House of Commons
Thursday 30 November 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
North-south Rail Connections
May I start by making the House aware of the fact that, as you are aware, Mr Speaker, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), is unfortunately not with us this morning, because he has been invited to appear before a Select Committee. I am sure you will share my slight disappointment that any Committee would call a Minister when he is supposed to be giving oral answers to the House, but that is his reason for not being here.
The two things we are doing to improve north-south rail connections in the UK are, first, building High Speed 2—the first new north-south railway in this country for over a century, which will have a transformational effect on people in the midlands, the north of England and Scotland. We will also shortly see the arrival of the new fleet of inter-city express trains, which will operate on the east coast main line, enabling additional and faster services between key locations on the route. Of course, those trains will run right up the east coast to Scotland.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. While acknowledging that rail funding will increase from £3 billion to £3.6 billion in the next spending period, may I ask what consideration has been given to improved road connections between Scotland and England, especially along the east coast?
The east coast is the key priority in road-building terms. We are very close to opening what will, extraordinarily, be the last bit of motorway linking London and Newcastle; it is long, long overdue, and I am amazed it has not happened already. We are then pressing ahead with dualling the A1 north of Newcastle, and my goal is to take that up to the border, but it will be for the SNP and the Scottish Government to make sure that something is there to meet us coming the other way.
The Minister might know that I have probably done more miles on the east coast line than any other Member of this House. May I tell him, with that experience, that it is chaos again on the east coast? Stagecoach is being let off the obligation to pay the full money it should be paying to the British Exchequer. Yet again, the east coast line is in a mess, and he is doing nothing about it.
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has already recovered from his obvious misery at Arsenal’s demolition of his team by five goals to nil last night.
A tiny bit below the belt, I think, Mr Speaker, but the hon. Gentleman seems to have weathered the storm pretty well.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, notwithstanding issues on the east coast main line, passenger satisfaction on that route has actually improved rather than reduced; indeed, the money flowing to the taxpayer has increased rather than reduced, so he is slightly misjudging the current position.
The Secretary of State knows how important the east coast main line is to Newark and my constituents. In recent years, Network Rail’s performance has been poor, and the track does need considerable investment. That is the principal reason why delays have increased on the east coast main line. Will the new public-private partnership see more investment and improvements on the track?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In fact, we have a substantial investment programme lined up for the east coast main line, upgrading power supplies and improving the tracks, and that will certainly be steered by the new partnership.
We have been ensuring simply that we phase projects to cause the minimum possible disruption to users of the roads, while making sure the rolling programme goes forward. I am very proud of the fact that, as a Conservative Government, we are the ones transforming the A1—a project that is long, long overdue.
To go back to rail funding, the Secretary of State is well aware that there is a £600 million gap in the allocation of funding to Scotland for the next investment period. Previously, rail funding to Scotland was based on its percentage of the network—that funding formula was developed in 2005—so will he explain why, if he thinks north-south rail links are a priority, he is quite happy for there to be a cut in rail funding on his watch?
As I keep saying to the hon. Gentleman, I am very happy that funding is allocated to Scotland on the basis of the Barnett formula. I thought that was the way things worked.
Let me explain to the Secretary of State that the previous rail funding was based on need and on Scotland’s percentage of the rail network. Helpfully, the other day the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy acknowledged that the allocation of funding to Scotland for infrastructure should be based on need and geography, and it should be the same for rail. In answer to a question tabled in October, the Secretary of State for Transport said he has “various discussions” with the Secretary of State in Scotland only “from time to time”. Is it not time that he prioritised this issue, and will he agree to meet me and the Transport Secretary for Scotland to discuss the budget and north-south linkages?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to meet the Government to discuss the removal of the Barnett formula and the move towards needs-based allocation of funding across the piece for Scotland, I am sure that would be a very interesting discussion; but in this country over the past few years we have tended to follow the Barnett formula. Most recently, we have provided additional funding to Scotland through the allocations in the Budget. Money has been spent on capital investment in England and money is to be spent based on the Barnett formula in Scotland. That is the way we operate.
We learned yesterday that the east coast rail franchise will be terminated in 2020—three years early—potentially forfeiting billions of pounds in premiums due to the Treasury, yet the Secretary of State told the House that Stagecoach will meet in full the commitments it made to the Government as part of this contract. So, can he confirm that the full £3.3 billion due from Stagecoach-Virgin will be paid to the Treasury, in accordance with the terms of the original contract?
Every time a franchisee takes up a new contract it makes a parent company commitment to the Government. That commitment will be kept in full.
Can we get to the heart of this? Will the premiums of some £2 billion due under that contract covering the years 2020 to 2023 be paid? Will they be paid—yes or no?
Self-evidently, given my announcement yesterday that we would have the east coast partnership in place in 2020, there will be new arrangements in place in 2020. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman, every franchisee makes a parent company commitment before taking out the contract and we will hold that that commitment will be met in full.
Express Train Services
Only last month new inter-city express trains entered service on Great Western, and indeed east coast will be introducing new Azuma express trains from late 2018. We have also committed £55.7 billion on HS2 to transform the network and bring economic growth between our major cities, operating state-of-the-art trains.
I thank the Minister for his answer and I welcome the rail strategy that was announced yesterday in the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows of my keen interest in the express services from Redditch to Birmingham, and I am grateful for the interest he has shown by meeting me. Will the rail Minister agree to meet me and the train operators in the light of the new franchise that has been announced for our services, to look again at the business case and see whether we can push this issue forward?
I am always happy to meet colleagues, and train operating companies—indeed, at the same time is even better for me. We always seek journey time improvements on networks, not least by improving roll-out times for new rolling stock. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we have earlier and later services from Redditch into Birmingham, and an increased frequency. I am more than happy to meet her to discuss what more can be done.
One of the ways of improving express train services is to open up new routes. Does the Minister agree with me and his right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) that the opening up of a route from Chester via Wrexham and Shrewsbury to London would ease pressures on the Chester-London service and be an excellent, novel way of addressing capacity difficulties on the line?
I know that the hon. Gentleman listened carefully to yesterday’s strategy announcement, in which he will have heard a lot of reference to reopening lines and opening new lines. I am sure that we will be considering that idea further and I look forward to hearing further details.
The Government have embarked on the biggest upgrade programme for our railways since the Victorian era. What role can that play in addressing the pressing need to improve our productivity in this country?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to point out that our significant investment in the railways is underpinned by our belief that we need to improve productivity. Just today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will launch the HS2 productivity report in Nottingham, which will set out how we intend to use HS2 to improve our productivity performance here in the UK.
There is a lot of talk about improvements to the midland main line. Currently, the last train from Sheffield to London leaves some two hours earlier than the last train from other cities such as Manchester and Bristol. Will the Minister assure us that when the new franchise is let, that aspect of poor service delivery will be addressed?
I was not aware of the precise information regarding late services from Sheffield, but I am sure they are as entitled to a late departure as any other city in the north. We are looking carefully at the timetable as part of the new franchise, and I am sure that will be taken into account, given that the hon. Gentleman has raised it.
Will the rail Minister say what discussions have been held with freight users about short-notice terminations of freight trains causing hundreds of tonnes of cargo to move on to our roads?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of freight. It is an important part of our railway that perhaps gets overlooked by many who do not think carefully about how we utilise our rail network. I have frequent meetings with the rail sector and frequent engagement with officials in the Department. We always look to embed concerns about freight in any decisions that we take about the future of the network.
The Department for Transport consulted the European tyre manufacturing industry association and its clear advice was that beyond the age of a tyre, its use and maintenance are significant factors in the ageing process.
Surveys show that 27% of drivers do not check or maintain their tyres. What is the Minister doing to raise public awareness about this?
We are acting on exactly that matter. The Department has introduced measures to manage the use of tyres aged 10 years or more on the steering axles of buses and coaches. Written copies of our guidance have been delivered to every single bus and coach operator in Great Britain. The guidance reflects best practice and supplements separate advice on the use of older tyres.
My Tyres (Buses and Coaches) Bill, which was published this week, is down on the Order Paper for a Second Reading tomorrow. Can the Minister confirm that he and his party will not seek to oppose the legislation?
The hon. Lady has particular knowledge of this matter. I know that one of her constituents died in an accident relating to a tyre. The hon. Lady came to see the previous Secretary of State, and I know that she has seen the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) about the matter. She is right to take it seriously.
Although I am not going to comment on the question that the hon. Lady asked me—you would not expect me to, Mr Speaker—I will say this to her, and I hope that she will respect how seriously I take the matter. We have issued the new guidance, but I think there is a need for more research, and I am prepared today to commit my Department to engaging in further research with the experts in the industry and others to establish exactly the effect of tyres’ age on safety and security. The safe and secure passage of people is our first priority, and we will do all that is necessary to secure it.
The Tyred campaign was highlighted to me at party conference. As someone who formerly worked in road safety, what I found out was shocking to me, particularly because many of our children travel to school in coaches. I am delighted to hear from the Minister that the Department is undertaking to do more work on the matter. Many visitors to our constituencies come by coach, so can we commit to taking real action to ensure that no more people die in this way?
Absolutely; I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and the tragedy that I mentioned in my previous answer involved a young person. My hon. Friend is right that public safety is an absolute priority, so the Department has liaised closely with the British tyre industry to develop a comprehensive guide to good practice. The guide gave a clear recommendation that older tyres should simply not be used on the front axle. As I have said, I want to do more and go further, which is why I will look at the matter in even greater detail.
High Speed 2
I know my hon. Friend has concerns about the impact of HS2 on the major roads in his constituency. The project has a number of measures in place to minimise the impact of HS2 on the road network. HS2 Ltd is working closely with local highway authorities and Highways England.
At the risk of clogging up my hon. Friend’s diary, will he meet me, other Staffordshire MPs and representatives from Staffordshire County Council, the city of Stoke-on-Trent and Highways England to ensure that preparations that are adequate, or more than adequate, are made so that the construction of this railway, if it goes ahead, does not damage regional and national business?
My hon. Friend need have no fear about clogging up my diary. It is always a pleasure to meet him, not least because I believe it is absolutely critical that we properly understand the impact on local roads and that all the relevant stakeholders, including local authorities, sit around the table with HS2 to address the details of its proposals.
My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Part of what we have to consider is where there is the biggest impact on local roads. Where there is more extensive tunnelling, as in Buckinghamshire, less of the road network will be affected. I will, however, look carefully at her comment and, if I may, I will respond to her by letter with the precise formula.
We recognise the importance of using infrastructure projects to support regional growth, which is why we are increasing Government infrastructure investment by 50% over the next four years. Such investment decisions are based on a fair and rigorous process that is designed to ensure that spending goes where it is most needed.
Will the Secretary of State put some power—some oomph—into the northern powerhouse, and pledge to get funding for passenger trains and platforms on to the existing Mid Cheshire rail link?
As somebody who used to live very close to the Mid Cheshire rail link—indeed, I used to go walking alongside it—I am well aware of its potential. I have asked Transport for the North, which is taking the lead on making recommendations about new projects, to do work on this for me, but I should say to the hon. Gentleman that I am extremely sympathetic to the idea of trains running again on that railway line.
Between 2011 and 2016, the average spending per head of the population on transport infrastructure in London was £725, but the similar figure for the north-east was £286. The investment in Tyne and Wear Metro, which is due in three or four years’ time, is very welcome, but we have a very long historical legacy of under-investment. Will the new formula do something about that historical legacy of under-investment?
To be honest, I am less concerned with formulae than with actually doing things. I am delighted that we are renewing the Metro trains, and I said yesterday that I am very keen to pursue the Blyth to Ashington extension to the Metro line. I am very keen to ensure that we continue to develop the road network in the north-east, which is why the opening of the first complete motorway link from London to Newcastle is so important, why we need to keep on improving the A1 north of Newcastle and why dualling the A66 is so important. This is about doing things, and that is what is actually happening right now.
Does the Secretary of State agree that doubling the line from Ely to Soham, as part of the Ely area improvement works, will bring significant benefits to the eastern region?
Absolutely. I regard this, along with the trans-Pennine upgrade, as one of the key priorities for the next railway investment control period. The Ely junction project will unlock freight and passenger capacity in a really important part of the country. Along with the investments we are putting in place elsewhere, it is a very important part of our strategy.
I thank the Secretary of State for his support in securing £79 million of funding for a new link road from St Austell to the A30 in my constituency, as confirmed in the Budget last week. Does he agree that this and other schemes, such as dualling the A30 and the new trains that are soon to arrive in Cornwall, clearly demonstrate this Government’s commitment to investing in transport infrastructure across the whole country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and I am very pleased that we have got the go-ahead to deliver that road improvement for the people of Cornwall. It is really important for the regions of this country—whether the north-east or the south-west—and particularly areas that need to be given more infrastructure support so that their economies develop, to get the kind of investments that they are now getting, and we are very committed to going forward with that in the future.
Bus fares are something over which my Department has less control, particularly with the new franchising arrangements that are coming into place, but I will most certainly make sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport who is responsible for buses, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), is aware of the hon. Lady’s concerns and that we respond to her.
The Government are committed to ensuring that our continued levels of record investment best address the needs of passengers and freight. Passengers expect high-quality rail services, and we are committed to electrification where it delivers genuine benefits to passengers and value for money for the taxpayer.
No rail system can be called high speed unless it is electric. After blocking Hull’s privately financed rail electrification scheme a year ago, yesterday, the Transport Secretary told the House—I am sure he will recall this—that the Liverpool to Hull Crossrail for the north would happen in parallel with the Surrey to Hertfordshire Crossrail 2. Will both lines be electrified, just as Crossrail 1 is electric?
At a time when we are seeing technology move very fast, people have to get away from a set focus on an individual form of motor power. Not every 125 mph train has to be powered by a particular power source. In the coming years we will see more development of bi-mode technology, battery technology and hydrogen technology. We will use the systems that make the most difference to the passenger the most cost-effectively.
Despite the creaking electrification infrastructure on the east coast, the 43-page “Connecting People” was jammed with funding reannouncements, possible reopenings, readjusted delivery dates, delayed promises and a lot of words to try to hide what we all now know was the central purpose—to conceal the deal on the failed Stagecoach franchise.
The new partnership that passengers want is their trains to arrive on time, so when will we see the upgrade to the electrification works needed on the east coast?
As I said earlier, the key point is that the next investment control period contains a programme of continued upgrade and investment for the east coast main line, to go along with the arrival of a new generation of smart, new, effective, passenger-friendly trains. All of that will happen so that we deliver those improvements and passenger services. Having heard the shadow Secretary of State’s questions earlier, I think that he has not understood that this will be a completely fresh partnership with potentially new partners and a new way forward, delivering better services for passengers in a more joined up way.
More structural changes, but the electrification wait continues. Let us look at these new rail partnerships. They are moving a public service to the control of private companies. This is not devolution to the rail authorities or to the people, it is devolution to the shareholders; it is further fragmentation and privatisation of the railway, failed operators now being handed the tracks as well as the trains, and nothing to address the electrification upgrade.
Is it to recoup these costs that the ticket prices will be soaring by 32% since 2010 after Christmas?
Two points: Labour Members should remember how much fares rose when they were in power; and they might like to explain why their friends in the unions have in their training manuals a requirement for negotiation for RPI increases in the future. Why is that? Why do they not tell their union friends to change their ways of operation?
The Government are providing local highway authorities in England, outside London, £296 million between 2016 and 2021. That includes an extra £46 million that was announced in the autumn Budget last week. I am sure that local authorities right across the country will welcome their share of funding and put it to good use.
We have heard some thoughtful remarks about tyre quality on both sides of the House this morning, and road quality is the flip side of that coin. Many of my constituents suffer from pothole-marked roads. In our Conservative manifesto this year we committed to improve the quality of roads and fill potholes. Will my right hon. Friend tell my constituents that we remain committed to that?
Potholes are a menace; they are a drain on the economy and damage hard-working family cars. That is why the funding that the Government are providing local authorities in England outside London from the pothole action fund is enough to fix nearly 6 million potholes—or, even better, to stop them from forming in the first place. People deserve to see smooth and safe roads as they look back in Ongar.
In 2006, the annual local road maintenance study estimated that it would take nine years to repair every pothole on our local roads. Fourteen years have now passed. How long does the Minister think it acceptable for motorists and cyclists to wait to see the necessary investment coming from the Government to repair potholes on our local roads?
It is always a mistake for someone to prepare their question before they have heard the previous answer, and if the hon. Gentleman had heard the previous answer he would have asked a different question. Notwithstanding that—[Interruption.] I do not mean to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman; he is right to raise the issue. Potholes are a nightmare, and we have made that absolutely clear. That is why we are putting the money in place to deal with them. There is always more that we can do, and I will take his question as a spur to do still more.
Although the A180 suffers from its fair share of potholes, the bigger problem for road users and residents in Healing and Stallingborough is the concrete surface. I urge the Minister to have discussions with Highways England to see how a phased programme to replace the concrete surface could be introduced.
This is not the first time that my hon. Friend, with typical assiduity and diligence, has raised the issue of that concrete surface—indeed, he has raised it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am inclined to visit my hon. Friend and drive on that road with him to see for myself exactly what is happening. Having done so, I will certainly look again at all we can do to improve that surface and other road surfaces, as the Secretary of State has committed to do. My hon. Friend is right: road surfaces make a difference, and they deserve our close attention. They will certainly get mine.
Private Sector Investment
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House only yesterday, the private sector has generated almost £6 billion of private investment over the past decade, providing new trains, upgrading stations and transforming the passenger experience.
I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Will he please inform the House about what measures are being taken to improve services on the Crewe-Derby line—the north Staffordshire line—that runs through my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the line; I often have to travel on it back to Blackpool myself. When I am in the east midlands, I am often struck by the fact that there is usually only a two-carriage train that is not always fit for the demand on that line. As he will know, the east midlands consultation is ongoing at the moment. We are carefully considering the responses, which include my hon. Friend’s. I am sure that we will see further improvements in the line as part of the bids that come forward.
As the Secretary of State said yesterday, this is all about evolution rather than revolution. We have been aware since the time of the McNulty report of the attraction of bringing track and train together, and we need to make sure that such alliances work in the interests of passengers. The more that that occurs and the more we see the benefits of joint working, the more those benefits will develop across the entire rail network.
I welcome the publication yesterday of the invitation to tender for the South Eastern franchise. When the new franchise is let, I hope that we will see better services for my constituents in Faversham and Mid Kent.
I note that one part of the ITT is that there will no longer be a first class, in order to provide more space in trains and better travelling conditions. But constituents of mine with disabilities have told me that they use first class to make sure that they have a seat. What steps will my hon. Friend take to make sure that in future people with disabilities will be able to get a seat on busy trains?
That is a valuable point, although personally I do not believe that travellers should have to buy first-class tickets in order to be seated suitably. All train operating companies have an obligation to treat disabled passengers as fairly as possible, and I will reflect on how we can ensure that the aspect that my hon. Friend has identified is considered in the context of future franchises.
Eye Tests: Drivers
Highways England is responsible for operating motorways and major A roads in England. It uses electronic variable message signs primarily to advise drivers of immediate safety issues and to provide journey information for road users. The country has a very good safety record, but improvements can always be made, and drivers can do their bit by regularly ensuring that their eyes are tested and that they are fit to drive.
I wish you and all hon. Members a very happy St Andrew’s day, Mr Speaker.
Last week, which was road safety week, we had the pleasure of hosting Vision Express and the charity Brake at the House. They explained to Members how important it is to have their eyes tested, which 1.5 million car users have not done. Will the Minister follow the example of the Scottish Government, who ran an electronic motor signage pilot last week, to ensure that road conditions are safer?
We could do something very practical: we could get the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to remind drivers of the importance of good eyesight in the letter that it sends to them when their licences are renewed. We will certainly be doing that. As for the issue of road signage, too much signage poses a risk: evidence from Highways England, which consulted road users, suggests that the more of it there is, the less notice people take of it. We need to be careful about just how much signage we put on our roads, and to concentrate on the vital messages that are central to safety and good advice.
The latest statistics published by the Office of Rail and Road for the first quarter of 2017-18 show a slight decline in the number of rail journeys, although passenger kilometres and revenue have increased since the previous year.
Since 2010, rail fares have risen by 27%, at twice the rate of wages, and the steepest fare hikes for five years are due in January. Meanwhile, passenger numbers are declining, and more and more of my constituents are being priced out of rail travel altogether. When will the Government accept that the whole system of rail franchising and private profiteering from our railways is utterly broken?
Opposition Members really should not try to draw conclusions from one quarter’s statistics to underpin their own ideological agenda. The simple fact is that far more passengers have been using our rail networks than ever before. I believe that privatised railways have been a success. The alternative that the hon. Gentleman has proposed would ensure that passengers were always at the back of the queue whenever any decision was made by any ghastly future Labour Government.
More passengers are using the great western main line than ever before, but we need more investment in that line to ensure that journeys are fast and resilient. If our journeys are to continue to be slow, however, will the Minister commit himself to extending the GSM-R mobile phone trial that is taking place in Scotland and the north of England to Devon and Cornwall?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to growing demand for journeys to the south-west. I believe that Great Western is doing a very good job at running the franchise. We are very supportive of the work of the Peninsula Rail Task Force, and we are trying to pull together all the work that is being done to ensure that we have a clear idea of what more we can do. I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman’s idea carefully.
Main Line Services: Kettering
As my hon. Friend will know from yesterday’s statement, there are currently two trains per hour between Kettering and Nottingham serving the evening peak, and one train per hour during the rest of the day. Our proposal for the next east midlands franchise is for a minimum of one train per hour between Kettering and Nottingham throughout the day, but no firm decision has been made yet. I will listen carefully to my hon. Friend’s further representations.
On any objective analysis, the superb submission to the east midlands franchise consultation by the Kettering rail users group must be one of the best that the Minister’s office has received. May I invite him to reread the submission in even greater detail, given that it contains an overwhelmingly compelling case for Kettering to be the optimum connectivity hub in the new east midlands franchise?
I happily pay tribute to the work of the Kettering rail users association; I always find that the views of those who use our rail network are a source of great wisdom. As my hon. Friend knows, we have had the biggest upgrade on the midland main line since 1870, with the creation of a sixth path. We are keen to maintain as many northbound opportunities as possible from Kettering, and I will review that submission in greater detail.
The British road safety statement, published in December 2015, sets out the Government’s priorities for action, including measures to help vulnerable groups to stay safe on roads, extra money to crack down on drug-affected drivers, and tougher penalties for using mobile phones while driving.
Is the Minister of State aware that the King’s Lynn guide dogs forum is campaigning hard to highlight the impact of selfish pavement parking on blind and visually impaired people? It also recently took me on a blindfolded walk through the centre of King’s Lynn, which brought home to me the scale of this problem, and I highly recommend that the Minister of State and Secretary of State do such a blindfolded walk with the guide dogs organisations in their constituencies.
I went on such a walk a few weeks ago in Spalding town centre, and I recommend it to hon. Members; I know many will have done it. It gives an entirely different insight into the struggle that people have getting around town centres when others have inconsiderately parked and there are many obstacles in their way. It also gives a real understanding of how wonderful our guide dogs are. It is important that the Government do their bit. Of course the charitable sector does an immense amount, too. I certainly take my hon. Friend’s remarks seriously. We will look closely at what more can be done, but he can be absolutely certain that I and my colleagues in the Department will be champions of the interests of people who are visually impaired and use guide dogs.
The Minister will know that one of the biggest obstacles to the take-up of cycling is people’s fears about safety. Has he done an assessment of whether the necessary resources are in place to implement the cycling, walking and investment strategy, and if he has, could he publish it?
As the hon. Gentleman implies, we do have such a strategy. He is also right that cyclists need the same kind of attention that I mentioned in my previous answer. They can be put into hazardous circumstances by a range of different obstacles that they encounter as they go about their business. The Government are strongly committed to cycling, as I think he knows, but he is right that we must look closely at the hazards cyclists face, and that will be included in the strategy.
A417 Air Balloon Roundabout
My hon. Friend knows well the interest I have taken in this project. Highways England is currently conducting a final review of the route options for the A417 missing link. It is on track to launch a public consultation early in the new year.
My right hon. Friend knows that the south-west is a low-growth area. This is a highly important strategic national road scheme linking the south-west with the midlands and the Thames corridor. Does he agree that we need to get on and build this scheme as soon as possible?
It is not just about that; we also know that this is a highly dangerous piece of road, where, tragically, there has been a further accident with loss of life in the past few weeks. So it is not just about creating the right economic links; it is also about creating a safer road network. For both those reasons I have been very clear with Highways England that I want to get on with this project.
Electric Vehicles: Scotland
I have ongoing discussions with the Scottish Government, as well as all the devolved Administrations, about the uptake of electric vehicles, and the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill—which I recommend very strongly to the hon. Gentleman—is progressing through Parliament. There is also strong engagement at an official level through the Office for Low Emission Vehicles with all devolved Administrations.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The Scottish Government aim to establish one of the most comprehensive charging networks in Europe, so we welcome the announcement of £400 million for electric charge points as part of the industrial strategy, but can the Minister confirm what the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said on the industrial strategy on Monday: that that £400 million will be allocated on a localised needs-based approach and not just one based on population?
That is a good point. This was considered closely in Committee, and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the provisions of the Bill allow for the development of more charge points, supported by the announcement of £300 million in the autumn Budget—£200 million for infrastructure and £100 million for the plug-in car grant. However, he is right to suggest that we need to be mindful of the effect in rural areas. I do not want us to end up with certain areas covered by good infrastructure but it being absent elsewhere. I said in Committee, and I repeat here in the House, that we will look at further measures to ensure the even spread of the infrastructure.
More and more people in East Renfrewshire are looking to purchase electric vehicles, but they are put off by the lack of charging points. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that charging point infrastructure is consistent right across the UK?
There are a number of ways in which we can do that. I have spoken about major retailers, and there are provisions relating to them in the Bill. That will tend to mean that charge points are clustered around major arterial routes, but the good news is that I am working closely with colleagues to make sure that local authorities ensure that there are on-street charging points. I am open to other suggestions about how we might ensure that charge points are spread across the country, and I invite such suggestions from Members right across the House as the Bill makes its progress through Parliament.
Me again! It is almost too much of a good thing, isn’t it? But you can never have too much; you know that, Mr Speaker.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has agreed proposals to reform the practical car driving test in April. It has maintained a dialogue with the Public and Commercial Services union about the components of the new driving test throughout the development of the proposals between 2015 and the present day.
What plans does the Minister have to meet the workers and unions in the DVSA before 4 December, when more than 2,000 staff will be taking strike action over concerns about the new test? What assurance can he give me that the safety issues in question will be addressed before the test is rolled out?
Proust said that a
“powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it”,
and I hope that the power of my idea will have some resonance with the hon. Gentleman. The truth is that these changes are supported by the driver training and road safety representatives who helped us to develop and trial them. More than 4,500 learner drivers and 860 driving instructors took part in research at 32 locations across Britain. At no stage has anyone said that the changes will not be beneficial, not least among those who took part in that process. We need to press on with the changes, because they will clearly be beneficial, and I hope that the power of that argument has been communicated to the hon. Gentleman.
In the case of the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), I am sure that we have not had too much of a good thing, Mr Speaker. You will be delighted to know that it is not only the House that has heard extensively from him this week but 175 Ministers from around the world. We have been hosting the biennial meeting of the International Maritime Organisation general assembly in London. The IMO is the specialist United Nations organisation responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships. We host the IMO here in London. I want to thank everyone who has been involved in organising that event and to extend a warm welcome on behalf of the United Kingdom Government to all the Ministers and other delegates who have attended the convention this week.
I am sure that all those Ministers from around the world feel both informed and improved as a result of their interaction with the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.
I warmly welcome last week’s announcement of an £8 million road safety fund for the areas of Warwickshire affected by HS2. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Trinity Road-Overwoods Road junction in my constituency, which has seen numerous fatalities and serious accidents, would be an excellent candidate for some of that funding, given that the proposed solution is now unlikely to go ahead owing to the development of HS2?
I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is responsible for HS2, was able to visit that junction last week with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). I am also pleased that Warwickshire County Council has been such a beneficiary of the available funding. While it will be for the council to decide what schemes to support, I hope that it will focus on where it can make the biggest difference to safety.
This Government are presiding over a sustained fall in the number of bus journeys taken. Just this week, Kent County Council outlined plans to axe more than 70 bus routes in a bid to save £4 million. Does the Secretary of State accept that bus passenger numbers will continue to fall until his Government halt the cuts to local authorities?
We want bus passenger numbers to rise, and the measures in the Bus Services Act 2017, which passed through the House a few months ago, will provide an environment in which bus ridership can recover and improve and will lead to more and better services around the country.
My hon. Friend is right that that matters to taxi drivers. A legal change is required to allow the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to identify electric taxis as separate from cars and vans in order to apply the exemption. I wrote to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury—I emphasise for the record that he is my former PPS—on 25 October, and I am meeting him on 12 December to discuss exactly the issue my hon. Friend raises.
We are always keen to work with our Labour friends with whom we co-manage Rail North and Transport for the North. I recognise the importance of step-free access in Greater Manchester, and I will look at the station to which the hon. Gentleman refers to see what we can do.
I will happily do that. Staffing issues are always disappointing, but the other area of challenge on the Southern network has been the condition of the infrastructure. We will in the coming months be taking some major steps with some major projects to start to improve the quality of that infrastructure, including spending the £300 million we have already committed, with more to follow in the next control period.
Crossrail is of course a massive investment in transport in London. It is not a TfL project; it is a joint project between my Department and TfL that is designed to improve the lot of passengers both inside and outside London. It will make a real difference to the south-east.
There are three things I can say immediately: the record road investment programme will help; the development of vehicle technology will change the use of cars—we talk about autonomous vehicles in many ways, but one effect they may have is to change our sense of car ownership by encouraging more sharing of cars; and, as my hon. Friend rightly says, we need to think about transport infrastructure in connection with other development, such as economic development, housing development, et cetera. The question he asks is so profound that it cannot be answered in a few moments here, so I invite him to the Department to sit down with officials and have a serious discussion about this important matter.
I understand why this is such a serious issue, and I would be delighted to extend an invitation to the hon. Lady to come to the Department to meet Ministers and officials to talk about what is clearly an important matter.
We are now conducting the kind of review of the financing of Crossrail 2 that we conducted on Crossrail 1—the Montague report. I am keen to see the project progress in lock step and parallel with northern powerhouse rail, and I make it clear that they are both important projects. I also make it clear that the London contribution cannot be an IOU paid for by the Government. We have to make sure that we have a robust, absolutely reliable funding package so this project can go ahead in good shape.
I am obviously well aware of that issue. It is worth remembering that we have just allocated £175 million to Leeds, which will be spent on a variety of projects around the city, but I am also aware that funding needs to flow to West Yorkshire. I will personally make sure that, as we allocate the funding, West Yorkshire is not left out.
Will the Secretary of State welcome the fourth season of the Formula E series? The series starts in Hong Kong this Sunday and will be broadcast on Channel 5, and it aims to advance electric vehicle technology. With races taking place in 11 cities such as Paris and New York, will he look at attracting future races to the UK to complement our rapidly increasing electric vehicle technology?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Motor racing is a great success story for this country, and it is an important part of our economy. People often do not understand the importance of the industry, which is particularly centred on Silverstone in Northamptonshire, where many of the leading teams are based. The technologies that come from small businesses and suppliers change the automotive world, not just in motor racing but across the piece. I am delighted to see the success of Formula E, and I would like to see more Formula E and more development of technologies for it in the UK. I am happy to extend the Government’s support to the motor racing industry.
I am grateful for the question. As the hon. Lady will know, we are having a consultation at the moment, through South Western Railway, listening carefully to what passengers want. We take all submissions seriously, so we will listen carefully to what passengers say in this consultation and respond in due course. I have heard her point.
Will the Secretary of State keep in mind the other northern powerhouse, Aberdeen, and the economic importance of its airport, including in servicing the oil and gas industry?
My hon. Friend and I had a productive visit to Aberdeen airport recently, and I absolutely understand its importance to the whole economy of the north-east of Scotland and indeed to the United Kingdom, because Aberdeen is central to one of our key industries. I have made it clear that as we expand Heathrow airport, we will make sure that capacity is set aside for regional links to airports in Scotland and elsewhere, so that every part of the UK benefits from the expansion of that airport.
TfL has clearly demonstrated its ability to run efficient services and improve them in London, so will the Secretary of State enter into negotiations with the Mayor of London about south eastern suburban services before my constituents are forced to endure yet another bungled privatisation?
The first thing to remind the hon. Gentleman of is that London Overground is also a franchise—Labour always conveniently forgets that. It is run by Arriva. The other thing to say is that the document we published yesterday on the new south eastern franchise involves far greater additional benefits for passengers than was ever the case in the Mayor’s business plan for that franchise. The last point to make is that I have extended to TfL and the Mayor the same offer that I made and is now in force in the north for a partnership in operating, designing and managing the franchise, but that offer is yet to be accepted.
Cheshire East has the highest gross value added in the north. My constituents are extremely grateful for the Middlewich bypass funding, which is key to continuing this economic growth and delivering even more, as is the need to improve junction 17 of the M6 nearby. Will Ministers kindly give consideration to including that as part of the north’s emerging strategic transport plan?
I absolutely hear what my hon. Friend says. As someone who used to live close to that area, I understand the issues she raised, and I am sure Transport for the North will listen to her comments today. It is finalising its plans. As Cheshire and mid-Cheshire grow—the towns there have expanded considerably in recent years—there is a need to make sure that the infrastructure is fit for purpose, which is why my earlier comments about the mid-Cheshire line are also important.
I welcome the public funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro announced in the Budget, which will come through the northern powerhouse. But if the northern powerhouse is to be anything more than a marketing gimmick, such funding must be part of an overall commitment to redress the dire imbalance in transport funding between the north and the south of England. Will the Secretary of State make that commitment here and now?
I keep saying that we are actually doing things right across the north: what we are doing on the Tyne and Wear Metro; the improvements to the A1; the completion of that last motorway link; the works taking place on the M1, M6 and M62; and the A66 widening. There are projects happening all across the north. We have brand new trains arriving on the east coast main line, the upgrade of that line that lies ahead and northern powerhouse rail in the future. This Government are delivering better transport for the north of England.
Following the announcement by the Secretary of State yesterday that he will explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching reforms in the 1960s, will he commit to looking into the possibility of reopening Aldridge station and perhaps coming to visit me in Aldridge to examine the benefits that could bring?
My hon. Friend is right to identify that project as one worth considering, and I was discussing it only this morning with the Mayor of the west midlands, Andy Street. I am more than happy to have further conversations with my hon. Friend on that matter.
Yesterday, I met people from nextbike, who run an excellent cycle hire scheme in Glasgow, which I often use to get to my surgeries. Does the Minister have any plans to regulate public cycle hire schemes, so that the public can be assured of their safety?
Public hire schemes are an important part of extending provision and making cycling more widely available. As the hon. Lady will know, different schemes apply in different localities. Clearly, I am always happy to have discussions with her about this, but there are no imminent plans to make the changes that she describes.
Residents and businesses in Rugeley face real issues as a result of HGV fly parking. Will the Minister update the House on any measures that are being taken to improve and increase HGV parking facilities?
This scheme is a subject very dear to my heart, and my hon. Friend has raised it previously in the House. She is absolutely right that the inappropriate parking of HGVs is a menace. We are trialling a “clamp first” policy in Kent. The preponderance of people who park most irresponsibly are not drivers from the United Kingdom; it is therefore difficult for local authorities to pursue them in the way that one would expect. We will look at the results of that trial and we will go further. I am determined to stop the irresponsible parking of HGVs, which causes such nuisance.
Does the Secretary of State feel any guilt about the fact that many of my constituents and many people in this country thought during the referendum campaign that people like him were promising that more money would be spent on transport infrastructure and the NHS because we would save so much money from leaving the EU? Yesterday’s announcement of a £50 billion debt that we have to pay to the EU was a shocking revelation. What is he going to do about it?
First, we made no announcement yesterday about money for the EU. Secondly, we are spending more money on transport infrastructure.
Montrose port is vital to Angus’s local economy, and good transport links to and from the port are essential for it to flourish further. Will the Secretary of State tell me what communications he has had with Network Rail since his visit to Montrose, regarding progress on negotiations to open a direct link to Montrose port?
I have exciting news for my hon. Friend because, as she may not know, I have initiated a full connectivity study. It is absolutely right that as we invest in our ports we look at the rail and road links to them, too. The study will be published early next year.
Further to my earlier question to the Secretary of State about Crossrail for the north, will he confirm that Crossrail 2 will not be wholly electrified?
We have finished the design of neither Crossrail 2 nor northern powerhouse rail. My focus right now is on the projects that are under way, including electrification across parts of the north of England and a £3 billion upgrade to the trans-Pennine routes. We are already seeing better investment in the north. When we see the final shape of Crossrail 2 and northern powerhouse rail, we will see what the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will take the point of order as I understand it flows from questions, but it had better be a genuine point of order and it had better be extremely brief.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification. Not an hour ago, I raised the question of the £2 billion that was due from Stagecoach to the Treasury. The Secretary of State said yesterday:
“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”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2017; Vol. 632, c. 344.]
He clarified that by also saying that every franchise makes a parent-company commitment before taking out a contract and will be held to that commitment, to be paid in full. That is £232 million—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I am extremely grateful to him for his attempted point of order, but it is not a matter for the Chair.
Order. It is not a matter for the Chair. If he wishes to, the Secretary of State can respond, briefly. The truth is that the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the position that the Government have taken. If he wishes to explore the matter further, which of course he can and, I dare say, will do, he can do so through questions, the use of the Order Paper or further debates, but he cannot do it any further now.
There is substantial pressure on time today, as a study of the Order Paper will demonstrate, but I thought the House would want urgently to express support for the victims of racism and bigotry and to denounce their purveyors.
Online Hate Speech
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the activities of Britain First, online hate speech and the sharing of inflammatory content online by the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Britain First is an extremist organisation that seeks to divide communities through its use of hateful narratives that spread lies and stoke tensions. The deputy leader of Britain First is subject to a pending criminal trial, accused of religiously aggravated harassment over the alleged distribution of leaflets and the posting of online material.
British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect. We will stand with them in doing so. That is why we launched our counter-extremism strategy in 2015 and our hate crime action plan just last year. This House should be clear that this Government will not tolerate any groups that spread hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities and that deliberately raise community fears and tensions.
We have been clear: President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos hosted by the far right group, Britain First. When we look at the wider picture, the relationship between the UK and America, I know how valuable the friendship is between our two nations. As Home Secretary, I can tell the House that the importance of the relationship between our countries—the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries—is vital. It has undoubtedly saved British lives. That is the bigger picture here and I urge people to remember that.
Mr Speaker, you will recall that the last time I raised related matters with you before yesterday was when Members from across the House expressed their clear view to you that, after his racist and sexist behaviour, President Trump should not be afforded the honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer and the strength of her words, the Prime Minister for her comments, and the others who have spoken out over the past 24 hours. The extraordinary events we have seen undoubtedly underline why Members from across this House were right to make that call about the President not coming here and why the Prime Minister’s premature offer of a state visit should not now go ahead.
Let me be clear: I condemn the original content of the messages shared as abhorrent. Anybody who purveys hatred or violence online or in person, whether that be the fascist far right, those who falsely claim to be acting in the name of Islam, or anti-Semites, should rightly be exposed and dealt with.
Let us also be clear: this is the President of the United States sharing with millions inflammatory and divisive content deliberately posted to sow hatred and division by, as the Home Secretary says, a convicted criminal who is facing further charges and who represents a vile fascist organisation seeking to spread hatred and violence in person and online. By sharing it, he is racist, incompetent or unthinking—or all three.
Will the Home Secretary please explain what the Government are doing to crack down on the activities, including those online, of Britain First and other far right organisations, and explain why Britain First has not yet been proscribed in the way that National Action has been?
Given the extraordinary events of the past 24 hours and the direct attack by the President on the Prime Minister for rightly condemning his actions, can the Home Secretary confirm whether the President and the Prime Minister have spoken? Has the Foreign Secretary who, just days ago, heaped praise on the President’s statements on Twitter, saying that people related to them, summoned the US ambassador to express his concerns? Will she also advise whether President Trump’s actions and implied endorsement could have any prejudicial impact on the criminal proceedings currently under way against Ms Fransen? Is the Home Secretary aware that Ms Fransen posted a video last night online, personally urging the President to
“help keep her out of prison.”?
Finally, will the Home Secretary confirm when she and the Government will take tough action, on which I support her in her efforts, on the social media companies? We have had no response from Twitter, a typically irresponsible attitude.
Let me conclude by emphasising that I love America and Americans. My true grandfather was an American GI who came to this country in 1944 to help us fight the dark forces of fascism. I have travelled the length and breadth of 25 of the United States, and it is a country and a people of extraordinary generosity, courage, kindness and humanity. But this President represents none of those things. In one of his last speeches as President, the great Republican General, protector of America at a time of great peril and friend of Britain, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said:
“Down the long lane of history, yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
As we stand in the shadow of the words of our fallen colleague, Jo Cox, I sincerely hope that her words, that we have more in common, and the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, will be heeded in these dangerous times. We must always take a stand against hatred from wherever it comes, otherwise we will slip into the darkness.
Order. Just before I ask the Home Secretary to respond, and on the basis of sound professional procedural advice, I ought to say to the House that Jayda Fransen, as just referenced by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), is awaiting trial on, I believe, 14 December. I hope that Members will be conscious, while giving vent to their views, as they should and will do, of the importance of avoiding comments that could be prejudicial to the proper conduct of the criminal proceedings. I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Mr Speaker, thank you for your guidance regarding the criminal case. I hope the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) will understand if I do not reply to that particular element for the reasons you have set out, Mr Speaker.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words, and I share his views about America. I also love that country, having worked there for a year, and as I said in my opening answer, I am in awe of the mutual trust between us and the Americans, the effort they make to work with us, our shared values with the American people and the way their work has been so important in helping us on intelligence matters—it has undoubtedly saved British lives.
The hon. Gentleman asks what we have done about online social media extremism of various sorts. We have taken it extremely seriously, which is why I proscribed National Action, the first far-right group to be so proscribed as a terrorist organisation. He asks about other organisations to be proscribed. We are very careful in identifying what merits proscription. He may have a different view, but we abide by the letter of the law in being very clear where members or activists embark on actions that are or are not legal. We have to draw that line very carefully. We have therefore proscribed National Action and will always keep under review what other organisations may be proscribed.
The hon. Gentleman asks what else we are doing with online companies to ensure that the internet is free from dangerous material, and he will no doubt know that the UK has been leading in this area. The Prime Minister has called for more action. In the wake of the terrorist attacks this year, we called for a global internet forum for counter-terrorism, and I went myself to San Francisco for its launch in the summer. The internet companies are also taking action. Twitter now takes down 95% of illegal material with artificial intelligence. That it is now engaging in machine learning to take down this hate is an incredibly important investment and breakthrough in ensuring that more is taken down, but we are not complacent—more needs to be done—and we will always make sure that we provide the vital leadership necessary to ensure it is taken down.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asks about the Prime Minister and whether she has spoken to the President. I will simply say that the Prime Minister will always have regular calls with the President. She has been explicit in criticising this tweet, however, and I know that she will always call it out where she sees it, which is what she has done here.
The retweet has been condemned. We can concentrate on the wrong done by the original tweet. Can we ask the Home Secretary if we can do right by identifying, isolating, putting down and putting out the intended community, religious and ethnic strains?
It is essential that we have a fair approach to all types of extremism, and with a view to that we always make sure that far-right extremism is treated just as harshly, as it should be, as any sort of radical Islamic terrorism. It is interesting to observe that 25% of referrals to the Channel programme—the bespoke programme that follows Prevent referrals—are in fact on the far-right side.
The Home Secretary will appreciate that the Labour party believes that the United States is our most important ally. We anticipate that any British Government would want to work closely with the United States on issues of mutual concern, and we bow to no one in our affection and respect for the American people, but on the question of the online activities of the 45th President, does she accept that the fact that he chose to retweet material from Britain First is offensive not just to British people of Muslim heritage and British people of black and minority ethnic heritage, but to all decent British people. It is also an attack on the values of this country. Although the Labour party appreciates the importance of realpolitik, we also call on the Government to make it clear that, in no way and at no time, do they give any support whatever to the distasteful views of the 45th President on race, migration and Muslim communities internationally. To do anything else would be an affront to voters in this country, whichever side of the House they support.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her powerful response. I think it is fair to say that we have been very clear. President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by the far-right group Britain First. We have said so clearly in this House and the Prime Minister has said so clearly online. We will continue to speak freely and frankly when such activity takes place.
I think that the whole House will agree with the Prime Minister’s words. One of the advantages of having such a special relationship with the United States is that when a friend tells us we have done something dreadfully wrong, we tend to listen. Would not the world be a better place if the Prime Minister could persuade the President of the United States to delete his Twitter account?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is true that we all listen more carefully to criticism from our friends than from people with whom we do not have a relationship. I hope that the Prime Minister’s comments will have some impact on the President. It is interesting to note my hon. Friend’s advice regarding Twitter accounts; I am sure that many of us share his view.
The Scottish National party has long taken the view that the current President of the United States should not be afforded a state visit to the United Kingdom, and yesterday’s actions have reinforced that absolutely. We respect the office of the President of the United States, which is a fantastic country and ally. However, the sharing of tweets by an extremist, offensive and racist organisation is not fitting of someone holding such high office and must be condemned unequivocally. We welcome Downing Street’s suggestion that the tweets were wrong, but we call for the Government to go further because is not one of the key dangers of a state visit that we have absolutely no idea what the President will say or tweet next and before he visits? What does he actually need to say or tweet before the idea of a state visit is ditched once and for all?
An invitation for the visit has been extended and accepted, but the dates and the precise arrangements have yet to be agreed.
Local authorities have a key role in combating extremism. Can the Home Secretary say exactly what the Government plan to do further to support local authorities to ensure that they can undertake this role?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that local authorities have an important role to play. We actively engage with them through the Prevent programme, which allows us to support community organisations that are embedded in the local area. Those organisations can go out and engage with local groups, providing the support to safeguard people, particularly young men and women who may be becoming radicalised. It is an incredibly important part of the way in which we look after our communities, and we will continue to do so.
We agree about the importance of our relationship with the US, and our peoples have stood together against far-right extremism and Islamist extremism and will do so again. That is exactly why we cannot pander now. Britain First gets its succour from spreading its poison and its extremism online—that is how it works—and the President of the United States has just given it a rocket boost in promoting hatred in our communities. Online is where the new battle for democracy is being fought, and the Prime Minister has rightly challenged Putin’s Russia for what she described as
“seeking to weaponise information…to plant fake stories…in an attempt to sow discord”.
That means that—no matter what diplomatic route we find to do this—we cannot simply roll out a red carpet and give the President of the United States a platform to also sow discord in our communities. We know that he and these groups will keep doing this and keep spreading extremism. We also know—from the plaque behind us and from our own history—where the spread of extremism leads unless enough of us are prepared to stand up now and say no.
We do stand up to extremism; we stand up to it in our own communities. We stand up to it as the Prime Minister did when she criticised the President for doing the retweeting that we are discussing today.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about trying to clean up the online community. That is where so much of the battle takes place, which is why the Government are focused on making sure we take these things down. That is also why our relationship with the US is so important. When I called for a roundtable of the internet giants after the first terrorist attack, in March, what we got was the UK representatives coming. It was only with the support of the US that we were able to get the Global Internet Forum set up, which is based in San Francisco. Being able to work at the highest levels with our US friends to get action taken is the best way to achieve such outcomes, and I urge the right hon. Lady to bear that in mind.
About a month ago, the most popular man in the world was a last-day employee of Twitter who unplugged the account of the President of the United States. Was he not right? If Twitter is genuine in its commitment to fight hate crime online, it should have no hesitance in taking down the Twitter account of the first citizen of the US, as it would that of any other citizen of the world who peddled such hate crime.
I am sure that the chief executive of Twitter will have heard the interesting suggestion from my hon. Friend, and we will leave it to Twitter to decide what action to take.
It is pretty clear, on the basis of what we already know about this fascist President, that mere words are not enough. Action is needed. Three times the Home Secretary has been asked by Opposition Members to cancel the state visit. Action is needed now, not a slap on the wrist. Cancel the state visit.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his views, and I can only repeat what I have said before—that the invitation has been extended and accepted, and we have yet to make the arrangements.
Is it not an irony that the President of the United States, who loves Twitter and talks about fake news, actually retweeted fake news? However, the real danger is that the vast majority of our constituents have never heard of Britain First, and this retweet has given it huge oxygen. Should we not all go back to our constituencies and our communities and say that, no matter what people’s faith is and no matter what their beliefs are, we are together as a community, and the President was stupid in what he did?
I thank my right hon. Friend, and he raises such an important point, which is that we need to reassure our communities that the sort of hate that is promoted by Britain First is alien to us. If we look at the response to not only the tragic, tragic death of Jo Cox but the terrorist attacks this year, what we actually saw was our communities coming together and refusing to be divided, and we should make sure that we show that to be the case around our own neighbourhoods as well as across the Benches of the House.
How would the Home Secretary respond if similar tweets to those made by President Trump were made by a Muslim leader promoting hatred? Would they be allowed into the UK?
The hon. Gentleman should not rush to that conclusion. As I hope he has heard, I have been clear that we take an even-handed approach to individuals and to extremism of any sort, which is why I took the time to point out that right-wing extremism of the sort we have seen retweeted and the sort we have seen from National Action, which meant that we proscribed it, is just as hateful and just as dangerous as any sort of radical Islamic extremism.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on their strong words and strong action in condemning the spreading of these evil words. Will my right hon. Friend look at encouraging the internet companies to make sure that Twitter and Facebook accounts, and other such accounts, are clearly identified as the mouthpiece of individuals and the organisations they represent? There is a risk that people think this is a general view of British people, and it clearly is not. We need to isolate these people for what they are.
My hon. Friend raises the very good point, which was also raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), that we must be careful not to allow all this conversation about a hated, hate-filled group to fuel interest in the group. We want to make sure it does not represent Britain, does not represent our values, and should not in any way be interpreted as doing so. I think it is an interesting point, and one we should all act on.
Hate breeds hate, and an attack on the Muslim community is an attack on us all. Not content with attacking minorities in the United States, Donald Trump, by giving a platform to Britain First, a rabidly racist and neo-fascist organisation, is now actively sowing seeds of hatred in our country. At a time when the number of hate crimes in our country is increasing, what action will the Home Secretary take today to mitigate the horrific actions that the President took yesterday?
The hon. Lady knows, I think, that we take all forms of hate crime very seriously. We always encourage communities to report it when it takes place. I have active engagement with the police and crime commissioners and the chiefs of police to ensure that reporting does take place. Critically, we have a role to make sure that online companies do more to take material down, ensure that reports of fake news are not posted and help us identify who has been promoting hateful information. So we as a Government are on the front foot, ensuring that we engage with the online companies, show the leadership that is expected and make sure such material is taken down.
We all condemn and feel disgusted by the hate speech that has been propagated by Mr Trump and others. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the danger with organisations like Britain First is that they conceal their hateful activities behind a cloak of fluffiness? They sometimes talk about Remembrance Day in a very insidious way, to trick people—I am not suggesting that in relation to Donald Trump; he ought to have known better. Those are the tactics they use. What is my right hon. Friend doing, with the Government, to develop her understanding so that we can fight hate crime on all the fronts that infect our communities so dangerously?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. She is absolutely right that sometimes extremist far right groups try to hijack our national symbols and our national days of memorial and remembrance. We need to make sure that we always call that out. I would say to my hon. Friend, the best thing we can do is call it out, and make sure that we spread the alternative word—the alternative story—about British values.
Two million people signed a petition of outrage when the President was given an honour that has never been offered to any other President, when he was invited to make a red-carpet visit to this country in the first month of his office. Since then, he has dangerously increased tension in every frozen world conflict that he has addressed. He has disgraced himself again and again, and he worries us because his impulsive finger is on the nuclear button. If he is allowed to come to this country now, he should be treated as anyone else who breaks the law, and charged with inciting racial hatred. The Government should withdraw the invitation.
I would simply repeat that we have not yet made the arrangements for the visit, but the invitation has been extended and it has been accepted.
Politics and Twitter are a toxic mix. For politicians, tweeting encourages the transmission of half-formed ideas instead of listening to the developed arguments of others. It promotes a culture of instant reaction as opposed to considered thought, and it provokes people to immediate outrage instead of pauseful reflection. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how politicians taking to Twitter has led to an improvement in modern civilisation?
I think that is slightly beyond my capacity today. My hon. Friend is right in so far as I think that many of us could benefit from a little more considered thought and pauseful contemplation before we press reply to Twitter attacks.
It is important that the messages of hate spread by the President of the United States are condemned as the vile acts that they truly are. I speak on behalf of my party when I urge the Government to rescind their offer of a state visit to a President who has used his global platform to propagate intolerance. May I ask the Home Secretary to elaborate further on the pressure that will be exerted on social media platforms, such as Twitter, to prevent such untrue and poisonous content from permeating our society?
I repeat that the invitation to the President for a visit has been extended and accepted. We must remember that the United States has such an important relationship with this country in keeping us safe, and I urge all hon. Members to keep in mind the importance of that relationship before rushing to make such changes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has heard from me this morning how seriously we take the need to make sure that all illegal content, including extreme content, is taken down from Twitter and other online platforms; and the importance of the platforms taking a more active role in ensuring that such material does not stay up.
In a cynical attempt to harness the Brexit vote in my constituency, the English Defence League last year sought to organise a far-right march. Just nine people showed up, but that is nine people too many. Although the abhorrent views of the EDL and Britain First do not represent the mainstream in this country, does the Home Secretary agree that there is still work to do to disabuse people of such views, and that we need to bring forward more measures to allow us to do that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those organisations in no way represent the views of the British people, as we all know. There is always more work to do, and, as he says, the presence of even nine supporters is unwelcome. As has been pointed out several times in the House today, the real danger is increasingly the encouragement of extremist activity online. That is where we are focusing much of our effort, to ensure that it is not allowed to continue.
In her previous role as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister banned from entering this country individuals who had promoted organisations peddling the hate-filled ideology of fascism. This morning, David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, applauded Donald Trump. The New York Times notes:
“No modern American president has promoted inflammatory content of this sort from an extremist organization.”
Not only has the commander-in-tweet done this, but he has defended it, publicly chastising the British Prime Minister for her comments. Putting aside the question of a state visit, should he even be allowed to enter our country? Unprecedented actions require unprecedented responses.
I point out to the hon. Lady that the Prime Minister has robustly replied to the President and made her views absolutely clear. On the hon. Lady’s other proposal, we do not routinely comment on individual exclusion cases.
Is the Home Secretary satisfied that President Trump’s behaviour—this is not an isolated incident—does not undermine our important security and co-operation relationship with the United States? May I also say that just because somebody stops using Twitter, it does not mean that they cease to be a twit?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on it, if I may say so, in the first half of his comment when he talks about the importance of that close relationship. However strongly hon. Members feel about the President, we must protect the particular relationship that we have with the US, which does so much to keep British people safe.
If I am honest, I think the Home Secretary is missing something here. This was not an accident, and it was not stupid; it was deliberate and intentional. The evidence for that is that even after the Prime Minister said the President was wrong, he decided to stand by Britain First. I say to the Home Secretary that it is no good saying, “We’ve been robust.” The Government have been robust before, and it has not made the blindest bit of difference: he is a repeat offender, and this will go on and on. We cannot stand up to this kind of action and stand up to horrible racism—or pretend to do so—and then invite the man in through the front door.
In the past, when she was the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister repeatedly said that homophobes and racists who stir up hatred in this country will not be allowed into this country, and that if they come to this country they will be arrested. That is what should happen in this case, and the Home Secretary knows it. Just say it!
There is no pretence here: we are absolutely clear about the action we will take against people who propagate hate. The hon. Gentleman should not under- estimate the Prime Minister’s views on this and her absolute clarity in showing them to the public by criticising the President in her comment to him. I will not take any criticism from the hon. Gentleman on the fact that Conservative Members and the Government are committed to the agenda of making sure that we protect people and promote British values, and I will continue to take that position.
I thank the Home Secretary for her important words this morning, echoing those of the Prime Minister. Does the Home Secretary agree that all politicians and community leaders at every level and in every community have a duty to be temperate in their language, tolerant in their actions and mindful of their social media presence, and will she make sure that she holds content platforms to account so that community cohesion and understanding are maintained?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is incredibly important to make sure that we support communities in their genuine efforts, plans and programmes to hold together, despite the difficulties that may come along. We saw that this year when, in spite of and in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks, our communities did hold together, and many of them went out of their way to support other faiths when other people were criticising them. That is the British way, those are our values and that is what we should be proud of.
We must take a firm stance against hate speak and ensure that future generations do so as well. Will the Home Secretary and her colleagues consider supporting Holocaust education in schools so that younger generations understand the importance of standing up against discrimination and the very grave consequences of inaction?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point, and I thank her for raising it. The Holocaust Educational Trust does incredibly good and important work. I know that because some of the children in my schools in Hastings and Rye have been on such trips, and I have been on one myself. It is a very powerful way of remembering the terrible things that happened, and of learning how by remembering them we can make sure that they do not happen again. I absolutely support her point.
Does the Home Secretary share my astonishment at the fact that someone in the position of the President of the United States actually finds the time to trawl through Twitter looking for posts as abhorrent as the ones he has retweeted? Does she share my view that far from making America great again, his actions in retweeting those tweets reflect badly on his office and undermine the very principles on which the United States was founded?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that is why the Prime Minister was so swift and so firm in her response to the President’s tweets.
When I think of Muslim children in Newcastle waking up to find themselves being attacked by the President of the most powerful nation on earth, because that is how it will appear to them, my heart bleeds. The 45th President is not accountable to the children of Newcastle—it is hard to see to whom he does hold himself accountable—but the social media giants are accountable, through the Home Secretary, so what is she going to do today to demonstrate that accountability?
The hon. Lady might refer her friends in the community to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He very much made his comments as a Muslim, and I think that other Muslims in this country might take comfort from them.
We are making sure that we provide the leadership necessary to have as much as possible of the hate speech and illegal information that is sometimes put online taken down. The House must understand that the relationship with the US is critical to making real progress with the online companies. They are American companies; they are based in Silicon Valley; they are subject to US law. If we are going to make real progress with these internet companies, we have to do it in close alliance with our American friends.
When the Prime Minister has her next regular conversation with the United States President, could the Home Secretary ensure that she conveys to him that the purveying of this kind of hate speech simply serves the ends of those who wish to promote hatred between different communities in my constituency? Will she undertake to ask the Prime Minister to tell him that every time this kind of hate speech is perpetrated my black, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other minority constituents feel more fear and fear alienation and suspicion from others in the community, and that the President will not be welcome in this country because he is perpetrating and extending that hate speech?
We are clear that the sort of hatred that she describes and the sort of division that is sown by Britain First, for instance, is unwelcome here in the UK. We will always take action to call it out. We operate in the Home Office to take down information that gets up on the internet that should not be there. We take down about 2,000 pieces of terrorist content a week. We are always stepping up to ensure that there is more information out there that can help to bind our communities together. I share the hon. Lady’s view. I have the same response in my constituency. I want to be absolutely clear that our communities will hold together, and that we abhor all hate crime, and we will always say that.
May I offer the Government a way out of the diplomatic ditch that they are in? Her Majesty the Queen has been cutting back on her engagements due to her great and welcome age. She has a royal wedding to look forward to next year and the birth of a new great grandchild. Do not those facts alone justify the Government’s announcing the postponement of the state visit by the President of the United States for at least, say, three years?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful advice to the royal family. As I have said, the dates have not yet been agreed.
I am very saddened by what Trump has done. Like many people in our country, I have been a great friend of America. Indeed, as a very young man, I emigrated to the United States, and still cherish my old green card. So many of my American friends and relatives have said to me in the past few hours, “This man does not speak for America. This man is betraying the traditions of the United States of freedom, liberty and respect for everyone, whatever their religion or background.” Please, as we negotiate this thing, stop this man coming on a state visit. If he comes, there will be unparalleled demonstrations in this country. Please will the Home Secretary act now before it is too late?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Like him, I am a great admirer of America, and I have friends with different views, shall we say, to those of the President, who are keen to communicate them to me sometimes. As for the invitation, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his views, but no date has been agreed yet.
I emphasise that what the President of the United States has said on Twitter is not what the American people feel. I am sure that most Americans are embarrassed by and abhor what the President has done. The Home Secretary is in charge of policing in this country so this is a very serious and direct question. Inciting racial and religious hatred is a crime in this country. Have Twitter or the President of the United States committed a crime?
We keep all potential crimes of the type that the hon. Gentleman has referred to under review. I will not comment on individual cases of the type that he has referred to. I am sure that he can conclude by himself on the line between free speech and criminal activity. I think I will leave it at that.
Two years ago, I tabled an early-day motion calling for then presidential candidate Trump to be banned from visiting the United Kingdom until he retracted the extremely divisive comments he had made at that time. Given his tweets yesterday and overnight, it is clear that he has not changed. That is the key point. Will the Home Secretary tell me why it is right for someone so intent on stirring up hatred, contrary to the values of this country, to be invited here for an all-expenses-paid state visit at the expense of the taxpayer?
What about the values of the American people, of whom he is the President? So many Members on both sides of the House have said how much they admire the American people. Those are the values that I admire and with which I feel we have much in common.
As the Home Secretary will know very well, in this tolerant country of ours, non-Muslims and Muslims live in peace together as friends and neighbours—sometimes as members of the same families. How do I go back and explain to my constituents that there is a national interest in inviting somebody who is there to divide our communities, one from the other?
I would urge the hon. Gentleman to make, perhaps, some of the points that I have made today in the House—that Mr Trump is the American President and we have such admiration and affection for the American people and share values with them in so many different ways. We are also so grateful to their intelligence and security services, with whom we work so closely. The closeness of that work, the trust between us, allows them to help save British lives so effectively. That is why we have such a close and special relationship with the Americans.
Taking the charitable view that the President of the United States does not know the character of the organisation whose vile utterances he has endorsed, will the Home Secretary assure the House that the Government will make him well aware of their view of the character of this organisation and its effects, so that he has the opportunity clearly to distance himself from any association with it before there can be any question of his visiting the United Kingdom?
It is certainly our intention to be absolutely clear that the type of organisation that the President appeared to be promoting in his retweet is wholly unwelcome and full of hate, and we will continue to call that out. I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that clear in her criticism of him, but we will not miss an opportunity to make that point again—and we will do so strongly and firmly.
Back in 2010, the now Prime Minister, as Home Secretary, banned radical Indian televangelist preacher Zakir Naik from entering the UK for his repeated pattern of unacceptable behaviour—in particular his line that “every Muslim is a terrorist”. Her exact words at the time were:
“I am not willing to allow those…not…conducive to the public good to enter the UK.”
Surely the same applies to President Trump and his frequent repugnant outbursts? We are in Islamophobia awareness month, which was launched here the other day. The Government’s own Casey report was quoted. It says that trigger events feed Islamophobia, which means that women have their hijabs ripped off them; that grandads are murdered on the way back from prayers; and that pigs’ heads are left on mosque doorsteps. As a Muslim, I ask the Home Secretary to do the same as her predecessor, our Prime Minister, did in those previous examples. A rapper was also excluded for his misogynist lyrics. Can the Home Secretary not just continue on that track and ban this visit altogether?
I thank the hon. Lady, particularly for her point about Islamophobia, which we take incredibly seriously. That is why it featured so strongly in the hate crime action plan that I launched last year and why we have provided extra money to make sure that mosques can be protected. We have also given additional financial support for Tell MAMA, which does such great work in combating Islamophobia.
We are very serious about making sure that the type of hate crime that the Prime Minister addressed as Home Secretary is taken seriously and stopped so that we can protect people. She was absolutely right to ban the people whom the hon. Lady referred to. We do not comment on individual exclusion cases, but I will make sure that we always look very carefully at that when it is appropriate.
My constituents know only too well where extremism ultimately leads. The actions of the President cannot be isolated as a mistake; as has already been said, he is a repeat offender. These are his views, and anyone else who held them would not be welcome in this country. The Home Secretary must recognise the double standards that she is representing by saying that she condemns the President’s actions while at the same time opening her arms by inviting him to come to this country. Surely she must send the clear message that he is not welcome here.
I do not accept that there are double standards. What I accept is that we have been totally consistent in ensuring that we call out hate crime and take aggressive action in order to stop it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister responded so strongly to the tweet, and why other Cabinet Ministers have taken action as well. We will always ensure that we take action to stop the vile hate crime that sometimes takes place.
Has any member of the UK Government asked for these tweets to be taken down?
I shall have to come back to the hon. Lady on that.
Can the Home Secretary provide me with some guidance on how I should respond to residents in my incredibly diverse constituency when they ask me why our Government are affording someone with such abhorrent, vile, fascist, bigoted views the luxury of a state visit? If we do not take action today, when will we?
I ask the hon. Lady to refer her constituents—as I will refer mine—to the Prime Minister’s strong response. I also ask her to explain to them why the strong relationship with the US is so much in their interests, and to explain that action that we have shared with the intelligence services in the US helps to keep British people safe. We do not want to jeopardise any of that. The hon. Lady shakes her head, but this is an important point about keeping her constituents safe. That relationship is so critical to us that I would not want to harm it at all.
Surely the robust response that is required now is a withdrawal of the invitation.
The important step that we can take to stop the promulgation of the type of hate crime that has been promoted by Britain First, and by other extreme right-wing groups, is to work with the major internet companies to ensure that more action is taken. That is exactly the area in which the UK has been leading internationally, and in which the Prime Minister has been leading at the recent United Nations conference. The whole House can rely on the Government to ensure that those companies deliver for us.
I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for submitting his urgent question, and I thank the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary for being present on this important occasion. Let me also express my gratitude to all colleagues for participating in a very important set of exchanges.
Before I call the shadow Leader of the House to ask the business question, I should emphasise that there will be huge pressure on time from now on. There is to be an emergency debate under Standing Order 24 which can continue for up to three hours, and two debates are to be conducted under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is therefore a premium on short questions and short answers.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House update the House on the previously announced business?
The business for next week is:
Monday 4 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 4).
Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day (6th allotted day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 6 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 5).
Thursday 7 December—Debate on a motion on prison reform and safety, followed by general debate on the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December will include:
Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 12 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 6).
Wednesday 13 December—Continuation in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 7).
Thursday 14 December—Debate on a motion on equality of pension provision for women, followed by debate on a motion on hormone pregnancy tests. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will include:
Monday 18 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 19 December—Continuation in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 20 December—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (day 8).
Thursday 21 December—A general debate on Russian interference in UK politics and society, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 December—A very merry Christmas to everybody.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for December will include:
Monday 4 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to public sector pay.
Thursday 7 December— Debate on the Women and Equalities Committee report on women in the House of Commons after the 2020 election and the Government’s response.
Monday 11 December—Debate on e-petitions relating to a referendum on the deal for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Thursday 14 December—Debate on the Home Affairs Committee report on asylum accommodation and the Government’s response, followed by a debate on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on HM Government’s support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons and the Government’s response.
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in marking World AIDS Day, which takes place tomorrow. Significant progress has been made in fighting HIV, but we must continue the work to end stigma, end HIV transmission and end the isolation experienced by people living with HIV for good.
As I have said many times, Scotland is much loved across the whole country. Both the UK Government and the UK Parliament are committed to championing Scotland and standing up for Scotland’s interests, so may I take this opportunity to wish everyone, especially our friends north of the border, a very happy St Andrew’s day?
Finally, may I add my sincere congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement, and wish them all the very best for the future?
I thank the Leader of the House for updating the House on the forthcoming business. Can she say when the Report stage and Third Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will come before the House, and will she publish the motion on restoration and renewal before Christmas? I am pleased to say that the subject of the Opposition-day debate will be universal credit.
I also wanted to thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate on Yemen, as one of the two hon. Members who were born in Yemen—the other being my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have very happy memories of that country. One of the abiding memories at Christmas time was of Father Christmas arriving on a camel. In providing the debate, Mr Speaker has given the gift of life and hope to those suffering people in Yemen.
I thank the Leader of the House for indicating that the List of Ministers’ Interests will be updated shortly. I am just not clear what the word “shortly” means. Section 7.5 of the ministerial code states that
“a statement covering relevant Ministers’ interests will be published twice yearly.”
That was honoured in 2016, but we have not seen anything yet.
The Leader of the House mentioned 22 December and wished everyone a merry Christmas, but will she ensure, by writing to all the Departments, that there will not be a plethora of statements published on 21 December? It would be difficult to put forward our constituents’ views or to question Ministers then. There was an urgent question on the forensic services. The Minister described it as a serious matter. Indeed it is, but the written statement was published the day before the Budget.
Transparency and accountability are the watchwords of our democracy, so perhaps the Leader of the House will explain why there is no general “amendment to the law” resolution. There have been only five occasions when that has not happened at such a time. In 1929, it happened immediately before a general election. On the other occasions, in 1974, 1997, 2010 and July 2017, it happened immediately after a general election. “Erskine May” points out that:
“On occasions, and in particular when it has been necessary to proceed rapidly with a Finance Bill in anticipation of a dissolution of Parliament, the ‘Amendment of the law’ resolution has been omitted.”
Will the Leader of the House update us on the Government’s thinking on why there is not a chance for the Opposition parties to put forward our alternative case? We have had listening chances before, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) found out when she tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to ensure that the tampon tax was put through. This is about democracy. The Leader of the House and I have had a debate about how Parliament is being rigged. The Government have rigged Committees so that they have a majority on them, when they do not command one in Parliament.
Turning from treating Parliament with contempt to an actual contempt of the House, I know that people are not out on the streets of Northampton or Walsall chanting, “What do we want? Sectoral analysis. When do we want it? Now!” They have elected us to deal with that, and on behalf of those constituents, we want to see those sectoral analyses. The motion was very clear. It said that the impact assessments and the analyses of those 58 important sectors should be handed to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union—we are not asking for them to be published—so that the Select Committee can look at them in private session, as Select Committees do all the time. That is what we want. How can the Committee possibly hold an inquiry without the evidence? Parliament is sovereign, as people often like to tell us, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has to listen to Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament has instructed him to give up those papers.
The Leader of the House has alluded to a number of anniversaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) reminded us at Prime Minister’s Question Time that Sunday is disability day. I know that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is making a statement after business questions, and I hope that he will address the Government’s assertion that there is parity of esteem between physical conditions and mental health. A constituent of mine has been penalised in her personal independence payment assessment while her mother is going through cancer treatment. She may not get her PIP because of her mental health condition. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that there is parity of esteem in PIP assessments?
I hope the statement will also set out how the Government are dealing with errors in the payment of employment and support allowance, because 75,000 people have been affected but only 1,000 have been contacted. It is good that the Secretary of State is coming to the House, because the Chancellor’s financial statement—all 8,000 words of it—did not mention the words “disability” or “people with disabilities” once. People with disabilities and their families are set to lose £5,500 a year by 2022 because of existing tax and benefit changes. It was a flatlining Budget from a flatlining Government.
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. Diana, Princess of Wales, did much to dispel the myths around AIDS and I echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating her younger son, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle on their engagement. It is fitting that they have chosen a visit to Nottingham Contemporary, a gallery that will be hosting a Terrence Higgins Trust World AIDS Day charity fair, as their first public event. We wish them as long and happy a life together as Prince Harry’s grandparents are celebrating, and we congratulate Prince Philip on his new honour as he and the Queen celebrate their 70 years together.
Finally, it is St Andrew’s day—one of the patron saints of our United Kingdom—and we wish everyone called Andrew a very happy day.
As ever, the hon. Lady raises a wide range of interesting and thought-provoking points. The Report stage and Third Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the motion on restoration and renewal will be brought forward as soon as we can, but she will appreciate that it is not always possible to give notice so far in advance. Last week, she welcomed my announcing the business up until Christmas, and I will always seek to be as helpful as possible to the House, including in providing information on the future tabling of different items of business.
The hon. Lady said that the subject of the Opposition day would be universal credit. The Government welcome all views, and we have had several debates on this subject in recent weeks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was pleased to come to the House to address the motion that was passed by this House on universal credit, which I pledged would be the case whenever such a motion is passed by the House. He fulfilled that pledge within the 12-week timeframe, and I hope that hon. Members noted that. I look forward to this further debate.
I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for discussing the plight of those living in Yemen in these terrible times, and we are all looking forward to the emergency debate later today.
I cannot give the hon. Lady a specific date, but the register of Ministers’ interests will be provided as soon as possible. I cannot give her a specific date. Quite a lot of work needs to be done to compile and finalise the register, and it will be provided just as soon as we can.
The hon. Lady asked us to avoid making written ministerial statements on 21 December. Ministers obviously come under criticism for publishing anything outside of sitting days, but she now wants to criticise the Government for publishing things on sitting days. I do not think we can accept that sitting days should be ring-fenced simply because we are drawing near to the end of a sitting period, and she needs to bear in mind that Ministers make great efforts to ensure that announcements are made while the House is sitting, giving the House the opportunity to consider them.
The hon. Lady made a point about the Opposition’s ability to put forward an alternative case on the Finance Bill. I will write to her on that point, if I may, because I am actually looking into the matter at the moment.
The hon. Lady suggests that no one in her constituency or mine is walking about demanding Brexit impact assessments, but I think she underestimates the good people of Northamptonshire—[Interruption.] And Oxfordshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who is my PPS, and I are clear that our constituents are interested. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his ministerial team have been clear that the analysis was not a series of impact assessments examining what exiting the EU would mean for the 58 sectors. In order to satisfy the motion of 1 November, we have taken a lot of time to bring together the sectoral analyses in a way that is accessible and informative for the Exiting the European Union Committee. The analyses are being made available to all Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in a private reading room, and the Secretary of State will meet the Select Committee on Wednesday 6 December.
Finally, the hon. Lady raised the important issue of parity of esteem for mental and physical disability. I absolutely share her determination that we should achieve that, and it is the goal and intention of the Government. I am sure that she, like me, will welcome the fact that spending on disability has increased by £7 billion since 2010. This Government are determined to enable people with disabilities to have more control over their lives and to seek work that suits their capabilities to give them the chance to improve their own lives as far as possible.
Order. Colleagues will have heard what Mr Speaker said about the pressure on time today. He has indicated to me that he would like the emergency debate on Yemen to start no later than 1 o’clock, in which case I will run business questions until quarter past 12. There is then another statement, so colleagues who might prefer to intervene on the statement should perhaps bear that in mind.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on boosting trade between China and the United Kingdom? Only yesterday Hylink, China’s largest digital marketing agency, launched its office at the Shard, and I am delighted it did so with a British managing director, James Hebbert.
Having seen for myself the huge opportunity in China for our food and drinks businesses, I completely agree with my hon. Friend. On his specific point regarding digital marketing, a number of support agencies specialise in helping UK firms to export to and invest in China. These businesses demonstrate that exporting to China is within reach of our small and medium-sized enterprises as well as our larger companies, and we welcome the decision of Hylink to open an office in London.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all hon. Ladies and Gentlemen a happy St Andrew’s day, and lang may yer lum reek—there’s a challenge for Hansard.
The Scottish National party has now joined an exclusive club with all the Opposition parties, which the Government will not vote against. Thanks to the Tory vote refuseniks, we now have unanimous agreement in this House to tackle WASPI injustice. We were wondering what type of motion might tempt the Tory vote-phobes into the Division Lobby. Given the childish nature of their failure to participate in the democratic structures of the House, maybe a motion that “This Government smells,” might tempt them into the Division Lobby to try to preserve their dignity.
This situation will not end well for the Government, and I know that Mr Speaker is considering my correspondence to the effect that the Government may be in contempt of the House following their failure fully to comply with an earlier binding motion. Mr Speaker has been typically generous with the Government, but his patience must be running thin. It is either compliance or contempt, and we must return the House to a position in which this Government vote. This is a national Parliament, a sovereign Parliament; it is not a sixth-form debating society.
Lastly, the latest piece of Brexit chaotic cluelessness comes in the form of a £50 billion repayment bill. It has apparently gone from “go whistle” to “what’s your sort code?” The total bill to the United Kingdom of leaving the European Union because of this Brexit madness must now come close to hundreds of billions of pounds. That is why we must see these Brexit sectoral impact assessments. We need a proper debate about the true cost of Brexit, and we need to hear whether there is any price that would make the Government think again.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his feisty remarks. I was going to invite him for a bit of haggis, neeps and tatties in the Members’ Tea Room after business questions, but I might think again as he now feels the Government smell—I am not sure that is even orderly language. Nevertheless, I am willing to overlook it.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the specific issue of the pension age for women. Of course he will be aware that this issue has been raised on a number of occasions. The Conservatives in government have committed more than £1 billion to support those affected so that no woman will see her pension age change by more than 18 months compared with the Pensions Act 1995 timetable. He will recognise that the great news that we are all living longer means that the age at which people reach their state retirement and therefore draw their state pension needs to change with it. We are seeking fairness between men and women in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman asks about voting. As I made very clear in my previous statement, we recognise that any motion voted on by the House is binding on the House. Opposition day motions that are voted on and approved are binding on the House. However, as Mr Speaker has made clear, they are not binding on the Government. What I have agreed, in recognition of the House’s desire, quite rightly, to see what actions are taken as a result of motions approved by the House, is that a statement will be provided in respect of any Opposition day motion passed by the House, with a Minister explaining exactly what actions have been taken as a result. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions came before this House to provide such an update only this week, and further statements will be made in the near future.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, his final point about the cost of leaving the EU is not at all something this Government have said is the case; it is simply something that is part of the negotiations. The Government are committed to seeking the best possible deal for the UK as we leave the EU. The negotiations are in a positive phase and we hope to see some good, constructive results from the December Council. We all await those negotiations with enormous interest.
May we have a debate on the importance and value of further education and skills, especially following the disgraceful attack, yet again, by the former chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, who told FE colleges to “get off their backsides”. That is entirely wrong, as 70% of our FE colleges are good or outstanding. He has previously said that FE is a Cinderella sector, but it is worth remembering not only that Cinderella married a prince, but that we have to banish the two ugly sisters of snobbery and intolerance.
My right hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for young people getting on in life, and I absolutely share his enthusiasm for the contribution of so many excellent FE colleges in giving young people the opportunities they need and deserve.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement, and may I quickly point out to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that having a reekie lum is in contravention of the Clean Air Acts?
This afternoon, we have two important debates scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, one on the treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises by RBS Global Restructuring Group and the other on mental health and suicide within the autism community. As a result of an almost exceptional set of circumstances far beyond the control of the Backbench Business Committee, these two important debates will be severely restricted and squeezed for time. In both debates, there will be public support here on site, with constituents visiting this place to witness their very real concerns being debated. May we now look at a potential revision of Standing Orders to enable some measure of protected time for such debates for the Backbench Business Committee in the future? Our constituents, and the constituents of all Back Benchers, deserve that at least.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I think we are all disappointed to see the constraints that have arisen, through no individual fault but just as a result of circumstances, on the two important debates he mentions. I will certainly take away the point he makes and look at it.
I want the Government to make a statement on how they are going to involve leaseholders in the discussions on high-rise buildings with cladding. The Department for Communities and Local Government is having meetings with the managing agents and others, but leaseholders, who may be isolated, are not being brought in and not being brought together. Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to consider asking that Department whether it could announce, before next Tuesday, how it is going to get leaseholders involved and how the leaseholders can talk to each other, so that they have a united front and share information?
My hon. Friend raises something that is very important to all of us: ensuring the safety of those who live in high-rise buildings. If he would like to write to me or talk to me after business questions, I will certainly see whether I can help to raise this matter with that Department.
May we have an urgent debate on shale gas fracking planning applications? In my constituency, INEOS, a multinational petrochemical company, has applied to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to avoid local democracy by taking planning decisions out of the local council’s hands and giving it to the national Planning Inspectorate. I would like to ask that Secretary of State how that fits with the Tory manifesto he has just fought on, which promised to “maintain public confidence” in the shale gas industry and
“ uphold our rigorous environmental protections”?
The right hon. Gentleman might wish to raise that specific question in DCLG oral questions on 4 December. As he will know, however, the subject of shale gas exploration has received a huge amount of attention in this place and the regulations are very strong. It is right that the UK economy takes the opportunity to benefit from the transition from high carbon emitting coal, through lower carbon emitting gas, to the renewables future we all want to see.
May we have a debate on a weed called floating pennywort? It is a strong contender for the worst aquatic weed in the UK and it is affecting large stretches of the Thames, including around Henley. A debate would allow us to sort out how to deal with it.
I agree with my hon. Friend that floating pennywort is a highly invasive non-native species that has a significant environmental impact. The Environment Agency has removed thousands of tonnes of this plant as part of a co-ordinated programme of removal and spraying to control its growth. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the EA redoubled its efforts to remove floating pennywort from the Thames and its tributaries throughout October and November and is putting in place a spraying, removal and monitoring programme from spring 2018.
This Saturday, I will be taking part in Small Business Saturday, visiting businesses on Deptford High Street and Ladywell Christmas market, and finishing with a drink in Lewisham’s new bar, Suttons Radio. May we have a debate on the support the Government can provide to help small businesses to thrive and grow?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight her local small businesses and their important value to the local economy. The Government enormously support small businesses and the contribution they make right across the United Kingdom. I am sure that many Members will be doing something similar to the hon. Lady and visiting their own local small businesses, and I encourage them all to do so.
Yesterday saw the long-awaited publication by the Labour Mayor of London of the draft London plan. It could lead to the end of back gardens in suburbia and the abolition of car-parking spaces in all new developments. At the same time, not a single new affordable home has been built on his watch. The plan will affect all Londoners, so may we have a debate in Government time on the drastic impact it will have throughout London?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to hold the Labour Mayor of London to account in the way that he does, and to point out that we do need thriving economies. London absolutely needs much more housing, affordable housing and greater infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Mayor all too often criticises central Government for his own failings.
There was absolute astonishment from MPs of all parties at the fact that the Chancellor made no mention of defence in his Budget. Given the crisis that defence in this country is currently facing, will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come to the House and explain how we are going to stop cuts to the numbers of soldiers, aircraft and Marines, so that we can defend our country properly?
First and foremost, the Government support all our armed forces and our defence sector to an enormous extent. We have committed to meet our NATO pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence every year until 2022 and we plan to spend £178 billion on our equipment plan between 2016 and 2026. By 2025, we will have a highly capable expeditionary force of around 50,000, up from 30,000. It is important that we look at how our defence needs are changing. That review is vital to this country’s future security needs.
Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made an excellent statement to introduce the industrial strategy, many strands of which will be of particular benefit to constituencies such as mine, Cleethorpes. Do the Government have any plans to debate in Government time the various aspects of the strategy, particularly the teacher development premium, which will be of great value in my area?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency. I agree that we should all welcome the industrial strategy, which sets out how we are building a Britain fit for the future and how we will help businesses to create better, higher-paying jobs, with investment in the skills, industries and infrastructure that will make Britain an enormous success in the years to come.
Only 10% of children on free school meals in Barnsley go on to university. Can we have a debate in Government time about social mobility in Britain, as our future economic success depends on all children having the opportunities to succeed?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that children are the future and that we need to do everything we can to support them. Making their lives better than those of the generation before is our aspiration. I am sure that she welcomes the fact, as we all do, that there are now 1.8 million more children in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010, and that there are more than 3.4 million apprenticeships for young people since 2010. It is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to support their future as we move into this enormous industrial change that gives us the opportunity to build the industries of the future.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen the migration figures today, but net migration is a third lower in the past year than it was before the EU referendum. Can we have a debate in Government time on immigration, so that we can talk about the Government’s progress towards the target of tens of thousands, and the fact that we will be able to reach it when we come out of the EU and end free movement?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of immigration in this country both in terms of the enormous contribution made by those who have come here to live and make their lives here, and the pressure that high and uncontrolled immigration has wrought on some of our public services. Yes, I absolutely encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that we can discuss the relative merits of uncontrolled versus controlled migration.
Less than 48 hours ago, the Palmer and Harvey company went into administration, which means hundreds of job losses in my constituency just weeks before Christmas. Like something from a Dickens novel, workers found out when they arrived for their shift and saw the gates shut. Despite that, the administrator, PwC, has not responded to multiple attempts by me to contact it. Will the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to intervene to support me and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers in trying to find out what is going on and what can be done to help my constituents?
I am very sorry to hear about that. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will be very happy to take it up with the Business Secretary.
I recently had the honour of becoming patron of the Mary Ann Evans Hospice, which is a charitably funded hospice that provides really valuable services to my constituents and reduces pressure on the NHS. The hospice has made me aware of funding challenges that it and many others face, so can we have an urgent debate on the options available for hospices to make it easier for them to apply for NHS funding?
Huge congratulations to my hon. Friend on his new role. Hospices right around the country, including Cynthia Spencer Hospice and Catherine House that serve my own constituents so well, deliver excellent care and contribute to the well-being of their local communities. Millions of families benefit from them. I am sure that I can speak for all Members when I say how grateful we are to them. NHS England has developed a new payment system for end-of-life care, which is designed to be fairer and more transparent, and that will further improve care for patients.
I call Alison Thewliss.
Gosh, I was not expecting to be called so soon. Can we have a debate, please, in Government time, on the postcode lottery of asylum appeals? Some 28% were successful in Glasgow, compared with 47% at the Taylor House centre in London. My constituents deserve a fair hearing when they go for their asylum tribunals.
I completely agree that all asylum appeals should be treated with equal importance and respect. If the hon. Lady wishes to seek an Adjournment debate on the specific concern that she has in her own constituency, then that would be viewed very favourably by Mr Speaker.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who is leaving the Chamber, will my right hon. Friend grant time for a debate on the importance of improved productivity for the growth of the economy in the United Kingdom?
I know that my hon. Friend, who is a former teacher, is a huge advocate of developing the skills of young people. I share his enthusiasm for our new industrial strategy that sets out how we will build a Britain fit for the future and ready to take advantage of the extraordinary advances in technology that can really transform lives for the better.
The Leader of the House might remember that my first question to her, back in June, was about gun crime and police cuts, following 10 such incidents in my constituency that month. It has not gone unnoticed that there was no mention of police cuts continuing in the Budget last week. More and more of my constituents are raising crime and fear of crime as one of the blights on their lives, and Merseyside police are stretched to the limits, having lost 1,000 police officers and £100 million a year from their budget. The situation, as is, is unsustainable. We need a debate in Government time on police cuts and the effects of crime in our constituencies.
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue, and of course we know that the fear of crime is widespread around the country, but I am sure he will be pleased to know that the rate for crimes traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales has fallen by 9% over the last year, which is a continuation of the overall downward trend. He should also be reassured to know that we are protecting police budgets in real terms and that the proportion of officers in frontline roles has increased since 2010 to over 93% now. There are, of course, individual issues in particular policing areas, however, and if he feels that that is the case in his area, I would encourage him to raise the matter through an Adjournment debate.
I am sure that, like me, the Leader of the House has been inundated with emails about animal sentience. Many constituents have contacted me following an email from the lobbying company 38 Degrees that sadly contained many mistruths about a vote in the House. Through my office, I have requested a correction, but will she advise me on how I and other Members can combat fake news and misinformation when it is passed on to our constituents directly from such sources?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right to raise this issue. Matters of concern to the public must always be raised with us, but groups such as 38 Degrees should not, whether inadvertently or maliciously, spread information that is just not true, and when something is proven not to be true, as in this case, it should be immediately withdrawn or corrected. We are very aware of the concerns around fake news, and as part of our manifesto commitment, work is under way through the digital charter to make sure that high-quality news online has a sustainable future and that we have an accurate news environment.
The Leader of the House will be aware that over the last three weeks I have made two speeches about the impact on me of bullying in school. Since those speeches, I have been inundated by adults and children in school saying that they are under constant attack through cyber-bullying. Will she find Government time for a debate about the impact of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on bullying and young people’s lives and wellbeing?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this point. Bullying, and cyber-bullying in particular, are a real scourge of modern life, particularly for young people, and I certainly would welcome his seeking a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. He might be aware that a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry will be looking into this issue. He might want to respond to that.
A growing number of companies around the UK are seeing the value of installing energy efficiency measures and clean tech in their premises. On the refurbishment of this place, will the Leader of the House use her influence to ensure that we set the very highest standards for energy efficiency and the deployment of clean tech so that we can lead by example, reduce costs and showcase the very best of British clean technologies for export around the world?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for clean technology and reducing our carbon footprint—I am sure that the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) shares that enthusiasm—and can assure him that throughout the R and R process, as we seek to restore this beautiful palace, we will take advantage of the opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint.
Can we have debate or statement, or—better still—will the Leader of the House have a word with the Work and Pensions Secretary, about HSBC’s pension clawback? Employees in HSBC Midland Bank’s defined benefit occupational pension scheme believe that they were not adequately made aware of the clawback feature. Clawback reduces the bank’s pension contribution when the basic state pension becomes available. This means that many staff were denied the opportunity to make additional financial plans for their retirement. Other banks have not applied, or have since withdrawn, this scheme. Will she do all she can to help us with this situation?
This issue has been raised before in business questions, and a couple of constituents have also contacted me about it. It is a matter of concern that needs to be looked into, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate.
I thank the Leader of the House for her St Andrew’s day greeting. Does her offer of haggis, tatties and neeps in the Tea Room apply to her Scottish Conservative colleagues?
The gulf between the tax paid by Scots and the tax paid by people in the rest of the UK looks set to widen further when the Scottish Government unveil their budget plans on 14 December. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the hugely damaging consequences of such a tax hike for Scotland? After last week’s Budget boosted the Scottish Government by £2 billion over the next three years, the Scottish Government need to explain why they think that raising income tax is justified.
I am always delighted to meet my hon. Friend and our other hon. Friends from Scotland at any time. Income tax powers were an important part of the Smith Commission’s recommendations and we have devolved them through the Scotland Act 2016. How the Scottish Government choose to use those powers is a decision for them. However, I completely agree with my hon. Friend; I do not see how making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK can be the right thing to do. I cannot see why the Scottish National party would choose to drive away growth and talent. Let us be clear that income tax is not the Government’s money. It is money that has been earned by the people of this country. That is why the Conservatives in Westminster and in Holyrood will always stand up for low taxes.
Will the Leader of the House please give me an approximate time that one should wait for a response from the Prime Minister to a letter signed by 111 MPs regarding the important economic contribution of international students in the UK, particularly in our regions and with regard to the industrial strategy? Is that the sort of thing to apply for a debate on, given its cross-party support?
If the matter carries cross-party support, as the hon. Lady suggests, it is most certainly a candidate for a Westminster Hall or a BackBench Business debate. With regards to the question about the time that it will take for the Prime Minister to respond to the letter, I can forward the hon. Lady’s request to the Prime Minister if she would like to take this up with me by email.
I add my voice to another matter that commands cross-party support: the importance of small businesses and Small Business Saturday, when I will be visiting businesses in my constituency of Redditch. We have a number of successful ones, including Astwood Carpentry and the Inn Plaice in Headless Cross, which has the best fish and chips. Can the Leader of the House find the time for a debate in Government time on the importance of keeping taxes on small businesses low?
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for her constituency of Redditch. All this talk of food is making us all hungry. Small Business Saturday is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign that highlights small business successes, and encourages consumers to shop locally and support small businesses, which is something that everyone across this House seeks to do.
May I actually congratulate the Government—and the Scottish Government, just to make that clear—on something that they have done this week? There has been a change in blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men, as the ban has come down from 12 months to three months. That now means that thousands more gay men can give blood than could previously. But can we have a statement on this? The excellent news does not seem to have caught the attention of the media this week, and we need to discuss how we can make it much more widely known to encourage people to donate blood.
The hon. Gentleman has just made sure that this news will receive some media attention, and I congratulate him on doing so. He raises the matter of a valuable and important contribution to the country’s blood stocks. I am sure that many who were previously unaware of the news will be delighted.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I also wish you and the whole House a very happy St Andrew’s day?
Can we have a debate on the excellent decision by the UK Government to bypass the failing SNP Scottish Government for the next roll-out of broadband? Does my right hon. Friend share my bemusement at the reaction of Scotland’s First Minister, who has suggested that Scottish Conservative MPs and even the Scottish media have been misleading on this issue? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that Nicola Sturgeon should stop burying her head on this issue, and actually start burying some connections so that my Moray constituents and many across Scotland can get the broadband speeds they deserve?
My hon. Friend’s priorities are always in the right place: looking after his constituents. In September 2017, we announced wave one of the local full fibre networks programme in six locations across the UK, including Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. In parallel to this announcement, we have written to all local councils seeking expressions of interest, and there were more than 130 responses. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The programme is intended to achieve better and faster broadband roll-out for all the people of Scotland, including his constituents.
When the Science Museum said that Hull could not have Amy Johnson’s plane, Jason, for the city of culture celebrations this year, local artist Leonard J Brown worked with inmates at Hull Prison to create a replica, which is now in Hull Paragon station. Can we please have a statement from the Ministry of Justice on why it has now decided that that plane, which means so much to the city, is going to be moved down the road to York without asking the artist or key players in Hull about its future?