House of Commons
Thursday 19 April 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—
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, by the end of 2018, almost all passengers will have the choice of a smart ticket, making buying a ticket easier and giving passengers much greater choice.
What plans does the Minister have to ensure that split ticketing does not erode trust in the rail fare system? How can he ensure that ticket machines on the East Lancs line provide the cheapest option to passengers when there are not necessarily offices to buy tickets from?
Simplification of ticketing and ease of understanding for passengers is extremely important, as is ensuring that passengers have access to the fares that are right for them. It is important that train operating companies look carefully at their ticketing arrangements to ensure that that is the case.
Is simpler necessarily cheaper? Because if there is a choice…
Simpler may be cheaper, and there may also be circumstances in which it leads to cost increases. It is important that we achieve a system that is comprehensible, in which passengers do not have to struggle for hours to work out which ticket is the right one for them. Following the 2016 fares and ticketing action plan, we introduced advance tickets for sale on the day of travel that benefit hundreds of thousands of passengers.
I think we will take that as a no.
I am grateful for the Minister’s letter of this week, saying that his Department is taking on extra resource to simplify the fare structure on the Brighton main line. Will he reassure passengers in the area that that simplification will involve the rounding down of fares, not just rounding up? Will he also tell passengers when they can expect the review to complete?
I can indeed confirm that the Department has taken on additional resource specifically to address the anomalies within the Govia Thameslink Railway fare structure. As the hon. Gentleman said, there will be a review in order to simplify the structure, with particular reference to complications on that route. We are working with GTR to achieve this as rapidly as we can.
West Coast Main Line
As my hon. Friend knows, once High Speed 2 comes into operation it will move the express trains off the existing west coast main line and on to the new route. That will provide a great opportunity to improve services to intermediate stops such as Lichfield that do not have a good enough service at the moment.
I am slightly reassured by that answer. The Secretary of State talks about moving express trains off the west coast main line, but of course we currently have a very good Pendolino service and the slower West Midlands trains. Several hundred of my constituents commute to London every single day. What assurance can the Secretary of State give them that the Pendolino service—a fast, express service—will continue, and indeed that the Pendolinos will be replaced with equally fast trains when they come to the end of their life cycle?
The Pendolinos have many years to go, and I have no doubt that they will be replaced by a high-quality fast train in the future. My hon. Friend will have stood on the platform at Lichfield station and seen trains to Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland zooming past at high speed. The new plans will provide an opportunity for more trains to stop at Lichfield.
The Secretary of State knows well that I believe that HS2 is a vanity project that will never come to fruition. He knows that my constituents in the booming town of Huddersfield, which he visited recently, have access to the west coast line and the east coast line, but most of all they want a good trans-Pennine connection everywhere.
Absolutely, which is why I have already announced that the £2.9 billion upgrade of the trans-Pennine line will begin this time next year, as the start of a transformation that is vital to the north. In the coming months we will also see the arrival of the first of a complete new set of trains across the north of England that will transform passengers’ experience.
Previously I have raised concerns that, under the Department’s current proposals, high-speed classic-compatible trains will run slower north of Crewe than existing trains on the west coast main line just now. The Secretary of State said that we need to address that as we go through the 2020s. That is clearly not good enough. We need certainty now. If he will not commit to upgrading the west coast main line north of Crewe, will he look into procuring trains that can tilt and travel on the high-speed network?
The new classic-compatible trains and the arrival of HS2 up to the north-west of England will of course mean more speedy journey times to Scotland. I know the hon. Gentleman’s party’s view. We want to see further improvements through the 2020s to the west coast main line north of Crewe to ensure that we improve journey times. We want the best possible journey times across the whole network, and will continue to work for that.
HS2: Chesterfield Canal Land Purchase
HS2 Ltd will bring forward a draft environmental statement for phase 2b later this year, which will provide greater detail on the land requirements for the construction, maintenance and operation of phase 2b of HS2 and proposed mitigation. This will then be consulted on, and HS2 Ltd will continue to seek the input of landowners, local communities and stakeholders as the design of the railway is developed.
HS2 is an incredibly important regeneration project, but so is Chesterfield canal, which has had five years of blight, being unable to make applications because of the uncertainty around HS2. Near the maintenance depot that is proposed for Staveley, there is a piece of land currently owned by Network Rail that needs to pass over to HS2. May I encourage the Minister to ask HS2 to get on with taking over ownership of that land so that Chesterfield canal can finally put forward plans to apply for new funding and reduce that blight?
Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that HS2 Ltd is working with Chesterfield Canal Trust and is committed to finding a solution. HS2 Ltd will be more than happy to meet him to discuss the Staveley design proposals and the interface with Chesterfield canal. I also assure him, however, that Chesterfield Canal Trust has recently publicly said that it is pleased with the recent commitment from HS2 Ltd and is now more confident that a solution will be found.
Two HS2 lines go through Derbyshire—the one that goes through Newton and the other that is now apparently going to create difficulties on Chesterfield canal. We have heard reference to the question of the real cost of HS2, as it changes quite often. What is the latest cost, taking into account those two railway tracks through Derbyshire?
As I said, Chesterfield Canal Trust is working with HS2 Ltd and is happy with the relationship they have and the potential outcome regarding the canal area. The hon. Gentleman has reservations about, and has consistently raised, the cost of HS2, but it is on budget and on time. We must not forget that once HS2 is up and running, it will be the backbone of this country, bringing along with it 100,000 jobs.
The Secretary of State is supporting the sale of Network Rail’s property assets. The Federation of Small Businesses says that this will put small companies out of business because the new private owner will rapidly rack up rents, which will restrict key developments in places such as Chesterfield. Does he not see that the sell-off will lose the railway valuable and vitally important income?
I apologise hugely, Mr Speaker—I had a momentary lapse. I have no idea how to respond. Forgive me—I will take some direction from you.
Let us hear it again.
The Secretary of State is supporting the sale of Network Rail’s property assets. The Federation of Small Businesses says that this will put small companies out of business because the new private owner will rapidly rack up rents, which will restrict key developments in places such as Chesterfield. Does he not see that the sell-off will lose the railway valuable and vitally important income?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for repeating himself. The Secretary of State met the FSB yesterday and discussions on negotiations are ongoing.
In 2015, the DFT accepted Sir Peter Hendy’s plan to sell £1.8 billion of Network Rail property. These assets are now worth only £1 billion but generate £90 million of revenue each year. How can the Secretary of State still argue that this sell-off of the family silver makes sense? Is it not clear that his plan will cost Network Rail and British taxpayers dearly?
The Secretary of State will continue to realise assets when he can. We will then reinvest them in the railway network.
Transport investment decisions are made based on a rigorous and fair appraisal process that ensures that spending goes where it is needed and delivers greatest value for money. Recent analysis by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests that, in contrast to the five years leading up to 2010, planned central Government transport capital spending per head between 2017-18 and 2020-21 is expected to be higher in the north than in the south. That includes, as the hon. Lady will be pleased to learn, £337 million for new Tyne and Wear Metro rolling stock in her constituency.
Since 2010, transport spending in London has been more than twice that in the whole of the north, and the Government’s own northern powerhouse says that underinvestment stops us exploiting strengths in manufacturing, energy, health and digital, which could transform the lives of my constituents. The Minister’s own Transport for the North says that it will cost £27 billion to transform the north’s economy by taking advantage of those strengths: will he commit to funding it?
We are undertaking unprecedented investment in the north of England—£13 billion, which is the largest in Government history. Of course, we want to do more to ensure that we are building proper transport links and growing the northern powerhouse, which is why we have created Transport for the North and put it on a statutory footing. Over the recess, I was delighted to attend its very first board meeting as a statutory body.
Instead of applying Barnett, why does the Minister not support his Department’s recommendation of £4.2 billion of funding for Scotland?
Scotland will receive significantly greater resources in the next control period between 2019 and 2024 than it has in any period in this country’s history.
Shipley: Eastern Bypass
Top o’ the morning to you, Mr Speaker. The Government have allocated significant resources to west Yorkshire for local transport schemes, including £781 million over 30 years from local growth funding and other sources, but Bradford Council has not yet brought forward that scheme for funding. Our consultation on the major roads network, which could provide another funding route for such schemes, has recently closed. We will respond to the consultation in due course.
May I place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for the interest he has shown in developing a Shipley eastern bypass, especially when he visited the area last year? That was in sharp contrast to Bradford Council, which has shown zero interest in developing such a bypass, despite it being much needed by local residents. The council has not even come up with the costs of development that the Secretary of State asked for more than four months ago. Will the Minister not only develop a bypass for Shipley, but bypass Bradford Council so that we can crack on with a scheme that is much needed by the local economy and residents?
As my hon. Friend says, this scheme potentially offers relief from congestion, better local access and better connectivity to Leeds-Bradford airport, and we are very interested to see it proceed.
Aircraft Noise: Heathrow
The Government set noise controls at Heathrow airport, including total noise limits and aircraft movement limits for night flights. These controls, in conjunction with stricter aircraft noise standards negotiated by the UK at the international level, have resulted in a long-term reduction in the number of people affected by aircraft noise near the airport.
A freedom of information request revealed Government analysis that expects nearly a million households to face increased daytime noise if Heathrow is allowed to build a third runway. Will the Secretary of State visit my constituents, tens of thousands of whom will face significantly worse noise if the third runway goes ahead, and for whom no amount of noise insulation will be acceptable?
I have been in the hon. Lady’s constituency on many occasions and heard the noise there, and I am very pleased that, over the last 20 years, we have seen a steady reduction in aircraft noise. That is expected to continue as a new generation of aircraft appear in greater numbers. The projections show that, as we enter the 2030s with that change in aircraft fleet, we do not expect an overall noise impact on people around the airport. Nor do we expect an increase in the number of people within the 54 dB bracket, precisely because a new generation of lower-noise aircraft—they will also be lower-emission and lower-fuel consuming aircraft—will mean a quieter airport generally.
The aviation national policy statement states that about 93,000 more people will be significantly affected by noise if the third runway goes ahead, yet Civil Aviation Authority figures indicate that more than 2 million people will be affected. Will the Government acknowledge that vast disparity in numbers, and will they update the aviation national policy statement?
Before the aviation national policy statement is brought to the House, it will be updated off the back of work done by the Transport Committee and the public consultations that have taken place—it will be a refreshed document when it comes before the House. The impact of noise on residents around Heathrow depends on an assessment of the rate of arrival of that new generation of aircraft. As we get into the 2030s, we expect no overall increase in the number of people in the 54 dB noise barrier because of the arrival of those new aircraft. There may be a short period in the mid-2020s when there is a small increase, depending on the airport’s rate of growth and the development of the aircraft fleet, but any such increase will be a short-term one.
When will we get a new train service between Reading and Heathrow? That will help to reduce noise and get Welsh travellers to the airport.
Western rail access to Heathrow is part of our plans for control period 6, and I expect construction to start between 2019 and 2024. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I recently invited the private sector to bring forward proposals for southern access as well, as part of a land and surface access package that will bring substantial increases to the capacity of rail links to Heathrow airport.
These problems are not unique to Heathrow; they also affect areas around Gatwick, which has a lower level of ambient noise. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that any further lessons learned about how we reduce noise at Heathrow can be applied more generally?
They can be, and the point I did not make in my response to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is that we are in the process of modernising the use of airspace in this country. I hope and believe that that will allow us to manage much more carefully respite for airports, and flight paths into and out of airports, and to do the best we can to minimise the impact of aviation on communities. There can be no situation where there is no impact, but I want us to do our best to ensure that that impact is as carefully managed and minimised as possible.
Electric Vehicles: Public Charging Points
The UK is building one of the best global ChargePoint networks. Our new £400 million ChargePoint infrastructure investment fund will see thousands more charge points installed nationwide. We already provide grants to install charging stations in workplaces, homes and residential streets, and for buses and taxis. Through the Go Ultra Low city scheme, Bath—the hon. Lady’s constituency—and other cities are installing publicly accessible charging hubs. Also, the new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will encourage large fuel retailers to install charge points on their premises.
In Bath, the council is considering introducing a clean air zone, focusing particularly on older, more polluting vehicles, but that will disproportionately disadvantage the less well-off, who are more likely to own older vehicles. Will the Government consider a scrappage scheme for old vehicles to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles without disadvantaging the less well-off in our city?
As the hon. Lady will be aware, substantial scrappage schemes already exist in the market through the private sector, and those look to continue.
Expanding the charging infrastructure is a key part of encouraging people to switch to ultra-low emission vehicles, but does the Minister agree that the Government’s decision to cut the plug-in car grant and the home charging grant sends out contradictory signals? Will he commit to maintaining the current value of both grants in real terms, at least at their existing levels?
I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s diagnosis of the situation. As I saw when I visited Nissan recently, electric cars are being taken up at higher rates than ever before, and the plug-in car grant has been an important part of that. As the industry becomes more mature—we are seeing greater signs of that; the new Nissan Leaf has started to have stable resale values, which is an important sign of maturity—we would naturally expect levels of Government subsidy to fall.
It is very welcome that the Government are looking at alternative fuels. Will the Minister agree to place in the House of Commons Library a summary of the grants, incentive payments and similar subsidies being paid out by his Department in respect of each of the different alternatives being explored?
As the hon. Lady will know, we have recently made a new £11 million investment in hydrogen charging, so she is absolutely right that we take a technology-neutral view and that we seek to encourage different forms of technology wherever available. I will certainly talk to officials about what information we can place in the Library, but I think much of it is already in the public domain.
Leaving the EU: Aviation Industry
I meet my right hon. Friends and Cabinet colleagues on a regular basis to discuss the UK’s exit from the EU. Ministers and officials across Departments are working closely to consider carefully the implications for the aviation sector after we leave the EU.
Last month we heard that the first formal talks on a post-Brexit open skies deal with the US were cut short after US negotiators offered an inferior deal to the one we currently enjoy, so when does the Secretary of State plan to return to the negotiating table, and will he do so with a sense of reality about the impact that hard Brexit is having on the aviation industry?
The hon. Lady should not believe everything she reads in the papers. The discussions taking place between my Department and our counterparts in the United States have been cordial and have been going well. There are no issues that would act as an impediment towards a sensible post-Brexit agreement between the two countries.
A key requirement in any deal with the US may well be that UK airlines are required to be UK majority owned, yet very few would be able to meet that standard. What are the realistic chances of the US ditching that long-standing policy for the sake of the UK?
Clearly, airline ownership is more complex as part of the European Union than it was in the pre-EU days, but nobody is seriously suggesting that we are not going to continue with the same kind of transatlantic partnerships we have at the moment. British Airways and American Airlines, for example, operate in lockstep with each other. We will progress in due time towards a sensible agreement that continues the extremely prosperous, important and successful transatlantic aviation routes.
We have less than a year to sort this out. Already people who are attempting to book foreign holidays for next Easter, less than a year from now, are finding that they are having to accept a clause in the contract that waives any right to compensation if their holiday is cancelled because of problems with the lack of an open skies agreement. Is the Secretary of State trying to tell us that those reports from reputable travel agents are myths that we should not believe? Is it not a fact that the travel industry and the aviation industry understand how serious this problem is becoming and the Government, in their complacency, do not?
That is not accurate at all, as the hon. Gentleman will find if he listens to the chief executives of the International Airlines Group, EasyJet or a number of other airlines. I have had no airline, bar one, come to my desk and suggest that they are concerned about the situation. I think we know which the one is, and no other airline believes there is any likelihood of any impediment to aviation next year. Indeed, there will not be. Can you imagine, Mr Speaker, a situation where the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Greek Governments did not want holidaymakers to arrive from the United Kingdom in 2019? I have spoken to my counterparts and they snort with derision at the idea that the planes will not fly.
Snorting with derision may be the response the Secretary of State has had, but people in my constituency who work in the aviation industry are really concerned about how we are going to function outwith the European Aviation Safety Agency. Will he please tell us a bit more about how we are going to function outwith the EASA?
The Civil Aviation Authority is making all preparations necessary if it needs to return to operating as a body in the form that it used to be in. However, it is the Government’s policy and our intent to remain part of EASA. There is no reason not to: countries inside and outside the European Union are part of it, and we supply a substantial proportion of its expertise. The leadership of EASA wants us to stay, and I am confident that, as we get through the process of negotiation, that is where we will end up.
In September 2016, the Government published a rail freight strategy setting out a vision for how the freight industry can grow. During control period 5, the Department is investing £235 million to improve the capacity of the network. Further funding for investment in the network will be available in control period 6.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but is the reality not that only a small proportion of freight in Britain is carried by rail, and that it has been declining? By contrast, a third of all freight in Germany is transported by rail, and in the US the figure is 50%. To achieve a substantial modal shift in freight from road to rail, is it not essential to introduce a much bigger programme—a major programme—of investment in rail freight capacity starting very soon?
We share the hon. Gentleman’s ambition to support modal shift. The Government are always interested in hearing about ambitious schemes that would encourage that. As he will know, we recently launched a call for ideas for market-led proposals that will enhance the railway, and I encourage him to take part in that.
Residents in north Oxford are gravely concerned about the increase in rail freight and particularly the possibility of the line being used to construct HS2. Children are already shaken out of their beds in the middle of the night because of freight trains. Will the Minister consent to meet me to discuss the concerns and, critically, the solutions, which include monitoring and speed reductions for the trains?
I obviously sympathise with the hon. Lady’s local residents. The Government are committed to getting freight off our roads and on to rail to realise the environmental and economic benefits of rail freight. However, the Department does not specify the level of freight services on the network, as that is a commercial matter for the freight operating companies and is a function of market demand. The Oxford area is essentially at capacity during the day, although the Oxford corridor capacity improvement scheme will deliver two additional freight train paths an hour in each direction. It is anticipated that rail will support the movement of construction materials for HS2, but it is not possible at this stage to determine where the freight services will operate. The maximum permissible speed that freight trains can travel at over sections of the network is a matter for Network Rail as the infrastructure manager.
It is very good indeed to see the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) back in his place.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Midland Main Line: Rolling Stock
The Secretary of State’s ambition is for bi-modes to begin operating on the midland main line from 2021. No firm decision has yet been taken on rail services in the next east midlands franchise, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, starts in August 2019.
In the written statement that the Secretary of State made on 20 July, he promised, when cancelling electrification of the midland main line,
“a brand new fleet of bi-mode…trains from 2022”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 72WS.]
We seem to have gained a year somehow. The National Audit Office then said in a report from 29 March:
“In the case of Midland Main Line, bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration did not exist when the Secretary of State made his decision”,
and that the Department had informed him of that. I ask the Secretary of State or the Minister why the Secretary of State promised in his written statement to deliver bi-modal trains, which he knew not merely did not exist but had not even been developed. That is the situation. Why, at the time, did he not give the House the full facts instead of leading us to believe something that possibly was not true and was corrected only when the NAO produced its report?
Bi-mode trains capable of running at more than 120 mph in diesel mode are now in use on the Great Western main line. Bi-modes will soon be delivering better journeys on the east coast main line and transpennine routes as well.
I am sorry, but that answer simply will not do. In relation to the midland main line, the NAO report reveals that at the time when the decision was made, the Secretary of State knew that bi-mode trains had “a poorer investment case” than electrification and would be worse polluters—actually, 25 times worse for carbon emissions. He also knew that the rolling stock required for that line—this is the crucial point in relation to the Minister’s response—would not exist, yet none of that information was in his statement to the House cancelling electrification. Does the Minister not accept that those were serious omissions?
On the contrary, equivalent trains to the ones that will be in service were already operational. As I have just said, bi-mode trains that are capable of running at more than 120 mph in diesel mode are already now in use on the Great Western main line.
Great Western Main Line: Electrification
The Prime Minister and I discussed Cardiff to Swansea at the time, and reached the view that spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and causing massive disruption to passengers to enable the same trains to travel on the same route at the same speed to the same timetable as they do today was not actually a sensible thing to do.
We know from press reports issued during the Easter break that the Prime Minister personally made the decision to renege on an election promise to electrify the main line to Swansea on the basis of cost. Is not the reality that the British Government do not consider the west of my country worthy of investment?
We made the decisions about electrification on the midland main line and the line between Cardiff and Swansea on the simple basis that spending hundreds of millions or billions of pounds to achieve the same journey times in the same trains was not sensible. The trains on the Great Western route are already in operation, delivering services to people in Swansea, for whom it is a great and important investment. Trains on the midland main line require the addition of one engine to provide a little bit of extra acceleration, but they already exist, and will be great for that line as well. So let us hear none of this nonsense from Opposition Members. In fact, during the years when they were in government, this was their policy: they believed that what was important was capacity and delivery, not electrification, and I agreed with them.
Facts matter. In a written statement on 20 July last year, the Secretary of State said that with bi-mode trains it would be possible to
“achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 72WS.]
However, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), it is clear from National Audit Office reports that that statement cannot be correct.
No, this was about the Cardiff to Swansea route as well.
Why did the Secretary of State give those assurances? Now that he has come to the Dispatch Box, will he apologise?
Let us be clear. I stand by every word that I said then. We will deliver smart new trains and improved journey times for passengers on the midland main line, as we are currently doing and will continue to do on the Great Western main line, and as we will do on the east coast main line and the transpennine route. [Interruption.] As I have said, we will also deliver new trains providing better services for passengers on the midland main line. The only difference made by £1 billion of spending would be a one-minute saving in the journey time, and that is not good value for taxpayers’ money.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that this is such an important matter, surely we should have a point of order on it.
As the hon. Gentleman will know on the strength of his nearly 39 years of experience in the House, the effect of a point of order during exchanges on a question is to cause all further exchanges on it immediately to cease. Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he does not risk becoming hugely unpopular as a result of his attempted point of order, for the simple reason that no one else was standing and seeking to catch my eye—other than the hon. Gentleman with his rather bogus, albeit enjoyable, point of order.
The Secretary of State’s strategic vision for rail was published in November 2017, and sets out our key reforms. Better teamwork between franchise operators and Network Rail will make the railway more responsive to customers’ needs and move power closer to local areas.
South Gloucestershire Council is pushing ahead with its plans to deliver a vital half-hourly train link from Yate to Bristol. Will my hon. Friend explain how his rail policies will help to achieve that, and will he consider visiting Yate so that he can see at first hand how important the upgrade is to our local community?
Improving connectivity around our great cities, including Bristol, is exactly the kind of scheme that our reforms are designed to deliver. The Government will continue to work closely with local partners to deliver the MetroWest scheme in the Bristol area. We are also examining the potential for the new MetroWest services to be extended beyond their currently planned termini.
Tarmac’s Dunbar cement plant in East Lothian transports substantial amounts of its product down the east coast main line to London to fuel the construction industry here. What steps is the Minister taking, as part of his plan, to facilitate better engagement between passengers, rail freight users and Network Rail commuters?
That is an important subject, which we hope the new east coast partnership will help to address.
Order. I know the whole House will want to join me in congratulating the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on his engagement to Ann-Louise Whittaker, and may I say to the hon. Gentleman that, notwithstanding the fact that he is a very young man to be planning to rush into matrimony, we all wish him and Ann-Louise a very happy wedding on Friday 27 July?
That is very kind, Mr Speaker; Ann-Louise and I are very grateful to you.
South-east London Metro Routes
I echo your good wishes to my hon. Friend, Mr Speaker.
All train operators must deliver the performance benchmarks set out in the franchise agreements that cover all their passenger services. In respect of Southeastern’s metro service, its public performance measure has improved from 87% to nearly 89% over the past year.
Is the Minister not concerned, first, that many of the regular commuters on our line do not regard the performance measures as reflecting reality, particularly in the rush hour, and, secondly, that Network Rail only a couple of days ago published a suggestion that performance will actually deteriorate over the next coming years and will not pick up again until 2024? I would like our wedding guests to come on the train, but I do not think I can advise them to do so at the moment; does the Minister agree that the situation is wholly unacceptable, and what will he do about it?
Before 27 July.
We are working closely with Network Rail to ensure punctual and reliable services on the network. We are ensuring it is doing everything it possibly can to maintain and build upon the current improving levels of performance. My hon. Friend mentioned the performance targets: the operator will be required as part of the next franchise arrangements to publish on its website in relation to each reporting period its performance against the following metrics: cancellation figures, short formation figures, and now, critically, timing to three minutes, rather than the previous performance targets.
Mr Speaker, may I associate myself and my hon. Friends with your kind words to my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and wish him all the best?
When I arrived at my station this morning, they were handing out free copies of fiction: the Southeastern rail timetable. It is fiction because of not just the performance of Southeastern, but the poor infrastructure that we have to endure. We have spent £1 billion upgrading London Bridge, and it is a magnificent project, but unfortunately we have seen broken rails and the breakdown of signals last week and the week before, and there was another stranded train outside St Johns station on 5 April. This is not good enough: we need to upgrade the infrastructure around London Bridge, otherwise all the money will have been wasted.
In the next franchise period we will ensure that performance in quality is an absolute focus for the new operator. When that is in place moving towards next year, the new franchisee will adopt the new measures we have proposed as part of the move towards control period 6. The use of a public performance measure that allows services to arrive up to five minutes late at end destination will be replaced by timed to three, or T3, and that measure will be used for the services along this route.
Like my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I wish the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) all the best.
After years of disruption due to the London Bridge rebuild, passengers discovered last week that Greenwich line evening services will not be of the frequency previously advertised after May because, according to Southeastern, it does not have enough drivers. Can Ministers do anything about this frankly risible situation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that concern to my attention, and I will discuss it with Southeastern.
Fitness to Drive
The current driver licensing arrangements take into account the risks that an individual poses to road safety and are designed to be fair and proportionate to all drivers who remain fit and competent to drive, regardless of age. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency keeps all its medical driver licensing policy and processes under review.
The Minister will be aware that the current system of car driving licence renewal includes no requirement at all for independent medical evidence to ensure that a driver’s health or eyesight meet the legal requirements. Does he agree that this self-certification process is inadequate and open to abuse, and will he agree to review it?
There is no evidence—certainly none that we are aware of or that has been brought to our attention—to suggest that requiring independent medical evidence in relation to a driver’s health or eyesight would lead to an improvement in road safety. The current process is balanced and proportionate, and focuses resources on drivers who need medical investigation. Those drivers—in fact, all drivers—are legally obliged to notify the DVLA if they develop a medical condition that could affect their ability to drive safely. Where a driver has failed to do so, the DVLA will investigate notifications from concerned friends, relatives, the police or medical professionals.
Dualling of the A45: Stanwick to Thrapston
The road investment strategy announced the Government’s intention to develop a scheme to upgrade the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston to a full dual carriageway. The scheme is at an early stage of development and a preliminary environmental study will be carried out as part of this development work.
This dualling is something that I have campaigned particularly hard for. It has the overwhelming support of local people and would do much to improve the strategically important link between the A14 and the M1. The environmental study is key to progress, so will the Minister join me in pushing for that work to be carried out as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend has been a tireless and energetic campaigner on this issue, as on so many others, and I can assure him that the environmental study will be one of the first items to be completed under the options assessment work.
HS2: Extension to Scotland
From the day phase 1 opens, HS2 trains will run directly to Scotland, with journey times of less than four hours between London and Glasgow. When the full Y network opens, HS2 will serve both Glasgow and Edinburgh in three hours 40 minutes to London. The Department for Transport is working closely with Transport Scotland and Network Rail to look at further options that might have a good business case, working towards the UK and Scottish Governments’ shared ultimate ambition of a three-hour journey time between London and Scotland.
Will the Minister guarantee that, once HS2 is fully constructed, the journey time between Glasgow and Manchester will not be any longer than it is currently?
We have no reason to expect increases in journey times between Glasgow and Manchester as a result of HS2.
Rail Sleeper Services: Scotland to England
In his autumn statement of 2011, the Chancellor announced a commitment to contribute £50 million towards the cost of improving and upgrading the Caledonian sleeper service, including rolling stock and infrastructure improvements. We understand that new rolling stock will start to be introduced in the autumn. Under the devolved arrangements relating to the railways in Scotland, the Caledonian sleeper service is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and operates under a franchise procured by Scottish Ministers.
The northern sleeper service is good for the environment, stress-free, fun and actually rather romantic. Does the Minister agree that further development would do much to boost tourism in the highlands and in my constituency?
We do like romance, and the new trains will offer improved facilities, comfort, hospitality and security for passengers. Passengers’ experience will be enhanced, supported by improved ticketing, booking channels and information, station improvements and support for post-travel arrangements. Staying on the theme of romance, I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in disability and access, for which these trains will be suitable, as he has a close family member with disability issues.
That sounds like a very agreeable adventure to me. I must obviously add it to my bucket list.
HS2: Phase 2b
In November 2016, the Government confirmed the majority of the HS2 phase 2b route and launched a consultation on seven route refinements. The Government made a decision on the phase 2b route in July 2017. To deposit the phase 2b hybrid Bill in 2019, HS2 Ltd is developing designs for the working draft environmental statement. The Government have provided funding for growth strategies to HS2 places, enabling the plans to be HS2-ready.
Can the Minister assure the House that the hybrid Bill for HS2 phase 2b will take precedence over Crossrail 2?
Consideration of the hybrid Bill will take place when it is due to take place in Parliament. It is interesting to note that we have had a lot of support from Members across the House; it would be nice for that support to be reflected when the Bill comes to the House, with all Members voting to support it rather than abstaining.
We seem to have a lot of jobs created by HS2 in the midlands. How many have been created so far?
My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner for the midlands and any opportunity I have to talk proudly about Birmingham in particular, is welcome. Over its course, HS2 will create 100,000 jobs. It is important to note that the majority of those jobs will be created outside London, so opportunities will be vast along the line.
Channel Fixed Link
The Secretary of State and I have periodic discussions with our counterparts in our partner countries on a range of issues.
Well, can the Minister tell us, then, whether, as the question says, those discussions have included the concept of a new fixed link? The Foreign Secretary seems to think that it is a very good idea, but I am not clear whether anyone else in the Government or the Cabinet does.
This is certainly an idea worth exploring. I repeat that this is a view shared not just in this Government but in the French Government. The hon. Gentleman will recall that at the conclusion of the highly successful Anglo-French summit it was agreed that there would be a committee of wise people, a comité des sages, established to consider reviving the tradition of UK-French collaboration on a range of matters, including infrastructure projects.
Well, I would call the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) if he were here, but he isn’t, so I won’t.
We spend a lot of time talking about planes, trains and automobiles in these sessions, but we do not spend much time talking about ships. I want to pay tribute to all those involved in the talks that took place in London last week, particularly those from my Department. They paved the way for an historic agreement in the maritime sector on cutting carbon emissions from shipping. It is a really important step forward and I commend all those involved.
Will the Secretary of State visit Long Eaton as a matter of urgency to visit those property owners directly affected by HS2, some of whom are facing the prospect of being tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket? Will he reaffirm his commitment to the House today that no one will lose out as a result of HS2?
I know that we have particular issues with some of the properties in Long Eaton, particularly the railway cottages. I have worked and will continue to work closely with my hon. Friend to ensure that HS2 does the right thing by those people.
On “Question Time”, the Secretary of State intimated that, post Brexit, trucks will not be checked and will move freely through the border, as happens in Canada and the US. I have an official document that confirms that all lorries are stopped on the US-Canada border. Will he apologise for giving out duff information, do his homework and tell the House what the concrete plans will be post Brexit?
As I have said before—I say it again today—there will not be physical checks that require every lorry to be stopped at Dover. It is not physically possible to do it, and in today’s world of trusted trader systems and electronic processing of customs information, there is no need for that to happen. I would also say that we are confident that we will deliver, as is our intention, a sensible free trade agreement with the European Union that will make all this an irrelevant discussion.
My hon. Friend knows that I have been to Southport and talked to some of those affected. As a result of those recent discussions, we have been able to put back in two extra services to Manchester Piccadilly. Of course, the original franchise plan was for the services to go to Manchester Victoria, but I have listened carefully to what has been said. Timetable changes cannot happen quickly and easily, but I will do my best to work with my hon. Friend to ensure that there is a better mix of services for the future.
With free bus travel for the under-25s estimated at £1.4 billion a year, why is the Minister opposing a scheme that could benefit up to 13 million young people, saving them up to £1,000 each a year, at a time when they face significant financial hardship due to tuition fees and the high cost of living?
This was an intriguing policy proposed by Labour at the Budget, and the figures did not seem to add up. At one point Labour was saying it would cost just over £1 billion, but it looks like it might cost closer to £13 billion. The hon. Gentleman needs to go back to school and add up his figures. We already provide £1 billion towards concessionary travel to support up to 10 million older people, and disabled people, too. I would be intrigued to know whether Labour has budgeted for this concessionary travel to be before or after 9.30 am.
Can the Minister explain how she has calculated that figure of £13 billion? Research by University College London, which is widely accepted across the sector, shows that every individual person in the UK could be given free bus travel for £5 billion.
The figures have already changed from around £1 billion to the projected figure of over £13 billion, and now to £5 billion. When the shadow Minister makes proposals, and if he wants not only the sector but young people to take them seriously, I suggest that he comes to the Dispatch Box with the most accurate figure that comes to hand. We are doing what we can to support bus patronage, including enabling local authorities to work with bus providers to make sure that people can make the most requested journeys. I must add that we already provide over £1 billion-worth of concessionary travel to older people and to those with disabilities, and perhaps we could take Labour’s proposal more seriously if the figures added up.
That is a great question. As my hon. Friend will know, the pothole action fund is part of a £6 billion fund we are spending on local highways between 2015 and 2021, including £105 million for highways maintenance in the West Midlands combined authority, which includes Walsall. We ask that highways authorities provide a statement on their websites on how they utilise the pothole action fund money they have been allocated and, of course, we review and assess how that money is spent. We are always looking for, and seeking to incentivise, best practice.
As the hon. Lady will know, we have spent more money than any Government have ever spent in this country on tackling air quality issues. We are working very closely with local authorities, including Bristol, to do that. Something like £400 million is already in prospect to support local authorities in this regard, and we look forward to seeing further action by Bristol and other local authorities to support it.
I was alarmed to learn that Govia Thameslink Railway is planning to cut Great Northern services at Oakleigh Park station in the morning peak. GTR has promised me it will restore the services when new rolling stock is introduced this year. Will the Minister work with me to hold it to that promise?
I would be delighted to work with my right hon. Friend to address the issue she raises.
As the hon. Gentleman notes, we are in the process of seeking to apply EU law as it applies to community transport. We have launched a review to explore several specific workarounds that address the concerns that community transport operators may have. We look forward to the completion of that review, and we will be publishing our own thoughts as a result, based on the substantial input we have gathered.
The bioethanol industry and the farming community that supplies it are looking for some certainty about the introduction of E10. Is the Minister able to give a clear steer as to when they can expect that certainty and whether the Government will be giving support?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have taken a very important forward position by introducing the renewable transport fuel obligation. We are looking closely at E10, and at international precedents and examples as to how enhanced ethanol fuels have been brought into play. It is important to respect market dynamics, so this is a slightly tricky issue, on which we are spending some time and consideration.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I am glad he has brought it to my attention and I am more than happy to have a meeting with him to discuss it further.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend—my very good friend—the Minister of State responded to an Adjournment debate on impacts of the timetable changes of the Thameslink programme. He said that Members were welcome to suggest changes where there had been negative impacts. May I suggest to him that the reduction in services from Orpington to Victoria via Bromley South is precisely such a negative change, which should be looked at urgently?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, that matter is close to my heart and I will be paying extraordinary attention to it in the coming months.
We have been reviewing our accessibility plan within the Department and will be reviewing how we deal with shared spaces. The hon. Gentleman knows that I used to chair the all-party group on eye health and visual impairment, which has huge concerns about shared spaces. We will be making a statement on this shortly. We want to make sure that all of our spaces, especially those around transport infrastructure, are accessible for people with all disabilities.
Reopening Middlewich railway station to passengers is a matter of crucial importance to many of my constituents. What progress is being made on developing the business case for that?
I know there is strong local support for improvements to the rail network in Cheshire. I am pleased to confirm that the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership is in the process of establishing a working group with local authority partners and Network Rail to examine the feasibility of reopening the mid-Cheshire link railway line, including Middlewich station, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and that the Department has offered to provide advice.
A few weeks ago, we had the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the free bus pass scheme for pensioners, which is a hugely popular policy. What efforts did the Department make to mark that anniversary? What assurances can the Minister give pensioners about the future of the scheme?
The bus pass scheme tends to be reviewed every five years, and what we have been able to do is ensure that that review does not take place every five years and that the concessionary bus pass remains in place for as long as is needed.
The Secretary of State has long taken a personal interest in the Boston bypass. Will he join me in commending the excellent campaign being run by my local paper, the Boston Standard, which is gathering evidence from local hauliers, in particular? Does he agree that it bolsters an already compelling case for an application to be made to his bypass fund for this road in due course?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have visited the proposed site of the Boston bypass on more than one occasion over the years. I know that a vigorous campaign has been run by his local paper, local activists and himself. You will know, Mr Speaker, that we will shortly be bringing forward the next stage of our proposals for what I have dubbed the “bypass fund”, and there will be opportunities to build bypasses in the not-too-distant future.
I am a bit confused as to where the hon. Gentleman read that, because we have not refused any authorities. We are trying to help local authorities to manage their bus services and work with bus operators to deliver the best service that they think is needed at local level. The decision is best made locally. On top of that, we have spent £250 million to support bus services in England via the bus service operators grant, and £40 million of that goes towards supporting concessionary travel at a local level.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a renowned blue-sky thinker, so does he imagine that any time soon, or even some day in the future, people will be able to get on an HS2 train in Manchester or Glasgow and go non-stop to the European continent?
For a moment, I thought my hon. Friend was going to ask me whether people would be able to get on an HS2 train in Manchester and travel to Lichfield. Of course, it always depends on the market. When the first trains started to operate through the channel tunnel, a fleet of trains was bought to provide links from the north of England through to the continent, but the market was never there—although one never says never.
The Hussey family and I are grateful for the Minister’s support following Freddie’s tragic death in 2014, and we will welcome him to Bristol next week for a trailer safety summit. On Tuesday, the other place agreed to improve trailer safety measures; is the Minister willing to share his view of their lordships’ decision?
I have greatly enjoyed the chance to work with the hon. Lady on the issues that she describes, and I am very much looking forward to attending her trailer safety summit next week. The Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill will come to this House in due course, so we will then have a chance to look at what their lordships have said.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We discussed in Transport questions the cancellation of line electrification throughout the country. The Secretary of State said in the recess last summer that the bi-mode alternatives could achieve the same significant improvements to journeys. The National Audit Office, on which we rely—it is not Opposition Members saying this—has said that
“bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration”
to meet the timetable
“did not exist”.
The Secretary of State has had the opportunity today to correct the position. The two statements are mutually exclusive and he cannot maintain that position. It is important that Ministers of the Crown come to the Dispatch Box and say things that are grounded in fact. There is a danger, however inadvertent, that the House has been misled about these trains’ ability to deliver, as my hon. Friends have pointed out repeatedly, yet the Secretary of State will not take the opportunity to clarify the position. I seek your advice as to how that clarification might be achieved, Mr Speaker.
The Secretary of State is now poised, like a panther ready to pounce, so the hon. Gentleman may have secured, if not pre-empted, at any rate, early gratification, in that the Secretary of State is marching towards the Dispatch Box.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is self-evident that last January, when we discussed these issues, the trains that will run on the midland main line had not been ordered and therefore did not exist. As things stand today—as things stood last summer and last April—there are already 120 mph-plus bi-mode trains operating on the great western main line. I have manufacturers beating a path to my door to build the trains for the midland main line; of course they are going to run.
What I would say to the shadow Secretary of State is that he has made his point with force and alacrity, it is on the record, and the Secretary of State has responded in a similar vein. This dispute—it is a genuine dispute about what the facts are—can and doubtless will continue, but by means other than the point of order procedure. I hope that honour is served.
Just as I am about to proceed to the next business, I see leaping to his feet, with his characteristic energy and suppleness, the young representative from Stone, Sir William Cash.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you regard the outrageous abuse and intimidation that has been levelled against the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and others as sufficient evidence of a contempt of the House? Page 262 of “Erskine May” states that it is a contempt of the House to molest and intimidate MPs by abusive language outside or inside the precincts of the House. Is there a prima facie case for contempt in the circumstances that I have described, with this completely and totally outrageous behaviour by members of the public towards those Members?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which I treat extremely seriously. I do so partly because of the content and partly in deference to his renowned parliamentarianism. The short answer is that there could be such a case. The particulars would have to be studied and it would be imprudent, and therefore inappropriate, for me to seek to venture a judgment here and now. However, as he will know, if there is an allegation of contempt to be made, it should properly be made in writing to me and I will then reflect on it, taking such professional advice as I think I need, but I thank him for raising this point of order, which I know he does out of a concern to protect the rights of Members in all parts of the House. Any Member could be similarly affected, and he has done a public service. Knowing his dogged tenacity and his insistence on following through, I imagine that his letter will be winging its way to me ere long.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will include:
Monday 23 April—Second Reading of the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill followed by motion relating to a statutory instrument on the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
Tuesday 24 April—Remaining stages of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill.
Wednesday 25 April—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on schools followed by a debate on social care. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion. Followed by debate on a motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.
Thursday 26 April—Debate on a motion on customs and borders followed by debate on a motion on plastic bottles and coffee cups. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 27 April—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 30 April will include:
Monday 30 April—Remaining stages of the Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords].
This has been a key week for Parliament. The Prime Minister took part in more than nine hours of debate on Syria, and with the Report stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill under way in the other place, we continue to shape our future outside the European Union. Members across both Houses have held Government to account, scrutinised decisions and debated matters of national and global importance, putting the vital role of Parliament beyond any doubt.
It has been our privilege to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this week, and I have personally enjoyed the opportunity to meet delegates from around the world. I want to thank them for the generosity of time and spirit that they have shown.
Finally, we send our best wishes to another place with which we have strong ties: Israel marks the 70th anniversary of its independence day today. This week’s hugely important debate on anti-Semitism has shown that we must continue to uphold the British tradition of freedom of religion. To all those celebrating, I wish them a very happy day.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I also thank her for Monday’s motion relating to the statutory instrument on higher education, Tuesday’s motion to approve the money resolution—my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) will be delighted, because the business was cancelled again earlier this week—and for our Opposition day.
This seems a bit churlish, but we do need to have the Report stage of the Data Protection Bill, we are still waiting for the nurses bursaries statutory instrument and the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 need to be revoked and relaid, because we are running out of time.
I, too, welcome the Commonwealth Heads of Government here to the 25th summit. They will know that a speech given to the Conservative association in Birmingham 50 years ago by a former Member of the House, Enoch Powell, was in response to immigration from the Commonwealth and the proposed Race Relations Bill. I remember my parents being alarmed at the speech—broadcasting it again was unnecessary—but they and other visible minorities were somewhat reassured by the stance of the then Prime Minister, the great reforming Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who, despite those inflammatory words, passed the Race Relations Act 1968.
It was chilling, therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) had to ask for—and was granted it by you, Mr Speaker—an urgent question on the unjust treatment of British citizens who came from Commonwealth countries; I and 134 other Members across the House signed the letter to the Prime Minister. The Home Secretary said it was wrong and appalling, but came to the House only in response to the UQ. British citizens now in their 60s and 70s are losing the right to work, rent property, receive their pensions and access their bank accounts and vital healthcare, and some have even been deported. These cases can be dealt with immediately.
The presumption should be that those people are here legally, not illegally. The destruction or shredding of landing cards is a distraction. It is only as a result of 2014 Government policy that evidence is required, and landing cards are only one form of such evidence; there are others, including tax returns, national insurance numbers and NHS numbers. Can we, therefore, have a statement next week so that the Home Secretary can tell the House what she appeared not to know earlier this week—how many people are affected, how many have been deported, how many are in detention centres? My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary met a woman in Yarl’s Wood whose parents were both British citizens. Why do we not know these figures? The Home Office has no direction—it is Rudderless. The Secretary of State and Ministers have to direct what a Department does. That is why the series was called “Yes, Minister”—because Ministers have the civil servants who respond to what they want.
I want to highlight another injustice—that affecting students in receipt of disabled students’ allowances. With changes to DSA, a £200 up-front fee was applied across the board and not means-tested, which has resulted in a nearly 30% reduction in the number of students taking up vital equipment that could help them to work independently. Some 20% of students at the Royal Agricultural University are in receipt of DSA. We need their skills, so we need them to qualify, particularly because, as the Leader of the House said, we are leaving the EU. Can we have a debate, therefore, so that the Government can look again at removing that £200 up-front fee?
The Backbench Business Committee, not the Government, agreed to a debate on customs and borders. Opposition analysis shows that 44% of Brexit legislation is still to be introduced: Bills on immigration, fisheries, and the withdrawal agreement and implementation. Last June, the Prime Minister said that this Parliament would have a busy legislative Session, but the Government have passed only four Bills since the last Queen’s Speech and not a single piece of Brexit legislation. Given that 11 Bills will have to go through the House before the end of the transition period, will the Leader of the House publish a timetable or a grid like that produced by the Institute for Government, and will she confirm whether the EU withdrawal Bill—which is being considered by the other place, where Members have agreed they want to be in a customs union—will come before this House in the week commencing 21 May?
I know that the Government do not like to come to Parliament, but I was a bit saddened to read in The House magazine—we like The House magazine, particularly when we are in it, although in my case that is not very often—an article on restoration and renewal. The right approach would have been to make that statement to this Chamber, given that so many Members on both sides took part in the debate and were concerned about it. I know that some decisions are already in train, and it would have been appropriate to come to the House.
I recently had to take part in a rally in opposition to the English Defence League. For the very first time, it was allowed to assemble right next to our peace and unity rally near St Paul’s at the Crossing in Walsall. I now have to write three letters to ascertain who was responsible for that decision—and there were breaches of the peace. In the evening, I heard the testimony of Janine Webber, a child of the holocaust. She told us that her grandmother, father and mother were murdered, and she said that when they took her brother away, she wondered why they let her go. She would have been saddened by what happened, but proud at the debate—at the dignity of all our colleagues who took part and at how they have opposed anti-Semitism. I hope that the time comes when we judge each other not on the colour of our skin, not on our religion and not on our gender, but just on who we are.
Finally, on a slightly happier note, I wish the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), a very happy birthday on Saturday—a birthday he shares with Her Majesty.
Every year. I wish Her Majesty a happy birthday, and we thank her for her service to the country and to the Commonwealth.
I join the hon. Lady in wishing the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee and Her Majesty very happy birthdays for Saturday. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is slightly younger than Her Majesty, but I am sure he would not venture to suggest by how much.
The hon. Lady has raised a number of important points. I am glad she is glad that we have debates on the higher education statutory instrument, the money resolution and Opposition motions scheduled for next week. We are, in fact, extraordinarily busy, and I would like to remind her of some of the achievements so far. We have introduced 27 Bills in this Session so far, including the seminal European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and other very important legislation that she mentioned, such as that on the general data protection regulation—I assure her that we are very aware of the impending deadline, and proceedings will be brought forward very soon.
We have had 11 Bills sent for Royal Assent already, including the Space Industry Bill—a fantastic opportunity to build the new skilled jobs of the future. We have six Brexit Bills before Parliament at the moment—the withdrawal Bill and Bills on nuclear safeguards, customs, trade, sanctions and road haulage. Of course, hundreds of statutory instruments have also been passed by each House. In addition, we have seven draft Bills published in this Session, and I will not detain the House any longer by naming them all.
However, I want to make the point to the hon. Lady that, in fact, we are achieving a lot, and I am delighted that that is the case. I am also delighted that the House is taking such an active part in not only the legislative programme, but some of the vital debates we have had just this week—that is incredibly important.
On the Windrush generation, which the hon. Lady raised, I can only again apologise. These individuals are British; they have absolutely every right to be here. What has happened is incredibly regrettable. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have apologised without reservation, and I do so again today. The Home Office is determined to put this right in short order, and that is what it is absolutely focused on doing.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of a fee, which I am sorry to say I am not aware of. If I may, I will investigate and come back to her. She asked when the EU withdrawal Bill will come back. As she knows, there are no programme motions, so their lordships will send it back to us in due course. Of course, we will consider all attempts to improve legislation, as we always do, and we will respond in due course to amendments that have been passed in the other place.
The hon. Lady also raised the issue of the restoration and renewal of the Palace. I am sorry if she thinks there was some sort of statement. In fact, the article in The House magazine was merely an attempt to keep Members’ interest in the subject. I am, of course, delighted to talk to her about progress at any time. As soon as there is substantive progress—for example, once we have recruited the internal and external members for the shadow sponsor body—there will be the opportunity to debate that in this place.
Finally, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s constituent, Janine Webber. It sounds as if that was harrowing testimony, and I am sure all of us in the House absolutely support the hon. Lady’s view that we should consider each other for who we are, not for where we come from or what we believe in.
May I ask my right hon. Friend about two statutory instruments that were laid just before Easter, which are designed to abolish Christchurch Borough Council against its will? Will she assure me that neither of those instruments will be brought forward for debate until there has been a report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, to which I have written pointing out that one of those statutory instruments seeks to change primary legislation and to do so retrospectively, with hybrid effect and in breach of Government undertakings to Parliament?
My hon. Friend raises a serious matter, although it is not something of which I am aware right now. If he allows me, I will certainly look into it and write to him.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I also extend birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). I always tell him that he is the finest Chair of the Backbench Business Committee that we have. I wish all London marathon participants from the House all the best on Sunday. A record 18 MPs will be running, including two Scottish National party Members of Parliament—Lightspeed Linden and Supermac Stuart McDonald—who will be running for charity.
Regardless of what the Leader of the House says, this has not been one of her finest weeks in the job. The structuring of parliamentary business at the beginning of this week was an utter shambles. I do not know what she was thinking in trying to discuss the Syrian air strikes in a debate under Standing Order No. 24; she is in charge of the business, for goodness’ sake. It is ridiculous that I am having to tell her that she could have tabled a motion on Syrian air strikes at any time. I ask her once again: will she now table a proper, amendable motion with a full day’s debate on the situation in Syria?
And what about the heroes in ermine, eh? The tribunes of the people and the red remoaners, who have somehow managed to thwart the Government’s chaotic and clueless Brexit? When I look around at my Conservative friends, I wonder whether some of them might now be a little more disposed to dealing with the House down the corridor, which is a national embarrassment, even though its Members are doing the right thing this time. I am saying to Conservative Members of this House, come on and join us! Let us get rid of the Lords from the face of our democracy, because it is an utter national embarrassment to this country and to what we call our democracy.
We need a full debate on what has happened regarding the Windrush generation; the cases and issues are getting more alarming and concerning. We have now heard that the policy described as creating a “hostile environment” passed in the Immigration Act 2014—supported by the Labour party, it has to be said—was opposed and objected to by Ministers and civil servants. But it certainly informed the whole approach to the Windrush victims.
Now, I am not against hostile environments. In fact, I would quite like a hostile environment for Faragist-informed Conservative Ministers, but this issue will not go away; it is going to get worse and worse for this Government. They should have learnt lessons from the Syrian air strikes, and come to the House with a proper motion and a full debate on what is happening on this appalling issue.
Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman were to participate in the London marathon himself, he might be a little distracted and less willing to let his blood pressure get as high as it obviously has today. I certainly congratulate his hon. Friends and all Members who are taking part in the London marathon; they are definitely braver than me.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the order of business this week. Mr Speaker, I know that you shared the desire of all Members across the House to see urgent debates on the subject. The Prime Minister herself applied for such a debate, on the grounds that the only practical way to change the order of business on a given day is through an urgent debate request.
Mr Speaker was pleased to grant an urgent debate to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). All hon. Members, including Conservatives, were pleased to stand in support of that. As the Prime Minister said, she was determined to be held accountable for her actions by the House. There was no question about it. At the same time, she also made it very clear that it was vital that she took action in such a way as would protect our armed forces, secrecy around the limited nature of the targets and secrecy around the extent of the operation, in order for that operation to be effective.
Following the Prime Minister’s action, which was entirely within the conventions of the House, she came to the House—facilitated in no small part by Mr Speaker himself—and made a three-and-a-quarter-hour statement, answering 140 individual questions. She then took part in a debate, answering 27 individual interventions from right hon. and hon. Members. She also took part in a further urgent debate the following day. It is simply unfair and ungenerous to suggest that anybody in this place was seeking to avoid accountability. The Prime Minister was absolutely clear about her intentions.
Coming into the House on Monday, I encountered, by chance, on the wireless an interview with the mother of a young boy murdered with a knife. In calling for tougher sentences and more stop-and-search, that mother chillingly declared that politicians did not care because their children were not at risk. I know, as you do, Mr Speaker, that people across this House do care. So, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on knife crime and the culture, which is gaining hold in our cities and elsewhere, that not only allows but celebrates the carrying and use of knives?
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point that hon. Members across the House have previously raised. He is exactly right to point out that we have seen an increase in the appalling use of knives in fights, particularly among younger people, the causes of which are very complicated: the increased use of county lines, drug use and so on are partly responsible.
I assure hon. Members that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is determined to take early action. We have had a number of discussions about what more can be done. In March, she launched a national knife crime media campaign across all channels, including billboards, to try to take young people away from this awful scourge. We are doing a great deal more intervention work in hospital A&Es, trying to appeal to those who have already experienced some sort of knife attack. We are awarding significant sums to community funds and to community groups who are tackling gangs and knife crime. My right hon. Friend has also launched the serious violence strategy. We will be bringing forward an offensive weapons Bill to try to limit access to and use of knives.
I have to say to the Leader of the House that I followed Her Majesty by some 31 years, so I am not just behind her, but despite my tender age, Tyne and Wear fire service has advised no candles on the cake this year.
I am glad to see from today’s Order Paper that the Backbench Business Committee is to get reinforcements in the shape of the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark). I am very glad that we have now got back our full complement. However, even with eight members and a quorum of four, it is sometimes difficult to get that quorum when members have been called away to Statutory Instrument Committees and so on. Could we please look at this again? It seems rather unfortunate to have a quorum of four for a Committee of eight.
I am afraid that it looks as though De La Rue has thrown in the towel on the production of UK passports in Britain. I would like a statement from the Home Secretary about exactly where and how our passports will be produced post-2020. De La Rue has done an awful lot of work in looking at the bids being put in by Gemalto in Paris. It seems to De La Rue—and to me, I think—that it is very likely, with the costs that have been provided, that post-2020 our passports will be produced, or mainly produced, in eastern Europe or in the far east. It is not a satisfactory situation, post-Brexit, for the UK—an independent nation, proud of itself—to have its passports produced far, far away.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the issue of age. He would admit to being a young whippersnapper by comparison, I am sure.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the quorum. I have taken soundings, as I said I would. The concerns are about whether a quorum below four is truly evidence of cross-party decision making. If he were to write to me, I could perhaps liaise with the Procedure Committee, which might be persuaded to look into this from a more formal point of view. I do understand the practical points he raises, but he will, I am sure, equally appreciate that, to be truly cross-party, four is a pretty small number of people to have in the decision-making process.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that De La Rue prints passports, security documents and money for countries right across the world. The UK, as we seek to leave the EU, will be a global champion for free trade, and so this cannot be one-sided. We need to accept that, just as our brilliant UK businesses generate income and profits from overseas, so other businesses must be able to compete in the UK market.
In relation to the point of order I raised a short time ago, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate—in consultation, of course, with the Privileges Committee—on the principles and practice by which the House deals with questions of molestation, abuse and intimidation of Members of Parliament, including on social media, and by reference not only to the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), but to all others?
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend’s point of order and I am extremely sympathetic to it. As you will know, Mr Speaker, I have also raised with you the issue of how social media can be used to intimidate Members and, potentially, to put out slanted versions of what takes place in the Chamber. I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend and will be happy to look into this if he wants to write to me. I know you have also asked him to raise it with you, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into fake news may look at these issues, and he will also be aware that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is looking carefully at an internet safety strategy for keeping young people safe online, and at seeking further ways to stamp out the sort of horrific abuse that has been described in the Chamber this week.
In January 2013, Kevin Doherty was found guilty of the manslaughter of his partner Jane Harrison. It had taken 18 years to bring him to justice, and he is still to disclose the location of Jane’s body to her family. In January this year he was granted a transfer to an open prison without reference to the Harrison family. How is that just or fair? I have written to the Ministry of Justice without success four times seeking a meeting with the appropriate Minister. Perhaps only a debate on the treatment of the families of victims will elicit any justice for the Harrison family.
The hon. Lady raises a truly harrowing case and I am sure that all Members send their deepest sympathy to the family of the victim. I am happy to take up the lack of response with the Ministry of Justice on her behalf if she would like to write to me.
Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), I have the same situation. May we have a debate in Government time on local democracy? My locals have been stamped on and ignored, and now they are being told by the Secretary of State that they will have what they get. I have total sympathy with the situation in Christchurch, so may we have a debate on local democracy before it is trodden on by this Government?
My hon. Friend raises an important constituency point. He may wish to seek an Adjournment debate. I also draw his attention to the fact that Ministers from the Department will answer oral questions on 30 April—he may wish to raise the issue directly with them.
I join the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) in pressing the Leader of the House to have an urgent debate and a continuing report from the Home Secretary on the serious violence strategy she has announced. The young and the middle-aged in London and across the country are being stabbed and becoming the victims of violent crime. We are seeing huge increases in violent crime. This is an emergency for the Government and the House should discuss it regularly. Local communities, including Nottingham Forest Football Club and Notts County Football Club, are coming together to try to tackle and stand up against this increase in violent crime, but we need the Government to report regularly to Parliament on what they are doing to tackle this scourge.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must do everything we can. I have tried to set out how, through the serious violence strategy, the Government are seeking to provide funding for community efforts, and to use a national media campaign to take young people away from this seemingly attractive lifestyle of joining a gang and being involved in this appalling violence. We are working with young people who have already been stabbed and are in hospital, and trying to turn them away from that lifestyle before it is too late. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that more could be done, and I recommend that he seeks a Backbench Business Committee debate so that all Members can share their thoughts on the subject.
Understandable changes to the parliamentary timetable this week precluded the opportunity to debate the hugely important banking scandals, and the effect that they had on thousands of business people around the country. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time to debate that important issue?
I agree that that is an important issue. The loss of livelihoods following the financial crisis was a devastating blow for many people. I will certainly take my hon. Friend’s request away and see whether it can be accommodated.
Will the Leader of the House make available Government time for a debate to be led by the Prime Minister, in which she could explain that a logical consequence of her hostile immigration environment is the hurt caused to the Windrush citizens, and the creation of citizens of nowhere? She could also provide a guarantee that no Windrush citizens will be harassed by the Home Office, and that EU citizens in the UK who are applying for settled status will not be faced with threats of deportation if their indefinite leave to remain papers no longer exist.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have both apologised unreservedly and made clear their commitment to putting this right. There is no question but that the Windrush generation are British and deserve to have all the same rights as citizens. He raises an important point about EU citizens, and I regret anybody seeking to cause a lack of confidence and destabilise the feelings of EU citizens—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Ministers from the Dispatch Box and I have all been absolutely clear: EU citizens who have come to the UK, made their lives here and contributed to the United Kingdom, are welcome here, and their rights will be protected. It is not the same situation at all.
As the new chair of the all-party furniture industry group, may I make an early plea to my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time to highlight the significant contribution that the furniture industry makes to the UK economy? May I urge her to exploit the unique skills of our British furniture manufacturers when we commence work on the restoration of this place?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her new position. I am a big fan of that industry—my mother and stepfather had a furniture shop when I was growing up. The furniture industry is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, and in 2017 alone it contributed nearly £3.9 billion to the UK economy, employing more than 90,000 workers. I assure my hon. Friend that the restoration and renewal programme will consider how the UK furniture sector can benefit from the restoration of our grade I listed palace.
I hope Members across the House share my anger with the multinational waste management company FCC Environment. It is refusing to grant all its workers the basic right of sick pay, despite one of those workers suffering from cancer, despite workers offering to give up their annual bonuses to help cover the cost, and despite the fact that all the management team receive sick pay. May we have a debate in Government time on whether any public contracts should be given to companies that do not offer something as basic as sick pay for all their workers?
The hon. Lady raises a worrying situation. She will be aware that the Government’s Taylor review has raised all issues of the rights of workers and the way they are treated, and the Government will bring forward measures to ensure that any public procurement takes into account the importance of the rights of workers. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate so that she can raise this specific case directly with Ministers.
It has been a strange old week for Parliament: money resolutions not provided and blocking a private Member’s Bill; a Government motion signed by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader not moved by the Government; and a Standing Order emergency application from the Government to destroy their own business. The real Whitehall farce of the week, however, was when the Leader of the Opposition had an emergency debate. Government Members were called back from everywhere to vote against the motion and the Leader of the Opposition got all his Members to vote against the motion. The Government voted for the Corbyn motion and Labour MPs voted against it. It was carried by a massive majority and not a single Labour MP supported it. Leader of the House, that is a nonsense! We have to change this and the simple way to do it is to have a business of the House committee. May we have a debate in Government time on this matter?
My hon. Friend raises a real mish-mash of issues. On private Members’ Bills, he will be aware that a money resolution is being brought forward in due course as soon as we can do so. On Select Committee term limits, he, and I am sure you, Mr Speaker, would agree it is perfectly orderly for a Member whose name is on a motion to bring it forward. As another person whose name was on that motion, I am pleased that it has now been passed, giving Select Committee term limits of 10 years rather than eight years during this Parliament.
My hon. Friend also raises urgent debates. I have gone into some detail on the importance of the Government being held to account as early as possible on Monday. The practical way to do that is through an urgent debate, which you, Mr Speaker, were pleased to give. I do not think my hon. Friend has raised a succession of arguments for reform. To be very clear, a Committee of the whole House would not be able to deal with some of the many necessary changes to business.
Yes it would.
The reality of trying to call a committee in short order to deal with very fast moving situations makes it entirely impractical. Having looked carefully at this issue, the Government have decided that it would not be a workable solution.
I should just say to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), and for the benefit of other Members, without in any way dissenting from anything that the Leader has just said, that it is perfectly open to the House to amend Standing Order No. 24, of which there is some uncertainty and often incomprehension. It could be amended to allow for the tabling of substantive motions in circumstances of emergency, which could also be amendable and on which the House could vote. If there are Members who are interested in that line of inquiry, they could usefully raise it with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), but it is a matter for Members.
On a lighter note, the sun is shining and it is obvious it is now spring. I always feel it is spring when the London marathon takes place. So many people run the marathon—not me, thank goodness—to raise money for charities, particularly heart and cancer charities. May we, from across the House, congratulate them all?
Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), are calling for a debate on local democracy. Local democracy is fundamental to this country. We are all part of local democracy and products of it. May we have an urgent debate on local democracy? There is a big decline in social and community networks in our towns and cities, because, due to cuts to their budgets, local authorities are no longer able to support them.
First of all, I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the 18 Members of Parliament and the thousands of others taking part in the London marathon, in particular Mo Farah, whom a number of us will be cheering on.
The hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on local democracy. A Westminster Hall debate or a Backbench Business debate can always be sought to share issues and ideas on local democracy. I draw his attention to departmental questions on 30 April, when he can raise it directly with Ministers.
I recently visited ILKE Homes, which is developing a factory near Knaresborough for the off-site pre-manufacture of homes. Other comparable initiatives are taking place across the country. This is an exciting development for the housing sector, as it will deliver houses quicker, with improved environmental benefits and at a cheaper cost. I was certainly impressed by what I saw at ILKE, so please could we have a debate about new methods of construction in the infrastructure and housing sectors, so that we can highlight the emerging benefits?
My hon. Friend raises a really good point. The idea of manufactured housing can certainly contribute to the Government’s principal domestic priority, which is to ensure that everybody has the chance to have their own home. It is encouraging to see companies such as ILKE Homes using modern methods of construction. Throughout 2017, we saw continued growth in modern methods of construction across all sectors, and the Government’s home building fund is providing support for those methods. We should encourage all businesses looking at this to continue to do so.
Nearly 7,000 jobs and our steel industry rely on the contract for three new ships to support our aircraft carriers. The Government must get behind our shipbuilding and steel industry, so can we have a statement on defence procurement?
We are all very proud of our shipbuilding sector, which is in a good position and has had some huge successes with our new shipbuilding programme. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the Government’s commitment to provide not just a decent, home-grown future plan for new ships, but to seek to win orders from overseas as well. If he wants to seek a specific debate on shipbuilding, I recommend that he asks for an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
Can we have a debate on the work of the Council of Europe, hopefully on an annual basis? As we leave the EU, it becomes the most important organisation in Europe of which we are still a member, and yesterday there was cross-party agreement to such a debate.
My hon. Friend makes a really interesting suggestion, and I am certainly happy to take it away and look at it.
I echo the calls from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for us to have a debate on youth violence and the Government’s serious violence strategy. It might be helpful if I remind the Leader of the House of her comments on 29 March. On the strategy being published, she said:
“It will be very important, when the strategy comes forward, for the House to have a chance to debate it”.—[Official Report, 29 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 957.]
If she is worried about what the Home Secretary might think about this, when she was asked about this on 16 April, she said:
“I will take that very good question to the Leader of the House. I would relish such a debate.”—[Official Report, 16 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 24.]
When are we going to have that debate on the serious violence strategy?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, because she raises this issue frequently in the Chamber and I know that she is absolutely committed to doing everything that she can to eradicate this appalling increase in knife crime. I have already mentioned the steps that the Government are taking. I hear what she says about having a debate, and I will certainly take that away and see what can be done.
Agricultural machinery rings, such as Ringlink in my constituency—I have visited Ringlink, which has in excess of 2,700 members—play a vital and yet undervalued part in running a modern agricultural business by matching a shortage of machinery and labour on some farms with a surplus on other farms. Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time on the vital part played in rural economies by businesses such as Ringlink and other machinery rings across the country?
My hon. Friend asks a very good question. Collaboration between farmers can bring real economic benefits and help them to benefit from economies of scale, to share knowledge and share machinery, and of course, to jointly market their produce. Ringlink is a great example of a collaborative organisation that has managed to evolve in response to changing industry needs. The Government are keen to support that type of work in the agriculture sector, so in February this year we announced a £10 million collaboration fund to bring together those who are interested in greater co-operation.
Let me first associate myself with the comments made by the Leader of the House about the anniversary of the foundation of Israel. That was a great achievement by a great Labour Government and a great Labour Foreign Secretary.
Three Members have asked questions about the wave of violent crime that is sweeping the whole of Britain to some extent, but especially London, and east London in particular. Given that it cannot be dissociated from the loss of police officers and police stations, we urgently need a debate about crime, policing levels and police station closures.
I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the increase in crime levels, particularly in London. As I said earlier, on 8 April the Government announced plans for an offensive weapons Bill, which will make it illegal to carry corrosive substances in a public place. We will consult publicly on extending stop-and-search powers to enable the police to seize acids from people who are carrying them without good reason. The Bill will also make it illegal to possess certain offensive weapons, and we are taking a raft of other actions in the serious violence strategy. However, I hear from all Members that there is a strong desire for a debate on this subject, and I will certainly look into what can be done.
The disappointing profits results issued by Debenhams today follow hot on the heels of the difficulties that high street names such as Maplin, New Look and Toys R Us are experiencing. May we have a debate on what the Government can do to help high street retailers, especially those in small towns such as Shipley, Bingley and Baildon, which are having a very difficult time? Could we discuss in particular how we can help them to compete against online retailers by, for instance, doing something about business rates, so that the bricks-and-mortar retailers that are so needed and so welcome on our high streets can continue to thrive rather than struggling, as I am afraid they are at the moment?
l think we are all concerned about the health of the high street shopping centres in our constituencies, and my hon. Friend is also right to refer to online competition. Business rates may indeed be making the difference between bricks-and-mortar retailers and those that are doing better online. My hon. Friend will be aware of our measures to reform business rates and try to create a more level playing field. Measures such as Small Business Saturday and the work that we all do as Members to promote our own small shopping areas are obviously important, but he may wish to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can talk directly to Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about what more we can do.
The day before a recess, I am reliably informed, is known as “take the trash out day” in Government circles. Before this year’s Easter recess, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published its long-awaited review of the future of S4C. I am sure that the British Government would want to avoid the impression that they would refer to my country’s primary asset in such derogatory terms. May we have a debate in Government time, or at least an oral statement, on this important issue?
Let me first reassure the hon. Gentleman that the reason there is often a flurry of activity on the day before recesses is that, far from its being “take the trash out day”, the purpose is to ensure that the House is still sitting when important announcements are made so that they are not left until the House is in recess, which is precisely the opposite of what he has said. Let me also reassure him about the Welsh broadcasting channel: it is absolutely vital, and he may well want to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.
Yesterday morning the Prime Minister welcomed Narendra Modi to No. 10 Downing Street, and yesterday evening I joined right hon. and hon. Members to attend events in Central Hall, where Modiji subjected himself to two and a half hours of detailed questioning.
At the same time, a quite disgraceful event was taking place in Parliament Square, where the Indian national flag, which had been raised to celebrate the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, was burned. Meanwhile, some disgraceful billboards were going around London comparing our good friend Narendra Modi to Hitler. I am all for free speech, but that seems to transcend free speech. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary about what will be done to prevent such actions from taking place in the future?
My hon. Friend has made a shocking announcement, and if he wants to write to me giving details of what he saw or heard, I shall be happy to take it up with the Home Secretary on his behalf.
The data protection legislation currently going through the House is a welcome update to our legislative framework, but may we have an urgent statement from the relevant Minister on the unintended consequences that this legislation might have for MPs being able to communicate with their constituents?
The hon. Gentleman might be aware that a number of Members have raised this issue with me in recent days. Both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Information Commissioner’s Office are putting out further advice for MPs. My own parliamentary staff undertook the first round of training, and found it much too generic: there was not enough detail about the consequences for pre-existing data we hold on constituents who have contacted us before, and so on. So there is now a huge effort under way to ensure that MPs get the advice they need so that they can be absolutely clear about the impact this has on their relationship with their constituents. To be clear, it is vital that our relationship with—our ability to communicate with, about and on behalf of—our constituents is not impaired in any way.
In the first two months of this year, there were 413 domestic burglaries in the London borough of Bromley, some 32% up, and 38 of them were in the Chislehurst ward alone. They are largely carried out by organised gangs of criminals, almost invariably armed and willing to threaten, and sometimes use, violence. It is not unique to Bromley, either, or to other parts of London. Many of my constituents regard this as a crime of violence and think that, frankly, all domestic burglaries should be treated as crimes of violence because of the invasion of someone’s home, family and privacy. May we have a debate in Government time on having a joined-up strategy for tackling this through both police priorities and the sentencing framework?
I am sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s experiences in his constituency, and of course any form of burglary, particularly when violence is threatened, is very frightening and harrowing for the victims. I encourage him to seek either a Backbench Business Committee debate or an Adjournment debate so that he can raise his particular concerns directly with Ministers.
In light of the decision of the Scottish Government, followed by the Welsh Government, to put the healthcare and dignity of women first by allowing abortion tablets to be taken at home, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for England Health explaining why English women still have to attend an abortion clinic to get those medically prescribed tablets, and why we are still making the harrowing stories we hear of women who have miscarried on the way home from those clinics in public toilets or on public transport happen in England?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, and I encourage her to raise it at Health questions, but if she would prefer to write to me, I can take it up with the Department on her behalf.
The issue of potholes is understandably troubling my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and I am delighted that Northamptonshire is to get an extra £1.6 million of Government funding to help with repairs, but Ministers must keep the resources under constant review, so may we have a statement on that next week?
I confess to having a great interest in my hon. Friend’s pothole problem since his constituency is just up the road from mine, and very often the journey there goes through both of our constituencies. Potholes are a disastrous problem, and it is at this time of year, after the long winter and when the roads are in a particularly bad state, that the potholes start getting repaired. Certainly in my area I am seeing some improvements, and I hope all hon. Members are in theirs, too. My hon. Friend raises an important point that affects all of us, and it is a perfect example of something the Backbench Business Committee might look at.
I recently had lunch at the Old Bailey with judges, and they told me that virtually every other trial they are handling at present involves knife crime, gang crime and teenagers. I then sat in and witnessed the trial of four teenagers who were convicted of murdering another teenager. That is such a tragic waste of life, so I just want to add my voice to those of the other MPs who have spoken about this matter. The House really does need to debate it, and I hope the Leader of the House will give it parliamentary time.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I think she is about the sixth hon. Member to raise this issue, and I will certainly go away and look at it carefully.
There is traffic chaos in north-east Lincolnshire due to the number of temporary traffic lights. Some have been installed for essential roadworks, but the council is failing to co-ordinate these operations. May we have a debate on how local authorities deal with these situations? Motorists are frustrated, traders are becoming increasingly angry and we need action.
My hon. Friend is a great spokesman for his constituency, and I can well imagine the frustration caused by poorly co-ordinated roadworks and permanently “temporary” traffic lights, which are very frustrating for motorists. I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate or to write to Ministers on the specifics in his constituency.
May we have a debate to mark the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in Eltham? It was a seminal moment for race relations in our country, and it should be recognised in some way by the House. Such a debate would give us an opportunity to distance ourselves from the remarks made by Mr Mellish, the former detective, on last night’s documentary, in which he accused Stephen Lawrence’s mother of having a gimmick in not smiling. She was a bereaved mother who had lost her son in the most tragic circumstances, and she was let down by the Metropolitan police, which was found to be institutionally racist. Mr Mellish was a fine example of that last night, and we should be given the opportunity to distance ourselves from individuals such as him.
I am very sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says. We all have our own recollection of the appalling night on which Stephen Lawrence was murdered, of the bravery of both his parents in their own ways in the subsequent years, and of the lessons learned by the police forces. Our current Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has shown her commitment to stamping out any form of racism, which is vital for all of us, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that Stephen Lawrence’s appalling death must never be forgotten.
Pursuant to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry and to what the Leader of the House has said, I believe I am right in saying that there is to be a commemorative service at St Martin-in-the-Fields next Monday to mark the 25th anniversary of that appalling murder. I think I am also right in saying that our admirable Chaplain, Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, will be preaching at the service. I hope colleagues will agree that that is singularly appropriate.
Mr Speaker, at the last business questions, you stated that you expected the Government to make an announcement in the House of Commons about the awarding of the mechanised infantry vehicle contract. In fact, that announcement was made during the recess, on Easter Saturday—a time, I would suggest, deliberately designed to minimise publicity and avoid scrutiny. May we have a debate in Government time in this House as soon as possible on that important £2 billion contract?
First, I reiterate my commitment to ensuring that Parliament is the place where as many announcements as possible are made. I also draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that we will have Defence questions on Monday, so he will have an opportunity to raise his concern directly at that point.
The Leader of the House will recall that I recently raised in business questions the problem of addiction, including compulsive gambling. One of the most dangerously addictive forms of gambling is online gambling, and she might have seen that one of the German Länder has recently legislated to prevent online gambling in that area. Will she urge her Government colleagues to look at that German initiative in addressing the scourge of gambling addiction?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point. Addictive online gambling is absolutely destroying lives, and the loss of income and vital family money is appalling. If he would like to write to me separately, I can take the matter up with Ministers on his behalf.
May we have a debate on community sport and active lifestyles, such as those promoted by local bowling clubs? I had the pleasure of attending Kelvindale bowling club in my constituency for the opening of the season, and I am proudly wearing its tie today. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing all the best to that club, to clubs across the country, and indeed to the Scotland team, all of whom came home from the Commonwealth games with one kind of medal or another?
I am always delighted to congratulate those involved in all sporting efforts, including the bowling team that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and, of course, I congratulate Scotland and all parts of the United Kingdom on an excellent Commonwealth games.
Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children make their weekly pilgrimage to watch their football team. In the top two tiers of English football, they can only do so sitting down. This is unsafe, as it is not universally observed, and it is bad for the atmosphere. It is time to permit safe standing, as they do in Scotland and other parts of Europe. May we have a debate on this matter in Government time?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are arguments for and against standing and sitting in football stadiums and we have our own horrendous examples of unfortunate and appalling circumstances involving standing. I am sure that he will appreciate that it is not an easy issue to decide one way or the other. I encourage him to take the matter up directly with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and see what progress it is making.
On the subject of the London marathon, not only is my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) running but so is my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). This will make them the first husband and wife team from the House of Commons to run the London marathon—
She may indeed.
I confess that I do not read the impact assessment for every Bill placed before the House, and the Leader of the House has mentioned a large number of Bills, but I was surprised to read in the Daily Mail this morning a quote from the Home Office on the Bill that became the Immigration Act 2014 that said that Ministers would not have been required to sign off the impact assessment. Is it the case that under this Government Ministers will introduce Bills into the business of the House of Commons without knowing what their impact is?
I did not read the article in the Daily Mail that the hon. Gentleman mentions. My understanding, having been a Minister for some four years, is that Ministers sign off on impact assessments, but whether there are some that they do not sign off I am genuinely not aware, so I will write to him.
May we have an urgent statement from the Government urging people to get behind London marathon runners this weekend, of which I am one? Will the Leader of the House join me in praising the work of Glasgow EastEnd Community Carers and encourage generous Glaswegians to get right behind me and donate—and will she possibly donate herself?
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is now known as Legs Linden—is that it? I encourage him to go for it; we are proud of him and all colleagues taking part in the London marathon, particularly for such a great cause. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s charity in all it does to try to help people.
On Monday, I had great pleasure in attending Channel 4’s announcement of the biggest restructuring of the channel in its 35-year history, with the “4 all the UK” programme to disperse its headquarters out of London to different cities around the UK. I have every confidence that my city of Glasgow, with its excellent strengths in broadcast media, production and education in media, will have a good strong chance of securing one of those headquarter facilities. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate so that MPs from across the UK can advocate for their constituencies to be the home of the Channel 4 headquarters?
I am certainly glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that early pitch for Glasgow. I am sure that plenty of people will have heard it and I am sure that all hon. Members will find their own way of putting their pitch forward so that their cities can take part in Channel 4’s dispersion arrangements.
I associate myself with the question asked by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) about the loss of the Backbench Business Committee-sponsored debate on the banks on Tuesday, for very important reasons. Many thousands of our constituents are waiting for the debate. They are waiting to hear answers to questions that they have raised over many years. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House indicated if the Government might be able to facilitate three hours, ideally on a Tuesday, for the debate to take place.
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), I apologise for the circumstances that led to the Backbench Business Committee deciding not to hold that debate and further apologise for the fact that that was the second time it happened. I absolutely recognise the importance of the debate. We need to have it and, as I said to my hon. Friend, I will take it away and see whether we can offer Government time while appreciating, as I know hon. Members do, that there is a premium on legislative priorities.
Following a freedom of information request from the GMB union, shipbuilders in Scotland have learned that the Government are putting out the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to international tender. That is despite the fact that the Government do not have to do so, despite the fact that they could secure almost 7,000 jobs here and despite the fact they could generate millions of pounds for the Exchequer. May we have an urgent statement, not leaving it to Defence questions on Monday, so that the Defence Secretary can give a proper explanation of himself?
I am not aware of that freedom of information request, but I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise it at Defence questions—it is only on Monday, so it is not too long to wait—so he can raise it directly with the Secretary of State.
May we have a debate on the “really hostile environment” the Prime Minister has created for migrants to the UK? Almost half of my constituents were born outside the UK. Many face harassment by the Home Office, and 40% of my EU citizens report negative experiences following the Brexit vote. It is not only the Windrush generation but more recent migrants who are suffering victimisation and discrimination by this Government.
This country is incredibly welcoming to immigrants. We have one of the broadest ranges of people coming to this country from across the world to make their life here. This country is, in fact, very welcoming to immigrants. The Prime Minister herself has carried out the first ever race disparity audit to look at the areas where integration has been more difficult and to take action in those areas. I simply do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the Government’s policy.
Claims helplines are supposed to be free phone numbers. In answer to a written parliamentary question, the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the employment and support allowance helpline became a free phone number on 7 December, but the most prominent number available online is an 0843 number, which is chargeable. Last month one of my constituents was charged £72 over the month for phone calls made to that number. Will the Leader of the House make a statement outlining what the Government will do to make sure that only free phone numbers are used and that information on those numbers is widely available online? Does she agree that my constituent should get a refund from the DWP?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. If he writes to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I am sure she will respond. If he wants to do that through me, I am happy to take it up with my right hon. Friend on his behalf.
My constituents, Mr and Mrs Dodd, face losing their home next month as a result of a personal guarantee they signed with Goldcrest Distribution Ltd. The case highlights the lack of safeguards for individuals who sign such agreements and the unreasonable way that finance companies pursue such debts. An offer to repay nearly double the loan amount was rejected, and the debt continues to increase at a rate of over £300 a day, thanks to interest rates at which even Wonga would blush. Please can we have a debate on more protection for individuals in these circumstances?
That is a particularly awful story. Having been City Minister some time ago, I have heard similar stories of the appalling way that some individuals are treated by finance companies. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, and I encourage him to write to the Financial Conduct Authority to see whether it can take action on behalf of his constituents.
Despite this horrendous heatwave, I am still looking forward to joining 17 colleagues on both sides of the House in trying to complete the marathon on Sunday. I will be raising money for Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland. On that note, may we have a debate in Government time on why they continue to resist calls from the Food Standards Agency, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and others for the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid? It has been shown in other countries that fortification can significantly reduce the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects, including spina bifida.
I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman. An impressive set of colleagues are taking part in the marathon. Let us hope it is just cool enough for them all to finish.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising money for Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland, which is a vital charity. He has campaigned on this subject for some time, and I encourage him to continue raising this issue with Ministers.
Private Rented Sector
Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee
Select Committee statement
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me time, on behalf of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, to speak to the House today about our fourth report of this Session, which is on the private rented sector. The report concentrated on: the quality of accommodation; the balance of power between tenants and landlords; the legislative framework; and enforcement
This Committee last considered the private rented sector in a report in 2013, following which the Government carried forward many of our suggestions, including a reformed approach to selective licensing, the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation and a new regulatory model for letting agents. We hope the Government will take forward many of our recommendations this time, too.
The private rented sector has doubled in size in the past 15 years. There are now 4.7 million households in the sector, including 1.8 million families with children, which represents 20% of all households. Statistics show that most housing in the sector is adequate, although Shelter told us that 53% of tenants had experienced at least one problem with conditions or repair in the past year. Although the overall proportion of inadequate properties in the sector has fallen, the absolute number has increased, and a significant minority of private rented accommodation continues to be shockingly inadequate. The English housing survey shows that approximately 800,000 private rented homes in England have at least one category 1 hazard, such as excess cold, mould or exposed wiring. In our online forum, we heard directly from tenants about the poor conditions they had suffered. One submission said:
“We live in a house full of mould and damp with four young children…We have …faulty electrics and water comes through the living room window when it rains…the whole family keeps getting ill from it.”
We wanted to know about the power relationship between landlords and tenants: are tenants, especially those at the lower end of the market, able to complain and get their problems attended to? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Citizens Advice told us that 44% of tenants said that a fear of eviction would stop them from negotiating with their landlord over disrepair. Shelter and Citizens Advice told us that they often reminded tenants about the risks of making complaints. We heard that 14% of tenants felt that they had been penalised for complaining, and more than 200,000 reported having been abused, threatened or harassed by a landlord. We found that there is a clear power imbalance, and we called on the Government to consider extending protections which they rightly introduced in the Deregulation Act 2015. We also agree with the Government that a specialist housing court would provide a more accessible route to redress for tenants and urge them to issue more detailed proposals as soon as possible.
We looked at the overall legislative framework. The Residential Landlords Association told us there were 140 Acts of Parliament and more than 400 regulations affecting landlords in the sector. Our 2013 report called for that to be consolidated and made simpler. Since then, we have had the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the Deregulation Act 2015 and many others, so the situation is even more complicated. Therefore, we recommend again that the Law Commission undertakes a review of the legislation and provides guidance as to whether a new approach would bring more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.
We focused on the housing health and safety rating system, and heard that there is a lack of understanding about how it works among landlords and tenants, and inconsistent application by local authorities. We called on the Government to immediately update the guidance on the rating system and eventually to introduce a more straightforward set of quality standards that everyone can understand.
We heard near unanimous support for the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck). We, too, offer our support for the Bill, but we want to make sure vulnerable tenants at the lower end of the market are able to make use of these powers. We have therefore called for free and easily accessible technical and legal advice to support tenants. As it is likely tenants will seek this advice from local authorities, it is vital that they are suitably resourced to provide this additional service.
Most local authorities told us they were satisfied generally with the powers they have. However, powers can be meaningless if they are not actually used, and a freedom of information request showed that six out of 10 councils had not prosecuted a single landlord in 2016. One council, Newham, was responsible for 50% of all prosecutions across the country—why is that? Clearly, the level of protection being offered to vulnerable tenants in many councils is not adequate. The reasons we heard were: the legislation is over-complicated, as I have mentioned; local authorities have insufficient resources; and some local authorities simply lack the political will.
On resources, the Local Government Association has identified a funding gap of £5.8 billion by 2019-20. The Chartered Institute of Housing showed that local authority spending on enforcement has reduced by a fifth over a six-year period. The Government have rightly introduced civil penalties of up to £30,000 and allowed local authorities to keep that money, and they brought in rent repayment orders—both were recommendations in the Committee’s previous report. Local authorities need further funding, though, and we hope the Government will work with them to try to achieve that.
Concerns were expressed that local authorities could not always cover the full cost of prosecutions, which might deter them from prosecuting some cases. The Minister said that local authorities’ duty was to prosecute regardless, but, being cash-strapped, they will often take the cost into account when they make decisions. We believe that courts should require offenders to pay costs that reflect the actual costs to local authorities of enforcement actions.
As part of our inquiry, we went to Newham to look at the enforcement activity there. I saw a garden shed configured to accommodate not one, but two households. We heard of about 25 people being accommodated in a small three-bedroom house. People were living in a walk-in freezer. A family was living in a chipboard construction in a garden, with a fridge and a washing machine powered by a wire from the kitchen. These are shocking conditions, and the fines and civil penalties should be increased.
However, the very worst landlords, whose business model relies on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants, can make hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. To them, a civil penalty of £30,000, however large an amount that is, is merely a business expense. To deal with the worst of the criminal landlords, we call for local authorities to have the power to take action to secure the confiscation of properties from landlords who commit the very worst offences, and to break their business model, which relies on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants.
Aside from the adequacy of resources or the severity of penalties, variations in enforcement between councils indicate that some local authorities have placed a higher priority on standards than others. We have called for authorities to publish their enforcement strategies and for a national benchmarking scheme, so that residents can compare enforcement between authorities. Ultimately, we believe that the disparity can be addressed only through political leadership.
In recognition of the particular interests of some Members, we supported the findings of the all-party group on carbon monoxide, which has called for landlords to install carbon monoxide alarms in the rooms of private rented properties that contain any fuel-burning appliance. We also supported the call for the Government to implement mandatory five-yearly checks on electrical installations in private rented property—an issue on which the Government have been consulting.
Finally, we looked into selective landlord licensing schemes. Since April 2015, local authorities have had to seek approval from the Government for selective schemes that would cover more than 20% of their area or more than 20% of privately rented homes in it. We heard that decision making was too slow, lacked transparency and was over-bureaucratic. Even local authorities that had decided against implementing a scheme felt that the decision should rest at local level.
In our view, decisions to implement such schemes should be made locally, where there is greater understanding of local needs and politicians are directly accountable to their electorates. We recommend that the Government remove the 20% cap; however, the Secretary of State should retain a power to require local authorities to reconsider a decision to implement a scheme that does not meet the strict criteria already set out by the Government.
As the private rented sector continues to expand and people remain in the sector for far longer, the Government need to address the clear power imbalance between tenants and landlords, and to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to enforce the even stronger laws that we are recommending, to protect the most vulnerable tenants living in the worst conditions.
It is good to see my friend the Chair of the Select Committee back in his place after his medical treatment. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I agree absolutely with every point made in the report. In respect of retaliatory evictions, does he agree that one issue that must be resolved is assured shorthold tenancies of six months, which are the norm for the private sector? If we extended those to three-year tenancies, that would strike a better balance between tenants and landlords.
I absolutely agree. In our previous report—my friend, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), was also a member of the Committee at the time—we called for longer-term tenancies and greater certainty and security. We recognise what the Government have done under the Deregulation Act 2015 in terms of protection against retaliatory evictions, but the problem in the current market is that if a tenant does not formally complain in writing to the local authority, and the local authority then does not get enforcement action, there is actually no protection. We also recognise that the new legislation coming in, such as the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), could leave the tenant open to retaliatory eviction, and in that legislation there is no protection from it. That is why we say that we should look again at that particular issue.
It is very good to see my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, back in his place. I am a member of the Committee and it was a pleasure to work with other members of the Committee on this report, with which I agree wholeheartedly.
A family with very small children living in poor-quality rented accommodation in my constituency were recently evicted after they complained that the ceiling in the bathroom had collapsed over the bath shortly after they had finished bathing their children. I have no doubt that the next tenant is now living in that property, and that it is the taxpayer who is lining that landlord’s pockets by paying the rent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is entirely appropriate for this report to make the recommendation that, in such despicable circumstances, the state should have the power to remove such properties from those landlords so that they can be returned to good use for families who need high-quality accommodation? Will he join me in calling on the Minister to progress that recommendation?
I thank my hon. Friend for her best wishes. May I also thank her and the hon. Member for Harrow East for the work that they did on the Select Committee while I was off in March?
Absolutely. We heard that many landlords do an excellent job. There are some who do not do it quite as well as others, and there are some who are basically criminals—the word “rogue” is used, but they are basically criminals. They are exploiting both the tenant and the taxpayer. In those extreme circumstances, the ultimate power of not merely banning them from operating as a landlord, but taking that property off them, is something we hope the Government will seriously consider.
I welcome the Chair of the Select Committee back to his place.
I recused myself from the Select Committee inquiry because of my own Member’s interests, to which, of course, the House can refer. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) references longer tenancies, but does the Chair of the Select Committee accept that those should be introduced on a voluntary basis for fear otherwise of driving landlords out of the sector, thereby potentially reducing supply to this very, very important sector?
We did not particularly consider that in this report. In our previous report, we said that Shelter had produced a good model, and that we encouraged the sector to look at it. We must make landlords more aware of what is on offer. Sometimes, there is a feeling that some letting agents encourage the delivery of shorter-term tenancies because—guess what?—they make money every time the tenancy is renewed. The Government are dealing with that element in terms of tenants paying those fees, but landlords should get a bit wise to this, because I think many would actually favour longer tenancies. Let us get the information out there and encourage it.
Last night, I attended a housing assembly at a West London Citizens meeting. Some 300 people from churches, schools and community organisations were present. One of the demands on our council candidates was for there to be greater landlord licensing and a charter of tenants’ rights. What did the Committee’s report say on that? From my recollection, when these subjects came up in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, some Government Members said that they would lead to too much red tape; I think many of them derive income from that source. What does my hon. Friend have to say on that?
There are two issues there. We have talked about the power imbalance, and action can be taken particularly on retaliatory eviction and retaliatory rent increases to try to rebalance the power. We have also asked the Government to use social media to make more information available to tenants, rather than just using the written form. On licensing, what we are saying is that, essentially, this should be a local decision within the current criteria. I hear landlords say, “It costs us,” but what I say is that the landlords’ concern over selective licensing is not because of the fee that they pay, but because Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs might suddenly realise that they are raking in an income and they might suddenly have to start paying tax on it. That is something we should welcome in terms of public resources—getting in more tax as a result of these schemes.
It is good to see my hon. Friend back in his place. He rightly highlighted the contribution that the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), can make to tackling the really appalling conditions in the private sector. The Government are supporting the Bill—at the third time of asking—but it is still not being allowed into Committee. Will he use his and his Committee’s considerable weight to ensure that the Bill does indeed pass, because we absolutely need its powers?
I will certainly do everything I can. That was the view of the Committee, and of the House on the Bill’s Second Reading, which I was here for. The Bill has unanimous support, so I hope there will be no obstacles to it. We did identify two issues, however, around making the Bill work. One was to ensure protection from retaliatory eviction when tenants complain—we thought that important—and the second was access to proper legal and technical advice, which many tenants will need to take on their landlord. We also said that a reformed housing court would make such legal approaches by tenants or anyone else much easier to deal with, and asked the Government to give urgent consideration to that as well.
Excellent. It is good to welcome the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) back to his place.
We now come to the Backbench debate on surgical mesh, in which Emma Hardy is to move the motion. As is the custom, she has around 15 minutes. I am sure there could be a little leeway, but Members should be aware we have an important debate to follow.
I beg to move,
That this House commends the recent announcement of a retrospective audit into surgical mesh for pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence; notes that vaginal mesh has been banned in other jurisdictions such as New Zealand; further notes that NICE guidance recommends against the use of surgical mesh for pelvic organ prolapse and that no NICE recommendations have been made for stress urinary incontinence; notes that Sheffield University recently announced the development of a new mesh material; and calls on the Government to suspend prolapse and incontinence mesh operations while the audit is being carried out, to bring forward the NICE guidelines for mesh in stress related urinary incontinence from 2019 to 2018, and to commit to a full public inquiry into mesh if the audit suggests that this is the best course of action.
I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for enabling this debate to take place and to the fantastic work done by the all-party parliamentary group on surgical mesh implants, of which I am a vice chair, and which is led by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith). I also thank the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) for their support in bringing forward this debate, as well as the amazing Kath Sansom and the campaign group Sling the Mesh—many of the women up in the Gallery have done so much to bring this to public attention. It is for the members of this group and everybody else affected by this scandal that I rise to speak today.
Is my hon. Friend as alarmed as I am—she clearly is—that today and tomorrow women will be having operations that might well cause them complications in the future? Does she agree that these operations should be stopped until we find out the truth?
I absolutely agree. One of the main points I wish to make is the urgent need to suspend the use of mesh.
The issue of surgical mesh was brought to my attention by a constituent of mine called Angie, an incredibly brave woman who used to be very fit and healthy, but who, after having incontinence following the birth of her twins and a hysterectomy, was advised to have this mesh operation. She is now unable to work, in constant pain and suffering, cannot take part in sports and has problems sleeping. I remember listening to what she said to me and feeling horrified that this had happened to her. As I have learned, she is most definitely not alone. One story that moved me came in by email this week. The lady who emailed wrote:
“I started noticing that something wasn’t right with me the second day after I was discharged after the operation. It started with my legs—they were extremely stiff and cold, especially my feet, I couldn’t warm them in any way. I rang the hospital, but it didn’t ring an alarm bell to them. Then after a few days, I started having a very bad stomach ache, nausea, headache, chest pain, something happened to my vision, out of the blue, I became very tired and weak, slightly dizzy. I started noticing that I couldn’t focus and think clearly, my scars didn’t heal well and suddenly after a month my biggest scar started producing very smelly discharge.
I requested an appointment with a GP. I was already complaining that something wasn’t right with me. Everything started after the operation…When my health and all symptoms got worse 12 weeks since the operation, I was told that my fatigue is because I have a 2 year old...Now, it’s been 14 months since my operation—I am extremely dizzy and have very poor balance. I can’t feel the ground with my legs. I’m extremely nauseous, I have bad stomach ache, migraines, breathing problems and chest pain. I’m numb. I have vision fog and very painful, sore eyes. My body can’t recognize the temperature. Either I’m too cold or I’m about to faint from the heat. I started having very bad side effects to antibiotics, supplements or even herbal teas. Before the operation, I had no side effects at all. In 8 months, I lost 12% of my total weight and now I’m 8 and a half stone and still losing weight. This mesh wipes my iron out from the system. My fertility is gone.”
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful case. Does she agree that one of the most worrying things, and part of the seriousness, is that the people facing decades of pain, suffering and loss of amenity are relatively young?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely right, because mesh was given to lots of young women following childbirth—many women were still in their 30s—and it has left them feeling disabled.
I am delighted the hon. Lady has this debate. Does she agree that, as well as young women, lots of males are caught in this sorry and ghastly trap? I have personally heard some terrible tales from my constituency, although I will not go into them just now.