House of Commons
Wednesday 29 November 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 21 million people in need of aid. The crisis will lead to famine unless all sides allow immediate commercial and humanitarian access throughout the country. The UK is playing a leading role in the current humanitarian and diplomatic response.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I also welcome them to their position and wish them all the very best.
At the Select Committee on Defence two weeks ago, General Sir Richard Barrons stated that
“intelligent, thoughtful officials like the National Security Adviser are looking at the £62 billion we spend on aid, diplomacy and defence and wondering if they can get a mix out of that.”
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the balance is being struck between the United Kingdom’s tax receipts for sales to Saudi Arabia for it to flatten Yemen and the money that we are spending on development aid to rebuild Yemen?
We have been very clear that although we understand the coalition’s security concerns, they are not incompatible with allowing food and other supplies into the country. A huge diplomatic effort is being made, led by the Prime Minister, and she is using her visit this week to press further still. There has been movement in getting some aid and commercial supplies through, but that will not be enough. We need to keep pressing, and that is what this Government will do.
The Foreign Secretary met a range of international partners yesterday. Unfortunately, the communiqué from that meeting seemed to talk a lot more about weapons than about getting aid and commercial goods into Yemen. Will the Secretary of State tell me a bit more about what the UK Government are doing to get aid and commercial goods into the country? Aid agencies know that the country needs not just aid but commercial goods. Each day, 130 children are dying in Yemen. We cannot wait any longer.
The communiqué did speak about what we are doing. In addition to the diplomatic efforts, a large part of my time since I have been in post has been spent looking at the other possible options in order logistically to get what is needed to the people who need it. There are immense problems, but we are looking at plan B—what else we can do. The key thing, and the only way to get the full supplies in, is to open up those two ports, and that is what we are pressing for.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place and am delighted to see her there. Given the vital need to get humanitarian aid into Yemen, will she confirm what work the UK Government are doing via the United Nations to secure this access, particularly given our role in the Security Council?
I have been in close contact with both the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and the Secretary-General himself. We are all working together to impress upon the coalition the importance of getting in not just aid but, critically, commercial supplies. That has been the main thrust of our argument. Clearly, a political settlement is needed in the long term, and we are pushing for all partners to engage.
The situation for Yemen’s remaining Jews is harrowing, particularly for those outside the capital. What work is her Department doing to support the work of other Government Departments in helping to provide safe passage to other countries for these individuals?
We are extremely conscious of this matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has been doing an enormous amount of work, looking at particular communities. There are enormous numbers of people—21 million—who are in an absolutely dire situation. As well as trying to get the immediate issues resolved, we must keep pressing for a political process and for all parties to engage with efforts of the UN’s Special Envoy.
It does not look as though the Prime Minister is being any more successful on this issue than she is on so many others. It really is a disgrace that although the Secretary of State’s Department is working on the humanitarian aspects by providing food and other aid to Yemen, we continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, which fuels the conflict. Where is the sense in that?
I understand the right hon. Lady’s concerns, but as I have said, while we do accept there are legitimate security concerns, that is entirely separate from, and should not be conflated with, preventing aid and commercial supplies from getting to a population. We are extremely concerned about the situation; we are extremely concerned that the coalition may be in breach of international humanitarian law, and I would refer her to the statement my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East gave on 7 November.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. I heard what she just said, but on Sunday it emerged that the UK had been providing military assistance to Saudi Arabia to carry out military training as part of Operation Crossways. With the Foreign Secretary hosting Foreign Ministers from the region yesterday for talks, does the Secretary of State think that the UK’s military support and arms sales to Saudi Arabia are helping or hindering a political solution to the simply appalling and worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen?
I thank the hon. Lady and other Members who have welcomed me to my post.
Although the UK military has provided training on targeting, to try to reduce civilian casualties, that has been entirely separate from the Saudi coalition’s actual campaign. We are trying to utilise the military-to-military contacts that we do have, which are deep, as part of our diplomatic process to try and get the coalition to realise that it must let aid into the two ports. We are also providing £1.3 million to help the UN’s verification and inspection mechanisms. If we can supply any practical support to give the coalition confidence that weapons are not coming in with aid, we will do that.
Since 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has been highly effective in leading international efforts that have reduced polio cases by more than 99%. Only 15 cases have been reported in 2017—in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan—and we hope the last case will come through at the end of this year or early next year.
I thank the Minister for that answer. May I also take the opportunity to welcome the leadership the Government have shown in the battle to eradicate polio from the face of this earth? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is exactly the sort of thing the great British public can get behind, support and welcome our aid being used for?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. Eradicating polio will be one of the great global public health success stories. United Kingdom taxpayer support since 1988 has helped prevent 1.5 million childhood deaths, and 16 million people are walking today who would otherwise be paralysed. People across the UK can be proud—not least those who support the Rotary movement, because the Rotary movement worldwide has played an important part, and I thank my colleagues in the Sandy Rotary club for their efforts in this regard.
Does the Minister agree that what has marked out the fight against polio is its international nature, and that we should be pressing this same approach to tackling other diseases at the Commonwealth summit next year?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The use of United Kingdom funds to support things such as the Global Fund, which take part in international activity, and to strengthen global health systems is important. We have to work in partnership with others. The Commonwealth summit will provide a good opportunity to emphasise more of what we can do together.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Department on the work that is being done to help eradicate polio. However, there is a risk that it can return if inoculations do not take place. Will he use the opportunity of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next year to press the case for further inoculations across the Commonwealth?
We are working with those who are putting together the Commonwealth summit to make sure there is an ambitious agenda devoted to all aspects of life in the Commonwealth, including global health. My hon. Friend is right on immunisation: through the GPEI, the UK will immunise 45 million children against polio and save more than 65,000 children from paralysis each year, so there will be no let-up in immunisation and the fight to make sure polio is eradicated.
Will the Minister show the same level of commitment he has shown on the international level to the prevention and eradication of animal and livestock diseases—something that poses a grave threat to very rural constituencies such as mine?
Order. That is scarcely even tangentially related to the matter on the paper. What the hon. Gentleman is implicitly saying is, “I don’t really like this question, and therefore I’d like to propose the insertion of another in its stead.” It is ingenious to the point of being cheeky. A one-sentence reply of no more than 20 words from the Minister.
I will draw the attention of one of my hon. Friends in the Government to the hon. Gentleman’s question.
Value for Money
We work continuously to improve the way we design, implement and monitor programmes. Spending money well, wisely and efficiently makes sense both because it is British taxpayers’ money and because it allows us to deliver better education, better healthcare and better nutrition for some of the world’s poorest people.
Greater transparency in how and where aid money is spent is vital to ensure public confidence. Will my hon. Friend champion the transparency agenda and ensure that aid to the Palestinian Authority does not fund radicalisation?
My hon. Friend’s question on the Palestinian Authority is for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, but the basic principle is clear. This is not just about transparency. Transparency is not an end in itself, but a means to achieving accountability. It is not just about getting the data out there; it is about making sure that people in the developing world can access the data, understand the data and use the data. We can improve only if we are challenged.
I welcome the Minister’s comments on accountability. My constituents raise value for money in aid spending with me on a regular basis. Does he agree that accountability to people in poor countries is essential in getting value for money?
Absolutely, and the challenge of accountability in the developing world is great. Here in Britain, where there is a free media and a lot of civil society, it is very easy, as we all know, for people to challenge a rail project or what is happening in a hospital. In the developing world, we need to invest in ensuring that we have the right kind of beneficiary feedback, because it is the people on the ground who know more, and we will improve only if we listen.
Last week, the Select Committee on International Development published our first report of the Parliament on global education. I urge the Government to respond soon to our recommendation that we should fully fund replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education and to make that announcement as early as possible.
We will be announcing the refresh of our education policy early next year. The key thing, on which we agree absolutely with the Select Committee, is to drive up the quality of education. Attendance is right up, but far too many children are coming out entirely illiterate.
Ninety five per cent. of all our education spending goes to public education. However, there is a place, particularly in some of the poorest and most remote parts of the world, for recognising that the private sector is filling with low-cost education a hole that the public sector sometimes cannot fill.
What assessment has the Department made of the value for money of its spending in Bangladesh to help the Rohingya people, particularly given the Secretary of State’s recent visit to the area?
Our assessment is that our humanitarian assistance in Bangladesh, which at the moment amounts to more than £40 million, is carefully monitored and well spent. It is focused, above all, on providing shelter and protection, particularly protection against sexual violence in conflict.
May I first welcome the Secretary of State to her new post? May I also welcome the Moderator of the Church of Scotland to the Gallery?
There is no greater value for money in aid spending than protecting the future of our natural world for generations to come. Following the UN COP23 talks earlier this month, which I attended, it is undeniable that we are reaching the tipping point of no return on climate change, and all nations agreed that we must go “further, faster, together”. Given that the Department for International Development is a major shareholder in the World Bank, which still spends much more on oil, gas and coal than on clean energy, will the Secretary of State give me her personal commitment that she will use all her powers of persuasion with the World Bank to ensure that it invests more in clean, safe renewables than in fossil fuels?
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this in the past, and I pay tribute to the work that he does on the environment. We are pressing the World Bank to do that, and that is one of the functions of the new financing facilities that we have established, but there is still a place for non-renewable energy generation, particularly to meet the desperate needs in Africa.
One of the best ways to spend money is on malaria, as I have seen as chair of the all-party group on malaria. The “World Malaria Report” is released today, and it shows a worrying stalling in progress on malaria. Could my hon. Friend commit the UK Government to ensuring that as much as possible is done to make further progress?
That is a very important issue, in which the UK Government are proud to have invested heavily, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Government, who have done a lot on this. There is, I believe, an event in Speaker’s House immediately after this to commemorate some of the progress that is being made on malaria, but my hon. Friend is absolutely correct that this is an issue on which we need to do much more, and the fact is that progress is stalling.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role, and I look forward to our exchanges across the Dispatch Box. The Secretary of State’s predecessor resigned because she was caught trying to give aid money to the Israeli defence forces. Securitisation and militarisation of the aid budget, which is supposed to go to the world’s poorest, seem to be the new normal under this Government. What are the Secretary of State’s plans on spending aid money on military and the police, and will the spending go up or down?
It is absolutely central to remember that we must address the root causes of poverty, and a lot of those lie in fragile and conflict-affected states. If we try to separate off the work we do on education, health and humanitarian assistance from the political and military drivers of conflict, we will never resolve these problems. But we absolutely take on board the fact that our prime responsibility is towards the poorest in the world. Our programmes on conflict are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. I would like to ask the hon. Lady: who made the 0.7% target? It is absolutely central that we do these things together.
I thank the Minister for his response, but new figures show that in 2016 aid spending on the £1 billion conflict stability and security fund increased by £27 million. That was spent mainly through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on propping up the military and police in places such as Bahrain, Ethiopia and Syria. With no scrutiny from DFID or Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, how can we measure the impact? Does the Minister believe that this is value for money?
I absolutely believe it is value for money. There are currently 23 million people at risk of starvation in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. The reason why they are at risk of starvation is conflict. These are not natural disasters; they are driven by conflict. Unless we find political solutions to these conflicts, we will have 23 million people continuing to die throughout the world. We will not apologise for our approach, because it is a central part of our development policy.
The Department is playing a leading role in the cross-government effort to tackle the scourge of modern slavery, and expanding our work in developing countries to tackle this barbaric crime. Our “work in freedom” programme has already reached over 380,000 women and girls in south Asia and the middle east.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I welcome her to her position. Saturday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Given that around 75% of victims of modern slavery are women, will she join me in paying tribute to campaigners and organisations across the country, including the Women’s Aid refuge in Barrhead in my constituency, for what they do to tackle this crime?
I would be very happy to congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents for the work that they are doing. Modern slavery is something that many people across the country are concerned about. We should be proud that our country and our Prime Minister are leading the way, most recently in convening leaders at the UN to launch the call for action to end modern slavery, which now has 40 signatories.
I have just returned from Bangladesh, where I saw for myself the Rohingya camp and heard from refugees of the horrific atrocities that they have endured. I applaud the generosity of the Bangladeshi Government and the people of Bangladesh, as well as British taxpayers and all who have donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal. Although every refugee has expressed the desire to return home, I have made it clear to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that any returns must be voluntary, safe and sustainable. Those conditions are far from being met.
As in Bangladesh and Burma, the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen is a man-made one. The Secretary of State talked about having influence on the perpetrators of that conflict. With the tax take from arms sales now outstripping the level of aid, does she not think the time has come to stop arms sales to the combatants in that conflict?
I will say it for the third time: there are genuine security concerns on the part of the Saudi-led coalition, but that is entirely separate from the issue of allowing aid and commercial supplies into ports. We think that they can address their security concerns, and we are prepared to assist them in some measure to do that, but there is no excuse, legitimate though their concerns are, for stopping food and supplies getting to the individuals who need them.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: our NGOs are second to none. If we are going to continue to make our funds deliver, provide value for money and have the impact required, British NGOs still need to be delivering that aid. All this will be part of the negotiations, but I concur exactly with my right hon. Friend’s sentiments.
Support to protect women and girls, whether in relation to education, sanitation or refugees, has been a significant part of the work DFID is doing. We are constantly in contact with UN agencies about what more can be done both for women in conflict and for women in developing countries, and that is a major part of DFID’s programme.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Reducing the transmission of infection is an effective way of decreasing the need for antibiotics. Our approach is to strengthen national health systems to address infection prevention and control, and this includes hygiene and sanitation in health facilities.
I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the whole House, in commemorating World AIDS Day. We have been a long-term supporter of the international AIDS vaccine initiative, and we are the largest international funder of HIV prevention, care and treatment. From the £1.1 billion going into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, 1.3 million retroviral drugs will be provided through the UK this year. There will be no let-up in the fight, and we are united on that. [Official Report, 4 December 2017, Vol. 632, c. 3-4MC.]
I have recently returned from a visit to Zimbabwe. These are early days, and we need to watch very carefully what kinds of economic and political reforms are introduced by Mr Mnangagwa’s Government. However, if such reforms are forthcoming, there is a great deal that the British Government can do: first, in supporting governance reform; secondly, in supporting the business climate; and thirdly, in getting International Monetary Fund support for the Government of Zimbabwe.
Order. I hope the Secretary of State heard that question amidst the clubbable hubbub. It is very important that the question be heard, otherwise the hon. Lady will have to blurt it out again.
If this answer is not satisfactory because I did not hear the hon. Lady’s question, please will she let me know? We are looking to refresh a number of schemes, including the International Citizen Service, and at what healthcare professionals and other professions can offer with regard to aid while enhancing their own personal professional development.
We have close discussions with our colleagues at the Department for International Trade. The trade and aid programme has enabled more than 40 countries to put development at the heart of their own plans.
I recently visited young Send My Friend to School campaigners at Sydenham School in my constituency. They spoke with great passion about the need for global education and why greater financing for education matters to them. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that this Government listen to those young people and show leadership by increasing funding for education through the Global Partnership for Education?
We were and are the largest founder contributor to the Global Partnership for Education. With 387 million children expected to leave primary school unable to read, there is no doubt that the continuing efforts of the United Kingdom, along with others in the partnership, are important. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said earlier, we will publish a refreshed education strategy early in the new year. The hon. Lady can be sure that strengthening education systems around the world, and supporting teachers and children who may be marginalised through missing out on education, will be key parts of that.
I recently visited some schools in Africa where, in classrooms of more than 100 pupils, those with special educational needs, right at the back, had very little chance of accessing education. How will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I congratulate her on her new position—prioritise disability support in education in developing countries?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this subject, which is very close to my heart. He will not have long to wait—perhaps it will be a matter of hours—for my first announcement on how the DFID budget will support disability.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is abroad in the middle east furthering our interests in a region that is fundamental to our national security and prosperity.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our warmest congratulations to His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and in wishing them every happiness in the future.
Today also marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the RAF. The whole House will want to express our thanks for a century of service to this country.
I add my congratulations to those of the First Secretary of State to Prince Harry on his engagement.
Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the Labour-run North East Lincolnshire Council, the Government have included the Greater Grimsby project in their industrial strategy document, but we need more than a byline in a glossy magazine to make its potential a reality. When can we expect the Government to put their money where their mouth is, so that we can get going?
I welcome the fact that the hon. Lady welcomes the industrial strategy, as she should do. It will be good for Grimsby and many other communities around this country, particularly those that may feel that they have been left behind in the past. I am happy to assure her that the industrial strategy will come with money attached, as she will have heard in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget statement.
I can see that my hon. Friend is getting the hang of questions already. I am happy to assure him that we are committed to working with him, and indeed with the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, who is doing so much to help develop the area. We want to support him and the South Tees Development Corporation on the work they are doing on the long-term regeneration of the south Tees area. As he said, the Chancellor announced £123 million of new funding in the Budget, because we recognise the significant economic opportunities in the area.
Let me join the First Secretary of State in congratulating the RAF on its anniversary, and in congratulating Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement—that is one Anglo-American couple that we in the Opposition will be delighted to see holding hands. I am sure that Prince Harry, as the patron of Rugby League, will be joining all of us in supporting the England team in the world cup final on Saturday—I, for one, will of course be waving my St George’s flag.
On a much sadder note, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to all those killed and injured in Friday’s horrific attack on the mosque in north Sinai. It is a bitter reminder that the vast majority of the victims of jihadi terror are Muslims.
Before I get on with my questions, can I ask the First Secretary of State about a simple point of principle? Is he happy to be held to the same standards in government that he required of others while in opposition?
Yes, I am. I think that all Ministers should respect and obey the ministerial code, and I absolutely think that is a very important part of confidence in public life. I also echo the right hon. Lady’s thoughts about the terrible events in Sinai. She might find it difficult to wave the St George’s flag, but I will be doing so for the English rugby league team. [Interruption.] As a Welsh rugby fan, I might find it even more difficult than she does.
The First Secretary of State looked rather perturbed at my line of questioning, but he does not need to worry; I really am not going there. I was merely wondering whether he remembered the question he asked at Prime Minister’s questions almost 17 years ago, when John Prescott stood in for Tony Blair, and whether he could answer the same question today. The question was this:
“what percentage of the new nurses recruited in the past 12 months are now working full time?”—[Official Report, 13 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 630.]
I cannot remember asking that question, but I would love to know what the then Deputy Prime Minister answered. I am happy to assure the right hon. Lady that we have more nurses, more midwives and more doctors working in the health service now. The health service is performing more operations now, and certainly more than it was 17 years ago. In particular, in the Budget last week my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was able to announce more than £6 billion extra on health spending, which will make the health service even stronger in future than it is now.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that response, but since he failed to answer my original question, I will do it for him. According to the Government’s latest figures, more than 40% of newly recruited nurses are leaving full-time employment within their first year. It is not just new recruits who are quitting; the overall number of NHS nurses and health visitors is down by 1,500 this year. The numbers are now lower than when this Government came to office. Why does he think that so many nurses are leaving?
There are, as I say, more operations being done, and more nurses, more doctors, more midwives. The health service is expanding. We have got 14,900 more doctors, 1,500 more medical school places each year and 10,000 more nurses on our wards, and we have announced an increase of more than 5,000 extra nurse training places every year. In addition, the Chancellor said in his Budget that we would commit to making sure that the nurses’ pay increase, the action for change—[Interruption.] The “Agenda for Change” staffing covered would not come out of other health spending. So nurses can be reassured that the Government will continue to support them both on pay and in terms of numbers. That is why our health service in England is getting better. If the right hon. Lady wants to look at a health service where things are getting worse, she can look to the Labour Government in Wales, and she does not need to take it from me; she can take it from the public, because public satisfaction with the NHS in Wales is lower than in England. That is the effect of a Labour Government on health services.
I hate to break it to the First Secretary, but there are more nurses in the NHS than just those working in emergency and acute wards, including district nurses, the number of whom has halved under the Tories. And guess who picks up the slack if those nurses are not there? It is nurses in emergency and acute care. I asked why so many nurses were leaving the vocation they loved. According to the Royal College of Nursing, the top four reasons are excess workload, staff shortages, low pay, and worries about patient care. According to the Government’s own figures, the number of nurses quitting because of worries about their finances or health has doubled since the Tories first froze their pay. So let us get on to the question—the question he asked John Prescott 17 years ago. The First Secretary said then that nurses at his local hospital were warning that
“staff shortages are putting patients’ lives at risk”—[Official Report, 13 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 630.]
What are those same nurses telling him today?
Since 17 years ago—and it is interesting that 17 years ago many years of Labour Government still lay ahead, with all the pressures the right hon. Lady has just exposed—the number of nurses in post has risen significantly. I did not quite understand her point about wards—she seemed to go on and off the wards—but we know that we have 10,000 more nurses on our wards, which is where people want to see them. Also, if she is interested in nurses’ pay, I hope that she will find it in herself to welcome the tax cut announced in the Budget—the increase in the personal allowance—which will help nurses, just as it will help workers across the public and private sectors. This is good news for nurses. The Budget was good not just for the health service but specifically for the nursing profession. As I say, I hope that she can bring herself to welcome that.
I notice that the First Secretary did not want to talk about patient care at his local hospital. Could the reason be that his local accident and emergency department, according to the board’s most recent minutes, has
“Severe staff shortages in medical and nursing staff”,
meaning that patient safety is being put at risk, and the only option to tackle those shortages is to cancel outpatient clinics? And it gets worse: there is to be a public meeting tomorrow to consider closing his local A&E for good—in other words, all the things he has been denying. What are you doing to our NHS? It is happening on your own doorstep. Is it not about time he got a grip?
Order. I am entirely innocent in this matter.
The right hon. Lady’s grasp of the facts is pretty shaky. The meeting tomorrow in my constituency is about the strategic transformation plan. [Interruption.]
I am happy to assure the right hon. Lady that I am entirely in favour of option 1 of that strategic transformation plan, which suggests not just leaving A&E services in the hospital in my constituency, but actually expanding specialist services there. I strongly suggest that she does not try to think she knows more about what is going on my constituency than I do.
I suspect that neither the nation nor the First Secretary’s own constituents will have taken any reassurances from that answer. We have an NHS in the grip of a chronic funding and staffing crisis: GPs are quitting in record numbers; junior doctors are running A&E departments without supervision; our nurses are at breaking point—and all this is before the winter crisis that is coming. So let me finally ask him: what does it say about the Government’s priorities that last week’s Budget could only find £350 million to help the cash-strapped, stretched-to-the-limit NHS cope with the winter fuel crisis? [Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “Keep going.”] Only £350 million to cope with the winter crisis, but it was able to find 11 times that amount to spend on a no-deal Brexit. Is that not the very definition of a Government who are fiddling away while the rest of the country burns?
The right hon. Lady is determined to talk the NHS down. It is a Conservative Government who are increasing NHS funding so that it remains the best health service in the world, as the independent Commonwealth Fund has described it for the second year in a row. It is this party that promised and delivered more money for the NHS in 2010 and 2015, and in last week’s Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor promised it an extra £6.3 billion. That means more patients being treated, it means more operations being carried out by more doctors, and it means more nurses.
The right hon. Lady ended her remarks by saying that the Government were wasting £3 billion on preparing for Brexit. We now know that Labour Members do not think it is worth preparing for Brexit, but they do think it is worth preparing for a run on the pound. That is all we need to know about the Labour party.
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, and, indeed, with the wisdom of the Labour councillor who has joined the Conservative party. My hon. Friend is quite right. What we hear from Labour Members shows that a Labour Government would lose control of public finances and hike taxes to their highest ever peacetime level. I have discovered a new quotation—the shadow Chancellor called business “the enemy”. That is what the modern Labour party is about.
Let me also point out that the local councillor may just have moved in anticipation. I understand that moderate councillors are being deselected by the hard left of the Labour party.
May I join the First Secretary in congratulating Prince Harry and Meghan on their engagement, and wish them a long life and happiness together? May I also welcome the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Derek Browning, who is with us in the Gallery today?
Will the First Secretary of State now tell the House how much money the UK Government have received from Saudi Arabia as a result of arms sales since the war in Yemen began?
I am afraid that I do not have the figure to hand. However, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to recognise that our defence industry is an extremely important creator of jobs and prosperity, in Scotland as well as in other parts of the country. Obviously I am aware of the current terrible situation in Yemen, but he should also recognise that this country has one of the most rigorous and robust defence sales regimes in the world, as was recognised in a court case last July—and we are absolutely determined to maintain the most rigorous and robust system because that is the right thing to do, both for our prosperity and to ensure that we keep proper control of arms sales.
That was a long time to be unable to answer the question. I can tell the First Secretary that the UK Government have received £4.6 billion from selling arms to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen began—a war that has created a devastating humanitarian crisis. Yemen is now on the brink of famine, and UNICEF has said that 150,000 children will die by the end of the year. Does the First Secretary not agree that the best thing the Prime Minister can do in her meetings today is follow the example of the Netherlands and suspend licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia to stop killing children?
I should correct something the right hon. Gentleman said: that the Government receive the money. It will be the companies that receive the money, and therefore their workers. He can take that position if he wants, and it was the Labour party’s position as well, but that would certainly entail significant job losses.
It is very important not only that we have the robust regime I talked about, but that we continue the humanitarian efforts that we make to try to alleviate the terrible conditions in Yemen. We are the fourth largest humanitarian donor to Yemen, and the second largest to the UN appeal. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that the involvement of the Saudis in this conflict came at the request of the legitimate Government of Yemen and has UN Security Council backing. That is why we support it. This is a conflict supported by the UN Security Council, and I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have some respect for the Security Council.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know what a stout champion she is of the people of Taunton Deane. She is right about the housing infrastructure fund as well. We need more homes, but we also need the infrastructure to back them up, and that is why the Chancellor doubled the housing infrastructure fund in the Budget.
I do not recognise the characterisation of Kent County Council’s position that my constituency neighbour has expressed. All local authorities, as all parts of the public sector, have to live within their means, because we have to continue paying down the deficit run up by the previous Labour Government. Kent County Council is an extremely good county council that does many good things in transport and other fields for the people of Kent, and will continue to do so.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for decades now, the richer member states in the European Union have made large contributions to the EU budget because the macroeconomic benefits of belonging to the large free trade area of the single market make it a bargain to pay that share of the costs? Should we not therefore welcome the rumours in today’s press of a possible imminent settlement of the method of calculating future contributions, which may now enable us to get on with the serious negotiations about how we retain the maximum future access to all those benefits of that free trade?
My right hon. and learned Friend has been around long enough to know not necessarily to believe everything he reads in the newspapers, and it would clearly be wrong for me to go into figures now, but he is absolutely right that what we are about, and what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is about, is making sure we get the best possible deal at this stage of the process, so we can move on to the trade talks. Britain, as a country that meets its international obligations, of course will, as it exits the EU, meet the obligations and have all the rights that we have in that process, so that we can maintain a deep and special partnership with the other 27 members of the EU, as we move forward in friendship and co-operation after we have left the EU.
I absolutely agree that this place as an institution and all the political parties need to improve complaints procedures and other aspects of the culture of politics to ensure that young men and young women who are interested in politics do not in any way feel deterred from playing an active role in it. There is a place for everyone in this House, on all sides and in all parties, and among the House authorities, to ensure that this is the best possible working environment for young people to come into.
Many mothers in this Chamber know how hard childbirth can be, but we would never use that knowledge in a veiled threat against a journalist, in the way that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) did when being questioned by a Channel 4 journalist recently. As I assume that the First Secretary is not pregnant, will he please complete the work that that journalist tried to do, by asking the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn to use her influence with her aunt, who is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, whose regime is responsible for the kidnapping of Ahmad Bin Quasem, to ask for his release?
Order. Before the First Secretary replies, I am sure that the—[Interruption.] Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) notified the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) of an intention to refer to her in this question—
She did not? Well, that was disorderly—[Interruption.] Order. Nevertheless, the question has been asked and it would be perfectly proper for the First Secretary briefly to reply.
Mr Speaker, you and the House will be aware that I can speak only on behalf of the Government. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) that Bangladesh remains an important human rights priority area for the Foreign Office and that we continue to raise allegations of enforced disappearances at all levels of the Government of Bangladesh. I think I should stop there.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government committed a sum of more than £1 billion to ensure that no one’s pension would be delayed more than 18 months from the original period. I am sure that he also, as a reasonable man, recognises that, with increasing longevity, it is inevitable that the pension age will rise. That is what this Government are doing, and by next year pension inequality will have been removed. We will hit 65 for both sexes next year, and that means that we will then have an equal pension system.
The Royal Air Force is unique among the three services in having been established by an Act of Parliament, which received Royal Assent 100 years ago today. Will my right hon. Friend find time in his busy diary to join me and Members of both Houses and staff from throughout the Palace in celebrating the magnificent service that the RAF has given to this nation over that 100 years, at a unique parade in the atrium of Portcullis House at 7.30 this evening by the Queen’s Colour Squadron?
I have already mentioned the centenary today, and my hon. Friend is right to bring it up again. We cannot pay high enough tribute to the men and women of the RAF for a century of service that will go on for a long time into the future as well. I am glad that he has managed to get an advert in for the parade this evening in Portcullis House.
It is not really surprising that EU institutions are not going to be in a state that is not a member of the EU. That cannot come as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman. As for the capitals of culture, I rather agree with him. After British cities, including some in Scotland, were invited to be part of the process, it is extremely disappointing that the Commission has decided that they cannot apply. We are in urgent talks with the Commission about that, and we are ensuring that all the cities that applied can continue with their cultural development, which has been shown to be an extremely good basis for the regeneration of cities and towns across the United Kingdom.
This Saturday, I will be announcing the winners of my annual local shop competition as part of Small Business Saturday. Will my right hon. Friend wish all Cannock Chase retailers the best of luck and will he congratulate the winners?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating her retailers. Like many Members, I will be celebrating Small Business Saturday this weekend. It has become an extremely important part of the calendar. Supporting small business is absolutely at the heart of this Government’s economic strategy, and we should take every opportunity to celebrate the hugely important work that small businesses do in innovation, in entrepreneurship and in serving the people.
I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that this Government’s stance on knife crime is actually tougher than ever. We have made the punishment for repeat offenders stronger, and we have banned cautions for the most serious offences. There is now a very clear message: if you carry knives in public, you are more likely than ever to go to prison. The latest figures show that 42% of adult offenders were given an immediate custodial sentence—the highest rate in nearly a decade—so I hope that she can be reassured that this Government are actually being tougher on knife crime than any previous Government.
Does the First Secretary agree that we do not need to break into the computer or iPad of the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) to work out that the half a trillion pounds that he wants to borrow will attract £7.5 billion of interest payments every year?
Order. The one difficulty with that otherwise ingenious question is that it bears no relation to Government policy, for which the First Secretary is responsible, and relates instead to the policies of the shadow Chancellor, for which he is not.
Obviously, I cannot be aware of the individual issues in that case, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will be happy to consider that case to see whether something needs to be done for Sharon.
I very much welcome the announcement of the borderlands growth deal, which is positive news for the border area. Can the First Secretary assure me that this initiative will receive sufficient resource to ensure its success?
I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the borderlands growth initiative. I have seen the many benefits of city deals and growth deals around all parts of the United Kingdom since I became First Secretary. The borderlands growth initiative is particularly important because it will show the mutual prosperity of his part of the north of England and the southern part of Scotland. All I can say is that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is the MP for a constituency in the southern part of Scotland, I know this deal will get particularly strict attention inside the Cabinet.
When the hon. Gentleman says that all Members of the House of Lords are begging for reform, he may not necessarily be representing the entire range of views in another place, but I am happy to assure him that the Government are looking very carefully at the proposal of the Burns committee. We will, of course, respond in due course.
Can my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour say what action the Government propose to take against Russian-backed agencies that are spreading fake news and disinformation? We know they have been doing it in our political campaigns, but there are also worrying reports that disinformation may be being spread on important issues such as accessing vaccines and the flu jab.
My hon. Friend is right to raise cyber-security, which is an extremely important issue, and fake news and the dissemination of potentially dangerous information is one part of that. The National Cyber Security Centre is looking very hard at the issue, and it is taking a number of measures to combat it, some of which obviously have to remain private. I absolutely assure him that the issue is very high on the agenda of the National Cyber Security Centre, which is just over a year old and which is doing very good work in ensuring that the whole area of cyber-security is much better than it used to be.
I absolutely agree that this is a serious problem, and it is one of the reasons why housing was at the centre of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget.
What are you doing, then?
I see the right hon. Lady has recovered her voice. I will tell her what we are doing. Last year we delivered more homes than were delivered in all but one of the last 30 years—217,000, which takes us to 1.1 million since 2010. Over the next five years we will invest £44 billion in home building, boosting the funding for council, social and low-cost housing to over £9 billion. We are building more social housing than the Labour Government did in their 13 years in office. We will build even more in the future. This is a Government who are addressing the problems of the constituents of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting); previous Labour Governments signally failed to do so.
At the recent extremely successful Cheltenham literature festival, Hillary Clinton talked about the importance of ensuring that the Russians are not allowed to meddle in British or, indeed, American elections. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be building an offensive cyber capability so that our opponents know we have the will and the wherewithal to strike back?
My hon. Friend is exactly right, as we would expect, given that he is the Member of Parliament who represents GCHQ; he is absolutely right about the offensive capacity we may well need in the cyber area, and I am happy to assure him and the House that we are indeed developing that.
I said this in reply to a previous question on this subject, but I hope the hon. Lady would recognise the principle, which is right: that as we live longer we need to move up the pension age. She knows as well as I do that the Scottish Government do have the capacity to top up welfare payments. Scottish National party Members like to sit here and deny that, but in Holyrood they know they could do this. So, as ever with the SNP, they should stop simply moaning in this Chamber; they should go back to their own Government in Scotland and say that if they want to do something, they should do it. They should get on with the day job of running Scotland.
I very much welcome the Government’s modern industrial strategy, which was launched this week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is really going to be important, as this country moves forward and we seek a global Britain, in creating more and better-quality jobs?
My hon. Friend is exactly right; the point about the industrial strategy, which is a hugely important moment, is to create not just a stronger economy but a fairer economy for decades to come. That is why it is looking forward to 2030; it is a long-term attempt to make sure that we have not just a global, outward looking economy—I completely agree on that—but a modern economy where we can capitalise on our huge research strengths and our huge intellectual strengths to make sure that, unlike so often in the past, we benefit commercially from that for decades to come. That is the route to rising productivity and rising prosperity.
I am sure the hon. Lady, who has great expertise in this field, will know that this Government are spending £90 billion on disability benefits. More to the point, we are being more successful than ever before in giving disabled people a degree of independence. Hundreds of thousands more disabled people are in work than have ever been before. We have a plan to have an extra million in work over the next 10 years. That is an extremely important and practical way to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people. That is what this Government are doing, and that is what we will continue to do.
Given that President Rouhani of Iran has said that his will not be the first country to breach the joint comprehensive plan of action, will the First Secretary assure us that British diplomats are working hard in Washington DC to persuade our American friends that it is in the interests of the west and of Iran to uphold the JCPOA as an essential prelude to solving other regional problems?
My hon. Friend is right; we think that the JCPOA is a very important part of attempting to improve conditions, not just between Iran and its neighbours but across the wider middle east. We will continue to argue that case in all parts of the world.
I, too, join in offering congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement. One issue that Prince Harry has rightly highlighted and campaigned on is mental health. The Invest in Life campaign in Northern Ireland is doing a fantastic job in highlighting the need for extra resources on that issue. We join in that campaign and have secured extra resources. But at a time when issues such as mental health, education and all the rest of it need to be prioritised in Northern Ireland by a locally devolved Government working on these issues and representing the people of Northern Ireland, does the First Secretary agree that it is a gross dereliction of responsibility for Sinn Féin to announce this week that it is not going to engage in further discussions on the restoration of devolution? If that is the case, we now need to move quickly to restore accountability and Ministers to Northern Ireland to get on with the people’s business of responsible government in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working as hard as possible to restore democratic control and to restore the Northern Ireland Executive. We all want to see proper devolved government restored in Northern Ireland. That would be by far the best thing for the people of Northern Ireland, and the Government will continue to work tirelessly to that end.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Exceptionally, I will take the point of order now. [Interruption.] Will Members who are leaving the Chamber be good enough to do so quickly and quietly? It is quite unaccountable if they do not wish to hear the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), but there is no accounting for taste.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for exceptionally taking this point of order.
You and others in the House may not be aware of this, Mr Speaker, but it appears that the President of the United States has in recent moments been retweeting comments from a far-right organisation, Britain First. There are some highly inflammatory videos, including some posted by an individual who I believe has recently been arrested and charged in relation to certain serious offences. Have you had notice of any intended statement by the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary on this very serious matter?
I confess I have had no advance notice of this matter. I am not myself one who tends to follow what is said on Twitter, but the hon. Gentleman is almost invariably very well informed on these matters. The Home Secretary is in her place and if she wants to say anything, she is welcome to do so, but she is under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to do so.
The right hon. Lady is not hailing a taxi. Oh, very well—in deference to the seniority of the right hon. Lady in the House, if she has a point of order to raise, I will of course hear it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the woman in question has indeed already been convicted of hate crime in this country. On that basis, given the significance and seriousness of the President of the United States giving her such a huge platform, do you think it would be appropriate for us to hear some word of condemnation from the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary?
Well, it is a point of order for the Chair, and I can say only to the right hon. Lady that, at the moment, as will be obvious to her and to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, I have received no advance notice of any intention to make a statement. It would be wrong to expect a Government Minister immediately to respond and, to be fair, the Home Secretary is under no obligation to do so. What I would say is that I now know the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth very well and, if anything, I know the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) even better, because we came into the House together 20 years ago. Knowing them as well as I do, I know that when they have got their teeth into something, they are disinclined to let go. By the way, that is a compliment. We will leave it there for now, but I rather imagine that this matter will probably be mentioned again.
Exiting the EU: Costs
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to update the House on the expected costs of exiting the European Union.
Our negotiating team is currently in Brussels discussing our exit from the European Union—in fact, our officials have been working on it for months. It would be completely wrong of me to cut across those discussions by commenting on speculation about the financial settlement, and it would not be in our national interest.
The Prime Minister made it clear in her Florence speech that EU member states would not need to pay more, or to receive less money, over the remainder of the current budget period as a result of our decision to leave. She also made it clear that, in the spirit of our future partnership, the UK will honour its commitments made during its period of membership. As we have said before, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Any settlement that we make is contingent on us securing a suitable outcome, as outlined by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech. We will meet our commitments and also get a good deal for the UK taxpayer.
We want to see progress towards our preferred option, which is an implementation period followed by an ambitious future economic partnership. In the Budget, we have set aside £3 billion, in addition to the £700 million that we have already allocated, to make sure that our country is fully prepared for all eventualities. What we have seen today is simply media speculation. We will update the House when there is more detail to give.
The British people were promised a dividend from Brexit. They were told that leaving the EU would save us a fortune. Those who campaigned for Brexit daubed their hubris across the side of a giant red bus, promising a windfall of £350 million every week for the NHS. That was not just a whopping lie, but the direct opposite of the truth.
Will the Chief Secretary confirm that if the divorce bill comes in at somewhere between £40 billion and £67 billion, as is speculated, that could be a payment of £1,000 from every man, woman and child in this country? Is this speculated divorce bill not just the tip of the iceberg? If we are being honest about the true costs of Brexit, should we not also add in the lost revenues to the Exchequer set out in the Red Book—something in the order of £20 billion by 2021—the £3.7 billion of Brexit preparations for all the duplicated agencies, new border arrangements, lorry parks in Dover and so forth, and of course the higher cost of living for all of our constituents as prices keep on rising?
How do the Chief Secretary’s constituents react to the idea that they will be lumbered with all these extra costs? Do they not ask her, “What exactly are we getting for this? What wondrous new advantages will we gain by shelling out these astronomical sums?” Will she not be straight with the House that we are paying for the privilege of putting the world’s most efficient free trade, tariff-free, frictionless agreement into the bin, and being told to pay for the privilege of downgrading to an inferior deal with our European neighbours? Why is she being so coy about the deal that is being done? The Government have gone from “go whistle” to “where do we sign?”
In a week when the Government will still not fully publish the Brexit impact assessment papers to this House, we are now hearing rumours that Parliament and the public may never be told the full amount. When will Parliament be told what is actually happening and will we get a vote on the sums of money involved? Will the Chief Secretary, right here and right now, scotch this nonsense that the true costs of Brexit will be hidden away in a convenient backroom deal in the negotiations? The British people need to know whether there is a deal and how much the Government have put on the table in the negotiations. If she will not tell us, why does she think that the only people who cannot be told are the British public and the British Parliament? This is not what the British public voted for in the referendum. It is not taking back control; it is losing control.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman what my constituents say: “The country has voted to leave the European Union.” What they want to see is us getting on with that and securing the best possible deal for Britain. If we look at the Opposition Benches, we can see Members who, like the hon. Gentleman, voted to stay in the single market and the customs union, and we also see Opposition Front Benchers who voted to leave the single market and the customs union. Today we read that the shadow Home Secretary wants a second referendum. That is not remotely helpful in securing the best possible deal.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are in negotiations as we speak. If we were to talk about numbers and aspects of the deal in this House, we would be cutting across our negotiating position. The people of Britain want us to get on with it, to take the advantages of leaving the European Union, to make the most of the opportunities and to secure the best possible deal. We are well on the way to doing that. I suggest that, rather than trying to refight the referendum battle, which is exactly what the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing, he needs to get with the programme and to start talking about how he can be helpful.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that no Government of any EU member state could possibly be expected to agree that we should have a good future trade and economic relationship with the European Union while, at the same time, we repudiate all our past financial obligations and somehow refuse to pay a fair share of the costs of agencies and so on that will be incurred in the future? Does she therefore agree that those who oppose paying any money presumably want a no-deal Brexit, which would be catastrophic for this country, and would stop the opportunity that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has of negotiating a deal that retains as many benefits as possible for jobs, investment and the growth of this country’s economy?
As the Prime Minister laid out in her Florence speech, we do want to abide by the commitments we made during our period of membership, and we also want to see progress on securing a deal. My right hon. and learned Friend is right that any settlement that we seek to achieve has to be contingent on getting a suitable outcome from the negotiations, as has been outlined by the Prime Minister, because we want to ensure that any money spent is value for money for the British taxpayer.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) for raising this critical question.
As we all know, settling this issue is vital to continuing to the next part of the negotiations. Given that progress has been so much slower than we would have hoped, the Opposition support efforts to resolve this part of the negotiations as soon as is feasible, so that we can start to make progress to end the uncertainty that is impacting on jobs and the economy.
The financial settlement with the EU must meet our international obligations while delivering a fair deal for British taxpayers. The UK is a responsible country and there is no mileage in our refusing to meet our obligations. If we are to negotiate a comprehensive new trade agreement with the European Union, which we will need for future jobs and prosperity, we must be seen as a country that can be trusted to comply with the deals that we reach.
Given our long-standing membership of the European Union, the calculation will understandably be complex. Given that this is a sensitive part of the negotiations, we appreciate that the Government cannot announce a figure publicly at this stage, but they must be transparent about the process, especially once an understanding has been reached with our EU partners. That is why we have tabled an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that calls for any financial settlement to be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office, and for Parliament to have the chance to scrutinise it. The Government’s handling of the presentation of the impact assessment studies to Parliament has left a lot to be desired, so may I ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to promise that, in the interests of transparency and clarity, the Government will support that amendment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments. I am glad that he agrees with the Government’s strategy. The next step will be making sure that his Back-Bench colleagues also agree with his strategy. He is absolutely right that we should not reveal the details of negotiations while they are ongoing. However, the Opposition’s approach of saying that any deal is better than no deal is not the best way of securing a deal. Although our preferred option is an implementation period followed by a strong agreement, we are preparing for all eventualities, which is why we are putting in £3 billion. I suggest that the Opposition should also support that very responsible approach.
I am not in favour of anything that is not legal, so I support my right hon. Friend completely. I am also in line with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), in that whatever the legal agreement is, bound against the contingency of a free trade arrangement, it is exactly what the Government will set out to do. Will the Chief Secretary please remind those who have raised this question that even if we agreed a figure of something in the order of £40 billion over 40 years, because we will not be paying contributions to the European Union, it means that the UK Exchequer will be better off by £360 million in the course of those 40 years—a net gain, with a free trade arrangement?
My right hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Whatever happens, we will not be paying anything like what we would have paid as an EU member. That represents a considerable saving to the British taxpayer.
I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) for bringing this matter to the House.
There would be no newspaper rumours about the sum if the Government actually told us what the sum was. Nobody voted for this disastrous, disorganised EU exit. People voted for £350 million a week for the NHS, not to spend £40 billion or £50 billion just to be worse off. Our public services must not pay the price for this Brexit mess. It surprised us all when the Prime Minister found a magic money tree earlier this year, so surely the Government cannot have been lucky enough to find two. Given that last week’s Budget did not make provision for this £40 billion or £50 billion, will the Chancellor now bring forward an emergency Budget to explain where he is finding the money?
When the hon. Lady stood up, I thought that she was going to thank the Government for the £2 billion additional spending power that we gave to the Scottish Government in the Budget, which they will no doubt be able to use to improve their public services. As I have said before—and, indeed, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—talking about the money now would cut across the negotiations and prevent us from getting the best possible deal. That is not in anyone’s interests.
I am glad that the Government have confirmed today that they are carrying on with comprehensive preparations for no deal, because it is very important that we are not up against the clock at the end and forced into a bad deal because we have no alternative. Will the Chief Secretary confirm that no deal has the great advantage of no payments whatever under the divorce bill heading, meaning that when the Government recommend a deal, it has to be visibly better?
My right hon. Friend is correct. It is irresponsible for Opposition Front Benchers to suggest that any deal is better than no deal. That is the way that we will not get our preferred option, which is an implementation period plus our preferred economic partnership. We are allocating £3 billion to ensure that we are prepared for all eventualities.
The United Kingdom is currently a member of a large number of EU agencies, from that dealing with aviation safety to the European Medicines Agency. Have the Government made an assessment of the likely cost to the Exchequer of having to replicate all those functions and activities, if they eventually decide that we have to leave all of them because of their stated principled objection to the European Court of Justice having any jurisdiction over the United Kingdom?
I have been very clear with the House that we are preparing for all eventualities. Of course, looking at the specifics of those agencies is a part of that.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the Prime Minister made a fair and generous offer to the European Union in her Florence speech. Given that article 50 provides that the negotiations that are under way should take account of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time that the European Union reciprocated and started adhering to its obligations under the treaty?
As my right hon. Friend points out, it is important that we move on to the next stage of the negotiations and talk about our long-term relationship with the European Union once we have left. That is exactly what we seek to do.
The problem with the Chief Secretary’s answer is that all our constituents saw the slogan on the side of a bus. If the Government simply say nothing—if they keep radio silence for a long time—and then suddenly pluck a figure out of a hat at the end of the process, it will just be incomprehensible to everyone. Surely she can tell the House the kinds of things that the Government think they should be funding—pension contributions or whatever else—rather than just leaving everyone in the dark.
I refer the right hon. Lady to the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, in which she laid out the commitments that we want to continue to honour, in the spirit of our future partnership, after we have left the European Union. The right hon. Lady has to be aware that this is part of a discussion that is also about our future relationship, and all those elements are contingent on securing our future relationship, as the Prime Minister laid out in her Florence speech. It would be wrong at this stage—from the point of view of not only the negotiations, but transparency to the public—to lay out something before it is fully agreed. That would not be helpful.
To cheer up the miseries on the Opposition Benches, perhaps they would like to look at the prospective budget published by Economists for Free Trade in the week before the Budget. It is a really exciting prospectus that says that our economy will grow at 3% a year by 2025, providing an infrastructure surplus of £60 billion, which easily covers the £18.2 billion a year for the famous £350 million. But that is contingent on reciprocal free trade with zero tariffs, so will my right hon. Friend guarantee that there will be no legally binding commitment to spend money until our partners agree to a serious free trade deal that is based on reciprocal free trade and zero tariffs?
I fear that my right hon. Friend is over-optimistic if he thinks we can stop Opposition Members from being miserable. We tried that over four days of Budget debate, but we have been unsuccessful so far. He is absolutely right to talk about the benefits of free trade for the British economy—I completely agree with him. We are seeking a good deal that benefits the UK in the long term.
At least £45 billion, higher inflation and debt, an extra year of cuts, and less influence in the world are the price that the Government are willing to pay for a deluded vision of Great Britain post Brexit. Is there any level of damage that the economy, jobs and families in the UK would have to sustain that would cause the Government to rethink and give the people a vote on the deal? That would be supported by the Liberal Democrats and Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor—and, as I understand it now, the shadow Home Secretary.
I see, regrettably, that the misery has spread to the Liberal Democrats; there seems to be a contagion on the Opposition Benches. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to welcome the fact that this country has the lowest unemployment in 40 years. We also have the third highest number of start-ups in the world—a record number for this country—and the other positive benefits that we are seeing due to the actions of this Conservative Government.
Most of us—certainly those of us on the Conservative Benches—accept that a good trade deal is better than no deal, that there is always give and take in a negotiation, and that it is important that we meet our financial commitments. However, does the Minister accept that this issue is largely a storm in a teacup, because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed? It is important to make that point and not to listen to the few siren voices who still refuse to accept the result of the referendum.
My hon. Friend is right. Regrettably, there are people—particularly on the Opposition Benches—who still do not seem to accept democracy and that fact that people did vote to leave the European Union.
The thing is that the Government are keeping their cards so close to their chest that I suspect they have not even looked at them themselves. For that matter, the left hand certainly does not know what the right hand is doing, because the Minister is obviously making it clear that we are going to pay lots of money for a no-deal outcome, yet the Foreign Secretary boldly and quite confidently told this House that our foreign counterparts could “go whistle”. What was he suggesting that they should whistle—“Stand and deliver your money or your life”?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that considerable work is taking place across Government, but it would be wrong to cut across our negotiators in the deal they are seeking to strike. It is in our country’s interests to reach the point where we are talking about our long-term economic relationship with the European Union.
My right hon. Friend should not pay more than we owe, but she should be confident that, whatever that is, it is a bargain against the cost of staying in.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Were we to stay in, the costs would be considerably higher than any amount we are talking about as part of our negotiations.
The Government are so intent on keeping information they have about Brexit secret that they are actually risking contempt of Parliament. As this even more secret financial settlement is negotiated, how can we be sure that it really represents the national interest?
As I have pointed out already, these negotiations are not yet complete—there is not a number that we can disclose to the House. Absolutely, when there is one, and when there is more detail to give, we will come to the House and talk about it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following a good Budget, and given the need for good housekeeping and the pressures on public spending, if the impression is given that we have wads of cash when it comes to Europe, that undermines our arguments on the public sector and on the need for good housekeeping, especially since the House of Lords says that we have no legal financial obligations? Does she not also agree that this is not a divorce bill? We are leaving a club, and once someone leaves a club, they no longer have to pay subscriptions.
First, we were able to make sure that we stuck within our fiscal rules at the Budget, making sure that debt is falling as a proportion of GDP for the first time in 13 years, and keeping within our deficit targets. At the same time, we were able to freeze fuel duty to help ordinary working people, who need to keep their living costs down. We were able to do all those things. The reality is that, as we leave the European Union, we will no longer be paying those vast sums in, and that will represent a benefit to the taxpayer.
Is the Minister aware that 70% of the people who voted in Bolsover voted to leave? But let me also say this to her: those same people in Bolsover, I believe, would expect me to tell the right hon. Lady from the finance Department that if the Government have £60 billion to spare, it should go to the national health service and social care.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, as part of last week’s Budget, we were able to put additional money into the national health service—into hospital capital and making sure we hit our A&E targets—and we are also allocating money to help with nurses’ pay. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be pleased about that.
These negotiations remind me of the even more complex ones on arms reductions in the 1980s. Will the Minister bear it in mind that the lessons of those negotiations were, first, that too many one-sided concessions project an image of weakness and, secondly, that to get the very best deal, we often have to walk away first and wait for the other side to agree with us, come back, sit down and negotiate realistically?
It is because we need to make sure that the European Union is aware we have alternatives that we are preparing not only for our preferred option of a transition period plus a long-term economic agreement, but for a no-deal scenario. The Opposition want to give that option away, so we would not be able to have that discussion with the European Union.
There are two salient features about the news that is emerging. The first is that this is the opposite of what was promised during the referendum. We were promised £350 million a week more, and now the Government are set to pay up to £50 billion, when our constituents urgently need money for health, housing, policing and much more. But, secondly, what is it that we are paying for? Other countries pay significant sums to get into the single market; we are lining up to pay up to £50 billion to leave the single market. Is not the tragedy that these huge sums are going to pay for a worse deal than we have at present? That is hardly strategic genius.
It is absolutely right that the UK honours its commitments in the spirit of our future partnership, but as I have said before, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We will expect to make progress and secure that long-term economic partnership, which will be to the benefit of UK citizens.
Will my right hon. Friend note the growing concern at the fact that Her Majesty’s Government seem in these negotiations to be dancing to the tune of the European Commission? Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), may I also ask whether she can be certain that, after 29 March 2019, we will make no payments to the European Union whatever in the absence of a full agreement covering trade?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are not dancing to anyone’s tune. What we care about is the future of Britain’s economy, protecting the British taxpayer from excess payments and making sure we secure a good deal, which is why it is so important that we do not discuss these numbers while we are in the middle of a very important negotiation.
I have been informed by a former public finances auditor that international accounting standard 37, on provisions, contingent liabilities and contingent assets, requires the UK Government to account for the divorce payment as expenditure in their public finances—even if the exact amount cannot be calculated. Given that the Government accounts for 2016-17 did not adequately disclose the potential liability, as required by IAS 37, will the Minister give assurances that a liability of this magnitude will now be included in the supplementary estimates for 2017-18 and that that provision will be subject to a vote of this House?
That would be wrong according to accounting principles, because nothing has been agreed. The Office for Budget Responsibility followed the Prime Minister’s Florence speech in laying out its projections for the Budget. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he has misinterpreted those standards.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she agrees that the UK should pay the EU what we are legally obliged to pay—not a penny more and not a penny less? If so, will she make sure that, before this House votes on the final bill, we have an itemised account of exactly what we are paying for at the end, and also the legal basis on which we are making those payments? I have to say that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is absolutely right: if there is any spare money going at a time of austerity, it should be directed to our priorities in the UK; we should not give it as a bung to the European Union, which we are not legally obliged to do.
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to get the best possible deal for the British taxpayer, and we need to look at the deal in the round to see what represents value for money. Absolutely, the money should be spent on our public services and on keeping taxes low for our hard-working citizens.
Last week, the Treasury published the Red Book, which showed that there would be no more payments to EU institutions from 2019. It also said there was £15 billion of headroom and that debt would then fall. Does the news overnight not show that there is a £30 billion hole in the public finances and that there is no possibility of debt falling on that timescale?
The hon. Lady is not correct about that. The OBR has made predictions on EU payments and those are included in the Budget. Indeed, that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) in the Budget debate last week.
Will the Chief Secretary please confirm that any payments that are offered will be itemised, so that Parliament can understand the constitution of the payment and put it into the context of any likely conditioning that may be required in any deal on the future relationship?
I assure my hon. Friend that the payments that will potentially be made—as we have discussed, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed—will absolutely provide value for money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) is right in his question to highlight the serious difficulties the country faces. I hope it is true that agreement has been reached on the costs of exit, so that the negotiations can move on to the next stage. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is essential to the UK’s national interest that the European Council agrees at its meeting next month that enough progress has been made to move on to discussions about future trade?
We absolutely want to secure movement on to the next stage of the negotiations. That is very important. Ultimately, it takes the UK and the EU27 to agree on that. It would be wrong to take the approach of the Opposition and say that we would agree to any deal, regardless of what it was. We have to look at and prepare for all eventualities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the message to the doom-mongers must be that the British public have given their verdict and expect Parliament to deliver? The doom-mongers should recognise that we are the fifth strongest economy in the world and that our population is significantly greater than that of 15 EU countries put together. It is high time that they started talking Britain up, rather than talking it down.
My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition refuse to see any of the positive things that are happening in our country, whether it is the lowest youth unemployment rate for over 13 years or the highest number of new start-ups this country has ever seen. Great things are happening, so let us see a bit more optimism from the Opposition.
People in the Black country voted to leave, but they were not told at any point that it could cost them £1 billion a week. They certainly were not told that it could make them worse off. If it is the case, as we have been told, that we will be much better off as a result of leaving and that there will be considerable savings, as the right hon. Lady promised a moment ago, will she promise that those savings will be used to replace the programmes that are currently funded by the EU, such as the crucial £50 million-a-year skills programme that operates in the Black country?
There will be savings once we leave the European Union, as I have made clear. We want to ensure that those savings are spent in the best interests of everybody in the UK to make our country as successful as it can be.
The Chief Secretary will be very aware that her constituents and mine voted overwhelmingly to leave. Does she agree that it feels on the ground as though most people now want to get on with Brexit, but also that they expect the UK to be fair, generous and magnanimous, so long as the financial settlement is contingent on a free trade deal?
As my hon. Friend points out, the people of Norfolk are fair minded. They want the referendum result to be respected and they want to honour our commitments to the European Union, but they want that to happen in a way that is fair for Britain and British taxpayers and that ensures that we get the best possible deal.
The figures are astronomical. Is it not the case that the British public are already paying the costs of this Government’s approach to Brexit in the form of the £3 billion that the Chancellor announced in the Budget would be spent on Brexit contingencies and the more than £700 million that he has already shelled out? Should people not have been told about that before the referendum?
It is completely irresponsible of the Opposition to suggest that we should not prepare for all eventualities. It would be disgraceful for the Government not to do that. That would not be the proper action of a responsible Government.
For the first time in my parliamentary career, I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). He is absolutely right. The 60%-odd of people in Wellingborough who voted to leave would want to know what we were doing with £60 billion. They would want it to be spent on the NHS, social care and defence. They would not want it to be given to the European Union. Does the Chief Secretary agree that such a move would betray the trust of the British people?
The amounts of money we have read about in the press are speculation. The negotiations are ongoing and we want to secure value for money for the British taxpayer. It is in our interest to secure a long-term economic partnership with the European Union, but we will not pay over money until everything is agreed.
Page 25 of the Government’s brand new industrial strategy document states that the Government are seeking a transition—sorry, an implementation period—of “around two years”. Does the reported deal include provision to pay for an extended deal beyond two years?
The negotiations are taking place at the moment. We want to secure a reasonable transition deal, but we have to know what the future relationship will be like before we enter into the transition deal. The British public will not accept the can being kicked down the road. They want to know that we are leaving the European Union.
The greatest risk to the new partnership that both the UK and the EU want is that the EU makes such unreasonable demands that no British Government could accept them, on the wrong assumption that this House will never vote for no deal. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that all Members who want a good deal, like the hon. Members for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), should make it absolutely clear to their constituents that they do not subscribe to the ludicrous idea that any deal is better than no deal?
I fear that Opposition Members have not made that logical leap yet, but I am sure that my hon. Friend’s question will have helped them reconsider in their own minds.
Extraordinary behaviour! It is good of the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) to drop in on us.
Can the right hon. Lady name any moment in any aspect of the negotiations so far when the Government have gone head to head with the EU27 on an issue on which they have competing ideas about what to do and come out on top? Is this not yet another example of the Government crumbling and facing up to the reality of leaving the EU?
We are making continuous progress in our negotiations with the EU. Of course, in any negotiation there has to be give and take from both sides. That is exactly what is happening. However, it would be wrong to expose the details of the negotiations at this stage.
In any divorce, the assets are divided. Given that in today’s money—in real terms—our net contribution to the EU over the lifetime of our membership amounts to £209 billion, will my right hon. Friend make sure that we get our fair share of the EU’s assets when we leave?
I assure my hon. Friend that that consideration is part of our discussions.
Before making a big decision, it is generally sensible to inquire about the price. Most people will be staggered to learn that the average household in this country will be asked to stump up between £2,000 and £3,000 to pay for this. What plans do the Government have to tell people about the bill they are facing and to ask them whether they think it is a good use of their money?
The hon. Gentleman needs to look at both sides of the account, because we will not be paying ongoing vast sums into the EU as we are at the moment. He needs to look at the big picture.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our plans for Britain’s railways. Those railways were privatised in the mid-1990s against a backdrop of what many regarded as terminal decline. The radical Beeching cuts of the 1960s had been followed by further line closures under British Rail, and passenger numbers had been falling steadily since the second world war, yet privatisation sparked a remarkable turnaround in the railway’s fortunes. More than a million and a half more trains are timetabled each year than was the case 20 years ago, and passenger demand has more than doubled. Other countries are now adopting Great Britain’s rail model in their own markets.
To support that growth and reverse decades of underinvestment in the infrastructure, we have embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian age. In addition to Government funding, billions of pounds of investment from the private sector is helping to renew and expand train fleets, upgrade stations and transform services across the country, and franchises are making an increasing contribution to the public purse. The rail renaissance we are seeing in Great Britain today is the direct result of a successful partnership between public and private sectors.
That partnership has delivered real benefits for passengers for more than 20 years, but that success has created its own challenges. As the number of services has increased, our network has become more and more congested, making the delivery of the punctual, reliable services that passengers expect more challenging. On much of the network, our railway is operating on the edge of what it can cope with. It carries more passengers today than it did in its heyday in the 1920s, on a network that is a fraction of the size. When things go wrong, the impact can be widespread and quick, causing significant frustration for the travelling public.
That is why last year I announced plans to start bringing together the operation of track and train on our railways. I said at the time that it should be a process of evolution and not revolution, and that the exact approach might differ from area to area, but the outcome must be the same: a railway that is predominantly run by a joint local team of people with an absolute commitment to the smooth running of the timetable whether they are planning essential repairs, responding to incidents on the line or communicating with passengers.
Today I am publishing more details about our plans, and an update on what we are doing and the steps we are taking to realise our ambitions. That publication, “Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, explains how we will create a new generation of regional rail operations with a relentless focus on the passengers, economies and communities they serve. It represents the biggest change to the delivery of rail services since privatisation.
Although we have already achieved significant structural improvements—with joined-up working between operators and Network Rail, and Network Rail’s own transformation into a series of regional route businesses—the document explains our plans to go much further. Where doing so will deliver real benefits for passengers, many future rail franchises will be run by a joint team, made up of staff from Network Rail and the train company, and headed by a new alliance director. That will make the railway more reliable for passengers by devolving powers to local routes and teams, and ensuring that one team is responsible for running the railways and the related infrastructure.
Today I am issuing the invitation to tender for the next south-eastern franchise. That will, among other things, deliver longer trains, providing space for at least 40,000 additional passengers in the morning rush hour. A simpler, high-frequency “turn up and go” timetable on suburban routes will boost capacity and provide a better service to passengers. As part of the unification of track and train, the day-to-day operations on the south-eastern network will be run by a joint team led by a new alliance director who heads both the train and track operations. On the east midland main line we will also introduce a joint team approach, bringing more benefits to passengers.
Hon. Members will know that the east coast main line has had its challenges in recent times, and I intend to take a different approach on that route. From 2020, the east coast partnership will run the intercity trains and track operations on this route. That partnership between the public and private sector will operate under one management and a single brand, overseen by a single leader. It will take a leading role in planning the future route infrastructure and meeting the challenges that it faces. Bringing the perspective of train operators to decisions on rail infrastructure will help to ensure that passenger needs are better represented in the process. While we run a competition to appoint the east coast partnership members, we are in discussions with the existing east coast franchise operator to ensure that the needs of passengers and taxpayers are met in the short term, and laying the foundations for the reforms I have just outlined.
I want the passenger to be central to train operators’ strategies. On some parts of the network, that will mean that we introduce smaller train companies. I am today launching a consultation on the great western franchise, to seek views on how it can best meet the needs of passengers and communities in the 2020s and beyond. We want to establish whether it should be retained in its current form or divided into smaller parts, with more of a local focus, to deliver best for customers. We will also begin the process of splitting up the Thameslink, southern and great northern franchise in 2021. The two franchises were put together with the intention of helping the implementation of the £6 billion Thameslink upgrade investment programme, which is now near completion.
Despite the improvements in the railway since privatisation, we are still some way from achieving the modern, high-performance, low-cost and customer-focused industry we all want to see. That is why we must continue to reform and invest in the railway, and maximise the contribution that both public and private sectors make to improving services. We will continue to deliver the biggest investment programme in our railways since the steam age, something the Labour party never did when it was in government.
Getting to grips with industry structure will go hand in hand with investment in infrastructure. We need new capacity to cope with growing demand, and new links to support economic growth and housing development. The great north rail project is transforming journeys across the north, providing faster, more comfortable journeys, new direct services and room for tens of thousands more passengers. Every single train in the north of England will be replaced with as-new or brand new stock—that change was never made when the Labour party was in power.
I intend to invest around £3 billion in upgrading the trans-Pennine route to deliver faster journey times and improved capacity between the great cities of Leeds, York and Manchester. In the south, flagship projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink are coming on stream and providing the capacity to underpin economic growth. Our investment in HS2 will bring north and south closer together, and bring benefits to people across the country. It is a new railway for a new era for rail. It is a bold and ambitious project, but if it were not for ambition and faith in the power of rail to transform the country, we would have no railways at all.
Our vision rejects the mentality of decline that characterised the railway in the second half of the 20th century. To complement record levels of private investment, we recently announced Government funding of up to £34.7 billion for the railway in the years 2019 to 2024, as part of an overall expected spend of £47.9 billion. That will support an overhaul of the network’s ageing assets and other vital work and improvements. Passengers value reliability more than anything, and this commitment will help to deliver it.
We also want to create new connections. We are establishing the East West Rail company to restore the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge that was lost to passengers in 1967 and to provide a major boost to the region. I expect construction work to begin next summer. We will look at other opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s, where such projects would unlock development and growth, offer value for money and unlock the potential for housing.
Large projects and industry reform take time, but passengers want faster improvements in their day-to-day experience travelling on the railway. We do too, and we are doing something about it. We are pushing to have smart ticketing available across almost all the network by the end of 2018. We are improving arrangements for compensation and dispute resolution when things go wrong, including by supporting the establishment of a new passenger ombudsman. We are working with industry to extend the benefits of discounted rail travel, to ensure that all who are aged 16 to 30 can access appropriate concessions. We are investing in new digital technologies and better mobile connectivity. We are committed to improving the accessibility of the network and delivering a modern customer experience that is open to all.
I know that the Labour party does not believe this, but privatisation brought a revolution to our railways—that is why there are twice as many passengers as there were 20 years ago. But now is the time for evolution to build on that success: joining up track and train, expanding the network, modernising the customer experience and opening up the railway to innovation. We have a vision of a revitalised railway that is used to its full potential, delivered by a partnership between the public and private sectors, supporting people, communities and the economy. We are taking real action to make that vision a reality. I am making copies of the strategic vision available in the Libraries of both Houses, and the great western and south-eastern documents are now on the website of the Department for Transport. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement, the contents of which have already been well trailed in the media.
The Secretary of State and I can be in agreement on rail’s need for investment and new capacity, and I am delighted that he has picked up Labour’s manifesto commitment to reopen branch lines. The problem is that the current system and the structure of the railways do not lend themselves well to the receipt of new investment or the delivery of new capacity. The majority of the recent problems on the railway can be traced back to the planning for control period 5, when the Office of Rail and Road said that Network Rail had to make efficiency savings of 18%. The ORR got this wrong, and the railway has suffered the consequences.
We are where we are on rail, and I am afraid that the Secretary of State has, frankly, now run out of ideas for what to do with the railways, but Labour has a solution, which I will refer to in a moment. The Secretary of State proposes an alliance on the east coast line between track and train. This was done only a few years ago between Stagecoach and Network Rail on the south-west franchise, but Stagecoach pulled out because it was too expensive. Trains on the east coast may be labelled Virgin trains, but they are actually run by Stagecoach. What makes the Secretary of State think that this alliance with Stagecoach will be any different?
The Secretary of State says he will break up the GTR’s southern and great western franchises. GTR was always going to be broken up at the end of the contract in 2021, so this is not new. His calamitous oversight of the contract only adds to the urgent need to put the whole thing out of its misery for the sake of the passengers.
The Secretary of State says he will reopen lines. He announced the Oxford-Cambridge line a year ago. His new, privately funded line will operate with polluting diesel trains. What about the air quality? Labour supports reopening lines, but, without financial backing, the Secretary of State’s proposals mean nothing in reality. It is all well and good to reverse the Beeching cuts, but what about reversing the Grayling cuts to the great western, the midland mainline and northern railways? The Department’s website hails the reopening of the line
“from Blyth to Ashington in County Durham.”
If it is all right with him, I would prefer Blyth and Ashington to stay in Northumberland.
The Secretary of State’s proposals offer nothing for commuters on overcrowded trains who are facing a fare hike of 3.4% in January on top of the 27% rises since 2010. The truth is that the rail system is broken. No amount of rearranging the furniture will change this central fact. I regret that the Secretary of State cannot recognise or admit this.
Today’s announcement is a total smokescreen. We can put all this to one side; the real issue is that the east coast franchise has failed again and the taxpayer will have to bail it out. Markets do not lie, and the Stagecoach share price has risen by 12% this morning following the news that the Secretary of State has let it off the hook for hundreds of millions of pounds by ending the current franchise early. He has moved the goalposts to suit Stagecoach. He is tough on everyone except the private sector. Labour took the franchise into public ownership in 2009, and it should have stayed there. Conservative dogma put it back out to the market in 2015, and it has now failed again.
The Government’s proposals are more window dressing that will solve none of rail’s urgent problems. Only Labour has the vision and the courage to deliver the railway the public deserves. The public want public ownership of the railways, and the next Labour Government will deliver it.
Fortunately, this country will be waiting a long time for that to happen. What Labour Members really want is to take us back to the days of British Rail, but they have not explained to us how they would pay for all the new trains currently funded by the private sector, or how they would pay for longer trains and better services all around the country. What they do not tell us is that, with a publicly run railway, trains would have to compete for capital costs with hospitals and schools and we would just not get the investment we are currently getting in our railways. Going back to British Rail is simply no solution for the improvements this country desperately needs.
The hon. Gentleman asked a series of specific questions. What is different is what is happening within Network Rail. The devolution within Network Rail—more of a local focus, local decision making, local budgets—is absolutely crucial in making local partnerships possible. We are driving through that change right now, off the back of Nicola Shaw’s report on Network Rail, and it is the right thing to do for the future.
The hon. Gentleman talked about GTR, but I remind the House that the independent Gibb report showed that the GTR problems were substantially down to the actions of the hon. Gentleman’s friends in the unions. Such conduct was unacceptable, and the Labour party’s continuing support for the disruption that unions are causing to passengers on the railways is utterly unacceptable.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the Oxford-Cambridge railway line. I did actually give an update on that. Last year, I said we were going to do it. This year, I am saying that we are now ready to start work on that route in the next few months. This Conservative Government are delivering real improvements and real investment on the railways.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the finance for reopening lines. He may have missed these announcements in the Budget, but I can assure him that there will be £2 billion more for investment in transport in our cities, and there will be £47 billion for investment in the railways over the next five years. We will, indeed, be funding investment in the expansion of the railways, because that is what is needed.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about electrification. I say again that in a world where we have more flexible technology, I regard it as more of a priority to provide more services and more routes for passengers than to save one minute on the journey time to Sheffield and no minutes on the journey time to Swansea. I am doing what we need to do, which is to deliver better journeys, better journey times and new trains for passengers, which is what they want above all. They are not worried about how the trains are powered, but about whether they will have a nice new train that gets them to the right place, and that is what we are doing.
The hon. Gentleman raised a point about the Blyth-Ashington line. It is one of the projects I am looking at seriously. I think it has real potential to expand the investment we are already making in the Metro in Newcastle upon Tyne, and it is another example of this Government’s commitment to the north-east.
The hon. Gentleman asked what we are doing for commuters. All around the country, we and the private sector, together in partnership, are delivering new trains and longer trains to create more space for people who travel on our crowded railway lines each day.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be absolutely clear for the House that as we bring the east coast franchise to a close and move to the new arrangements, no one will get any bail-out at all. It is absolutely clear that Stagecoach will meet in full the commitments it made to the Government as part of this contract, and that is what will happen.
I warmly welcome the commitment in the strategy document to the east-west railway line through my constituency and the announcement that its construction will start very soon. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about when he expects the western section of the line to be up and running, and how this will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor?
My hon. Friend is right that this is an important project. We have been pushing ahead hard with the new special purpose vehicle, which will be set up in the coming weeks. Construction is due to begin next summer, and my goal is to have the first trains running on that route by the end of 2021.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. Unfortunately, I am having to thank him for early sight of what is a disappointing damp squib. Given the media coverage last night about the possible reversal of the Beeching cuts, I hoped there would be some firm commitments in the statement, but there is nothing other than a throwaway line.
The Beeching cuts were typical of the Tory policy of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, and this attitude continues in the Secretary of State’s ideological adherence to privatisation. While he worships the private sector, he needs to remember that there are already four foreign state-owned rail companies operating existing UK franchises. If it is good enough for foreign state-owned companies, it should be good enough for UK state-owned companies to run the franchises. I hope that he supports the Scottish Government’s move to make a public sector bid in Scotland.
The Secretary of State trumpets the turnaround in rail since privatisation, but he does not say that it has been driven by a 90% increase in public sector investment and a real-terms fare increase of a quarter. That is where the real investment and the turnaround have come from. The Secretary of State’s real masterplan is to create alliances and effectively to sub-divide Network Rail, so I have the following questions. What is the overall governance structure to prevent inter-alliance conflict? Given that he is such a fan of devolution, will he devolve Network Rail to Scotland? Who will fund the new railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds? Will the smart ticket system automatically provide consumers with the cheapest fares? If he is considering reopening lines, will he stop the fire sale of Network Rail assets? He will be well aware that the Scottish Government built the biggest new line in the UK for more than 100 years, on the borders. Will he consider reconnecting Carlisle to the borders by rail? Finally, what are the statement’s funding implications for Scotland, and will he review the existing funding gap of £600 million in control period 6?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a mix of questions; let me take them in turn. On devolution, it remains this Government’s position that we will follow the recommendation, which was part of the broader devolution package, that the Scottish Government should be responsible for franchising but not for the infrastructure. The Scottish National party needs to demonstrate that it can do a decent job in government with the powers it has, rather than ask for more powers.
We are working through the railcard with the industry. The extra revenues may well mean that it will be a self-financing venture, but the Treasury has underwritten it in the Budget process. On the cheapest fare options, I want a system of smart ticketing on our railways so that, for future shorter journeys, we end up with the kind of pay-as-you-go technology that exists in London and other cities, so that people can tap in and tap out as they travel. For longer journeys, ticketing is likely to be based on mobile phones and barcodes. We are working to achieve those objectives as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the sale of assets. There are times when assets are genuinely not needed. They can be sold and the money put back into the railway line—that is the right thing to do—but of course there are assets that we need to protect for the future. Frankly, I wish that some assets had not been disposed of or built over, because that makes it more difficult to reopen some of the routes that I would like to be reopened. We will protect the assets we need.
I applaud the Scottish Government for what they have done with Borders Railway, which is a good project and has made a positive difference to that part of Scotland. I am happy to talk to my Scottish counterparts about how we can do more in the future.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the funding settlement. As I have said before in this House, the funding settlement for Scotland for rail is based on the Barnett formula, which the SNP does not usually argue against. I do not think it can have its cake and eat it.
I welcome the news that the GTR franchise is to be broken up. It is too big to be managed and has a management incapable of managing it, but given that it has frequently been unable to live up to its performance indicators, why do we have to wait until 2021 to get a competent operator in charge of a manageable franchise area?
The real thing we have to achieve is to get through the rest of the Thameslink investment programme. In the coming months, we will also do some significant works on the Brighton main line, spending the £300 million I committed last year to doing the big parts of the project around Balcombe, for example. I would not wish us to destabilise things during that period, but once that is done we will need to get on with making the change.
Alliancing and joint teams can improve dialogue between Network Rail and operators, but that is not a fundamentally different proposition from what has happened before and what is happening now on certain segments of the railway. The underlying factors that contribute to the misalignment between operators and Network Rail—namely, separate performance regimes and financial incentives—simply do not appear to have been addressed. Will the Secretary of State set out the specific steps he intends to take to tackle those fundamental structural shortcomings, so that we finally have a railway that drives co-ordinated performance, cost-reductions and improved reliability?
We are already, in the alliance areas and, indeed, elsewhere, moving to aligned performance incentives and aligned key performance indicators. That work is already happening on routes such as great western, where a route board and key performance indicators are being increasingly aligned, so that Network Rail has an incentive to look after passengers in a way that has not always been the case in the past. When it comes to a joint venture on the east coast main line, the KPIs will be the same, because there will be one team doing it. That is the benefit of having somebody in charge, a joint brand, joint planning of budgets and joint KPIs in the same team. That is what is different from the past.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, this Government’s continued investment in our railways and the success that is possible only because of the partnership with the private sector. He will be aware that concerns have been raised about the break-up of the great western franchise. May I seek his reassurance that any proposals will not leave Devon and Cornwall isolated and that they will be introduced only if they are in the best interests of improving services to and from the south-west and provide value for money for the passenger?
First, let me be clear: I do not envisage a Devon and Cornwall-only franchise. That is not part of the plan. I am asking a legitimate question: should we go back to having, in effect, something like Wessex Trains and a franchise with its headquarters in the south-west, that provides regional services in the south-west and that could theoretically even do some of the long-distance services up to Paddington from Penzance? There are pros and cons to that. This is a consultation to ask the south-west what it thinks. It is no more and no less than that, and I want to get the right answer for the south-west.
I welcome today’s big message that our railways work better when track and train are operated together and the fact that the Secretary of State is now trying to correct the big mistake in the original rail privatisation, when his party separated track and train ownership. May I ask him, on behalf of my constituents in Surbiton, to consider the urgent safety case for a new staircase at platforms 3 and 4 at Surbiton train station, given how dangerously overcrowded they can become during the evening peak?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for bringing back together the operation of track and train. If he wants to catch me offline, I would be happy to look at the issue he raises.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. He mentioned smaller railway operators. Will he clarify whether that includes open-access operators, and if so, does he foresee that leading to an extension of services such as those in my own area of northern Lincolnshire?
I am a strong supporter of open access, which plays an important part in the railways. The east coast main line has been a significant user of open access, or is a route on which there has been open-access operators. As we move into the era of HS2 and as we move express trains off some of the other routes, I expect there to be more, rather than less, scope for open access in the future. It is certainly not my intention for the open access available to my hon. Friend’s part of the country to be changed in coming years.
The east coast main line was run for many years by a not-for-profit company and it made a profit for the Treasury, but that is not what I want to ask about. I have been campaigning for 30 years to reopen the Blyth and Ashington line. Now that that is on the cards, will the Secretary of State tell me when it will happen, so that I can tell my constituents? I do not want to have to wait another 30 years, because I will be dead.
I will do my very best to make sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait that long. There is real short-term potential to reopen that route. I am not going to put a date on it today, but it makes a lot of sense to integrate it with the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Metro. We will push the project forward with feasibility and development plans.
We are going to press ahead with it in the immediate future and look at what will not happen. I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman an exact date—I never do that.
Eastleigh is a historic railway town, and transport issues really matter in my thriving but getting-more-busy-and-congested constituency, which hosts Southampton airport. East-west connectivity between Portsmouth and Southampton on a railway line takes an hour. Will the Secretary of State commit to working across Departments to make sure that there is a joined-up approach for constituencies that not only provide housing, but are blighted by air pollution, congestion and a historic lack of investment in railway lines?
I give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is really important that, as we seek to develop more housing, we make sure that infrastructure is in place to cope with it, whether road, rail or cycle routes, or different forms of public transport in different parts of the country. I assure her that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who is in charge of the housing infrastructure fund, will look supportively at those parts of the country that are being asked to take on housing development and see how we can best provide infrastructure for them.
I echo the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) about the idea of breaking up the great western franchise because of the loss of ability to cross-subsidise from the more profit-making parts of the region to the more expensive parts in the far south-west. Exactly how much extra taxpayers’ money is he handing over to Stagecoach as a result of the Government’s botched and ideologically driven reprivatisation of what was a perfectly good and profitable publicly owned company?
The answer is that at this stage we have not yet reached final arrangements. My intention is not to hand over money, but to get the railway line in a preparation stage for the establishment of the east coast partnership. With regard to the great western franchise, this is genuinely a consultation. There are two options: we could continue with the great western franchise as it is, or we could create a second franchise that is focused on the south-west. I have heard both arguments. I am committed to having more accountability and better transport in and around the south-west, which is why we are finally dualling the A303, for example. This is a genuinely open consultation and I want to hear views about it.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I totally support greater unification of train and track. For my constituents, it is absolutely maddening that when we have problems on the railway—unfortunately, we frequently do on the great eastern main line—Network Rail and the train operator can argue about who is to blame, because our constituents want a single body to point a finger at. Will he confirm that there will be far simpler accountability under these structures, and that when our Greater Anglia franchise expires, we will have the opportunity to look at this sort of regional arrangement?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that this approach should spread across the whole rail network, with clearer accountability, clearer integration, clearer joint working when something goes wrong and better joint planning for maintenance works and affected services. That is a really important part of ensuring that the railways work for the future.
Why did the Secretary of State not use this opportunity to say that there would be electrification of the whole of the midland main line, instead of it stopping somewhere in Northampton to suit commuters travelling into London? The other business is that people in my constituency have been asking him for a meeting to try to put to him an alternative to the HS2 spur that will wreck 30 houses in a tiny village in my area. When will he answer their letter? He can tell me now.
On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister has already extended an invitation to that meeting, so we will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman’s office this afternoon and fix a date. With regard to the midland main line, we are in the early stages of what is the biggest investment programme in the line since the 1870s. It will mean faster journeys and brand new trains, years earlier than would otherwise have been the case. We can deliver those new trains in 2021-22. We could wait several years more for those new trains. We could spend £1 billion more, but all we would be doing is saving a minute on the journey time to Sheffield. I could be wrong, but I do not think that would be a terribly good use of taxpayers’ money.
I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. What steps are being taken to improve stations, and particularly to improve disabled access at stations such as Rugeley Trent Valley?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister has made improving accessibility on the rail network a particular part of his work. We will continue accessibility funding in control period 6, and the opportunity will be there for individual stations and areas to come forward with proposals on how we can do better in what is an extremely important challenge that the rail industry faces.
It is a year and a half since the then Under-Secretary of State responded to our calls to look at extending the borders rail link—incidentally, it was delivered on time and under budget by the Scottish Government—to Carlisle, and she said that she was interested in looking into that. Will the Secretary of State now take those discussions forward with the Scottish Government?
I am happy to take forward those discussions with the Scottish Government. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister is meeting the borders rail campaign shortly. We absolutely understand the benefits that the project, which the Scottish Government have already delivered, has brought to the borders.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the Isle of Wight there might be interest in extending the island line to the beautiful seaside town of Ventnor and the county town of Newport—the latter has been made possible in part due to the foresight of the Isle of Wight steam railway in securing track in decades past? Will money be available for feasibility studies to assess the costs and benefits of opening up, for economic regeneration purposes, former branch lines that were closed in the ’60s?
In the new year we will publish a new process for evaluating new projects and moving them into development. I will happily talk with my hon. Friend about how that process will work and how he can have his project on the Isle of Wight considered.
I have written to the Secretary of State about Kirkstall Forge railway station in my constituency. It opened just over a year ago, but only one train stops there an hour. If we are going to open new railway stations, we must have trains stopping at them. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet with Arriva Rail North and myself to talk about the frequency of services at Kirkstall Forge, so that we can get maximum benefit out of this housing and business development?
I am happy to have that conversation. When a new station opens, it is not unusual for it to start with an hourly service while the passenger ridership builds. Of course, as demand grows, services tend to grow. I am just delighted that we are able to invest in better station facilities in the hon. Lady’s constituency, which I am sure she will agree were long overdue.
I welcome the overall thrust of this plan. As the Secretary of State will know, it is probably no coincidence that the current GWR franchise covers roughly the same area that the railway company did back in the 1930s, so it is interesting to note the proposal to split. Can he reassure me that in any consideration of this the top priority will be services to passengers, particularly maintaining direct links between London Paddington and Paignton?
I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that we want to see those services protected. Again, this is a genuine consultation. I do not have a pre-set view; I am relaxed and I want to listen to those people who represent the south-west and ask, “What works best for the constituents you represent?” We will listen and respond accordingly. There is certainly no prejudged view in the Department about what the right way forward is; we are simply asking the question.
The Secretary of State’s U-turn on his promise to electrify the line from Cardiff to Swansea included all the safety improvements that were part of that work, including the plan to close the level closing in Pencoed in my constituency. Can he set out, as part of his grand vision for the railways, how he will now invest in closing dangerous level crossings? While he is at it, will he explain how he will keep the promise on highway improvements in the same town, which were linked to rail electrification?
Safety remains fundamentally important for Network Rail. We are fortunate enough to have the safest rail network in Europe. Network Rail has a rolling programme to replace dangerous level crossings, which will continue in all circumstances. I think that the Welsh Labour Government are rapidly reaching the same conclusion that we are reaching, because the versatility of bi-mode trains means that we do not always have to erect overhead cables. The hon. Gentleman talks about us making the wrong decisions, but I caution him to wait and see what the Welsh Government decide to do, because he might find that the Labour party agrees with us on the best way forward.
I welcome the announcement that the southern and Thameslink franchise will be broken up—it cannot come soon enough for my constituents. Can I ask specifically about the line reopening, because we have the Lewes to Uckfield line in my constituency, with the BML2 scheme, which could be opened very easily, improving connectively and putting towns such as Seaford and Newhaven on a main line for the first time? We have private investors willing to put up over £15 million to fund that. Will the Secretary of State use that scheme as one of the first to illustrate what can really be done?
My hon. Friend knows that I have met the investors who are interested in pursuing that project, and I have said that I am very open to doing so. I am waiting with interest for them to come back with the first stage of their work. I would be delighted to see the route reopened, and I hope that the consortium pursuing the project will prove successful.
There was little mention of Wales in the Secretary of State’s letter to hon. Members on the great western consultation, yet key services run through my constituency. Just this morning, commuters to Bristol and beyond have yet again had to highlight the chronic lack of capacity as demand grows. Can he tell my constituents when they will see real action and improvement?
Of course, much of the responsibility for local services in the hon. Lady’s constituency lies with the Welsh Government, and I am looking forward to seeing the outcome of their work in delivering new trains and better services as part of the new franchise. As for what we are doing in her constituency, there is the electrification programme into Paddington and the investment in the intercity express trains, which are providing faster and better journeys, but I am expecting and hoping for a significant increase in services from Cardiff eastwards as part of the Wales and the borders franchise, which is one reason why we support the plan for Cardiff Parkway station. I am hoping for a significant enhancement, as part of that franchise, to the connections from Cardiff to Newport and Bristol.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The east Suffolk line, which runs from Lowestoft to Ipswich, dodged the Beeching bullet and is now going from strength to strength, with a regular hourly service. Will he give an assurance that his improvements will provide the framework for further improvements, including a more frequent and faster service?
One of the things I am pleased we are doing in partnership with the private sector is the complete transformation of the train fleet across East Anglia. Every single train will be replaced with brand-new trains that have more capacity for passengers. As demand grows, we will have to look again at routes such as my hon. Friend’s to see whether there is a need for more services. In the immediate future, however, I hope that his constituents will be delighted to see the brand-new trains arriving to deliver a better journey for them.
I am struck by the contrast between, on the one hand, the strength and wisdom of the best Select Committee report of my time in Parliament, the unanimous 1993 report by a Tory-dominated Committee chaired by the Secretary of State’s late colleague, Robert Adley, which forecast accurately all the problems that privatisation would bring, and, on the other hand, today’s statement, which seems nothing more than a piece of vacuous window dressing designed to distract us from the Government’s collapsing policies on Brexit.
There is nothing like trying to shoehorn every issue into one question, is there? The simple reality is that back in the 1990s our railways were in a state of decline—routes and stations were being closed, and there was even a plan to turn Marylebone station into a coach station. That was the reality of the days of British Rail. In the past 20 years, we have seen new trains, new routes and double the number of passengers. The problems today are the problems of success, not failure. That is why the approach in today’s statement is the right one. It is not designed to tear everything up and start again; it is designed to evolve the railways so that they are better placed to deal with the challenges that result from success.
The last Labour Government halved the mainline northbound service from Kettering from a half-hourly service to an hourly service, but since then the significance of Kettering on the railway network has increased: there are now more passengers; it is effectively the hub between the commuter service to Corby and the main line northwards; and it is now to be the interface between the electrified part of the line and the diesel-operated part of the line. Will my right hon. Friend agree that Kettering would therefore be the ideal base for the new train and track operating team?
Kettering is a fine town and a well represented constituency, and I can absolutely understand the case that my hon. Friend and Kettering would make for its hosting the operating team. He is absolutely right that it is at the heart of the midland main line. It might have some competition from Derby and others, but he makes a strong case.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned in the Budget last week the north Wales growth deal, which includes a proposal for a metro linking north Wales and the north-west of England much more effectively. Has the Secretary of State received a cheque from the Chancellor?
Actually, it was my suggestion that we look at the project. I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman and understood the argument, and the Chancellor has provided development funding so that we can take that work forward.
Building alliances and closer working between Network Rail and train operating companies into franchises is a welcome move, but I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could advise us on how Network Rail will ultimately be held accountable for meeting the terms of future franchises or contracts, just as the train operating companies currently are. Also, will that mean that infrastructure improvements will now be considered as part of the franchising process?
On the latter point, they can be now—there is nothing to prevent train companies from coming forward with small-scale infrastructure proposals. I would be happy to see the private sector come forward with plans, for example, to introduce digital signalling on routes, but we will not move the infrastructure itself out of public ownership. The accountability comes from the performance measures we put in place for Network Rail and the people who lead it, but I think that devolution to individual routes will mean better services, a more local focus and more out-of-the-box thinking, which Network Rail needs to do if it is to deliver best value for everyone involved.
My constituents will be listening with avid interest, because prior to the general election, the Transport Secretary visited my constituency and said that the reinstatement of the Burscough curves between Burscough, Preston and Ormskirk would be a “quick win” to help improve rail services in the north. When will we get this “quick win”? When will funding for that project, for electrification in the area and for the Skelmersdale railway station be forthcoming? My constituents look forward to him keeping his promise.
Of course, the people of West Lancashire will be getting the benefit of the investment programme in the line from Manchester to Blackpool. It is a huge investment in improving the services on that route. That, right now, is our priority. After that, I hope we will move forward with other projects that can make a difference to passengers in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north-west.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the focus on passengers in particular. He will know that 30% of passenger improvements on Abellio Greater Anglia were due to the new fleet, but that 60% were due to the track. The Oxford-Cambridge line does not end at Cambridge, but goes through to Felixstowe and carries most of the freight for this country, so may I urge him to make Horley junction and Ely junction key priorities in order to deliver better services for both passengers and the freight industry?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance and reiterate the commitment I have given to people in East Anglia that in control period 6 the work on Ely junction will free up both freight and passenger access through that important junction and open up all kinds of opportunities across East Anglia. That will be an early priority for us.
My constituents are used to travelling on trains where there is a link between those who run the track and those who run the rolling stock, but that body is the publicly run Transport for London, and the Secretary of State refuses to allow it to have anything to do with the south-eastern franchise based on the fact that we have a Labour Mayor. My constituents deserve better than his petty political grievances. Will he allow TfL to demonstrate that it is capable of running the franchise more efficiently than the private sector has done hitherto?
I would make two points. First, Transport for London does not run the track and the trains. The trains are run as part of a franchise by Arriva. Secondly, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that what we have outlined today—more services and longer trains on the south-eastern line—is a lot better than what TfL offered in its business plan. My concern is to deliver a better service for his constituents rather than unnecessary political shuffling.
What talks has the Secretary of State had with the Northern Powerhouse Minister about the upgrading of the trans-Pennine route, and will he consider linking up the great cities of Liverpool and Newcastle, as well as Leeds, York and Manchester?
Absolutely. The key point about the trans-Pennine upgrade is that we have already electrified it from Manchester to Liverpool. That bit of the project has been done. The next bit is from Manchester to Leeds to York. I have said that that will be a £3 million programme. It is the next big rail investment project. I am expecting Network Rail’s detailed proposals shortly. It will be the next big project we go ahead with and will make a big difference to the north.
I warmly welcome the announcement today of a consultation on the great western franchise and the improvements it will bring to passenger services in Devon and beyond, but may I seek my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that there will be a focus in that process on the one rail service that serves my constituency—that between Exeter and Barnstaple? It is not just a quaint tourist line used in August; it is a vital part of north Devon’s economic infrastructure.
It certainly is, and I do not want that service to be diminished in any way. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that one of the routes on which we intend to start passenger services again—and we are actively engaged in that work—is the line from Okehampton to Exeter. I think that has the potential to ease congestion at Exeter, and to provide a better commuter route.
Will the Secretary of State tell us why he is not electrifying the midland main line even though every single business organisation, Member of Parliament and local council is telling him that that is what he should do? Why is he ignoring the wishes of local people and local representatives, saying that he knows best, and simply offering them a “joint team approach”, whatever that is?
The answer to that is very simple. Over the next four years, we will deliver the biggest upgrades to the midland main line since the 1870s. We are straightening tracks to improve line speeds, and resignalling in places such as Derby. The programme will deliver faster journey times—it will take 15 to 20 minutes off the journey to Sheffield—and we will deliver brand-new trains on that route in the early 2020s. I could then go further and electrify the route all the way to Sheffield, but all that I would be doing is delaying the arrival of new trains and saving one minute on the journey time to Sheffield, at a cost of £1 billion. I think that we should deliver what passengers want—better journeys, faster journeys and new trains—more quickly, and that is what we are going to do.
On my own behalf and that of my neighbour and right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), I thank the Secretary of State—who has visited our area and seen the potential there—for the proposals on page 31 of the south-eastern rail franchise stakeholder briefing document, which will deliver faster trains from Hastings with fewer station stops, and, crucially, require any bidder for the franchise to pay attention to the potential for high-speed rail to be extended to Hastings, Rye and Bexhill. Does he agree that that will unlock regeneration in our constituencies?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We get caught up in the biggest projects, but sometimes the smaller ones—even a bit of track realignment in places—can make the biggest difference. I hope to do big things, such as the trans-Pennine upgrade, but also smaller things at, for instance, Ashford, where we are trying to improve the situation for passengers.
As the Secretary of State will know, the Cumbria coastline and the Furness line are giving a dire performance at the moment. It is disappointing that Cumbria was not mentioned in the strategy. Will he ask the Rail Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), to meet us to discuss what can be done about the 50-year-old locomotives that are breaking down and annoying residents, the terrible state of the rolling stock, and the awful standard of reliability? There is an urgent need to fix all that, otherwise there will be significant damage to the economy.
I am delighted to be able to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are scrapping all those trains on that route and getting new ones. We are also introducing better services, including Sunday services. All that is being rolled out now. We have a partnership with the Labour leaderships in the councils of the north and Transport for the North, and we have been working side by side to shape the new franchise and the replacements for the rail fleets, for which the Government are paying. Those trains are on order, and the first new trains are now entering service in the northern networks and the trans-Pennine network. Every single train in the north of England on every single route is being replaced—either completely refurbished as new, or scrapped. The old Pacer trains on the Cumbrian coastline, which should have been scrapped years ago and were not under Labour, are being scrapped by us now.
I noted, both in the rail strategy—which I welcome—and in the Secretary of State’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), a reference to improvement works at Ely North junction. Can the Secretary of State assure me that when those works—which will benefit the entire region and take freight off the road—are completed, my constituents in Queen Adelaide will not be disadvantaged?
Our aim is always to minimise the impact of improvement works as they are happening, and also their consequences. I assure my hon. Friend that we will work with her and her constituents to ensure that this is a beneficial investment for her part of the world, and that where it has any impacts, we will minimise them as far as is possible.
I noted what the Secretary of State said about compensation for passengers when things go wrong. He is aware, I know, of the appalling service that Northern Rail is currently providing in my constituency. Could a more flexible compensation system be introduced? Delay Repay does not capture the full experience that my constituents are having.