettering will feature heavily in those submissions.
Bus Passenger Satisfaction
The independent transport user watchdog, Transport Focus, produces an annual bus passenger satisfaction survey, and the autumn 2016 report was published last week. Overall bus passenger survey results scored 87%, up from 86% in the previous year.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but the Manchester Evening News recently ran its own survey of Greater Manchester residents, and in response to being asked which part of the transport network people most wanted to see improved, more than one in five identified poor bus services. Their complaints covered a whole range of issues including pricing, difficulty in making long journeys, the lack of night buses and general unreliability. What reassurance can the Minister give to Greater Manchester bus users that their complaints are being heard?
Neither I nor the Minister responsible for this issue, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), has had any contact with the Scottish Government so far about the devolution of ship-to-ship transfers. However, the Minister of State wrote to Scottish Ministers earlier this month, acknowledging that the permitting arrangements for granting oil transfer licences for ship-to-ship transfers needed improvement. Our intention is to review the process around the application and assessment of licences in consultation with the devolved Administrations later this year.
I thank the Minister for that positive response. SNP colleagues, the Scottish Government and local communities are unconvinced by the safety of ship-to-ship oil transfers, particularly in the Cromarty firth, which is a European special protection area for bottlenose dolphins. I am pleased that the Minister is prepared to take up the case with Scottish Ministers, and I wonder whether he would consider devolving powers, which I think is appropriate, so that such decisions could be taken in Scotland.
We will certainly be consulting, as I just said. I understand that the original application from the Cromarty Firth port authority was not suitable and that it is looking to make a further application. If one is submitted, there will be a full consultation exercise, and the Scottish Government will be formally consulted.
Litter Removal: Highways England
Litter collection is an important part of Highways England’s duties. The Department recently asked Highways England to identify the worst spots on the network, and they were targeted for cleaning in early March. Highways England is responsible for cleaning litter only on motorways and the strategic road network—about 2.5% of the total road network—but it removes 200,000 sacks of litter from the roadside every year.
Over 2,000 people responded to my recent rural residents survey in Faversham and Mid Kent, and one of the most common concerns was litter, especially on the A2 and the M2. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that Highways England fulfils its statutory duty to keep Kent’s roads clean?
This issue is raised constantly by Ministers with Highways England. It has a duty to adhere to the code of practice on litter and refuse, which is part of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and we monitor that very carefully. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that 200 bags of litter were collected in March at the Marling Cross lorry park on the A2.
European Transport and Safety Organisations
I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of Exiting the European Union on a regular basis to discuss the UK’s exit. Ministers and officials in both Departments are working closely together to analyse the impact on the aviation industry after we leave the EU. We are carefully considering the implications for the UK’s future participation in the EASA, the Single European Sky initiative and the European common aviation area.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. The Prime Minister flippantly said that we will be leaving EU institutions, but not Europe, as if that was a good thing. EASA plays a crucial role in excluding from European airspace any aircraft or company that has poor safety records, safeguarding the security and wellbeing of people right across the continent. Now that the negotiations are under way, the Government have a duty to tell passengers in the aviation sector whether the UK will be a participant, or are they happy to compromise our economy and passenger wellbeing to achieve their Little Britain hard Brexit?
That may be, Mr Speaker, but the hon. Lady does speak an awful lot of nonsense. We are not pursuing a Little Britain strategy; we are looking to build our role in the world, and aviation will be an important part of that, which is why we are seeking to expand Heathrow airport—subject to the consultation happening at the moment. We will of course bring forward our proposals in due course to this House and to this country. Many of these international bodies go far beyond the European Union, and we will carry on playing a role in many international bodies that go far beyond the European Union.
Last year I set out a bold vision for a railway that puts passengers at the heart of everything it does. We have already heard today about our plans to deliver more capacity for commuters on Southeastern trains. Longer trains on the Southeastern network are a priority for this Government and an absolute priority for the new franchise. On Monday, I announced news for commuters on the south-western routes, with the new franchise announcement. With the experience of MTR, which delivers 99.9% reliability on the Hong Kong metro, the new franchisee will oversee a £1.2 billion investment, delivering more trains, faster journeys and more space. That will bring about a transformation for those passengers, which we are also looking to do for passengers around Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff in addition to those around London.
The recently published “Kent Corridors to M25 Route Strategy” identifies Brenley Corner in my constituency as a congestion and accident hotspot. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department is considering significant investment in that junction?
We are in the process of digesting the route strategies provided by Highways England. The strategies set a blueprint for the projects we will need to deliver in the future to ease those points of congestion. I cannot at this early stage give a Government commitment to individual projects, but we are looking carefully at that study and others. We are seized of the need to make sure that we address such problems.
Three years ago the Law Commission recommended wholesale reform of taxi and private hire services, but the Government have not responded. Uber proliferates, but it pays no VAT and the country loses a fortune in avoided corporation tax. The former London Mayor was sat on when he tried to bring Uber to heel, despite the denials of his Bullingdon club friends. A No. 10 adviser, lo and behold, now runs Uber. Is it not time that we saw some urgent action from the Secretary of State on the taxi and private hire industry and, while he is at it, on the way in which his party runs its chumocracy?
Given the current state of the Labour party, I am not sure I would go down that road if I were the hon. Gentleman. We are currently looking at what is the best approach to the future regulation and structure of our taxi and private hire services. I see it as a particular priority to ensure public safety. We and local authorities are doing that work, and we want to deliver the right framework for it. Our job is to ensure that we have the right choice for consumers and the right options in our marketplace, but we also want to protect those parts of our industry, such as London black cabs, that are a national institution and that none of us would wish to see disappear. This is about a measured approach. Of course, some of the most evocative issues lie in the hands of the London Mayor and not of this Government.
The Uber scandal is not the only issue of concern right at the heart of this Tory Government, given their perpetual revolving-door employment strategy. While we await a formal response on how a senior Department for Transport civil servant awarded a rail franchise while part-owning the consultancy advising the successful bidder, yesterday it was announced that HS2 had dropped the £170 million engineering contract with CH2M. The chief executive officer of HS2, now a full-time appointment, came from CH2M and, more than that, HS2’s former chief of staff worked on the engineering company’s bid for the project. Now the director general of HS2 has resigned this very morning. I do not agree with the TaxPayers Alliance when it says that it does not pass “the smell test,” because in fact it stinks to high heaven. Will the Secretary of State order an immediate independent inquiry into these goings on? His silence on the issue speaks volumes.
Let us be clear about this. First, on the appointment to the chief executive role of HS2, I want the best person for that job, and we will always seek to recruit the best person for that job. I will also ensure that if there are any questions about the recruitment process, they are addressed and investigated carefully by the civil service to reassure me that we can make an appointment without any concern. That we did, and I have absolute confidence in both that recruitment process and in that new chief executive. Yesterday’s announcement that CH2M HILL has decided to withdraw from the contract after an issue—not a massive one—emerged in the contracting process is the right one. I am grateful to the company for doing that, as it is the right thing to do. I want to make sure that Government contracting processes recruit the right expertise, corporate or individual, but are also robust in making sure that, if things are not done right, it is addressed. That is what has happened.
I know about my hon. Friend’s interest in that potential scheme. Sir John is an important adviser to the Government in a number of different roles, and I respect and value his expertise. There is a substantial amount of private finance out there looking for projects to develop, and we always welcome serious proposals to improve our infrastructure with the support of private finance.
My hon. Friend rightly identifies that we need to improve the service on the Great Western main line, particularly to Cardiff, Swansea and beyond. We are looking at all the options for how we can deliver passenger benefits. A re-franchising process will commence shortly and I look forward to hearing all the ideas that hon. Members on both sides of the House have.
I am well aware of this issue, and of course this is a consultation on a draft national policy statement. The ultimate decisions about that plant will be a matter for both its owners and Heathrow airport, and both will have to be satisfied that they are putting appropriate arrangements in place in order for things to go ahead. I take the right hon. Lady’s comments today as a representation to that consultation.
I can only vouch for the anticipation in the Maynard household about this coming Sunday, but I am also glad to hear that Ilkeston is looking forward to utilising its new train services. I am heartened by the number of Members on both sides of the House who have approached me regarding potential new stations on their local rail network. This is a very welcome change from the era when the network was contracting, with people now seeing rail stations as opportunities for growth, both economically and in terms of population. I really welcome that progress.
As my right hon. Friend is not here, I am very happy to put dates in his diary for him, and I am sure that such a meeting will be achievable.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State may well be trapped in the congestion around Newark on the A1 on his way back home to Lincolnshire. As you will have seen, Mr Speaker, according to the Office for National Statistics my constituents are the happiest of any in the country, but they are kept awake at night by the spate of terrible accidents on the A1 between Grantham and Retford. In the Minister of State’s absence, will the Secretary of State commission a full review of safety along the A1, particularly at Newark and through this dangerous stretch between Grantham and Retford?
I can tell the House that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) wrote to me to explain that he would be absent today, and I detected in his letter a very considerable sense of regret that he would be outside this country rather than in this Chamber. Personally, I have found it difficult, but we have done our best to manage without him today, and we look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s return at a subsequent session.
Anyone who has ever driven between the great cities of Sheffield and Manchester will have undoubtedly been caught in congestion in the Longdendale area of my constituency. The first public inquiry into a solution took place in 1967, and in the seven years I have been the MP for the area I have raised the matter repeatedly, so I am pleased that the consultation on a bypass route is now open as part of the trans-Pennine upgrade programme. Will the Minister join my constituents in getting involved and getting the route sorted?
With billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at stake, after last night’s announcement on HS2, confidence in the transparency and decision-making processes in HS2 Ltd and CH2M have been called seriously into question. First, will the Secretary of State tell us whether CH2M jumped, or was it pushed? For a company to give up a £170 million contract is enormous news. Secondly, will he give the House an undertaking that no further contracts will be issued to other bidders—such as Bechtel or Mace—further down the line before there has been a full inquiry into the decision-making processes in HS2 Ltd and CH2M?
I do not normally like to differ with my right hon. Friend, but I am very clear on this: CH2M has done the right thing in taking a step back, having identified a problem that would have called into question whether it could and should operate the contract. It was not some massive misdemeanour, but an error in process that has caused CH2M to take a step back. It is now for the board of HS2 Ltd and its independent directors to make sure that they do the right thing in taking the contract forward. From the country’s point of view, it is important that we get on with the job. We will have all the necessary governance in place as we go through the process of replacing CH2M, but we do need to get on with the job.
My constituents have endured all the disruption and chaos while the Thameslink work is going on at London Bridge, and they did so in the expectation that they were going to get an improved service. They are now incandescent with rage, because the new franchise proposes cutting services to Charing Cross and Victoria and reducing off-peak services. This is unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the matter?
The whole point is that it is a consultation. We have not taken any decisions, and we do not even have an intent. It is about asking people, “There are ways of running this railway that could potentially make it more reliable. What do you think?” If the answer is, “We don’t want you to do that,” we will listen. My focus for the hon. Gentleman’s local passengers and for those local railways is to deliver more capacity, the best possible reliability and, in particular, longer trains. All those things are firmly on our agenda.
The CH2M issue is a bigger problem for my constituents. It is welcome that instead of the proposed viaducts in my area there is now going to be a tunnel, but other changes and mitigation are still required. My constituents want to know whether the CH2M issue delays any potential changes or decisions that will affect their lives.
On Saturday, I am going to speak at the Newcastle Cycling Campaign annual general meeting. What can I tell the people there about what the Government are doing to bring the benefits of cycling to everyone, when studies show that the average cyclist is male, white, middle class, under-40 and in Lycra?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that cycling needs to broaden its range. Part of the plan we will announce shortly will be to help local authorities to set up their own local cycling and walking investment plans, which will include broadening the range of potential cyclists.
Last Friday, the A34 between Stafford and Stoke was at gridlock for several hours because of the closure of the M6, disrupting not only my constituents’ journeys but the entire north-south commerce. What plans do the Government have to ensure that, when HS2 comes through Staffordshire and cuts across all the main arterial routes, we do not have repeats of this kind of congestion?
The planning for the construction phase of HS2 is obviously a critical part of delivering this project. As a part of that, there is local engagement between HS2, Highways England and the local highways authorities. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the potential risk, but all the conversations and the collaborations are taking place to make sure that that does not happen.
Last November, the rail Minister sat in a meeting with 15 colleagues, including three Cabinet Ministers, and promised additional carriages for the Southeastern network. This cannot be kicked into the long grass or delayed until the new franchise. It needs to happen now. When, and how many?
This is not being delayed until the new franchise. It will happen very soon. As I explained in my answer to an earlier question, we have received a proposal for new carriages from Southeastern. We have only had it a week and we are looking at it now. We want things to happen as soon as possible.
The long-promised extension of the Metropolitan line from Croxley Green is running into financial difficulties. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the project, and what discussions have taken place with the Mayor of London and Transport for London?
The basis of this project was that Hertfordshire County Council and the Department for Transport provided money to TfL for the extension work. The agreement was that TfL would meet any costs above the agreed price, and would retain any funds below the agreed price. That agreement was reached a couple of years ago. Quite a chunk of money has already been spent, including on the acquisition of a train. It is for the Mayor to complete this project, and I have asked him for his plans to do so.
Is the Secretary of State aware that he cannot easily brush off what has happened with that fiasco at HS2 and the resignation? Will he take into account the fact that now is the time—very opportune—to get rid of that stupid idea of having two HS2 lines running through the county of Derbyshire? The one called the Newton spur will lose us 1,000 jobs in the area and knock down 32 houses. It is called the “dawdle through Derbyshire”. Get rid of it.
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but this is not a dawdle through Derbyshire. What we are looking at here is a consultation on how we get the routes through South Yorkshire. It is fair to say that there is no consensus on this matter, and I have met him and colleagues from South Yorkshire. We will be responding to that consultation later this year. The point is how we maximise the opportunities for South Yorkshire and the east midlands from HS2. These opportunities will be significant. He should get behind the project and work with us to mitigate the impact, but recognise also the positive economic impact that HS2 will have on our country.
Well, the people of Broxtowe are looking forward to HS2 coming to Toton Sidings, where we will have the east midlands hub, which will bring considerable benefit. May I thank the Minister for his visit to Trowell, for his interest and for the conversations with the Secretary of State, because in Trowell there is opposition, not necessarily to the route—although there is some concern—but to a 60 foot viaduct that will deliver HS2? Will the Minister be so good as to confirm that he will do everything that he can to ensure that all options are considered to deliver HS2 through the east midlands and through the village of Trowell?
I much enjoyed my visit to Toton and Trowell to see the economic impact that HS2 will have there, to talk to businesses and to look at the implications for local communities. I will of course be very happy to take every action we can to ensure that this works for everybody, including the mitigation that my right hon. Friend suggests. We want to minimise the impact and maximise the benefits from this exciting project.
Back in a 2015 debate, the Under-Secretary said that he recognised that the 40-year rolling stock was coming to the end of its life and that he was looking towards having a new fleet. This was in relation to our Tyne and Wear metro. As we are now two years on, can he say when he is going to invest in our metro?
On 8 September 2016, I announced to the House the launch of a new initiative, the Speaker’s Democracy Award. The intention of the award is to allow this House to recognise and celebrate individuals who have championed democracy, or brought about social change in an emerging democracy.
A number of excellent nominations were received from hon. and right hon. Members and, following a meeting of the judging committee, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that Marvi Memon MP is the winner in this, the inaugural year of the award.
Ms Memon is a Pakistani politician who is the current chairperson of the Government of Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Programme—the BISP—and an elected Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Ms Memon has fronted a substantial and impressive programme of empowerment through her BISP work by giving over 5.3 million of the poorest women a modest stipend for essentials such as food, clothing, healthcare and education. This has done a great deal in terms of combating poverty and child malnutrition in rural areas. Moreover, the programme also facilitates the participation of women in Pakistani electoral politics by encouraging them to obtain identity cards which allow them to vote.
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in warmly congratulating Ms Memon. I am hoping to be able to welcome her to this House to collect the award at a future date.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), and to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), for agreeing to serve on the judging panel. I am similarly grateful to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who nominated Ms Memon, as well as to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who initially suggested to me the idea for this award.
Business of the House
The business for the first week back after the Easter recess will be as follows:
Monday 17 April—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 18 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
Wednesday 19 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Technical and Further Education Bill, followed by motions relating to the Higher Education (Higher Amount) (England) Regulations 2016 and the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations 2016, followed by a motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, followed by a motion relating to the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2017.
Thursday 20 April—Statement on the publication of the 12th report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on lessons learned from the EU referendum, followed by a statement on the publication of the 12th report of the Justice Committee on prison reform, governor empowerment and prison performance, followed by a debate on a motion relating to state pensions payable to recipients outside of the UK, followed by a general debate on research and development on tackling infectious diseases. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 21 April—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 April will include:
Monday 24 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill (day 1).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 24 April will be as follows:
Thursday 20 April—Debate on the third report of the Transport Committee, Volkswagen emissions scandal and vehicle type approval, followed by a debate on the European arrest warrant.
Monday 24 April—Debate on an e-petition relating to GCSE English literature exams.
May I add my congratulations to the inaugural winner of your prize, Mr Speaker, which is very welcome? We have given refuge to Malala Yousafzai, who has also made an amazing contribution. We support everything that women in Pakistan do to promote democracy.
May I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business? I am sure that he is also getting concerned that our Gracious Sovereign might not be aware of the date on which she is due to give her speech. Is he checking whether she is actually free on the various dates being suggested for the Queen’s Speech? Obviously I want to ask about the date of Prorogation as well. If the Leader could indicate when in May we are likely to rise, that would be helpful.
Eight right hon and hon. Members shared a birthday on 26 March—it was a significant day—including the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and the youngest Member, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black). We wish them a belated happy birthday. But PC Keith Palmer, who often stood around here and was a Charlton Athletic supporter, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes will not be able to celebrate their birthdays again. Mr Speaker, I thank your chaplain, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and Canon Pat Browne, the Roman Catholic priest for the House of Commons, for the services they held in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft last Thursday. They have always supported us when we need them.
It is a convention that when a statutory instrument is prayed against, the Government provide time for a debate, so I want to raise the Opposition’s concerns that no time was provided to debate the regulations relating to personal independence payments and to tuition fees. Will the Leader of the House confirm that in future the convention will be honoured so that the Opposition will not have to use Standing Order No. 24 to get an emergency debate? That is extremely important because there will be a plethora of statutory instruments as we leave the EU and we do not want to return to powers being exercised by an absolute monarch when Parliament is sovereign and a democratic institution.
Not all of last Wednesday’s business was carried over, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on exiting the European Union and global trade? The House would like to know what the Department for International Trade has been doing during the past nine months. The Prime Minister said yesterday that everyone has been busy, but as yet the Secretary of State has not come to the House to tell us what global trade deals are in the offing.
Yesterday was a significant day in our island’s story, and we in Her Majesty’s Opposition want a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU, the exact same benefits as we currently have as members of the single market and the customs union, and the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities. We want to defend rights and protections, and prevent a race to the bottom. We want to protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime and terrorism, and to ensure that any negotiation delivers for all regions and nations of the UK. That is a position of certainty, not the fall-back position of
“no deal…is better than a bad deal”,
which should not enter the Government’s vocabulary.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the CBI says that businesses would experience serious disruption if no new trading relationship is agreed and they are forced to trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules? No deal should not be an option. Manufacturers in the west midlands have asked, “Do I need to change my supply chain? Will I have to enforce new rules?” Those are just two of their questions, so may we have a statement on how the Government will answer such questions from business?
Could we have a debate on the National Audit Office’s report “Capability in the civil service”, which was published on 24 March? It says that the Government face ever-increasing challenges in providing public services. Continuing budgetary restraints are putting pressure on Departments, which are making important reforms with fewer staff and smaller budgets. There is a skills gap that cannot be filled by the private sector. The report says that one in four senior posts are unfilled. What will the Government do to address that skills shortage as we leave the EU?
When will NHS staff receive a pay increase of more than 1%, given that half the Cabinet have said that £350 million a week is now available for the NHS? Will the Leader of the House also set out how the Prime Minister will report back to the UK on the negotiations? Our children and grandchildren, 75% of whom voted to remain, feel hurt and betrayed, because they know that the EU is about equality, peace, security, collaboration, quality of life, the air we breathe, tourism, consumer rights and human rights. We must not betray them.
And so to R and R—rock and roll, and the recent death of the creator of that genre, Chuck Berry. It is as though he wrote some of his songs just for the Government. We have “Maybellene, why can’t you be true?” and “Reelin’ and Rockin’”—the Government have made some U-turns on national insurance contributions, and there has been disquiet about school funding and special deals with Tory councils—and there is one for you, Mr Speaker: “Johnny B. Goode”.
I want to thank all our civil servants for the work that they have done while we have been part of the EU. I thank all the ambassadors and Ministers for Europe, including the Leader of the House. As he was such an outstanding Minister for Europe, I hope that the goodwill will come back when we finish our negotiations.
I also want to say goodbye and thank you to David Beamish, the Clerk of the Parliaments, who, sadly, is retiring after 42 years. He is a great public servant who has done a fantastic job, and he worked closely with our own Clerk. I also thank Russell Tatam, an unsung back-room hero who has worked for both Labour and Conservative Opposition Whips. He has kept us all going. We wish him well in his new post at the Department of Health, and we hope that he can sort that out, too. Finally, may I once again thank everyone for everything that they have done in the last week, and wish everyone connected with the House a very happy and peaceful Easter?
First, I join the hon. Lady in expressing thanks to your chaplain, Mr Speaker, and to the Roman Catholic chaplain for the work that they have done in the past week, which I am sure they will continue to do. I also join her in paying tribute to David Beamish, who has served the House of Lords, and Parliament as a whole, with great distinction throughout his career. I would add to that the name of Glenn McKee, one of our own Clerks, who is retiring after more than 30 years of service to this House. We put on record our thanks and appreciation to him for that record of service.
The date of the Queen’s Speech will be announced as soon as possible. As the hon. Lady knows, the exact date of Prorogation will depend, as it does every year and under every Government, on the progress of business.
I turn to some of the other issues that the hon. Lady raised. The Government have delivered on the convention, and slots have been provided for debates on the prayers against the statutory instruments concerning tuition fees and the personal independence payment. The Opposition will get their opportunity to debate those after the recess. The Government will act, as all Governments do, on the basis of what Parliament decides.
The hon. Lady made a broader point about secondary legislation in the context of forthcoming European legislation. I am sure that questions will be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union later today, and there will be ample opportunity to debate the matter during proceedings on the repeal Bill in the next Session, but it is a fact that Ministers may exercise delegated legislative powers through secondary legislation only if those powers have been expressly conferred on them by an Act of Parliament. Authority for the use of delegated legislation will have to be approved, after a full parliamentary process in both Houses, before such legislation reaches the statute book.
The hon. Lady asked about international trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has hardly been invisible. He is doing the job that the Prime Minister appointed him to do, which is to maximise the opportunities for jobs and investment in the United Kingdom by drumming up support for trade and investment all around the world. He has been in the Chamber regularly, in the slots allotted to the Department for International Trade, to answer questions from Members on both sides of the House. I would add that the hon. Lady’s description of what she wanted out of the EU negotiations sounded very much like a paraphrase of the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk yesterday, which I welcome. If there is an outbreak of common sense and the Opposition take a more consensual approach by supporting the Prime Minister as a response to her call for national unity at this time, I would very much welcome that.
I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could possibly have been clearer—either in her letter, or during the nearly three hours that she spent making her statement and answering questions at the Dispatch Box yesterday—that her objective is a comprehensive deal with our friends and allies in the European Union that makes possible a deep and special partnership between ourselves and the 27 countries of the EU after we have left, because it will remain an essential national interest of the United Kingdom that there is stability and prosperity right across Europe. While we will implement the decision that the British people took in the referendum last year, it is right that we should strive for a new form of co-operative agreement with countries that will continue to be our friends, allies and partners on so many different areas of policy.
The hon. Lady asked about the national health service and the capacity of staff to deal with what will be demanding reforms—I think that the chief executive has said that—but I would point her to the track record of NHS managers and clinicians in delivering effective reforms. One of the things I find so striking about the national health service is that there can be a severe disparity of performance between different trusts or hospitals in various parts of the country. One of the objectives that NHS England wants to secure is to make certain that best practice—the successes of the most innovative parts of the NHS—can be disseminated and put in place more widely.
May we have a debate on protecting and valuing the Church of England estate? We learned this week that the Church of England’s consistory court and the chancellor of the diocese of Peterborough have given the green light to ripping out the interior of the grade I listed, 13th-century St Botolph’s church in Longthorpe, Peterborough. That will include replacing the altar with a self-standing altar and the pulpit with a modern lectern, and ripping out all the pews. Is it any wonder that the Church of England is losing the support of its parishioners when it so grievously fails to protect its own architectural heritage?
I clearly do not know any details of the parish church to which my hon. Friend refers. There is sometimes a difficult balance to be struck between what a congregation wants to meet the needs of worship and the historic fabric of a church. I would hope that such matters are always approached with proper sensitivity and high regard for our architectural and design heritage, and that the views of the local community, and particularly of the church congregation, are fully taken into account.
I join in the thanks and tributes to the chaplains of the House for their exemplary work last week. I congratulate Marvi Memon on winning your inaugural award, Mr Speaker—thank you for such a fantastic idea. I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for after the recess.
It has certainly been another one of those weeks, hasn’t it? What an historic week. This is therefore not the time for meaningless or provocative soundbites, but later we will continue with this pace when we see the White Paper on this shabby repeal Bill, as this Parliament attempts to repatriate almost 20,000 pieces of European legislation in what will be the greatest transfer of powers from Brussels to this Government. For a Parliament that has so jealously guarded its sovereignty throughout the centuries, how cavalier the Government have been about leaving the European Union. Parliament will need to have a look at this. These powers are not so much Henry VIII; it is more like a bespoke new Tessy the first.
One thing that we need to hear from the Leader of the House is a commitment that the shabby repeal Bill will not be subject to the English votes for English laws procedure. I say to him: just do not seek a certification. It is far too complicated and cross-jurisdictional for that, so will he rule it out today? This morning, without any fanfare or flourish, we got the Leader of the House’s review into the operation of EVEL. The dramatic conclusion he comes to is that it is working perfectly. In fact, it is an absolute and total embarrassment to this House. The bells go off, we suspend our business, we go into Committee, we come out of Committee, and not a word is said. It is not so much the court of Henry VIII; it is the court of Byzantium when we are dealing with issues such as this.
Lastly, we still have not had any sort of statement or response from the Government on the historic vote that was held in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday. That seems to be consistent with the way this Government treat Scotland. We know that there is no such thing as a common UK approach to leaving the European Union, and this Government could not have gone further out their way to antagonise Scotland over their plans to leave the European Union. Today, when we look at the great repeal Bill and think of Henry VIII, on the Scottish National party Benches we will be thinking of Robert the Bruce.
For a moment at the start of that question I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to become part of the new consensus that the Prime Minister is seeking to build. I hold out some modicum of hope for him, but I have to confess, after the rest of the tirade, not all that much.
I seriously encourage the hon. Gentleman and members of his party to read the White Paper before they make a judgment on it. When they have seen it, they will see that the case for certain powers as regards delegated legislation is made in detail. The argument is set out very clearly, as is the Government’s position that it will be necessary for the exercise of any such specific delegated legislative powers to be subject to conditions and restraints to ensure that they cannot be abused and are used only for the purpose for which they are created. I am sure that other Scottish National party Members will want to put questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union this afternoon, but the Government will be proposing a number of very important safeguards on the exercise of those powers.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the application of the English votes procedures to the repeal Bill, I have to repeat what I have said to him in previous exchanges. As we both know, the English votes procedures can be exercised only in a case where an issue to be determined is both devolved to the Scottish Parliament and, in relation to legislation before this House, applies to England only or to England and Wales only. The chances of that happening in the repeal Bill are very slim indeed, given that it addresses the application of the European treaties to this country and, as international agreements, they are reserved matters under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998. I cannot at this stage rule out some hypothetical piece of future secondary legislation, but it is not right to exaggerate fears of something that is very unlikely to come about.
The hon. Gentleman then asked me about the First Minister’s call for another referendum—[Hon. Members: “The Scottish Parliament’s.”]—and the vote by the SNP and the Greens in the Scottish Parliament for a second referendum. The Prime Minister was very clear yesterday that we are embarking on a major change of policy in response to what the people of the United Kingdom as a whole have decided, and that now is not the time for a further referendum on a matter that all sides agreed would be settled in the 2014 referendum. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman of what the First Minister of Scotland said when launching her party’s manifesto for the Scottish elections in April last year:
“Setting the date for a referendum before a majority of the Scottish people have been persuaded that independence—and therefore another referendum—is the best future for our country is the wrong way round…If we don’t succeed, we will have no right to propose another referendum.”
I support what the First Minister of Scotland said on that occasion.
Order. On my reckoning, a further 44 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As per usual I am keen to accommodate all would-be contributors, but I remind the House that there is a very important statement to follow that is likely to be well-subscribed, and thereafter two important debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, a premium on time and brevity.
I have been contacted by a growing number of residents who are concerned about the influx of Travellers and the number of illegal encampments in my constituency. There have been major reports of intimidation and threatening behaviour. I am well aware that there are problems in other parts of the country, but it is disappointing that local authorities and the police lack either capacity or willingness to use their powers to deal with them. Some of the problems relate to antisocial behaviour and a disregard for the local community. Will the Government make time for a debate on the obligations of local authorities and police, and on how the current law can be strengthened for the good of our communities?
My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to press this issue with Ministers at Communities and Local Government questions on 24 April. My view is clear: the powers she describes exist for a reason and I would hope that both local authorities and police forces use them.
I thank the Leader of the House for advertising the forthcoming Backbench Business. I also thank him and his staff for arranging to move back by two hours the debates scheduled for Westminster Hall on 18 April and 2 May to allow Members travelling from their constituencies to get here in time for them. One additional piece of news is that we have determined that on Tuesday 25 April at 9.30 am there will be a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall on post office closures, and on Tuesday 2 May at 11.30 am there will be a debate on voter ID and electoral fraud, also in Westminster Hall.
I am going to get my begging bowl out, Mr Speaker, not on behalf of my constituents—I know Government Members always accuse Members from the north-east of England of having a begging bowl—but on behalf of Back-Bench Members. In the week after the recess, on 20 April, we will have our 27th allotted day—actually, our 27th and one quarter allotted day—of Backbench Business, which is all that is allowed in this parliamentary Session. With my begging bowl out on behalf of Back-Bench Members, I ask the Leader of the House to please send any spare time our way. We already have a waiting list of debates.
I would just like to make a point of clarification. On Tuesday, during the Backbench Business debate on Yemen, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), on a point of order, asked whether it would be possible to use up the full allocation of time—up to 30 minutes before the House was due to rise. Madam Deputy Speaker responded by saying:
“The House decided on the timetable.”
That was true, but she then went on to say:
“The Backbench Business Committee gave 90 minutes for this debate, and I am powerless to change that.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 206-7.]
Mr Speaker, the Backbench Business Committee asked for a minimum of 90 minutes of protected time for the debate, but the Order Paper allowed a maximum of 90 minutes. The Backbench Business Committee determines the subject matter of debates. The allocation of time, and the way in which the Order Paper reflects that allocation, is not within its remit.
In March 2014, the only son of Joanne and Robert Wark, my 19-year-old constituent Callum Wark, was killed by an HGV driver who was three times over the legal drink-drive limit. On 29 October 2014, I held an Adjournment debate in the Chamber in which I asked the then Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), to conduct a sentencing review so that those who caused death by drink-driving would face a manslaughter charge rather than the current charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Callum’s killer was sentenced to just seven years, and will serve only three and half before returning to his home country of Bulgaria, where he will be free to drive unrestricted once again. May we have a statement from a Justice Minister, updating the House on the progress of the review?
Let me first express my heartfelt sympathy to Callum’s family. Three years on, they will still be grieving and feeling acute and inconsolable loss.
The Ministry of Justice consultation to which my hon. Friend has referred ran until February this year, and received more than 9,000 responses. The Government are considering those responses, and Ministers will publish a written response in due course.
May we have a debate in Government time on the conduct of Virgin Care in our national health service? It has emerged that Virgin Care is suing the NHS after a contract to provide children’s care in Surrey was given to a non-profit provider, and apparently it is seeking a massive payout from the taxpayer. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is appalling behaviour, and will he ask the Health Secretary to make a statement?
Yesterday, which was a busy day, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced a consultation on the future of Channel 4. Please may we have a debate on its future direction, and does the Leader of the House agree that given the success of the BBC’s relocation to Salford, Channel 4 should perhaps consider coming to Yorkshire?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is seeking the broadest possible range of views and evidence to inform the Government’s assessment of the location of Channel 4. I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue to be a formidable and persuasive advocate for Yorkshire.
When can we discuss early-day motion 1131?
[That this House is appalled at the runaway multi-billion pound waste of nuclear costs for a power source that promised to deliver electricity that would be too cheap to meter; notes that Hinkley Point’s estimated cost of £6 billion in 2008 leapt to £24 billion and is now estimated to soar to £37 billion, while the cost of nuclear decommissioning, estimated at £55 billion in 2005, is now set at £117 billion and rising; and condemns this and previous Governments’ gullible infatuation with the myth of cheap nuclear power that has created a massive burden of debt for the nation that will impoverish public spending for decades.]
When can we discuss the staggering cost of decommissioning nuclear sites—£117 billion—and the leap in the price of Hinkley Point from £6 billion to £37 billion? Why were successive Governments infatuated by the myth of a cheap source of nuclear power which promised to deliver electricity that was too cheap to meter, given that what has been delivered is a £170 billion bill for taxpayers that will impoverish Governments and restrict their spending for decades?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy responded to an urgent question about nuclear decommissioning on Monday, but I advise the hon. Gentleman to seek an opportunity to initiate one of the longer Westminster Hall debates.
The Government’s view is that nuclear energy should be part of a broad mix of energy sources to ensure that we have a secure energy supply and can rely increasingly on sources that do not add to the problem of climate change.
May we have an urgent debate on Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, which is illegally proposing to close its accident and emergency ward in the autumn, thus endangering up to 40 children a week? Does the Leader of the House agree that such moves should be subject to consultation with the public, local authorities and local Members of Parliament? There has been no such consultation, yet the proposal is going ahead.
I am concerned to hear about that, and I will draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. A significant change in the configuration of NHS services in any area ought to be the subject of public consultation. There is, of course a power for the relevant committee of the local authority to ask the Secretary of State to call in such decisions and review them. I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue the issue with Health Ministers, but, as I have said, I will draw his comments to the Secretary of State’s attention.
May we have an urgent debate on the state of local roads? In Nottinghamshire, which includes my constituency of Gedling, there is a £319 million backlog in respect of Nottinghamshire County Council being able to deal with those roads. My constituents and the people of Nottinghamshire are fed up with driving along roads that are crumbling and full of potholes, and it is about time the Government sorted it out.
It was precisely to address infrastructure problems that the Chancellor of the Exchequer found £23 billion of additional spending in the autumn statement. As the Transport Secretary said during Question Time earlier today, the Government have allocated very significant sums of money to support local highways authorities to deal with potholes and other local road repairs. But the reality, which any responsible Government must accept, is that resources are finite and the country and the Government have to live within their means. We still have a significant deficit in our public finances, and the responsible approach is to live within our means.
Will the Leader of the House grant an urgent debate on conflicts of interest? During that debate we could probably look, for example, at the relationship between CH2M, a High Speed 2 contractor, and HS2, currently in the constituency of the Leader of the House, your constituency, Mr Speaker, and my constituency, because that relationship cannot be a good one as CH2M must be facing some financial difficulties having given up a £170 million contract. We could also consider whether HS2 can explain what it is going to do with Bechtel and Mace, the other bidders—whether the contract will be started from scratch, or we are going to have to take its word that there was no conflict of interest if one of them is appointed. We could also clarify the roles of individuals such as Chris Reynolds and the raft of CH2M secondees working in HS2, and also—[Interruption.] Perhaps we could also look at the role of the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission. [Interruption.] The NIC has to provide impartial expert advice to the Government and operate independently—