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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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. 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!