House of Commons
Thursday 18 January 2018
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Community Transport: Licensing
In the first Transport questions since the beginning of the year, the Year of Engineering, I would like to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for all the work that they have done.
The Government want to protect as many community transport services as possible. We will soon be consulting on the issuance and use of permits, and have been working to interpret the scope of the exemptions to the regulations as widely as the law will allow.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that the proposal is estimated to cost the industry £37 million and each driver £1,500. It rather seems like the Government have taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What does the Minister say to Shotts’ Getting Better Together in my constituency, which provides essential community transport services, yet has no interest in being a commercial entity and could be lost to the community under these plans?
I do not recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman gives. I have been up and down the country talking to community transport schemes. It is not at all clear that the implication for local community transport operators will be anything like as severe as has been suggested, and the one case that has been tested has been referred back for further evidence gathering.
I am grateful to the Minister for recently visiting my constituency, where he saw the great work being done by Our Bus Bartons. He will know that such companies all over the country are urgently seeking reassurance, but can he clarify whether any action proposed by the transport commissioner reflects upon the consultation that is taking place, or whether the consultation will be taking place in any event?
The consultation will be taking place in any event, and the details will be announced shortly. I greatly enjoyed my visit to see the Our Bus group, which is a model of good practice in local community transport.
I welcome the Minister to his appointment. While I understand that the Government have said that they are not going to end the sections 19 and 22 arrangements, the letter they sent out in July last year has caused what the Select Committee on Transport has described as paralysis in the not-for-profit sector. Do we not now need clarity from the Government about what they intend to do, so that they can demonstrate real support for the community transport sector, including for firms such as Shencare in my constituency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my job. I have actually been in it for a while, so I am sorry not to have made more impact on him, if not on the sector. In that regard, he will have seen—I am sure he has noted it carefully—the testimony that I and one of my officials gave to the Transport Committee, which put to rest the question of whether the letter was inappropriate or had caused difficulty. There certainly has been concern, and rightly so: it is a reinterpretation of the law. Some people may not be compliant, that is true, but the vast majority will be, and we expect the consultation to be successful in further allaying concerns.
North Norfolk Community Transport says that at the moment it is unable to get new section 19 permits because it has bid for some of its services competitively, but those services are cross-subsidising vital community services and it is doing exactly what the county council urged it to do. These vital services could go under unless that uncertainty ends, so can the Minister give some reassurance urgently?
The traffic commissioners are acting speedily and effectively and as a unified group on this issue. I expect the consultation to continue to give—through the proposed exemptions and workarounds that we have been looking at—further comfort to the sector.
Rail Improvements: Devon and the South-west
We are investing more than £400 million in the rail network in the south-west. This includes a fleet of brand-new trains for services to Devon and Cornwall, which will enter service later this year, transforming journeys for passengers. We are continuing to work with Network Rail and the Peninsula Rail Task Force to explore the potential for longer-term improvements in the south-west.
I welcome the Minister to his new job. The Waterloo to Exeter line serves Axminster and Honiton and the southern part of my constituency. It is a great rail line and it needs a second loop in order to get more trains into Exeter and then back up to London. Could the Minister give me details of what is happening with that?
The Devon Metro proposals for enhanced rail services in the Exeter area include aspirations for additional local services between Axminster and Exeter. This is being progressed as a local scheme by Devon County Council, and we will continue to provide assistance as it develops its proposals.
I welcome the Minister to his new position. The new Minister will be aware that the Government missed the Christmas deadline for funding the three-minute speed reduction between Plymouth and Exeter. At just £600,000, why did the Government knock back the south-west?
I can assure that hon. Gentleman that that is not the case. We are continuing to look closely at the issue, and we are working on it in the Department and with Network Rail.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his post. As he will know, one of the key improvements that could be made for my constituents would be the provision of a new station at Edginswell. Does he share the enthusiasm of his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—whom I see further down the Front Bench, in his new post as a Whip—for that project, and does he agree that it would be a perfect beneficiary of the new stations fund?
I do share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. We are currently investing more than £40 billion in our network, including more than £15 billion on rail enhancements, as part of the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century, and we are always on the lookout for good proposals to support.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his post. When will the electrification programme for the railways in the south-west—including the chunk to Bristol—be “un-paused”?
We are thinking about how we can deliver the best outcomes for passengers, because that is what is important to us. We are delivering the same benefits more efficiently, and at a lower cost to taxpayers. We are delivering faster journey times and better trains, and I think that Members on both sides of the House will welcome the new fleet of 29 Hitachi trains which will serve that part of the country.
The Government are committed to improving station access for disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities. Further funding for the Access for All programme will be made available in the next rail control period, and we are introducing new accessibility commitments as part of franchises. In addition, whenever the industry carries out infrastructure work at stations, it must meet current accessibility standards. I must say “thank you” to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who did a huge amount of work on accessibility across all transport modes.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I have been hearing accounts from people throughout the United Kingdom about a lack of access to both underground and railway stations, which contributes to isolation and social exclusion and also impedes their ability to get back to work—and getting people back to work is one of the Government’s key tasks. Would the Minister kindly agree to discuss with the all-party group the progress that can be made if we work together on the issue?
I am aware of the hon. Lady’s work on the APPG. As she will know, I was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on eye health and visual impairment, and we did a lot of work together.
I believe that 75% of platforms are accessible by steps, but we need to do much more work. All train operating companies and Network Rail are required to have a disabled people’s protection policy as a condition of their licences.
The hon. Lady also contributed to the draft accessibility action plan. There were a number of recommendations, and I look forward to meeting her and ensuring that they are followed through.
At present, bus drivers must undertake licensing training to ensure that they are able to deal with people with not just visible disabilities but invisible disabilities such as sight loss. They cannot obtain their competency certificates without that training. I will ensure that the issue is followed up at local authority level, and if there is a gap, I shall be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to ensure that it is dealt with.
I recently undertook a journey on our Bexleyheath line service with a disabled person who was using a wheelchair, to demonstrate how inconvenient it will be when the Victoria line link is removed with the new franchise. She would then have to change at Lewisham, and she says that she would not undertake that journey. Is it right that we are designing disabled people out of our rail service? Will the Minister implore her colleagues to change their minds?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. It is not acceptable, but I believe that it is going to be addressed later on down the line at Charing Cross. I refer, too, to my earlier response: all train operating companies have to comply with the disabled people’s protection policy, and if they are unable to, they have to provide alternative transport for the passenger, such as an accessible taxi to the next station. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case, I will be more than happy to follow it up.
Rail Passenger Compensation
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that, principally because of greater awareness and greater ease in accessing compensation, passengers in the Greater Anglia region have received twice as much compensation in 2016-17 as they did in 2015-16.
I apologise for arriving late—due to a train delay this morning. We in the east of England are looking forward to our sparkling new trains arriving next year, but in the meantime we often face delays, and when people face delays they should be compensated. Will the Minister look at issues such as when trains are overcrowded and people have to get the next one, or when they are cancelled, and see if we can find some technical improvements?
I am glad my hon. Friend welcomes the new trains. Passengers can look forward to a complete fleet replacement, with over 1,000 new carriages by the end of 2020. This will mean passengers will be travelling on longer and, crucially, more regular trains.
The problems the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) describes as facing her constituents are exactly the same as those my constituents have been experiencing in recent months on Northern Rail. Pleas for a compensation system that recognises that delays might be short but repeated and that trains are often overcrowded so that they cannot even get on them are falling on deaf ears. Will the Minister undertake to take this up directly with Northern Rail since my own meetings with it have produced absolutely no progress on this matter?
That is why it is so important that trains are being extended and replaced. The crucial thing is that, where there are delays, passengers are more aware of, and have easier access to, compensation schemes, and overall across the system over £73 million was paid in compensation in 2016-17, an increase of over 64% over the previous year.
The compensation scheme works on the basis that the delays are an exception rather than the norm. Will the Minister sit down with me, or perhaps follow me on Twitter so that he can see the messages I have had every day since work was resumed after the holidays on south-east trains, with delays and disruption every day on every line?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and sympathise greatly with the experience of his constituents and other constituents in that area. The Southeastern service is one of the most congested in the country, and it has been vulnerable to the impact of infrastructure failures. We are working closely to ensure closer working between the operator and Network Rail to secure a reduction of such problems in the future.
Compensation arrangements have to work, so will the Minister outline whether he believes that the compensation system can be streamlined and, importantly, be accessible?
Passengers are accessing compensation schemes far more easily than ever before. That is reflected in the greater take-up of compensation payments, which is growing at a far faster rate than any delays in services. We continue to work with operators to ensure that this becomes easier for passengers to access and we will be looking carefully at that in the next franchise renewals process.
Private Sector Rail Investment
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 right hon. Friend for that answer. The irony will not be lost on him that public sector satisfaction in the railways is declining as Government influence is at its highest since rail privatisation. What discussions has his Department had with Network Rail to change procurement and design practices so that the private sector can have more influence in funding and financing future projects?
I want to see both. We have just announced the biggest investment programme in our railways—over the period 2019 to 2024—since the steam age, including £20 billion of renewals. That is crucial: one of the reasons why we talk at Question Time about train delays is that the infrastructure in many places desperately needs renewal, which is why we are spending £20 billion on that. It is also important that we bring in additional private finance alongside that public investment, and I have been discussing extensively with Network Rail how we can make that happen.
The private sector can only bring in investment if it knows what the Government’s plans for infrastructure are going to be. Will the Secretary of State tell me now what the latest Government position is on the electrification of the trans-Pennine line?
I have just received the proposals from Network Rail, and we are now reviewing them. My aim is to start this £3 billion upgrade within a matter of months. The project is due to really get under way next year. We are looking at all the different options but, as I have said, electrification will be part of the programme.
Up until 1992, when the only investment in the railways came from the public sector, rail usage was declining. Since privatisation, we have seen a massive increase in the amount of people using the railways. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is because of the changes that the private sector brought in?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not understand the policy adopted by the Labour party. We are now seeing the construction of thousands of new carriages funded by the private sector, and we are getting rid of some of the legacy trains from the days of British Rail that were not up to scratch in those days and are certainly not up to scratch now. That is because private money is coming in alongside our investment programme.
The real question for the Secretary of State is: does he have the political will to ensure that the money is available to invest in the northern rail system in this generation? Not jam tomorrow. Trains today.
The answer to that is clearly yes, because every single train in the north of England is being replaced or refurbished as new. All the old Pacer trains are going, and we are about to start the trans-Pennine upgrade, which will account for one third of the total funding available for enhancement on the railway between 2019 and 2024. That is a large investment programme that will make a difference to the north, and it is a sign of our commitment to the north.
Following the sad demise of Carillion, will the Secretary of State confirm that he is carrying out a full review of the HS2 project, including the business case, to ensure that the remaining private sector companies have the capacity to deliver the project without serious overruns and extra cost to the taxpayer?
My right hon. Friend will be relieved to know that the demise of Carillion, a tragic event for this country and for corporate Britain, will none the less not affect the HS2 project. The existing contract is part of a three-company consortium, and the other two companies, Kier and Eiffage, are taking over responsibility for the project. The apprenticeships are being transferred, the staff are being transferred and the project will continue uninterrupted.
On 17 July last year, the day on which Carillion was confirmed in the HS2 contract, I asked the Secretary of State about the financial instability of the company. He declared himself to be confident that the expected results would be delivered. Given the unfolding events of the last few days, has he now reflected and does he now accept that he got it spectacularly wrong and that his judgment and confidence were disastrously misplaced?
I do not accept that at all. The hon. Gentleman referred specifically to the HS2 contract. At the time, I reviewed those carrying out the contracting very carefully, and I have carried out due diligence since. As I said a moment ago, the HS2 project will not be affected by this, even to the point, I am pleased to say, that the apprentices working with Carillion on the project are being transferred to one of the other two partners. The work will continue uninterrupted. There is no delay and there are no cost implications.
On Monday, The Times newspaper said:
“The transport secretary’s decision to award lucrative contracts to an ailing Carillion is only the latest worrying misjudgment to come to light.”
It highlighted his trip to Qatar on the day of the biggest rail fare hike in five years, the notorious £2 billion east coast bail-out and his dysfunctional dealings with trade unions in the private sector, saying that the Prime Minister
“needs to consider whether it is time that this transport secretary left the station.”
Has not The Times got it absolutely right?
The only station that I am going to be leaving is Euston station for a visit to the midlands this morning. There has been no £2 billion bail-out of Virgin Trains East Coast. The contracting with Carillion was actually not with Carillion, but with a consortium of companies that are equally responsible for delivering the contract and will do so. I am happy to stand here to defend the record of a Government that have done more for our transport system than has happened in decades. That is in sharp contrast with what the Labour party did over 13 years in government, which was very little indeed.
Transport Funding: South-west
Figures for transport spend in the south-west show a significant increase—part of a pattern, Mr Speaker—totalling £1.7 billion in 2016-17 alone. That spend is helping to deliver a package of investment worth over £2 billion on the strategic road network in the south-west, as well as investing more than £400 million in the rail network.
I very much welcome the commitment to funding for the notorious A358 in my constituency, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State and Highways England listened to local concerns and my calls for a new consultation, which opened just this week with three proposals. However, I would like an assurance that the upgrade will deliver not only strategically, but for local people and for productivity in Taunton.
This is an important matter. The A303 and the A358 are a crucial part of our investment programme in the west country, and they will open up a new corridor for people travelling down to the south-west, but they do have to work for my hon. Friend’s constituents and others in the region, particularly for the new employment area next to the motorway in her constituency. I assure her that I will continue to work with her to ensure that the projects delivers both for the region and nationally.
There is some evidence that trains from Paddington to Bristol and onwards are much better, less crowded and more reliable. However, people face delays and overcrowded and unreliable trains when getting from the south-west to the midlands. Will the Secretary of State put some funding into those lines?
I am aware of the particular congestion problems on the CrossCountry franchise. We will be re-letting the franchise shortly, and I want to see longer trains with more capacity for passengers. All of us who travel on CrossCountry trains from time to time know that they are too short for the loads they carry, and we need to find a way of sorting that out.
I echo the concerns about CrossCountry trains. Even outside of peak services, cramped trains are increasingly the norm for my constituents, who are jam-packed into vestibules, and that comes on top of delays and cancellations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that CrossCountry needs to raise its game?
I do agree. This is a question, as it is across the country, of ensuring that we have longer trains for the future. That is central to our strategy and is what the private sector is delivering for our railways, and it needs to happen on CrossCountry trains as well.
On funding, Cardiff Central station—the busiest in Wales—is in urgent need of redevelopment to accommodate expected passenger growth of 22 million in the next five years. This week, our Labour council and the Welsh Labour Government announced their funding contributions and the private sector funding, but the project can go ahead only if there is UK Government funding, too. When will the funding be confirmed?
The important thing about Cardiff Central station is that there is huge development taking place around the station. I have met the developers and local politicians, and I want to see there what I want in other parts of the rail network, which is a real integration of station development with commercial development. That should be an absolutely integral part of what is happening all around the station, not just in the station project in its own right, and that is what I want to happen.
Road Links: Kent and the South-east
Highways England is making good progress with upgrades on the A2-M2 corridor to improve links to Medway and Kent, and the preferred routes for the A2 Bean and Ebbsfleet junction upgrades were announced in 2017.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Given the impressive growth and regeneration that Medway has seen over the past 20 years and will continue to see, I thank the Government for the £6 billion lower Thames crossing. Will the Minister confirm that the supporting local highways infrastructure programme will go along with the project so that areas such as Medway can fully benefit?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the lower Thames crossing is a transformational strategic road project with enormous benefits to Medway and to the region as a whole. We announced the preferred route last year, and we are now developing it further. On the local transport side, it is worth noting that the South East local enterprise partnership has secured nearly £600 million of funding from local growth funds, supporting around 30 transport schemes in Kent and Medway, in order to support the area’s continued economic growth.
I would be delighted to come with the hon. Lady to meet the residents of Botley and to discuss these concerns.
Last week there was a horrific crash in my constituency in which a car ran into a parked lorry. Three men have died and one is seriously injured. I am not attributing blame, as we do not know exactly what happened, but the Minister will know that lorry parking is a long-running problem in my area of Kent. Will he meet me and representatives of Kent County Council, drivers and lorry parks to see what we can do to speed up the provision of increased lorry parking?
I am very sorry to hear the news of the crash last week. I would be delighted, as always, to meet my hon. Friend and Kent County Council. She should know this is a topic of great interest to me and the Department. Indeed, I met freight operators only this week in part to discuss these very issues.
Passenger Rail Usage
Rail passenger journeys have more than doubled in the past 20 years, and journey numbers are at their highest level since the 1920s.
Journeys on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise fell for the first time last year as commuters shunned its shoddy services. The management contract given by DFT means the state has to shoulder a £90 million loss as a result, and Office of Rail and Road figures show that passenger numbers are starting to fall across the country. Is the franchise model sustainable if that continues?
Passengers are switching away from using traditional season tickets to using pay-as-you-go travel. They are choosing more flexible ticket options to suit their lifestyle. Changing travel behaviour may mean that historical assumptions about the number of journeys taken per season ticket are no longer appropriate. Although the number of passenger journeys is reported to have decreased recently, it does not necessarily mean that fewer people are using the railway network.
Violent attacks on trains have risen by 12.5% in the past year, and sexual offences on trains have doubled in the past five years. A Passenger Focus report in 2014 said that the most important factor identified by passengers is personal security on trains. Wales has guaranteed a guard on every train, and ScotRail has done likewise. When will this Secretary of State take responsibility for passenger safety on trains?
The introduction of new trains across almost the entire network, many of which will have CCTV, will play a significant part in ensuring that passengers can continue to travel safely.
There is a direct link between competition on the line, usage and lower fares. We welcome the fact that electrification is coming to Corby and I am grateful to Ministers for making that happen. Will they now look at options for extending Thameslink to Corby?
I would be happy to discuss that proposal with my hon. Friend. Electrification can play a part in improving passenger experience and reducing journey times, and it is one of the things the Department continues to look at closely.
One of the things deterring people from using the railways in the wintry weather we have had over the past few days is the failure of Northern Rail to properly grit some of the stations on its route, particularly Crossflatts in my constituency, making it hazardous for any passenger who wants to use those stations. Is there anything the Minister can do to intervene to make sure Northern Rail properly grits all its stations on the route so that people can use the railways safely?
I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. We continue to work closely with Network Rail to ensure the impact of severe weather on the system is minimised. Across road, rail and aviation, we want our transport system moving whatever the weather.
I always thought the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) had a substantial supply of grit all his own.
It is northern towns like the hon. Lady’s that are going to be some of the principal beneficiaries of the replaced train fleet across the country. Passengers in her constituency will have improved, more reliable, safer and more punctual services.
Transport Infrastructure: the North
As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are very committed to the northern powerhouse, and to giving the great towns and cities of the north of England more say over transport investment through Transport for the North. This Government are spending more than £13 billion to transform transport across the region—the biggest investment of its kind in the region for a generation.
The commencement of regional flights from Carlisle, which we hope will happen later this year, will be welcomed by my constituents. Will the Department look at ways to add additional services and to make it faster to reach central London from Southend?
I share my hon. Friend’s pleasure at the potential expansion of air services there, as elsewhere in the country. He should be aware that Greater Anglia provides train services from Southend Airport to London, and the entire franchise fleet is to be renewed, with more than 1,000 state-of-the-art vehicles and with the existing fleet retired by the end of 2020. That, combined with significant timetable changes, should mean that Greater Anglia is able to offer quicker, safer journeys, with reduced journey times, across the whole franchise—we are talking about something like 10%.
Is it not the case that if the Government had not given the £2 billion bail-out to the operators of the east coast line, they would have had sufficient money to fund every electrification scheme that has been cancelled, including the midland main line, and have funds left over?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there has been no bail-out. [Laughter.] I notice that Opposition Members are happy to quote from The Times, and may I remind them that the Secretary of State responded to the scurrilous editorial piece with a letter of his own setting out the position? There has been no bail-out of any kind.
I welcome the Minister to his post. On his opening remarks, may I remind him that there is a north beyond the northern powerhouse, and it is called Scotland? In general, in order to deliver high-quality, reliable rail services, funding needs to be based on the needs of the sector, taking account of future growth, the size of the network and essential maintenance. Does he agree with those sound principles?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the fact that the north goes beyond the northern powerhouse—of course, I entirely agree with him on that. That is why the Government are involved with the borderlands growth deal, the precise point of which is to work with local authorities on both sides of the border. He will be aware that the high-level proposition to the UK and Scottish Governments on that was submitted last year. We will continue to work on that, and of course we will continue to invest in roads, alongside that process, to the extent that we can.
On the principles I was trying to lay out, Scotland has 17% of the UK rail network but was allocated only 10.4% of the UK spend. The Government regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, has stated that £1.9 billion is needed for essential repairs and £2.3 billion is needed to meet future demand. So why was the funding formula cut and why were experts ignored, leaving Scotland with a £600 million shortfall?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there has been a fiscal settlement which has changed over time, very much in consultation with and with the support of the Scottish Government. Of course, any changes to UK funding in England will be followed by Barnett consequentials, with an impact in Scotland.
Well, investment does not seem to be working that well. The Carillion staff working on the Manchester-Bolton-Preston electrification project had their contract suspended this week. So can the Minister clarify this: should all these workers only expect the jobcentre phone number, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, or can he guarantee that these works, and all similar infrastructure undertakings, will continue to completion, with the current workforce, apprentices, supply chain and project plan?
The hon. Lady will be aware that this Government have made it clear that anyone turning up to work on those schemes through subcontractors will continue to be paid in the normal way. It is important to get that message out there, and not to spread misinformation or misunderstanding about it.
The problem with the Minister’s reply is that the vultures are already circling over the Carillion contract carcases, which will place these projects into future risk, not least as companies such as Interserve and Mitie have had profit warnings served in the last six months. So what due diligence has he instructed officials to undertake of all contractors, and will he end his market speculation by taking these contracts back in house?
Had the hon. Lady done her homework, she would know that there is almost no exposure to the rail sector through the companies that she mentioned. The fact of the matter is that the contracts have often been reinforced and proofed. Certainly on the road side, which I obviously know best—I can refer her question to the rail Minister—we have joint-venture partners that are jointly and severally obliged to pick up these obligations, and they will do so.
Transport Fuels: Renewable Sources
In September, we published our response to the consultation on amendments to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007. It set out proposals to meet the 2020 target and reduce carbon emissions from transport. A draft statutory instrument to implement the proposals was laid before Parliament on 15 January. Subject to parliamentary approval, the legislation will increase targets for the supply of renewable fuels from April 2018.
Progress on the RTFO is positive. Are the Government ready to introduce E10 petrol, which is already available in France, Germany and Finland? That would also help the UK’s bioethanol industry, which is an important employer in Teesside.
I am aware that the industry is an important employer, and it has been a matter of concern to Ministers to ensure that it continues to succeed. I met representatives from Ensus in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in November, and we have been having close conversations with them and others. E10 remains a commercial matter for the fuel suppliers. The RTFO encourages suppliers to use the most cost-effective solution. Our analysis suggests that E10 may not be required to meet the targets, but it may nevertheless be an attractive option for suppliers.
Abellio’s hybrid buses are generally a plus for the Uxbridge Road, but they are cancelled out by the ComfortDelGro group’s diesel vehicles, which pollute the lungs not only of my constituents on our major thoroughfare but of people all over the country, as they are standard vehicles. Surely the Government should be doing more to encourage best procurement practice and to rid our roads of dirty diesel.
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government are investing hugely in support for electric vehicles and in improvements to air quality across cities and other parts of the country. That is very much with a view to mitigating the effects of diesel fume particulates.
Fuel providers have stated that they require a Government mandate to introduce E10 fuel to avoid a breach of competition law. Will the Minister reconsider the possibility of mandating E10 fuel? If not, will his departmental lawyers work with fuel providers to overcome this legal hurdle?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. He will be aware that we have this matter closely under review, and we are continuing to discuss it with suppliers and forecourt operators. In some other EU countries, there has been no such mandate and there has nevertheless been significant take-up.
Southern Rail: Passenger Compensation
My hon. Friend knows full well that I absolutely understand the difficulties that his constituents have faced. I hope he will accept that performance has improved over the past year, since the height of industrial action. We have had compensation arrangements in place, including the special compensation for past disruption, which saw £13.6 million paid to 58,000 passengers. We have also taken steps forward on the ways to implement Delay Repay and will keep the situation under review.
On 2 December 2016, the Secretary of State said in a written statement:
“Southern passengers have suffered from unprecedented and sustained disruption to their journeys during 2016”,
and offered some very welcome compensation for season ticket holders. The problem is that Southern passengers suffered from unprecedented and sustained disruptions to their journeys during 2017 as well. In fact, the punctuality figures for the most recent quarter are even worse. When are my constituents going to be compensated this year?
As I said, additional compensation measures are in place now. The issues that network currently faces are all to do with the condition of the infrastructure. My hon. Friend will know that we have just announced two major closures to allow upgrade works to take place, and there is a substantial ongoing programme of investment in that route, which I hope will make a significant difference.
Bedford commuters will lose their fast peak train services in May. Many now do not know how they will balance work with their childcare arrangements. Does the Minister agree that Stagecoach should compensate these people and rail users who, by the Government’s admission, have borne the pain of the changes to the rail network timetable?
I cannot promise—I wish I could—no change and no disruption as a result of major investment programmes. The hon. Gentleman will know that the combination of the upgrade to the midland main line and the Thameslink programme must mean, for an interim period, changes to services. There will in fact be more seats from Bedford in peak hours. Of course, many of the east midlands trains arriving at Bedford are already full, so I absolutely regret the fact that we have to inconvenience passengers, but we cannot upgrade and improve the network without taking some difficult decisions.
Bus Journeys: England
The estimated number of passenger journeys made on local bus services in England in each of the past three years is as follows: 2014-15, 4.63 billion; 2015-16, 4.51 billion; and 2016-17, 4.44 billion.
My constituents regularly contact me to complain about infrequent and unreliable bus services. Does the Minister think that there is a link between that, the decline in bus usage, and the 33% cut to the bus budget since 2010?
What is striking is that in many ways there is so much to be optimistic about with the bus industry. When I talk to operators, I see great investments in technology and ticketing, and tremendous potential for the industry in the context of the air quality changes that have been made by this Government.
In Bristol, more than 85% of routes are provided by First Bus, which makes a healthy profit every year, but under current rules it cannot use those profits to subsidise commercially unviable routes, which may be really important to local people. Why cannot bus companies’ contracts stipulate that they have to run those services using their profits from income-generating routes, instead of letting them pocket the profits while the local council has to foot the bill?
It is not historically the job of Government to be intervening in the precise allocation of a company’s profitability. I note that there has been a substantial increase in journeys in Bristol, from 32.7 million to 39.9 million over the past three years. If the hon. Lady has some specific proposals, I will be happy to look at them.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I take this opportunity to record my gratitude to both the emergency services and railway staff for their outstanding response to the fire at Nottingham railway station last week, ensuring that everyone was safely evacuated. Damage was minimised and services were restored very quickly.
Around a quarter of all concessionary passholders’ bus journeys are for medical appointments, yet many struggle with inaccessible and irregular bus services, and seven years of cuts to supported services have only exacerbated those problems. Research from Age UK has found that 1.5 million people over 65 found it very difficult, or difficult, to travel to hospital appointments, and stressful, complicated or expensive public transport journeys inevitably lead to missed or cancelled appointments. Has the Minister discussed that pressing problem with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, and what does he plan to do to address it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and I absolutely associate myself with her support for the emergency services in relation to the fire in Nottingham.
In many ways, the concessionary fare scheme has been a colossal success, as the hon. Lady will be aware. Something like 12 million people have concessionary permits in this country and they make enormous numbers of journeys every year, heavily supported by Government.
Government cuts have led to the axing or downgrading of 400 bus routes, and passenger numbers are now at a 10-year low. Will the Minister reinstate those services, or, if he is unwilling or unable to do so, will he give local councils the power and resources that they need?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Opposition Front Bench, and I thank him for the question. Of course, these services are deregulated and operate, in many cases, in collaboration with local authorities, which receive substantial amounts of funding from central Government. We expect them to deploy that money as they see fit.
CAA: Pilot Health Requirements
The Civil Aviation Authority keeps such matters under constant review and has today announced that it will be issuing class 1 medical certificates with a restriction to applicants wishing to become commercial pilots where this is required for safety purposes.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the case of my constituent who has been denied his commercial pilot’s licence on the ground that he is HIV-positive. I am not entirely sure what the Minister’s answer means, but I hope it means that he will meet the CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency very soon to stop them passing the buck, and let this pilot fly.
To reassure the hon. Gentleman, my answer means that today the rules are being changed, and while I cannot give a certain outcome to an individual case, people who suffer from conditions that have made it difficult for them to become commercial pilots will find it easier to become commercial pilots, as the CAA takes—I think—a more sensible approach to this matter.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) about the emergency services’ response last week. I pay tribute to all those who carried out works across the rail network over Christmas, giving up their Christmas holiday period for the investment programme.
I am proud to be from a party of opportunity. We are a party of opportunity that provided this country with its first woman Prime Minister. Today, we are the party that provides the first Muslim woman Minister to speak from the Government Dispatch Box—my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). I congratulate her, and I am very proud to sit alongside her today.
The Secretary of State will be aware that Essex adds over £35 billion to the economy; but our businesses that want to grow cannot grow, because of poor transport infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend help those businesses by committing to back key projects such as the rail loop north of Witham, investment in the A12 and investment in the A120?
I absolutely understand the importance that my right hon. Friend places on transport links in Essex, which is why we are investing both in the county and across the country. Highways England is progressing the A12 improvements, which are now going through the consultation and design stages. On the railways, a number of improvements are required to the eastern main line, and the rail loop is one of those under consideration.
We are very closely studying the report by Transport for the North—a soon to be statutory body—and we will look at that scheme alongside others.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the guide dogs group to the attention of the House. The Government are committed to ensuring that disabled people have the same access to transport and opportunities to travel as everyone else. The Department for Transport is currently analysing the responses received to its draft accessibility action plan and will publish the Government’s response in the spring. The final action plan will be published in the summer, and will set out the Government’s ambition for this agenda, based on the feedback provided, and the Government’s timescales for delivery.
There has been absolutely no change to any part of the terms of that franchise; as of today, there is absolutely no change. It is business as usual. I have set out in this House the challenges, but as of today, to be clear, nothing has changed—neither the service specification nor the contracts for franchise.
Will the rail Minister be kind enough to agree to meet the Kettering rail users group to discuss how rail services might be improved to and from Kettering?
Of course I would be delighted to meet representatives from the Kettering rail users group, and my hon. Friend.
I absolutely understand the importance for the future of our maritime sector—of shipping goods by sea. Indeed, I recently had the pleasure of visiting Montrose port to see the important work that it does for the east of Scotland. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the maritime sector, while often not the highest-profile sector in these questions, is enormously important to this country.
While many of us were enjoying our Christmas lunches, an army of Network Rail engineers were working hard making improvements and repairs across the country. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating them on their hard work and thanking them for it?
We often fail to appreciate the hidden army of people who support our transport system. Those who turned out over the Christmas period—with some extraordinary work was done—deserve all of our thanks. Whether it is the improvements in the north-west, the expansion of Liverpool Lime Street that has taken place over recent months or the extraordinary work at London Bridge, north and south we are seeing huge investment programmes that will make a difference to the passenger experience.
I will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and colleagues about that. As he will be aware, the DFT was awarded £77 million at spring Budget 2016 for the upper Orwell crossings. That scheme was one of the first large local majors to be funded. We will happily revisit any discussion he wishes to have on this topic.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that many hospitals around the country do not have good public transport links? For that reason, will he write to the Health Secretary urging him to scrap hospital car parking charges?
As my right hon. Friend will know, the first debate I ever secured in the House of Commons was on car parking charges at Hereford Hospital—[Interruption.]
Will the Minister face the House, and then everybody can hear?
I apologise, Mr Speaker. My first ever debate in the House was on car parking charges at Hereford Hospital, so I absolutely understand and share my right hon. Friend’s concern. I am afraid that this has been the legacy of the Labour Government’s investment in private finance initiative projects in hospitals in the period up until 2010.
Since my appointment, in recent months I have had regular meetings with the US airlines and the US Federal Aviation Administration, and I have met and discussed these issues with my counterpart in the US Department of Transportation. We are making good progress with our successor arrangements for aviation after we have left the European Union.
On what evidence are the Government now pushing ahead with what I believe to be a flawed plan for expanding Heathrow? The updated national policy statement shows that it is more expensive, lower value, more congesting, noisier, and provides fewer connections. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this?
I know how strongly my right hon. Friend feels about this. She and I have had many conversations about it and I know that we will carry on doing so. She and I, of course, do not share the same view—I believe that this project is strategically important for the United Kingdom—but I am happy to carry on discussing it with her.
The hon. Gentleman will know that his predecessor secured from me a commitment to allow the local authority to use funding allocated for the improvements to the A27 to review what the best options are east of Lewes. I wait to see the response of that work.
With the initial consultation currently open on “Shaping the Future of England’s Strategic Roads”, will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State will look closely at the vital upgrade of junction 15 of the M6, serving Stoke-on-Trent?
I can certainly confirm that if that scheme is given the enthusiastic support of the local transport authorities involved, then we will look closely at it, as we would with all such bids.
We have two jobs to do for aviation post-Brexit. One is to conclude negotiations within the European Union, which will be part of the ongoing process of negotiating our successor arrangements, and the other is to negotiate successor agreements around the world. We are working on both those things right now.
On the east coast main line, rather than taking us back to the bad old days of British Rail, as the Labour party’s renationalisation proposals would do, will the Secretary of State instead consider the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations for more on-track open access choice and competition, with the far better quality and cost of rail services that it says would result?
There is no doubt that open access makes a difference. I do not think for a moment that those who, for example, live in Sunderland, Middlesbrough or Bradford and have services from Grand Central would say anything other than that open access has been a good thing. That is the area in which the private sector has really made a difference, bringing services to the network that never existed in the days of nationalisation.
With the Severn bridges at long last coming into public ownership on 8 January, will the Minister meet me to discuss the future operation of the bridges, including abolishing the tolls following the long local campaign?
I am sure the hon. Lady, on behalf of her constituents, will welcome the news that this Government are reducing or abolishing the tolls on the bridges. This will make journeys much more efficient and open up the area to much more economic opportunity. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss anything further.
At a recent meeting with senior HS2 personnel, they promised to provide all MPs along the route of HS2 with advance notice of construction works in their constituencies. They have not done this. Will the Secretary of State ensure that they keep their promises?
I absolutely will—no question. I expect HS2 to be good corporate citizens as it embarks on this huge construction project. If there are examples of its failing to do so, I invite all Members to come to me and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who will be leading within my team on HS2. We will want to make sure that, where it is humanly possible to do so, we do the right thing by all those on the route.
What progress is being made on delivering bus franchising powers for elected Mayors?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Bus Services Act 2017 has created those powers. We are in conversations—my officials are in conversations —with Mayors in Manchester and elsewhere in the country, and we remain very interested in having further conversations with other Mayors who wish to avail themselves of these powers.
When can we expect a decision on the Transport and Works Act order application for the improvement of the Hope Valley line? The public inquiry was in May 2016 and it reported in November 2016, but so far the Department has been unable to say when we will get a decision.
I will seek to gee things along. The Hope Valley line, as my right hon. Friend will know, is one part of the package of proposals—some new lines, some upgraded lines—that Transport for the North has brought forward for the northern powerhouse rail. I will seek to make sure that that process is concluded as quickly as possible.
Will the Government work with businesses that supply renewable fuels to see what impact the renewable transport fuel obligation has on them, and will they continue to look to develop E10?
We have already consulted quite extensively, and we will continue to work with those businesses.
May I welcome the new HS2 Minister to her place and take this opportunity to make an early plea, on behalf of the residents of Erewash who are directly affected by HS2, for an urgent review of the statutory compensation plans for residents and businesses and of the way in which HS2 Ltd is administering this process?
My hon. Friend has previously raised that with me, and I am pleased that she has raised it with me again today. I am more than happy to meet her and take on board any concerns she has on behalf of her constituents.
Has the Secretary of State had a chance to look at early-day motion 775 about taking musical instruments on to aeroplanes? In his coming discussions on aviation, will he take the opportunity to meet the Culture Secretary to talk about how we might solve this real problem for musicians?
An airline’s hand luggage policy is obviously a matter for the airline, but I am very happy to have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman about the issue. There may not be a simple solution, but I am always happy to talk to hon. Members about the challenges they face.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) on her appointment. Following her review of station accessibility, will she look carefully at the hundreds of applications from residents in my constituency for improvements at Stanmore and Canons Park stations which have not been provided by Transport for London, but will I hope be provided by the Government?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box, and of course I will meet him to discuss the matter further. I look forward to arranging that meeting.
The Minister may be aware that the level crossing in Pencoed in my constituency will now not be improved because of the cancellation of electrification, and that is causing access issues and considerable safety concerns. I made this request to the previous Minister, so will the new Minister now meet me, and a representative of Pencoed Town Council, to start the process of closing that level crossing and improving the highways around Pencoed?
Decisions on electrification do not and will not in any way impede safety improvements. We have announced a large amount of money over the next five years, and I am happy to see what we can do to move this issue on rapidly.
A very short question is required so, of course, I look in the direction of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne).
Is there an end to M3 night closures?
As my right hon. Friend will know, these are night closures because of the protections being offered to daytime running. Upgrading of smart motorway junctions has already taken place—junctions 2 to 4 are complete, and work on junction 6 is due to complete soon. Other work on junctions 9 and 14 is planned, but it has not yet commenced.
Can the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) match that brevity?
The previous rail Minister agreed to meet me to discuss the reopening of the railway line to Fleetwood. Will the new Minister honour that and get Fleetwood back on track?
I am very happy to honour that commitment.
Similarly brief, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).
I will speak quickly. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, 2018 is the year of engineering. Will the new Minister, my fellow Brummie, say what the Government are doing to increase diversity within the engineering profession?
I give the hon. Gentleman permission to breathe.
I feel obliged to respond to a fellow Brummie. I congratulate the engineering envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who I believe is sitting in the Gallery. The Government have launched the Year of Engineering—I did that myself on Monday at Crossrail—and we are particularly keen to open up engineering as a career for young girls and boys, especially those from black and Asian ethnic minorities. I urge Members to become ambassadors for science, technology, engineering and maths in their constituencies if they have not already done so.
The environmental impact assessment of the Government’s decision not to electrify the Midland main line north of Kettering has revealed that 25 times more savings in carbon emissions would have been achieved with that electrification. If the Government are serious about their new commitment to the environment, will they think again about that decision?
I expect to see a transformation of technology on our railways over the coming years, with the introduction of different types of battery electric hybrid trains and hydrogen trains, and I see that as a priority. I want the first hydrogen train to operate on our rail network within a short period of time.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please update the House on the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 22 January will include:
Monday 22 January—Second Reading of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 23 January—Remaining stages of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of a board member to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of an electoral commissioner.
Wednesday 24 January—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 January—Debate on a motion on joint enterprise, followed by a general debate on the proscription of Hezbollah. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 26 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 29 January 2018 will include:
Monday 29 January—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill.
Tuesday 30 January—Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, followed by motions relating to that Bill.
Wednesday 31 January—Opposition day (unallotted half day), subject to be announced, followed by a debate on motions relating to the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.
Thursday 1 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 February—Private Members’ Bills.
Mr Speaker, I am tempted to burst into song at this point, because a little bird has told me it is your birthday tomorrow, but I will spare the House that embarrassment and instead wish you a very happy birthday. And what better way to celebrate than by listening to the debates on tomorrow’s valuable private Members’ Bills proposed by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)? The first will ensure that homes are fit for human habitation and the second will give much greater protection from stalking.
This week we achieved a significant milestone by completing all stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in this place. We wish it well for its Second Reading in the other House the week after next.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the forthcoming business. I note, however, that the restoration and renewal debate will take place after an Opposition day debate, so that allows us half a day. That is quite surprising, given that the Government have tabled two motions, and it is almost like the motions were written for the previous debate. I can only think of a phrase that you, Mr Speaker, will be familiar with from tennis circles: the Government cannot be serious. It is as if the Joint Committee had never met. It took evidence and reported, but all the Government are doing through their motions is noting its report. Will they think again and retable the motions?
Last week, I asked for a list of ministerial responsibilities. I checked with the Vote Office today, and that has not been published, so will the Leader of the House please update the list?
The Prime Minister has made a speech on the environment, yet the Government vote against environmental protection and all the while trash Labour Wales. Let me put the record straight. She clearly has not read the briefing papers, because Labour Wales is either second or fourth in the world for recycling rates, depending on how they are calculated. Labour Wales introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in 2011; that happened in England in 2015.
Will the Leader of the House please explain why the Government are stifling growth in Wales? There has been no decision on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. The Government’s own independent report, written by a former Minister, backed the tidal lagoon’s “strong contribution” to the UK’s energy. One hundred businesses and Members from across the parties have called for a decision. When will the Government make a statement on their position, or are they putting politics before people?
Will the Government put people first—before politics—and support the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for a fund to help families with children’s funeral costs? Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Prime Minister actually said that the cost of burials is for the grieving? That might be right, but if the Prime Minister would meet my hon. Friend, she could explain that the fund would only be for those who cannot afford burial costs. Will the Government follow Labour Wales and do this in Martin Harris’s memory?
Will the Government respond to yesterday’s point of order made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and the motion passed in the Welsh Assembly yesterday about retaining Welsh law following our withdrawal from the EU?
It looks like we are back to the “casino economy”—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) has left the Chamber, but that used to be his favourite phrase—which brings devastation to people’s lives. Short sellers made £137 million when Carillion’s share price fell by 70% over the course of three trading days following the July profit warning. Hedge funds were betting on the collapse of the shares of a company that provides vital public services. When will the Government make a statement on the urgent steps that they are taking following Carillion’s insolvency? Will they set up a taskforce to support the innocent people who were doing their job on one day, but out of that job the next through no fault of their own?
When will the Government make a statement on why Richard Howson has a pay packet of £1.51 million from December, payable until October 2018, and is employed, while apprentices and other employees are being made redundant? May we also have a statement on why the Wood Group won a lucrative contract to carry out inspections, as the sole supplier, at the Government’s new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, with Mr Howson as a director? Could the Leader of the House say whether directors’ disqualification proceedings have started against him and the other directors of Carillion?
Banks were the beneficiaries of quantitative easing, so will the Government ask them to quantitatively ease small business suppliers and pay them within the Government’s own deadline of 30 days? Will the Government ensure that the prompt payment code is now mandatory and not voluntary? That is why we need a taskforce, with a grid and a timeframe, as well as a debate so that the Minister can update the House next week.
This week, we remembered Martin Luther King, and it is sad that the President of the United States did not follow the tradition of previous Presidents and do public service. Martin Luther King looked beyond the colour of people’s skin to the content of their character. We also remember Cyrille Regis, who died this week. He looked beyond the racist chants and provided inspiration to many.
We have been offered the Bayeux tapestry. It depicts events in 1066, but we prefer to remember another Frenchman, Jules Rimet, and the events of 1966.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you a happy birthday. I do not know whether you look at the horoscopes, but they say that Capricorns have a secret desire
“to be admired by their family and friends and the world at large”—
it could not be more apt.
I am not sure I am going to argue with that one.
I am very tempted to give an opinion about that, Mr Speaker, but perhaps in private rather than in public. At our recent outing with the Youth Parliament, I certainly think that you had universal approval. Its Members were certainly delighted with your support for them, as are many people right across the country who are very grateful for your interventions to support those who do not always have their voice heard, so I would concede that your Capricornian enthusiasm is being met well.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her comments and questions, and specifically for her point about Martin Luther King. I pay tribute to her, because she often raises the important progress that has been made on issues of equality. I am grateful to her for that, for what she is doing on the working group on harassment, and for her continual support through it for equality. That is incredibly important.
The hon. Lady asks about the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The reason for the motions is that we want to be very clear that this is a decision for the House. The House needs to decide whether we can afford to justify the work that undoubtedly needs to take place to restore this Palace—a UNESCO world heritage site, with over 1 million visitors a year—at a time when there are great fiscal constraints. It is a genuinely open decision that the House needs to make, and what the Government have sought to do, taking into account the broad range of views across the House on what should happen, is to put forward, first, an open discussion about whether the House is willing to bear the cost from the taxpayer’s purse. Secondly, if the House does believe that now is the time, we need to think about how can we go about doing these things to ensure the very best value for taxpayers’ money. That is incredibly important.
The hon. Lady asked me to look at the update of ministerial responsibilities. I will absolutely take that point away and do that.
The hon. Lady talks about environmental protections and the work that Labour has done on recycling in Wales. I would point out to her that this Government were a key contributor to one of the greatest and first truly global legally binding agreements to tackle climate change—the Paris agreement. We decarbonised our economy faster than any other country in the G20 during 2016. And, of course, there was the fantastic piece of news that in June 2016, for the first time, wind, nuclear and solar power generated more UK power than gas and coal combined. So the UK as a whole is doing an incredibly good job in decarbonising and tackling climate change. It is also this Government who have kept 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation through the 5p charge, which has generated £95 million to be spent on good causes. That is incredibly important.
The hon. Lady raises the issue of Swansea Bay. As she knows, that is still under review. It is an incredibly expensive project, so it is vital that we get good value for taxpayers’ money.
On the cost of burials for children, I am very sympathetic to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has raised this with me in the Chamber a number of times. I will continue to look at whether more can be done but, as hon. Members will be aware, funeral directors and/or local councils often pick up such costs. The question is whether there should be something more centrally managed to address that, but I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for what is a very good campaign.
The shadow Leader of the House talked about Carillion, which is an incredibly important issue for the Government, as all Members will appreciate. There was a statement just this week from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has made it clear that the Government are working on contingency plans. This is a very troubling time for many employees of Carillion, as well as those who are contractors and those providing public services. The Government will absolutely undertake to ensure that all public services continue to be paid for, and that those employees continue to be paid for the work that they do. There are many different resources for people, including a helpline from the Insolvency Service for businesses and employees who want more information. This is a difficult time, but the Government are doing everything they can, as rapidly as they can, to try to resolve issues and to preserve as many jobs as possible.
Order. As usual, a great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I am keen to accommodate the level of interest. However, it might be useful for the House to know that there is a Select Committee statement to follow, and that approximately 50 hon. Members are seeking to contribute to the two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee later today. Therefore, if I am to accommodate the level of interest, or to get anywhere near to doing so, there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.
I welcome the debate on restoration and renewal. I also welcome what the Leader of the House said about there being a genuine choice in that debate. It is important to do emergency repairs, but it is also quite right to reflect before we set up a delivery authority, because a lot of public money would be involved and we have to justify to our constituents that this is the right thing to do. May I therefore commend the Leader of the House on her approach?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is right: this needs to be a decision of the House. It is vital that we take into account the value and importance of this building as a historic national icon that attracts many hundreds of thousands of tourists, schoolchildren and so on, and that is, of course, the seat of our democracy. On the other side of the equation, it is vital that we consider the costs to the taxpayer and value for taxpayers’ money.
Happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker. The card is in the post; you will receive it tomorrow morning. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
As the repeal Bill heads off to the House of Lords, we have failed to address the devolution-threatening clause 11, even though we were promised that these issues would be dealt with by the Secretary of State in a series of Government amendments. Apparently it is all to be dealt with in the House of Lords—somewhere with which the Scottish people have no democratic relationship whatsoever. I really hope that this will all be resolved properly. To me—[Interruption]—it looks like we are taking power back—[Interruption.] Excuse my coughing; there was a bit of Theresa May about that.
To me, it looks like we are taking power back from, in some people’s words, unelected EU Eurocrats, only to hand it over to unelected Lords, aristocrats and bishops—but I suppose they are British unelected Lords, aren’t they? Apparently, to help the Government to get their Bill through the Lords, 13 new Government peers will be ennobled. And we have the gall to lecture the developing world about patronage and the quality of its democracy! Not to be outdone, apparently we are to get three new Momentum-style Labour Lords. I suppose those Comrade Lords will be donning the ermine for the few.
I suppose we should be grateful that we are at least getting half a day for restoration and renewal, but the Leader of the House seriously needs to think again about the time being afforded. There is huge interest in the issue, and I am already sensing the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) being wound up to spring forward and table a series of amendments. I appeal to the Leader of the House to think about the time allocated and to ensure that we get sufficient time to debate these issues, in which there is great public interest.
Talking about time, we wasted two hours yesterday on the simple process of recording our votes. Throughout the passage of the EU repeal Bill, we lost some 14 hours standing in packed Lobbies doing absolutely nothing. We have to seriously review how we do our work in this place. We have to replace the antiquated relic that is the way we vote in this House with electronic voting. I do not come to this House to stand in packed Lobbies; I come here to debate and to make sure that we participate. That is what our electors expect us to do; the Leader of the House has to get that sorted.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for, as ever, expressing myriad thoughts.
As has been made very clear, amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be tabled in the Lords, the sole reason being the fact that the constructive talks with the devolved Administrations have not reached a conclusion. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is better to get that right than to rush it.
The hon. Gentleman gave his view of the other House, of which he is plainly not a fan. My view, and the view of many Members, is that the other place does an incredibly valuable job in revising and improving legislation. There is some real expertise there, and we count on being able to add it to the work of this elected House. I, for one, support it.
The hon. Gentleman talked about restoration and renewal, and paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) for all sorts of jumping up and down. I have not seen my hon. Friend do that, but he and I have had many discussions about R and R, and will continue to do so throughout the process.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned electronic voting. The House has considered that in the past and will keep it under review, but, as we have seen over the last couple of days, after a period when the House has not sat, meeting in the Lobbies and having an opportunity to raise issues with Ministers and other colleagues and share information is often incredibly valuable. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position that it is all right for us, but I sometimes meet him to discuss issues that are of common interest across the House. I personally feel that the Lobby has a valuable role to play in our democracy.
One of the roles of the House is to scrutinise the work of the Government. May I ask my right hon. Friend to help me to obtain proper answers to two written questions that I tabled to the Department for Exiting the European Union about the publication of a position paper by the Government on services, which constitute 80% of our economy, and financial services, which will employ more than 1 million people, during the Brexit negotiations? The answers that I have received so far have been sent from an account called “No reply”, and they truly live up to that title.
I am genuinely sorry to hear that, and I shall be happy to take the matter up with the Department on behalf of my right hon. Friend. I should add, however, that—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said last night, when he paid tribute to many Members on both sides of the House—the Government have been shown to be listening very carefully to proposals for improvements to the Bill, and have adopted many of the suggestions made by members of all parties.
My constituency is plagued by dangerous drivers in high-performance cars. Loopholes in insurance rules mean that, although many are not adequately insured, they are able to abuse the system and stay under the police radar. May we have a debate about closing those loopholes to make our roads safer?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising an issue that is very important to people in her area, as she often does. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can discuss the specific examples that she has in mind.
I, too, welcome the motions relating to the repair and renewal of our historic Parliament. However, given that people and organisations throughout the country are having to make some really tough decisions, will the Leader of the House ensure that, having debated those motions, we exercise financial prudence in whatever decision we make about the future of the House?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that, whatever we do—whether we decide to look at the issue again later in the parliamentary Session, or whether we decide to take action now—at the heart of our decision must be the need to secure the best possible value for taxpayers’ money.
May I wish you a happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker? I would guess that we do not yet have to warn the London Fire Brigade about the potential for a conflagration from the cake.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for providing a debate on restoration and renewal in Government time, but on the basis of the application for a debate on the subject that the Backbench Business Committee has already received, I suspect that a half-day debate may not be sufficient to assuage Members’ thirst, and that a subsequent debate in Back-Bench time may well be necessary. An awful lot of Members are very interested in discussing the pros and cons because whichever option is taken will not be cheap, and there are significant potential costs to the public purse as a result of whichever option we go for.
There is also an important debate this afternoon about RBS Global Restructuring Group, but will the Leader of the House think about having a debate in Government time about banking practice generally in the aftermath of the international financial crisis? I am aware of significant numbers of additional cases involving Lloyds, Allied Dunbar and many other banks in the banking system that have caused grievous problems to SMEs around the country, putting people into penury.
I certainly, of course, would welcome the Backbench Business Committee deciding to have a further debate on R and R. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the demand for debate on that. If Members want to do a tour of the basement to avail themselves of some very useful information prior to the debate, the engineers stand ready to provide those at their convenience. It is very enlightening, so if you—I am sorry, if Members—I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, have already done it—wish to do that, please do.
The hon. Gentleman raises the important point about the way banks have treated SMEs. As City Minister, I had some grave concerns about that and investigated a number of cases. I am sure that he will have support from hon. Members if he wants to suggest further debates at the Backbench Business Committee.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for awarding me and 19 other colleagues a debate on the restoration and renewal of Parliament on Thursday 1 February because this has now forced the issue and we are now going to have a good debate. Can the Leader of the House say more about that?
If the second motion comes up for a vote because the first motion has not been passed, will the second motion be amendable? The motion I was going to put down for the Backbench Business Committee day debate was amendable, and was on the clear premise that, while we would set up a sponsoring authority, it would be on condition that this debating Chamber should stay in the Palace for the whole time. So if the second motion is passed, it is very important that it is amendable, so that this point of view can be put to the House.
Because of the seriousness of the decision before the House, the two motions will not be amendable; it will be a case of either the first motion or, if that falls, the second motion.
Today’s Financial Times reports pandemonium at some Carillion construction sites, and at PMQs yesterday there were no answers to concerns about the future of thousands of apprentices across the country, and there is much complexity over the various pension pots. May we have a Government statement on their progress in responding to this calamity?
We are of course taking every possible action to try to resolve the inevitable uncertainty when a company of this size gets into financial difficulties. The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the issues for apprentices. My right hon. Friends are looking very carefully at what can be done. For those seeking advice, a webpage has been set up by the Insolvency Service, and there is also a dedicated website set up by the special managers PwC to provide more information to those individuals. The Government have set up a group to discuss the issues with trade unions and industry representatives, so as to be able to ensure that we get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.
Order. At approximately 11.40 am we will need to move on to the next business, so may I very gently say to colleagues that although I understand the desire to give some context and preamble before asking a question, Members who now proceed with what is probably a scripted and rather long question will be doing so knowing that they are stopping colleagues taking part? So may I appeal to colleagues to help each other?
We need a debate on Carillion. We have had a disaster in Taunton, just outside my constituency, where the roadworks went over time and over budget. It was a shambles. It is time to have a debate now, please.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which the Government are looking closely at. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate on any specific issues that relate to his constituency.
Is the Leader of the House aware that many people believe that the pressure on the health service is partly due to the collapse of the social network support services in our communities? May we have an early debate on what is going on in community support services?
There are many community support services that do an incredibly good job in further supporting people’s health needs, not least those involving the health implications derived from loneliness. The Prime Minister has announced that we have now appointed a new Minister to tackle that specific issue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that the NHS is now funded even more than it ever has been, with a further £6.3 billion of new funding announced in the Budget. The Government are determinedly tackling the need to recruit more doctors and nurses and to ensure that the NHS is able to meet the very particular demands that it faces this winter.
Did the Leader of the House see the opinion poll last week that showed that 84% of the people want money to be diverted from the overseas aid budget to the NHS? May we have a debate and a vote on this issue, so that we can see how out of touch this House is, once again, with public opinion at large?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that she will ensure that the generosity of the British people towards international aid is put to the best use, and that she will be ever more demanding that we focus on those areas that other Governments cannot begin to deal with themselves. It is important to focus on the UK’s generosity with regard to aid in crisis, to supporting the rights of women and girls and to dealing with some of the problems of the very poorest in the world. It is the right balance that we should give to those who are far worse off than we are, as well as increasing funding for our vital NHS, as we have done.
May I wish you a happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker? Last week, I visited the Cudworth food bank, and I want to pay tribute to its work. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on food poverty and on why, following the roll-out of universal credit, this Government think it is acceptable for my constituents to choose between heating and eating?
I echo the hon. Lady’s tribute to the work of volunteers in food banks. They do a fantastic job. With the roll-out of universal credit, the Government have listened to Members across the House and to Citizens Advice. We have raised the value of advances. We have also ensured that people can get their universal credit on day one. We have reduced the waiting time to nothing and enabled transitional funding for people who are in private housing accommodation. People are always better off in work, but these measures will ensure that, as they transition to universal credit, the transition is made easier for them.
Following the publication of the motions on restoration and renewal, may we have a statement to update the House on what lessons have been learned following the reported cost overruns on the current Elizabeth Tower project?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was extremely concerned to hear about the cost overrun on the Elizabeth Tower. The House authorities were certainly also disappointed, and they have learned lessons. They have tried to ensure that the proposal for an Olympic-style delivery authority to oversee the restoration and renewal of the Palace will reflect the absolute need to ensure that the project, if it happens, is done with the best value for money for the taxpayer in mind and the tightest possible control on costs.
In 2017, 80 people were stabbed and murdered in London, and there were 37,000 knife-crime offences—an increase of 26%. This is an epidemic and a tragedy, and it must stop. The current approach is clearly not working, and a new approach is required. We need a cross-departmental debate in Government time on how to tackle the root causes of youth violence, so will the Leader of the House schedule time for one?
All Members are incredibly concerned about the incidence of knife crime, particularly among young people. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office is reviewing the matter and taking evidence and will be coming out with proposals for how to tackle the problem.
Jo Cox was a fantastic advocate for improving the lives of those who suffer from loneliness, and it is brilliant that that work will continue through the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness with the support of the Minister for Sport and Civil Society. May we have a debate on what more can be done to ensure that nobody, young or old, finds themselves alone and without social interaction?
My hon. Friend is right, and I am happy to pay tribute to Jo Cox’s work, which inspired the Commission on Loneliness in her name. It is shocking that more than 9 million people in the UK always or often feel lonely. The Minister for Sport and Civil Society will now take forward the important work that the Jo Cox Commission has started, and I wish her great success. For my part, tackling loneliness is one of my top priorities in my constituency of South Northamptonshire, and we have tried to establish regular coffee mornings in some of my 92 villages, which goes some way towards getting people out to meet each other.
May we have a statement from the Education Secretary about the completely inexplicable decision by the Education and Skills Funding Agency to reject Exeter College’s bid to continue to deliver apprenticeships in local small businesses, despite it having one of the best records in England? I warn the Government that there will be serious consequences for the provision of apprenticeships in my local area.
I am sorry to hear about that. I encourage the right hon. Gentleman either to seek an Adjournment debate or to raise the matter at Education questions since it is a very specific point.
At a time when Cheltenham General Hospital needs capital investment in its emergency department, will hon. Members have the full opportunity to make the point that spending wildly disproportionate sums on this place will be unacceptable to my constituents and risks damaging the very democracy that we seek to uphold?
My hon. Friend is a keen advocate for his constituency. That is precisely the reason why we need to discuss affordability and value for taxpayers’ money as we seek to restore this Palace of Westminster, which is old and in a bad state of repair.
Following the restoration and renewal debate, may we have a debate in Government time about making this place and all public buildings truly autism-friendly?
The hon. Lady raises a good point. In looking at restoration and renewal, there is no doubt that considering issues such as autism-friendliness and making facilities appropriate for other disabilities will be absolutely vital should we decide to spend the money to repair this place.
May we have an urgent statement on the sensitivities around domestic violence? My right hon. Friend will know of recent tragic fatal cases in my constituency. Sadly, a senior Labour councillor, Mike Danvers, made a joke yesterday about beating one’s wife and, incredibly, that was supported as a colloquialism by the manager of Harlow and District chamber of commerce. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should condemn that, that the councillor should resign, that the manager of the chamber of commerce should apologise, and that we should be sensitive about domestic violence?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. There is nothing funny or at all amusing about domestic violence, and I certainly agree that people in public life need to be extremely careful about the jokes they make. I reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government are absolutely committed to stamping out domestic violence. We will be introducing a draft domestic violence and abuse Bill. Tomorrow, we will be considering the Stalking Protection Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It is vital that we do everything we can to stamp out domestic violence.
In 2006, Algeria introduced a decree stipulating that permission must be obtained from the state before using a building for non-Muslim worship. Since then not a single permission has been given to build new church premises and many churches have been closed. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement outlining steps to encourage the Algerian Government to cease the closure of churches and to issue permits so that churches can continue?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about religious freedom, as he often does in this Chamber, and I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate to take it further.
May we have a debate on the importance of the marine environment? Many of my constituents have written to me on this subject. Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating the excellent steps the Government are taking to ban microbeads?
I am delighted to share my hon. Friend’s pleasure in the Government’s work on banning microbeads used in some cosmetics and other products. She is right that protecting our marine spaces is vital, and this Government have done so much. We are creating a marine blue belt around our overseas territories, and we are determined to stamp out the problem of plastics in our oceans.
In a Public Accounts Committee hearing this week, we heard the explosive fact that learndirect did not just take Ofsted to judicial review over its damning report but took out a super-injunction that served to stop Government bodies discussing learndirect during that time. That is outrageous behaviour. May we have a debate on the conduct of companies funded by public money?
The hon. Lady has great expertise in this area, and she raises an important point. I can tell her that the chief executive of learndirect has written to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee on this issue. On learndirect’s specific legal costs, the Department for Education defines what is eligible expenditure of moneys provided for training but, as she would expect, any income over and above that can be used at the provider’s discretion.
Will my right hon. Friend provide for a debate in Government time on the progress of domestic preparations to leave the EU, both with and without a deal?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has the appetite for yet more debate, over and above the 64 hours we have just gone through. There will be many opportunities to have further debates and discussions. I absolutely assure him that the Government are determined to make sure that we leave the European Union in a way that works very well for our EU friends and neighbours and for the United Kingdom.
This week Public Health England showed that in the most deprived parts of the country that are hit hardest by austerity, such as my constituency in Hull, life expectancy has fallen since 2011, breaking a peacetime trend going back to Victorian times. Can we please have a debate in Government time on why this has happened?
I also saw that report, which is of course very concerning. As I understand it, there are complex reasons for the fall, some of which are related to lifestyles, loneliness, mental health and so on. It needs to be carefully considered. If the hon. Lady wants to discuss the issues affecting her area in particular, I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate.
A number of constituents have contacted me asking that the Government stick to their manifesto pledge to replace inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of Roman Catholic schools. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the new Secretary of State for Education comes to the House to update us on the Government’s progress?
My right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education has quite a lot to grapple with in his first few days, but I am sure he will be delighted to answer questions on that subject at the next Education oral questions.
I have received some wonderful and moving letters from young constituents at Garnetbank Primary School and St Mungo’s Academy regarding the unfair treatment of asylum seekers and refugees under the current family reunion rules. May we have a debate on all those issues so we can all stand up for refugee children across the world?
The issue of refugee children is a very grave one, and this country has been very generous in taking in refugee children. As the hon. Lady will know, the UK-French summit is taking place today; there will be further discussions at the summit about refugee children who are trying to cross over into the United Kingdom. We can all be proud of the fact that Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the UK resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU member state.
I remind the House that a world heritage site is one that is of great importance to current and future generations across the world. I seek an assurance that in the difficult choices we have to make on the restoration of this building, we will be considering not just our own purposes in this building, but those who visit every year.
My hon. Friend is exactly right; that is the choice facing us. This is an incredible building and it is not just of value to us. We have more than 1 million visitors here every year; many tourists come here, and hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren come here as an iconic part of their education. This is one of the most famous sites in the world, so we have a duty, not just to ourselves but to our fellow countrymen and to the next generation of schoolchildren, to ensure we make the right decision.
One of my communities, Portland Street in Hanley, is being blighted by the sale of black mamba. Drug deals are being done in a BT phone box, conveniently turned away from CCTV. I have asked BT to move it, as have the police and the council, but because of what it is being used for it is making money. May we have a debate in Government time about businesses’ responsibilities to local communities who are suffering crime?
The hon. Lady has done a good job in raising this issue in the House today, and I am hopeful that she will see some pretty rapid action as a result. I encourage her to seek a Back-Bench debate on the subject of what more businesses can do. Many of them are very diligent in supporting their communities, but she is right to say that all businesses should be doing the same.
If we want to make our economy fit for the future and ensure we have the secure, well paid jobs people in my constituency desire and deserve, improving productivity is key. May we have a debate on improving productivity, particularly given the recent Office for National Statistics figures showing the largest quarterly rise in UK productivity since 2011?
My hon. Friend is quite right; the excellent productivity news is good, but there is much more to do. Britain’s productivity has long lagged behind that of our competitors and has been weak ever since the financial crisis of 2009-10. That is why our industrial strategy is focused on improving productivity, investing in research and development, improving skills, upgrading infrastructure and promoting the best possible environment for new and growing businesses.
Leaving aside my views on the project, the Government’s approach to restoration and renewal has today moved from circus to farce. It is approaching 18 months since the Committee I served on reported, with clear recommendations. If the Leader of the House is to take this House seriously and wants a proper debate, will she allocate a full day, make sure the motions are substantial and amendable, and come back again to ensure that the issue is given a proper debate?
It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman says the Government are not taking this seriously. This is a matter for the House; the House needs to decide whether taxpayers’ fiscal issues can be outweighed on balance by the need to restore the Palace of Westminster. It is properly a debate for the House, and Government time is being given to that. Hon. Members will recognise that the Government have moved the date to a Wednesday for the convenience of Members, who made it clear that they did not want this debate to take place on a Thursday. What the Government are doing is facilitating a discussion and a decision by Members of this House, and it is right that we should do that.
As the second most fatal cancer, bowel cancer kills 16,000 people every year. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the bowel cancer screening team at Kettering General Hospital on the 10th anniversary of their successful and life-saving work, which has detected 800 cancers and 3,000 potential cancerous growths? May we also have a statement from the Department of Health and Social Care on similar successful initiatives across the NHS?
I am very happy to pay tribute to Kettering General Hospital for those excellent results. We should all be proud of the Government’s target of better results for cancer patients overall.
I am delighted that, as the Leader of the House said, the Government will tomorrow support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on the fitness of housing for human habitation, especially as it represents a damascene conversion from their previous stance. Will the Government also support my private Member’s Bill on the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector companies that undertake public sector contracts? Such an extension might have alerted us sooner to the chaos at Carillion that both the company and the Government kept to themselves for too long.
I am certainly happy to look into what the hon. Gentleman says. He will appreciate that private Members’ Bills are exactly that and that it is for the Member to seek support from right hon. and hon. Members from all parties. I wish him luck in doing that.
As we start to debate the restoration and renewal of the House, will my right hon. Friend reassure us that as part of that debate we will consider the safety and security not only of Members and the people who work here but of the people who visit? That is so important.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right to raise the fact that when we restore the House we will address, largely, some of the issues relating to safety in this place. There are risks from problems with water, electricity, sewage and asbestos, and there are risks of fire and so on. The House is always maintained at a safe level, but there is no doubt that its restoration and renewal would solve those problems for much longer than we are able to ensure with the “patch and mend” approach that we currently have to take.
In the Welsh Assembly yesterday, Mark Isherwood, a Conservative Member, won by 31 to two a vote on a motion asking this House to re-legalise medicinal cannabis. Will the Government follow suit and give a fair wind to my private Member’s Bill, which would liberate seriously ill people from the threat of prosecution for using their medicine of choice?
The hon. Gentleman has championed this issue in the House. As he knows, the Government keep the matter under review, but it is not our policy to legalise the use of cannabis.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made on improved co-operation on intelligence, defence and security, along with the decision to allow more unaccompanied child refugees to come to this country, which will result from President Macron’s visit today?
I think we all welcome President Macron’s visit to discuss further co-operation between the British and French. We already have a very strong bilateral relationship with France, particularly, as my hon. Friend mentions, on matters such as security and the migrant situation in Calais. I am sure that updates will be provided to the House following today’s summit.
My constituent Gemma Hartnoll founded the charity Wings Cymru to tackle period poverty. Too many young people in schools, homeless people and those who need food banks cannot afford sanitary products. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can tackle this very personal and intimate crisis?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about this issue, which can be humiliating for young people. I absolutely empathise with her point and encourage her, at least in the first instance, to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can hear from a Minister what more can be done.
Earlier this week, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee published an important report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK that highlights some serious safety concerns about 1 million Whirlpool tumble dryers and plastic-back fridge-freezers. The matter requires an urgent response from the Government, so when can we have a statement?
I encourage my hon. Friend to write to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to seek its thoughts. I would be happy to take up the matter on his behalf.
In the light of the collapse of Carillion, do the Government intend to make a statement on the decision to award the Department for Work and Pensions facilities management contract to Interserve, another company with huge debts and a large pension deficit that has issued numerous profit warnings?
As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already made a statement, and I am sure that he will make further such statements. The Government are very focused on looking at this from every aspect. I have been absolutely reassured that all Government contracts are kept closely under review, as indeed the ones with Carillion were. As she will know, the decision was taken following profit warnings that Carillion contracts would be awarded as joint-venture contracts, to ensure continuity should something happen. Equally, she must understand that profit warnings in themselves do not mean that it would be legitimate then to rule out a company from being able to accept Government contracts.
Order. The pressure is growing for short single-sentence questions without preamble, to be brilliantly exemplified, I feel sure, by Mr Drew Hendry.
The Government continue to fail to act on the fact that consumers in the highlands and islands pay 2p to 6p more per unit for their electricity than those in other areas due to unfair network and distribution charges. May we have a debate in Government time on how to end the shabby treatment of people in the highlands and islands and other rural areas?
That is an issue that I was very concerned about as Energy Minister, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, to a large extent, electricity prices in the highlands and islands and the subsidies and extra support are a devolved matter. There were many debates on fuel poverty and on the support available for people through that. What the Government are doing, which is not a devolved matter, is introducing the energy price cap. The Prime Minister has made it her personal priority to bring forward proposed legislation to ensure that people are treated fairly.
Cardiff Central Labour councillor Ali Ahmed is currently in Bangladesh with representatives of the Cardiff Bangladesh association, presenting a £40,000 cheque for the Rohingya relief effort. May we have a debate in Government time on the genocide caused by the Burmese military, which has created the refugee problem in Bangladesh?
The whole House is very concerned about the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by Burma’s military. Many Rohingya have been killed and more than 650,000 have fled to Bangladesh. The hon. Lady will be aware that the UK is one of the biggest donors to the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the Department for International Development has stepped up efforts with an additional £59 million to support the latest influx of refugees. We had a debate only recently on the plight of the Rohingya people, and she may well wish to seek a further Backbench Business debate to hear more from Ministers.
Can we have a debate or a statement on the public services in relation to the retention of pay? As the Leader of the House will know, many staff are leaving their profession—teachers and public service workers—and there have been closures in Coventry. Can she do something about that?
I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about retention of public sector staff. [Interruption.] Yes. As he will be aware, in the NHS, for example, there will be 5,000 new nurse training places each year starting this September. The Government are committed to ensuring that we retain staff: for example, many more teachers are returning to teaching following a career break. What is important is not just retention, but attracting people back after a period of time and of course getting new people into public sector professions, which is something on which the Government are focused.
May we have a debate on the capacity of UK border and immigration MP hotlines? My office needs to urgently raise the case of Gospel Ocholi, a talented young footballer and refugee who wants to take part in a Partick Thistle training academy in Portugal. Can a Minister come to this House and explain how MPs are supposed to raise these cases if we cannot get through to the hotlines?
If there is a problem with hotlines, the hon. Gentleman should raise it with the Department. I am happy to do it on his behalf if he emails me, and I will take it up for him. With regard to the individual case, he could perhaps raise it at departmental questions.
This Chamber rightly sees a lot of robust partisan politics, but we should never forget the ethos of public service, which I believe motivates the vast majority of elected representatives in the UK. There was no better example of that than my friend and colleague Councillor Kieran Quinn, the leader of Tameside Council, who tragically collapsed on Christmas eve and died on Christmas day. He was just 56. I know that there are many colleagues who plan to be in Greater Manchester for the funeral on Monday. I ask the Leader of the House to join me in praising the life, work and commitment of local leaders like Kieran, who do an incredible job in difficult circumstances, often at great cost to themselves and their families.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to his constituent councillor, and to all those who give so much of their time, very often unpaid or by working extra time that is unpaid, in serving their community. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.
May we have a statement about the impact of the removal of employment and support allowance mortgage interest support on people such as my constituent Jonathan Parsons, registered blind, who had paid into the system all his working life?
I am sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. He may want to raise that at departmental questions as a specific constituency case.
TotsBots in my constituency manufactures eco-friendly reuseable nappies, but there have been examples of companies that are falsely advertising and the nappies go to landfill sites. May we have a debate in Government time about false advertising and the damage it causes to parents?
False advertising is incredibly harmful, and if the hon. Gentleman has examples of such incidents he should certainly raise them with the Department. He may well wish to initiate an Adjournment debate on that.
Last Friday, Nottinghamians woke up to the awful news that our recently redeveloped train station was ablaze. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time to consider the terrific work done by Nottinghamshire fire and rescue and the police and council in tackling the fire and having things running again within a day?
I think we all realise what a debt of gratitude we owe to our fire officers, who do such an amazing job, so quickly and at so great a risk to themselves. I absolutely pay tribute to them, alongside the hon. Gentleman.
With my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), I would like to request an urgent debate about requiring private companies providing public services to be subject to the same standards of openness and transparency as the public sector, so that companies like Carillion can no longer hide behind commercial confidentiality.
The hon. Lady raises an important point, again in the context of what has happened with Carillion. She may rest assured that the Government will be looking carefully at whether we can improve processes as a result of this experience, but equally she must recognise that there is great value to the taxpayer in being able to use private sector companies to deliver some services that are of much better value and efficiency to the public sector than bringing them all in-house.
On 6 December 2017, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave undertakings with regard to an amendment in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. May we have a statement clarifying the record and explaining why it was not met?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take that matter up directly with the Secretary of State at Scotland Office questions.
Only Iran and the House of Lords, with its bishops, incorporate religious clerics into their legislatures, and next week in the House of Commons we will have Church of England questions. May we have a debate in Government time about moving away from a medieval set-up and separating the UK state from the Church?
The hon. Gentleman mentions an extremely controversial idea, which would have significant constitutional implications. As a first port of call, he may well wish to raise that at Church Commissioners questions next week.
Mr Speaker, I am grateful for being called last—it gives me an additional chance to exercise. Will the Leader of the House recognise the concerns of hard-working GPs in Plymouth that primary care is in a state of crisis, with GPs working to the point of exhaustion? May we have a debate about the state of primary care?
GPs do a fantastic job and we are all incredibly grateful to them. We know that they are under pressure. We know that there are numerically more doctors now than ever before, but equally there are greater demands on their time than ever before. That is why the Government have provided an extra £6.3 billion of funding for the NHS at the last Budget, to ensure that we can meet the demands that are being made on GPs and others.
I am very grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their succinctness in enabling us to finish on schedule.
We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Mr Stephen Twigg, will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which—I remind colleagues who have forgotten the procedure, or inform them if they were not aware of it—no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and invite the hon. Gentleman to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. The Front Bench may take part in questioning. I call the Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Mr Stephen Twigg.
Bangladesh and Burma: Rohingya Crisis
Select Committee on International Development
Select Committee statement
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me time, on behalf of the International Development Committee, to speak to the House today about our second report of this parliamentary Session, “Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya Crisis”.
The scale and depth of the suffering of the Rohingya has rightly given rise to substantial activity in this House. As well as inquiries by my Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, we have had an urgent question, debates both on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall, and a significant number of parliamentary questions. The International Development Committee is examining DFID’s work in Bangladesh and Burma, and this report is our first output.
The dire circumstances of the Rohingya are of course ongoing. In addition to the £59 million that DFID has allocated to humanitarian aid for the Rohingya, there will doubtless be calls for further emergency relief as this crisis continues. Additionally, DFID’s budget for more conventional, longer-term development aid in Burma and Bangladesh next year will total about £170 million. We are examining that in the next stage of our inquiry.
I pay tribute to the people and the Government of Bangladesh and to the many organisations and individuals who have been working in Cox’s Bazar and elsewhere to assist the Rohingya people. The Rohingya have been devastated by decades of marginalisation and abuse, leading to the events of the past six months, which the United Nations has rightly described as a
“textbook example of ethnic cleansing”
perpetrated by the Burmese security forces. This week we have heard deeply disturbing reports of a possible agreement between the Governments of Bangladesh and Burma to repatriate displaced Rohingya. The potential return of over 100,000 Rohingya to Burma without any clear understanding of their legal status or knowing anything about their final destination is of course of very grave concern.
Early in the conflict, the Government presented a five-point plan to help galvanise the international community into action. The plan involves the cessation of violence by the Burmese; guaranteed humanitarian access to the affected parts of Burma; repatriation, but only on a voluntary basis, with safety guaranteed; full implementation of the Annan advisory committee’s recommendations; and, crucially, full, unimpeded access for, and co-operation with, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission. Our evidence is unequivocal that none of those strands of the plan are anywhere near being realised today.
Our report looked at the previous periods of displacement of the Rohingya and, indeed, other minority groups over the past two decades. In no instance was the outcome satisfactory, and the Committee has little confidence that it will be any better this time. The idea that the Rohingya could be returned to live in internment camps controlled by the Burmese military is surely completely unacceptable.
We welcome the £59 million commitment that the United Kingdom Government have made to respond to the crisis, and, in particular, the swiftness with which that was pledged. However, the Government of Bangladesh have told us that they expect the cost of effective provision of basic services for the displaced Rohingya eventually to total more than £1 billion. The Geneva conference in October secured commitments to provide about a quarter of that sum—£266 million. There is clearly still a huge funding gap, and other donors need to rise to the challenge in the way that the UK Government, to their credit, have done.
We expressed particular concern about large-scale gender-based violence committed by the Burmese military. This is not something new. Predecessor International Development Committees have reported on this, in 2006 and 2014. The Governments of the time, in their responses to those reports, agreed with the Committees’ harrowing assessment about the Burmese army using rape as a weapon of war. Our own evidence heard that this situation is, if anything, worse than ever. ActionAid stated in its evidence to us:
“Girls as young as 5 years of age have been reported to have been raped by multiple uniformed actors, often in front of their relatives. There are reports of rapes being widespread, extremely violent, and accompanied by mutilation. There are reports of pregnant women being attacked and their foetuses removed from their bodies.”
We were very disappointed that the Government seem reluctant to commit their full specialist sexual violence team to the region. This flies in the face of the commitment made by the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague to give a big focus in UK policy to this issue. In conflicts where rape, sexual violence and torture are used, it is essential that official, contemporary, reliable evidence-gathering by forensic professionals occurs as quickly as possible. The Burmese Government’s claim that they have investigated and that their investigation clears their armed forces of wrongdoing are, in the words of our own Government, “simply not credible”.
There are also issues arising in the camps in Bangladesh. Poor lighting, the lack of privacy around toilets and washing facilities, and the absence of any security for women and girls who work outside the camps have created an environment that is fundamentally unsafe, particularly for women and girls. As we were told in evidence, women and girls are therefore more likely to be victims of trafficking, and more likely to find themselves forced into early—including childhood—marriages.
The most effective way to deal with any crisis is of course to prevent it from happening in the first place. There is nothing new about this situation with the Rohingya. Human Rights Watch has been reporting on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and asking for action by the international community since at least 2013. Since 2015, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s early warning project has identified the Rohingya as one of the world’s vulnerable populations most at risk of genocide. The disparity between what the international community was saying about the conflict and what we were told by these civil society organisations is very stark. Its effect is that there has not been the quick, effective response from the international community that might have prevented this from happening.
In fact, our evidence suggests that in some ways the opposite has happened. The continued engagement by the United Kingdom and other countries with the Burmese authorities seems to have been interpreted by their military as tacit acceptance of their treatment of the Rohingya people. We also note that there has been considerable over-optimism about the speed and breadth of democratic reforms in Burma.
In conclusion, the Rohingya crisis provided the international community with an immediate test case for the 2016 consensus reached at both the world humanitarian summit and the New York declaration on displaced people, including refugees. It is clear that the commitments made in 2016 have been tested to destruction by this crisis. It is vital that the United Kingdom continues our commendable commitment to humanitarian aid. The five-point plan is welcome, but it would be totally unacceptable for repatriation even to be considered until we see fundamental change in Burma itself. Surely we owe it to the Rohingya refugees and to the Rohingya who still remain in Burma to continue to give the House’s attention to the crisis. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the House for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue today.
I know there is a problem with UN peacekeeping in the region, but what is the feeling about the Security Council coming to an agreement to put in peacekeepers? There is a dire need for them.
That is a very important question. It falls a little outside the remit of our inquiry, so it is not a matter on which we took a lot of evidence or reached conclusions in the report. The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point, and it may be an issue on which our Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee can work together. Ultimately, if there is to be a point at which the Rohingya feel they can go back, they will need guarantees, and I personally think he is right that peacekeepers could form part of the solution.
I thank the Chair and all members of the International Development Committee for an informative report that goes further than previous reports. Does my hon. Friend agree that there continue to be serious concerns regarding the terms and conditions of repatriation? Where will refugees return to when all their houses and villages have been burned? What human rights protections will people be afforded once they return, and what stops genocide happening again? Surely the British Government must now change their stance, which is more focused on the rights of the Rohingya as opposed to the transition to democracy. The Rohingya must have a voice at the table if we are to achieve democracy.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his passionate advocacy of the Rohingya cause. I know that his constituency contains a significant Rohingya diaspora community, on whose behalf he speaks. I agree that the Government’s approach needs to place greater emphasis on the protection of the Rohingya, and indeed other minorities in Burma—that was what we alluded to when we said that there was “over-optimism” about the pace of democratic reform in that country. I also agree that conditions simply are not yet there, and—to put it bluntly—are unlikely to be there in the foreseeable future, to allow any significant voluntary return of the Rohingya to Burma.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s report—he is a good friend—and I thank him for continuing the work that many of us have taken up on the Rohingya cause and for the work of his Committee in broadening out into various different areas. Does he agree that there are a series of problems in Burma, not least the multiple insurgencies involving different ethnic groups? Focusing on the Rohingya is essential not just because it speaks to Burma, but because it speaks to the wider problem of diaspora and refugee populations. Getting this right is essential, not just for solving the problems in Burma, but for addressing many of the other problems that arise in refugee situations around the world.
I thank my hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman who Chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I pay tribute to that Committee for the report it published late last year. We sought to develop and supplement that report, rather than repeat it, and the work of that Committee in describing this crisis as a crime against humanity was an important contribution to the debate. He is right: this crisis is important in its own right, but there are enormous lessons for situations in other parts of the world, including in parts of Africa where there is a massive displacement of people, and the world seems incapable of getting its solutions right.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the powerful way he introduced the Committee’s report. Does he agree that one of the most tragic things for many Rohingya who have fled Burma is the fact that their relatives have simply disappeared? Paragraph 138 of the report suggests that the International Commission on Missing Persons should get involved in Burma and Bangladesh and use their data-matching techniques to try to identify the remains of those who have disappeared, and—hopefully down the line—to ensure proper accountability for these crimes.
My hon. Friend is an active and valued member of the International Development Committee, which he rejoined having previously served on it in a predecessor Parliament, and he is right to draw attention to our recommendation on that important issue. Understandably, in a crisis that has moved so quickly and at such scale, there has been a focus on immediate humanitarian relief, but it is vital that those questions of justice and accountability are also addressed. The report by the Foreign Affairs Committee addressed those issues in some detail. Our report contains an important addition, and I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that.
I served with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on the International Development Committee for—if memory serves me correctly—four and a half years, and I can testify to the truth and accuracy of what has been said by way of a tribute to his work and his passion for the issues raised.