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Commons Chamber

Volume 641: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2018

House of Commons

Wednesday 23 May 2018

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

Electoral Commission

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 29 March, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Sarah Chambers as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 31 March 2018 for the period ending 30 March 2022, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What steps her Department is taking to increase its support for the development of co-operatives throughout the world. (905504)

The Department for International Development has supported co-operatives across many sectors and is increasing support to small-scale farmers to help them to commercialise. For example, the ÉLAN programme is working with women’s co-ops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to increase quality, improve marketing and establish systems for full traceability of product.

The co-operative model of ownership has distinct advantages for sustainable international development. Regrettably, in 2011 the Government cut the £5 million fund for co-operative development. Will the Secretary of State commit to investigating the desirability of reinstating that fund, and match the ambition of Opposition Members by ensuring that the Department is looking properly at alternative models of ownership?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that co-operatives can be a hugely powerful and empowering model for delivering economic development. I do not think we should have just a small £5 million fund. We should be levering all the investment we have from DFID into those organisations. Through a new initiative, “GREAT for Partnership”, we hope to build connections with organisations that can do just that.

The Secretary of State mentioned in passing the role of women in developing countries, particularly in the agricultural context. Does she agree that microfinance is an incredibly important way of developing women in such areas? What more will the Department do to enhance, prolong and enlarge the use of microfinance in agriculture in developing countries?

DFID has a proud tradition as a leader in initiatives that empower women, including economically. Microfinance is critical to that. In most countries where we have a presence, we are running such a programme specifically for women.

ActionAid has calculated that women in developing countries could be almost £7 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that, when establishing such agreements around the world, the UK will demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights and gender equality by ensuring that new co-operatives go further than they have before in protecting and upholding women’s rights?

I will commit to do just that. We have a big opportunity with the forthcoming G7 Development Ministers’ meeting next week in Canada. Canada has done a huge amount on this agenda, and the issues of which the hon. Gentleman speaks will feature heavily in our discussions.

Does the Secretary of State agree that women’s co-operatives have an important role to play in tackling poverty? I encourage her Department to do much more in this area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to the Select Committee and wish him well in that role. He is absolutely right that unless we enable women to reach their full potential, nations never will.


We have introduced new safeguarding standards for all DFID programmes. I have requested and received assurances from our partners on their safeguarding policies and procedures. Internationally, we are leading the charge to raise standards.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will she update the House on her Department’s plans for the international safeguarding conference that is being held later this year?

The conference will be held on 18 October in London and will involve survivors of abuse, aid beneficiaries, multilateral organisations and others. Much work is being done globally to develop vetting procedures and new human resources practices and to harmonise standards and policies across the board. At the conference, we will secure sector-wide action to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s international leadership on this issue. What conversations has she had with United Nations institutions, where there are serious concerns about potential sexual exploitation both by peacekeepers and by civilian staff?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have had extensive discussions with all UN agencies and partners, as well as core UN bodies. They are making progress. The safeguarding conference will be fundamental in consolidating that progress, but we are also talking with our counterparts in the Ministry of Defence to look at what we can do to help to build capacity in peacekeeping troops before they deploy.

The International Development Committee is looking at this very issue. How can my right hon. Friend be absolutely certain that charities are telling her the truth about what has happened within their organisations, and does she believe that an international register of people working in those bodies would be a good idea?

Absolutely. As well as the assurances we have sought and our oversight of projects and programmes we are contributing to on the ground, there will be other tell-tale signs. For example, if organisations are not reporting incidents or allegations, that is a red light to me that there is something wrong within those organisations. We are still monitoring this situation. We are leading an international donor group that is looking at setting up the precise procedures to which my hon. Friend refers.

Before agreeing with Oxfam and Save the Children that they would withdraw from Government funding, did the Department carry out an assessment on the impact that that would have? Will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly how many jobs will be affected and how many vulnerable people will lose access to life-saving aid?

My sole concern in making these decisions is the impact on the beneficiaries. Unlike other nations, I will not take decisions that impact negatively on beneficiaries. We are very conscious that both the organisations to which the hon. Lady refers may have difficulty in maintaining employment contracts—I suspect most of those people will transfer to other organisations—but how they maintain their staffing budgets is not the basis on which I am going to take decisions.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but we still do not know what assessments were carried out and whether they will be made public. What steps is she taking to guarantee that the agencies and contractors now bidding for Government funding will have safeguarding protections against sexual exploitation that are robustly stronger, not weaker, than those of Oxfam and Save the Children?

I would be happy to share with the hon. Lady any information about any of the projects. For example, I looked at everywhere we are working with Oxfam, not just directly but with other partners who work with Oxfam. I will not allow any beneficiary to suffer and that will be key in my decision making. We have to strengthen the system across the board. We are leading the charge and other donors are following our lead. I hope that by the end of the year we will have vetting procedures, benchmarking and the harmonisation of policies to deter predatory individuals from the aid sector.

Rohingya Refugees

3. What steps her Department is taking to support vulnerable children in Rohingya refugee camps during the monsoon season. (905506)

9. What steps her Department is taking to protect Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh from the effects of the monsoon season. (905512)

13. What steps her Department is taking to protect Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh from the effects of the monsoon season. (905516)

Up to 200,000 Rohingya are living in areas at risk of flooding and collapse during the rainy season. We are working with the Bangladesh Government and humanitarian partners on preparedness, including improved shelters, water and sanitation, vaccination campaigns and pre-positioning of emergency supplies.

Last August, Myanmar soldiers systematically brutalised and raped young Rohingya women. Nine months on, and in the middle of the monsoon season, many of those young girls are now giving birth to babies conceived as a result of rape. As these girls are often shunned by their communities, what support is the UK Government providing to these vulnerable girls and their babies?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. Some 16,000 women may be caught up in this. We have deployed a specialist maternity worker to be there. In addition, we are working with our partners to support Rohingya women who were raped and are pregnant. The deployment includes training of medical specialists, psycho-social support, clinical management of rape and emergency obstetric care. This is all being provided despite the difficulty of the monsoons and other circumstances.

Given the greatly increased risk of waterborne diseases facing the Rohingya during the monsoon season, what steps is the Department taking to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated?

There are two issues here: first, work needs to continue to ensure that latrines and waters are as safe as possible, and secondly, an extensive vaccination campaign is already being undertaken. The United Kingdom is a major contributor to the vaccination programme.

When the International Development Committee visited the refugee camps, we were told that non-governmental organisations had identified land that could be made available to them for the safety of the Rohingya refugees. What representations have the Government made to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that that land is released and that refugees are not put on an unsuitable island?

Regular representations are made about this. The hon. Gentleman is right: a certain amount can be done at Cox’s Bazar to strengthen fortifications in relation to the forthcoming cyclones, but the land itself is difficult. Some have already been moved out, but we do make representations as well about the unsuitable nature of the island that is sometimes proposed.

Now that the UK is providing 10.5% of the total budget set out in the humanitarian joint response plan, will my right hon. Friend advise and update the House on what he is doing to get other countries to step up to do their bit?

First, may I congratulate my old friend on his recent award, which will please all of us, for his long service and devotion to this House and its duties? We are very proud of our record in relation to being a major donor. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a further £70 million on 7 May to help with the current crisis, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) is right: we need to make sure that we continue to ask other donors to step up, and it is a regular part of our briefings and contact with other donor nations.

We witnessed the precarious conditions in which many of the refugees are living in Cox’s Bazar; it was quite appalling. If the monsoon is devastating for the region, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that land is made available, as well as emergency housing? Pushing them on to an island is totally unacceptable.

To answer my hon. Friend, our sense is that as far as possible, preparations are being made both by the Bangladesh Government and the international community to meet the anticipated and expected conditions. Bangladesh has an excellent record on dealing with emergency crises caused by weather. No one can say, if something exceptional happens, what the response will be, but all preparations have been made. However, he is right: the nature of the land is extremely difficult and we must continue to try to urge that as many people as possible are moved to the safest possible areas.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) was right to raise the issues of pregnant women, new mothers and small babies, who are particularly vulnerable to issues of hygiene and sanitation, so will the Minister assure me that those will be key priorities for aid spending in this area?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that as much as possible is being done in relation to this. UK-supported cholera, measles and diphtheria vaccination campaigns will help to provide protection against some of the most common diseases in the camps, and this is very much on people’s minds at such a vulnerable time.

UK Small Charities: Funding

DFID’s small charities challenge fund was launched last summer to support small UK-based charities working in international development. The first round of grants will be announced shortly and the second review of applications is under way. We are also looking to improve the scheme.

Crawley-based Vision Aid Overseas does really effective work in Africa, helping to provide sight health to some of the world’s poorest. Will the Secretary of State endorse such work and congratulate those local UK-based charities, which can make a real difference?

I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to praise the work of Vision Aid Overseas. It is absolutely right that we want to connect more of these small, fantastic UK charities with the developing world. The “GREAT for Partnership” initiative will help us to do that.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that small charities can avail themselves of the fund with a minimum of bureaucracy to maximise the benefit to the countries they operate in?

I absolutely agree with the issues the hon. Gentleman raises. We are learning from the first wave of applications to the small charities fund. I would like to make it less bureaucratic, more nimble and open to even smaller organisations.

Far be it from me to intrude, but I thought that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) had an interest in a charity appertaining to soccer. As we might not reach his question, he could take the opportunity to intervene with a flying tackle now.

11. It is funny you should say that, Mr Speaker, because next month a group of largely unfit, slightly overweight wannabe celebrity footballers will be playing in the cause of Soccer Aid. I refer of course to the parliamentary football team. You would be most welcome, Mr Speaker, to don your Arsenal kit and join us, and show us how it’s done. On a serious note, I have seen the great work this money does in Djibouti in Africa. It changes people’s lives, including those of very young people. Will the Secretary of State join me in supporting everyone who gets involved with and donates to Soccer Aid for UNICEF? (905514)

I thank both you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend for plugging Soccer Aid. Every pound raised by the British public will be matched by UK aid. You and he might also like to know that today Arsenal announced a three-year partnership with Rwanda.

Absolutely splendid! I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for announcing that, as I am sure will be both Rwanda and Arsenal.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the Burnley-based charity Furniture for Education Worldwide, which will next week send its 100th container of furniture and equipment to aid developing schools overseas?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. I will indeed endorse that fantastic organisation. It is a testament to the fact that we have small companies and charities in our constituencies that can make a big difference to many people across the world.

Global Disability Summit

5. What steps her Department plans to take at the forthcoming global disability summit to promote disability inclusion in international development. (905508)

The UK’s global disability summit in July will increase action and investment, share best practice and deliver lasting change. It will tackle the stigma faced by people with disabilities and provide educational, learning and economic opportunities and the means to access them through more available assistive devices.

I welcome that answer. I recently met Sightsavers, a fantastic charity doing great work tackling sight loss and the stigma faced by disabled people around the world, particularly in the developing world. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that at this important summit she will join with it in pressing for concrete goals for Governments to tackle the stigma faced by disabled people around the world?

That is absolutely the aim of the summit. It has already galvanised people into action, including multilateral organisations around the world, which will be embedding disability in their programming.

Given the new statistics showing that the number of disabled people able to access legal aid here in the UK has fallen by 99% since 2011, what steps will the Secretary of State take with Cabinet colleagues to get the UK’s own house in order before we host a global summit?

When I speak to my opposite numbers in other nations, they tell me that one barrier to their making further progress is that they are starting from a low base. It is important that the summit is not just about the UK showcasing what it does; we can learn from other organisations, which is why we are co-hosting it with Kenya. My new role as Minister for Women and Equalities affords me the chance to make a difference in both the UK and the developing world.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Humanitarian Assistance

6. What funding her Department has allocated to humanitarian assistance programmes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (905509)

The UK is one of the leading humanitarian donors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have acted quickly to support the country and the World Health Organisation in tackling the Ebola outbreak; the Secretary of State today announced an extra £5 million to support the WHO response plan.

What are the Government doing to prevent the outbreak from spreading to places such as Kinshasa?

The plan announced by the World Health Organisation involves making sure that we use a new, experimental vaccine that the UK has helped to develop. It is being applied to anyone who has come into contact with Ebola. Yesterday, vaccinations began to be offered to health workers and to anyone who has had contact with a contact.

I commend the Department’s response to the outbreak, but what assurance can the Minister give that the capacity and leadership at the WHO are stronger than they were in 2014, when it made so many mistakes in responding to an earlier outbreak?

I pay tribute to Jane Ellison, who is now very much involved in that. As my right hon. Friend will know, there has been an extensive programme of work to learn lessons from the outbreak in Sierra Leone, and, indeed, this is the ninth outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On every occasion lessons are learnt, and we are helping the WHO and the Government to deliver on them.

In the light of the DRC Government’s decision to boycott the April humanitarian pledging conference in Geneva and to deny the scale of the displacement crisis in the country, what representations has the Secretary of State made, now that Ebola poses a very real additional threat, to ensure that the same does not happen again and that the DRC Government accept urgent assistance to prevent an international health emergency?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the wider humanitarian crisis in the DRC. I was there myself last month to see the fantastic work that UK aid workers are doing on the ground and the extensive way in which we are helping. We are proud to have announced £100 million of support for this year, and we are the second largest donor.

Topical Questions

UK aid is currently dealing with 10 large-scale humanitarian emergencies and giving humanitarian assistance to 30 countries around the world. It is, for instance, protecting the Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar during the monsoon and cyclone season, providing food and healthcare for those affected by the conflict in Yemen, providing medical training and aid for families in Syria, and tackling Ebola in the DRC, for which I have announced £5 million of UK aid spending. We are also making preparations to provide support, if needed, for the Caribbean during the hurricane season. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending the work of British scientists, British aid workers and our armed forces, and UK aid, in saving lives.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate about the persecution of Christians. Will she update the House on the Government’s efforts to promote freedom of religion and belief worldwide?

The most stable societies are those that uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief. Through UK Aid Connect, DFID will fund a consortium of organisations to address the key challenges in building freedom of religion and belief. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also very focused on that agenda.

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation of the session that is to follow, but may I gently remind the House that we are discussing the plight—[Interruption.] Order. I remind the House that we are discussing the plight of some of the most destitute people on the face of the planet. I think that a respectful atmosphere would be appreciated.

T2. There are few more desperate places in the world today than Yemen. As the Secretary of State will know, all the signs are that the Saudi-led coalition is gearing up for an attack on the port of Hodeidah. Will she explain to her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office just how serious that would be for the humanitarian situation in Yemen, so that they may in turn explain to Saudi Arabia that if the attack happens, it will mean the end of UK arms sales to the Saudis? (905520)

Both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID are acutely aware of the degree of concern about the situation in Yemen, and we are in regular contact with all parties there. The only answer is for the work of the United Nations envoy, Martin Griffiths, to be successful through negotiations, but we have already made clear that we do not see a military solution to the conflict.

T4. What is my right hon. Friend doing to bring about greater transparency in the international aid system to ensure that there is probity and that other countries pay their fair share to international development? (905522)

DFID scores very highly on the international aid transparency initiative, and we are working with other nations and multilaterals to help them to reach the same standards. We are also leading the charge on combating illicit money flows and capital flight, which is necessary if we are to help developing nations.

T3. [R] Does the Minister agree that the tragic events of last week necessitate urgent action to tackle the plight of the Palestinian people, including the disarmament of Hamas, the return of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, international donors meeting their reconstruction pledges fully, and Israel assisting in Gaza’s economic revitalisation? (905521)

One of the main areas of focus at last week’s United Nations Security Council meeting was to accept special envoy Nikolay Mladenov’s persuasion that Gaza does indeed need more direct assistance and support to ease the circumstances there. Israel will be involved, as will other international donors, working in a very complex situation. The relief of humanitarian issues in Gaza is essential.

T6. Will the Minister update the House on the food security situation in east Africa and let us know what help the Government are able to provide? (905524)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as chair of the all-party group on Ethiopia and Djibouti and I assure him that the UK has provided assistance to more than 13.6 million people in east Africa and allocated £279 million in humanitarian aid to those countries this year.

T5. Not backing the vote for investigation into the Gaza killings is another example of the UK Government not standing up to Israel. Will the Minister’s Department show some backbone and demand compensation for aid-funded structures that have been demolished? (905523)

The UK is well aware of the circumstances surrounding the issues in Gaza and calls for a transparent and independent inquiry, but we are providing humanitarian aid through UNRWA to the Palestinian people and looking at further possibilities of providing direct aid to the medical situation in Gaza.

The horn of Africa has been hit by a devastating tropical cyclone and Somaliland has been particularly hard-hit, with devastation to lives and livelihoods. Somaliland is already a progressive democratic country in an otherwise very troubled part of the world and, as a former British protectorate, it has strong ties to the UK, but because we do not formally recognise Somaliland, any aid we provide must pass through Somalia, which is much less stable. Will my hon. Friend reconsider that policy and consider working directly through Somaliland?

T7. Recent local elections in Tunisia showed an encouraging increase in the involvement of young people in the democratic process. What further assistance can the Government give to good governance there? (905525)

The excellent work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and those who have taken part through the British Council in encouraging the development of democracy are playing an important part in Tunisia, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to a good move forward for Tunisia, which we hope foreshadows other things to come in the region.

My right hon. Friend may be aware of the Dalitso project in my constituency. It involves more than 500 volunteers in Scotland and Malawi, and they have collectively generated funding for over 300 orphans in Malawi and employ 30 people. What is the Department doing to support such small charities that contribute so much to our overseas aid?

I was recently in Scotland to dish out some UK Aid cheques to many of the wonderful organisations that have raised money and are doing fantastic work to benefit people around the world.

T8. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of Oxfam and Save the Children withdrawing from her Department’s funding rounds on the beneficiaries of those charities? (905526)

That is the only criterion that I look at when making those decisions: no beneficiaries will be harmed in any way as a result of the decisions we take about withdrawing funding or preventing people from bidding for funding.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This week has seen the start of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. This was an unimaginable tragedy and justice must be done for the victims, survivors, bereaved and the wider community. It is right that we learn everything we can about what happened and take the necessary steps to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

Yesterday also allowed the nation to come together, one year on, to remember all the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack. That night saw the worst of humanity, but it also saw the best. The kindness, compassion and fortitude we witnessed that night triumphed, and the great spirit of Manchester continues to inspire us.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I echo the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister to the victims, friends and families of both Grenfell and the Manchester bombing.

On a happier note, I send congratulations from the Opposition side of the House to the royal couple. Even the fully paid-up cynics among us found it quite charming, and I am very much one of them.

A not so welcome American import is the fact that Britain now has a higher proportion of children classed as obese at the age of 11 than America. Yesterday’s Public Health England report shows the dismal failure of the first-year target on cutting sugar, at only 2%, compared with the 11% drop in sugar following the tax on sugary drinks. Will the Prime Minister admit that the voluntary approach is simply not working, and will not work, and that what we want to see in chapter 2 of the childhood obesity plan are mandatory targets and a ban on junk food discounts?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s good wishes for the royal couple. We expressed our good wishes in the House last week, and indeed it was a perfect day and a perfect wedding. Windsor did the couple proud.

We know that childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges we face, and we are determined to tackle it. That is why nowhere in the world is setting more stringent sugar reduction targets than the Government have set. We are, as the hon. Lady says, taxing sugary drinks, and we are doing more. It is not just about sugar in food and drink; it is about helping children to exercise more. It is also about the funding we are putting into research on junk food advertising, and it is about cutting sugar and calories in food. We have made good progress on the sugar reduction target. Sugar in drinks has been reduced by 11% and the average calories have been reduced by 6% in response to the soft drinks industry levy. More needs to be done, which is why an updated plan is currently being worked up, and we will be in a position to say more on that shortly.

Q2. I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s earlier comments. This week we have seen the start of the Grenfell inquiry, and last week Dame Judith Hackitt reported that our building regulations are not fit for purpose, yet she did not specifically recommend a ban on inflammable cladding. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, nevertheless, it is her clear intention to ban inflammable cladding and to ensure that another tragedy like Grenfell never happens again? (905528)

The deeply moving testimonies we have already heard and will continue to hear this week from survivors and the bereaved leave absolutely no room for doubt. We must learn everything we can about what happened, and we must take the strongest possible action to stop such an unimaginable tragedy from ever happening again.

As my hon. Friend says, Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations do not include banning inflammable cladding. We are minded to go further by banning combustible materials in cladding on high-rise buildings. We are meeting our legal duty to consult on these proposals, and we will not delay any necessary action.

Indeed it is almost a year since the Grenfell tragedy, and sadly justice has not yet been done. Many of those families have still not been rehoused and many are still living in tower blocks. People across the country are worried about the safety of cladding. More needs to be done more quickly.

I agree with what the Prime Minister says about the anniversary of the Manchester bomb. We were there at the service yesterday, and I pay tribute to the people of Manchester for the fantastic event they held last night in Albert Square, which brought all communities across Manchester together. That is the answer to terrorism, that is the answer to threats: bring people together.

In 2010, £4 billion of NHS services were outsourced to private companies. How much is it today?

First, I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. Terrorists attacked in Manchester, and we sadly saw a number of other terrorist attacks in this country last year. They were trying to divide us, and I think the response of all communities, whether here in London or in Manchester, has shown that we will not be divided by the terrorists. We will not let the terrorists win. We will defeat them.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the outsourcing of services within the NHS. Of course, what we do know is that spend on the independent sector nearly doubled in the last four years of a Labour Government.

My question was about the amount spent now. NHS budgets have increased by just 1% per year under this Government, but it is jackpot time for the privateers, whose share is up by 100% to over £9 billion per year. We have also learned that Surrey NHS has just paid Virgin Care £1.5 million, not for any service that it has delivered, but because its bid was not chosen—£1.5 million wasted on Virgin Care that should have been spent on healthcare. Is the Prime Minister concerned that the National Audit Office said this week that NHS England’s handling of private contractors had put

“patients at risk of serious harm”?

The NAO report said that

“no actual harm has been identified.”

It is also the case that, in relation to the contracts that the NAO was talking about, the savings that have been made have all been reinvested into frontline NHS patient care and have helped to fund the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the percentage of money that has been spent on the private sector, and I must say that the proportion of spend in the NHS in England that was outsourced to the private sector last year did not go up at all. There was somewhere where it went up by 0.8%. Ah yes—Wales.

The NAO criticised NHS England’s Capita contract, saying that it had put

“patients at risk of serious harm”.

Thousands of women were dropped from the national cervical cancer screening programmes. Another element of the contract handed over to Capita was for GP services, which resulted in two thirds of GP practices receiving incorrect medical records, and 500,000 new patient letters were left unsent. Is that not the inevitable consequence of this Government tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before public service?

At every general election since the NHS was formed, the Labour party has scaremongered about the Conservative approach to the NHS. At every general election, Labour has made claims about privatisation and about funding cuts. What has every elected Conservative Government done? We have protected the NHS; we have improved NHS services; we have put more funding into the NHS; and we have ensured that we remain true to the founding principle of the NHS: that it is free at the point of delivery.

Order. There is far too much noise on both sides of the House. I have plenty of time, and I am sure that the principals have as well. We will get through the questions, but preferably in an atmosphere of calm.

The Royal College of General Practitioners says:

“The long list of failures made by Capita have been incredibly frustrating for GPs and our teams, and we are still dealing with the fallout”.

Public servants are bearing the brunt of private failure. GPs are leaving the profession in despair—4,000 have retired early in the past five years, which is one in 10. In 2015, the Health Secretary said that he would hire another 5,000 GPs. How many more GPs are there than there were in 2015?

We now have more than 14,900 more doctors in our NHS than we had in 2010. We are indeed committed to delivering 5,000 more GPs. We have increased the number training to be GPs. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the private sector being used in the national health service, but he might ask the shadow Health Secretary for his view. The shadow Health Secretary has said, “We are still going to buy from the private sector where we haven’t got capacity in the NHS.” The right hon. Gentleman’s shadow Health Secretary is committed to it.

The shadow Health Secretary has a very good understanding of the needs of patients and will always put them first. He will not be the one putting the private sector first.

The reality is that there are 1,000 fewer GPs and the number is falling. It is no wonder that more and more people are writing to me every week saying how difficult it is to get a GP appointment. GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. We need more of them.

I had a letter this week from Anne, who is retired. Until recently, she cared for her mother at home. She wrote:

“The NHS pay a private nursing home for mum’s care…day after day we experience a catalogue of disasters. I can’t leave my mum knowing that her needs aren’t catered for, so I spend hours at the nursing home”.

What action are the Government taking to deal with the substandard care that providers give in the private care sector, which is so upsetting for so many people?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to Anne that I fully understand that people want to have the confidence and reassurance of knowing that the care their loved ones receive is of a good quality. That is why this Government have put in place the various steps to ensure that we are looking into the quality of care provided in those sectors.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the shadow Health Secretary recognising the needs of patients. I think he was saying that he recognises the needs of patients, which is why the private sector will be used in some cases. The former Health Secretary, now the Mayor of Manchester, said that

“the private sector puts its capacity into the NHS for the benefit of NHS patients, which I think most people in this country would celebrate”.

The shadow Health Secretary is dedicated to the NHS, not to handing it over to private contractors. That is the difference.

The Care Quality Commission said last year that

“there is too much poor care”.

A fifth of care providers require improvement. Year after year, private sector care providers are letting down our elderly.

This year is the 70th birthday of the national health service—I pay tribute to all its staff over all of those 70 years—but the NHS reaches that milestone with the worst A&E waits on record, the worst delays for cancer referrals on record, falling numbers of GPs, falling numbers of nurses and the longest funding squeeze in its history, while this Government open the door to even more profiteering. Why does the Prime Minister not act now to end the siphoning off of billions of pounds from patient care and give the NHS the funding it needs?

We do indeed pay tribute to all those who have worked in the NHS over its 70 years and those who work there today. We want to see a bright future for the NHS, which is why we will be coming forward with a long-term plan for it. What we see today is a national health service not only with more funding going into it, but, crucially, with more people being treated and more operations being undertaken. There are people alive today who have suffered from cancer and would not have been alive just eight years ago, because our cancer outcomes have improved. That is the reality of our national health service. What we also see is that this Government can put money into the NHS only because we have a balanced approach to our economy. What did we learn this week that the Labour party and the shadow Chancellor want to do? They want to “overthrow capitalism”. What would that mean? It would mean families paying higher taxes—[Interruption.] It is supported by parts of the Labour party; now we know where the Labour party really stands on this issue. I say to the shadow Chancellor and others: what would this mean? It would mean families paying higher taxes; more debt for our children in future; fewer people in jobs; and less money for our schools and hospitals. A Labour party that would bankrupt our economy would do lasting damage to our national health service.

Q5. The Government have stated their ambition for the UK to have 10% of the worldwide space industry by 2030. Central to achieving that is establishing our own launch capabilities within the UK, through UK spaceports. Cornwall is keen and ready to play a significant part in that, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are committed to the establishment of UK spaceports? Will she ensure that the right people get together to deliver this in Cornwall as soon as possible? (905531)

My hon. Friend has put in a good bid and is a good champion for Cornwall on this issue. He is absolutely right to say that our industrial strategy identifies the role of new markets, such as space launch, in driving growth across the UK. That is why we are delivering a programme to ensure that companies can offer small satellite launch and sub-orbital space flight from UK spaceports. On the specific issue relating to Newquay and Cornwall, strong enthusiasm for this new opportunity is being shown by Newquay airport and other locations around the UK, which is why in March the Government brought forward the Space Industry Act 2018 to support them and we have made £50 million available to enable small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports. The space agency is considering funding to help kick-start promising projects and will be making announcements shortly.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on both Manchester and Grenfell?

The Windrush scandal has taught us that the UK Government’s “hostile environment” policy has targeted those who legally live here; young people who have grown up in the UK and know of nothing else face losing their lawful settled status because they simply cannot afford the paperwork. Home Office fees have increased by 148% since 2014. These children have the right to be here; the UK is their home. I am giving the Prime Minister the opportunity today: will she scrap these fees for young people, as she has done for the Windrush generation?

A minor who has indefinite leave to remain will have access to benefits and entitlements that put them on an equal footing to their British citizen peers, so a grant of British citizenship is not therefore required. Of course specific exemptions from application fees are provided to several groups with limited means, such as stateless people, victims of modern slavery or domestic abuse, asylum applicants and children who are looked after by a local authority. And the Children Act 1989 imposes a general duty on local authorities to promote the upbringing of children in need by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs, regardless of their status.

That simply is not good enough. We are talking about up to 120,000 young people in this country. We are talking about young people who live here, who have to wait 10 years and pay up to £10,000 to achieve permanent right to remain. It is shocking. The Government are guilty of creating a generation of undocumented citizens without the rights that many of us take for granted. Will the Prime Minister change her policies that target young people, and will she meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) to resolve this issue?

First, the right hon. Gentleman cites a figure that I certainly do not recognise as the cost that he suggests applies for an application for citizenship here in the United Kingdom. I repeat the point that I have made: a minor who has indefinite leave to remain will have access to the benefits and entitlements that put them on an equal footing to their British citizen peers. A grant of British citizenship is not required in order for someone to access those rights and benefits.

Q7. Through regular exercise, daily-mile initiatives help to make sure that children in schools are physically active, have better mental health and are best placed to learn and achieve. I know that my right hon. Friend recognises the value of prevention in helping to address some of the health challenges that we face as a nation, so will she join me in calling for schools throughout the country to roll out the daily mile? (905533)

The daily mile is an excellent programme. It is simple and inclusive, and as my hon. Friend says, it can successfully engage in physical activity children who would otherwise not undertake that physical activity. This gives me the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on running the London marathon for two of his local charities: Corby Nightlight and Crazy Hats Breast Cancer Appeal. Well done to my hon. Friend for doing that. I certainly agree that we want more schools to adopt the active approach and the daily mile.

Q3. As the nation’s attention was rightly focused on the royal wedding, the Prime Minister was busy stuffing the House of Lords with 13 new Members. After all these defeats, apparently—[Interruption.] (905529)

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s question must be heard. [Interruption.] It is his question. He has a right to ask his question and he will ask his question. The question will be heard and the answer will be heard. That is the way it has always been and that is the way it will continue.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker—and I will be heard.

After all these defeats, apparently we need the right type of crony. There are now more than 800 cronies, donors and aristocrats in that circus down the corridor, embarrassing this nation and mocking any notion of democracy. How many more is the Prime Minister going to appoint? When will enough be enough?

Actually, the total size of the House of Lords has fallen since I took office in July 2016. From the sound of what he says, I think the hon. Gentleman is making a bid for himself to be put in the House of Lords. He needs to speak to his leader.

Q8. As my right hon. Friend is aware, at the end of last year my constituent Natalie Lewis-Hoyle, the daughter of Councillor Miriam Lewis and our right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir Lindsay Hoyle), took her own life, having been in a coercive relationship and suffering mental abuse through what is known as gaslighting. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to raise awareness of this particular kind of abuse? Will she support Miriam Lewis in establishing the “Chat with Nat” website in memory of Natalie, to help and advise those affected by this behaviour? (905534)

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising what is a very important issue. I am sure that Members on all sides of this House will join me in offering our deepest sympathies and condolences to Councillor Miriam Lewis and the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir Lindsay Hoyle). [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing this website in memory of Natalie to my attention. I am happy to offer my full support to the project, which I am sure will provide much-needed help and advice to those who are in the most difficult and painful of circumstances.

We have, of course, changed the law to introduce a new domestic abuse offence of coercion and control in intimate and familial relationships. Since the introduction of that offence, there have been almost 300 successful prosecutions. That shows what a problem this issue is out there. We are always looking for what more can be done, and in our consultation on transforming the law on domestic abuse and violence, we are currently looking for ideas on how the offence can be further strengthened, to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Q4. In North Tyneside and across the UK, homebuyers are being sold new houses that have serious defects by developers such as Bellway and Persimmon with no means of sufficient redress. Following the recent Government consultation, will the Prime Minister put her weight behind establishing a new homes ombudsman to give those consumers the proper redress that they urgently need? (905530)

Of course, as we are building more homes—and we need to build more homes for people—we want to ensure that those homes are fit for purpose. There are standards that house builders have to abide by, and also a number of ways in which it is possible to raise these issues, including where there are defects in the homes that are being built.

Q12. Bowel cancer claims the lives of more than 44 people every day and has a devastating impact on families up and down the country, but it can be beaten if it is caught at an earlier stage through better diagnosis. Can the Prime Minister assure me that the Government will listen to proposals to lower the screening age from 60 to 50? (905538)

We now have the highest cancer survival rates ever, as I mentioned earlier. The latest figures show that an estimated 7,000 or more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS cancer treatment compared with three years ago, but there is still more to be done. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that early diagnosis is an important element of that. We are looking at how the development of smart technologies, which allow us to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than we have through the intervention of human beings, can be used to ensure that we get that earlier diagnosis. By 2033, we want to see at least 50,000 more people each year being diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer.

Q6. Despite a groundswell of opposition from public, staff and clinicians, this Government are actively supporting the removal of vital services from South Tyneside Hospital. Will the Prime Minister tell the 149,000 people who rely on our hospital why? (905532)

As the hon. Lady will know, it is for the local NHS to make decisions about the future of local health services; these matters are not determined in Whitehall. I understand that the Sunderland and the South Tyneside hospital trusts have formed an alliance to improve the sustainability, quality and performance of hospital services. Local commissioners did consult the public and they agreed a number of service changes in February, which will improve services for patients.

Q13. In the 1940s, access by British epidemiologists to patient data established the causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. How will the big data and artificial intelligence, which the Prime Minister spoke about on Monday, help us transform healthcare outcomes today, and what barriers to data sharing exist in the way of that? (905539)

As my hon. Friend says, on Monday, I did announce that we will use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030. I have just referenced, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), the fact that we want to see at least 50,000 more people each year being diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer. That will mean that, every year, around 22,000 fewer people will die within five years of their diagnosis compared with today. We are also committed to the highest possible standards in using data, which is why we brought forward the Data Protection Bill and have announced our intention to create a new centre for data ethics and innovation. Big data gives us a huge opportunity to improve services to patients in the NHS, but, of course, we must use that data very carefully, and patients need to have the confidence that it is being used carefully, and that is what we will do.

Q9. May I thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to meet Sheffield young carers this afternoon? They are very much looking forward to sharing their views with her, and I am sure that she will enjoy the meeting. May I raise another issue? Last week, the Education Secretary told the House that he understood the cost pressures facing schools and that he would work with them to bear down on those costs. On Friday, I met a group of Sheffield primary and secondary headteachers who said that their schools were at a tipping point. They said that if the Government wanted to help them bear down on costs, they could start by fully funding the teachers’ pay increase and the increase in national insurance and pension contributions. Will the Prime Minister do that? (905535)

I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman, with the young carers, and I am sure that that will be a really interesting meeting. I am pleased that we will have the opportunity to hear directly from them.

On school funding, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the new national funding formula is providing for a cash increase for every school in every region, as well as protected funding for those with additional needs, but it is important that the Department for Education is helping to bear down on costs that schools are experiencing. That is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is doing—ensuring that the Department is giving support to schools where it is needed.

Q15. The UK motor industry has undergone a resurgence. It employs 900,000 people, generates one tenth of all manufacturing output, and exports 80% of the vehicles it produces. As we leave the EU, will the Prime Minister ensure that the sector continues to have access to the workers it needs, to bring in components without delays, and to sell into its biggest export market tariff-free? (905541)

My hon. Friend draws attention to a very important sector in our economy. The motor industry does play a very significant role in our economy.

Our exit from the EU provides us with an opportunity to forge a new role for ourselves, to become that great global trading nation and to have those other trade deals around the world, but we also need to ensure that we provide as much certainty as we can at an early stage. That is why we are working with businesses and other stakeholders, including the motor industry, and looking for as free and frictionless trade as possible between the UK and the EU—because we want to see that trade flowing freely and those integrated supply chains being able to work as well as possible. That is what we are working for in our future partnership.

Q10. Today in my constituency of Leigh, NHS workers are on strike—I am sure that the Prime Minister would like to wish them well. The strike is due to the move of more than 800 staff into a wholly owned subsidiary—a direct result of NHS underfunding. In the wake of Carillion, why is the Prime Minister allowing back-door privatisation, which has little or no public support, instead of keeping the NHS where it should be: safely in public hands? (905536)

I think that I answered comments about the national health service in response to the Leader of the Opposition, but I will just reiterate: this Government are committed. We are putting extra funding into our national health service; we are committed to a long-term plan for our national health service that will give it certainty and sustainability over a longer period of time than through the annual budget-making process; and we are committed to a national health service that remains free at the point of delivery.

The Prime Minister knows that stem cell transplants are the only lifeline for leukaemia patients. Tragically, children such as five-year-old Kaiya and 11-year-old Rajie, whose families are in Parliament today for a donor awareness event, have only a 21% chance of finding a donor match because there are simply not enough donors registered from an Asian background. Childhood leukaemia affects children of every ethnic group. Will the Prime Minister commit to leading a nationwide donor registration drive to help to save the lives of hundreds of children suffering from leukaemia, like Kaiya and Rajie?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue and for highlighting it with the experience of children like Kaiya and Rajie. I know that she is doing a lot of work to raise awareness of the lack of donors from Asian backgrounds, particularly with her event today in Parliament. We support efforts to raise awareness of the need to recruit more stem cell donors from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. More than £20 million has been provided to NHS Blood and Transplant and Anthony Nolan for stem cell donations since 2015, and that includes very specific stipulations about the numbers of newly registered donors with units stored in the UK cord blood bank who must be from BAME backgrounds, and specific funding to support the recruitment of donors from BAME backgrounds. Of course more needs to be done. I am happy to voice my support for my right hon. Friend’s event, which I think is continuing to raise awareness of this important issue.

Q11. I am sure that the Prime Minister, like millions of other people, was glued to her TV set on Saturday watching an event of national importance—sadly, there was not a fairy-tale ending as Chelsea won the FA cup. That could be the last FA cup final played at Wembley before it is sold to an overseas owner. When the premier league is spending hundreds of millions of pounds every year on wages and transfers, does she agree that there is more than enough money in the game for there to be no need to sell off this iconic national asset? (905537)

That is a decision for the owners of Wembley. It is a private matter; it is not a matter for the Government.

Just over five years ago, the Francis report was published, at the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), and since then there have been major improvements in patient safety throughout the NHS. Just in relation to County Hospital in Stafford, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the staff there, who have seen a great improvement over the years, with the result that in A&E we are now seeing more patients a day over 14 hours —I wish it was 24 hours—than we did previously over 24 hours and the 95%-plus target being met on a weekly basis?

The Francis report was very important. It highlighted an area of deep concern about what had been happening at the local hospital. I welcome what my hon. Friend says about County Hospital and the work that is being done there. Excellent work is being done to provide safety to patients, to provide more treatments for patients and to provide those services to his constituents and others.

Q14. The Prime Minister has two groups of Ministers considering different scenarios for a frictionless border with Ireland. We know that the backstop alignment can only be ended if another solution is found. Is not the truth that she does not have a clue how it might work? (905540)

May I paraphrase our former colleague, the late, great Eric Forth? Prime Minister, I believe in the free market, I believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility, and I am suspicious of the nanny state. Am I still a Conservative?

Order. Let us hear the full eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman’s flow and the flow of his eloquence.

The Prime Minister and the Labour Leader of the Opposition both agree that we should leave the single market and leave the European Union customs union and that the public should not have a final say on the Brexit deal, so will the Prime Minister dispense with our tradition of party political point scoring and, in the spirit that I am setting, publicly thank the leadership of the Labour party for its help and support in making Brexit happen?

First of all, I am not sure about the position of the Labour party, because it is talking about a second referendum. Secondly, can I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is nobody in this House who knows more about party political point scoring than the Liberal Democrats?

Thank you for calling me at 12.43 pm, Mr Speaker. Your stewardship in allowing Back Benchers to get in to question the Prime Minister is much appreciated.

Prime Minister, how are the European Union negotiations going?

They are going with purpose, and with good intent and good will on both sides. We have negotiators in Brussels this week doing further work on those negotiations, and we are determined to deliver a good Brexit for the United Kingdom.

Mental health is now the No. 1 public health concern for a third of our country. Its importance has jumped 16 percentage points in the past year alone, yet the joint report published last week by the Health Committee and the Education Committee said that the Government’s strategy for young people’s mental health “lacks any ambition” and will fail a generation. Will the Prime Minister commit to think again and go back to the drawing board to ensure that we afford every young person in our country the best start in life?

We have committed to ensure that 70,000 more children and young people have access to high-quality NHS mental health care by 2020-21. We recognise the importance of young people’s mental health because something like half of mental health problems later in life started before the age of 14. That is why one of the initiatives the Government have taken is to ensure that staff in schools are trained to better identify mental health problems and are better able to ensure that young people with mental health problems get the treatment and support that they need.

It is important, as the hon. Lady says, that mental health has risen up the scale of people’s concerns. I would like to think that that is partly because we have ensured that there is greater awareness of the issue of mental health. Everybody in the House has a job to ensure that we remove the stigma attached to mental health so that people feel able to come forward when they have mental health problems.

Does my right hon. Friend share the surprise that I felt, as a former Marks & Spencer employee, at the news that the Scottish National party Administration have bullied Marks & Spencer over the use of the word “British” and the Union flag on British produce? Will she stand with me against that petty bullying and support companies that are proud of Scottish and British produce?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We should all be proud of Scottish and British produce and of produce from any part of our United Kingdom. It is frankly appalling that the Scottish Government did not want to see the Union flag and the word “British” on produce. It is not only appalling; it fails to reflect the vote that took place in Scotland, which showed that people in Scotland want to stay part of the United Kingdom.

Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is struggling to recruit doctors because of immigration rules. One example is an experienced paediatric doctor who has applied for a visa every month for six months, but has now given up because he has been rejected six times. What can the Prime Minister say to my constituents to reassure them that Home Office delays will not impact on the safety and health of their loved ones at this time of greatest need?

We keep the issue of tier 2 visas in relation to the health service under review. We have already taken steps. We took steps a while back to ensure that the numbers could be adjusted to reflect the need for nurses, and we continue to look at the situation in relation to doctors.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are a redoubtable champion of Members seeking to hold the Government to account. One of the things we sometimes resort to in doing that is the submission of freedom of information requests. On 20 July last year, I submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for International Trade, to which I have not yet had a response, nor indeed any acknowledgment, despite chasing it up in March and April. I submitted a separate FOI request on 14 March this year, which did receive a response, advising me that the Department would be unable to respond within 20 days but that a response would be forthcoming by 14 April at the latest. I have still had no such response, despite it now being May.

On 26 April this year, the Cabinet Office and the Office for National Statistics released the annual FOI statistics by Department. The Department for International Trade was the worst of all Departments, with 27% of requests either not being answered within the time limits or not answered at all. That failure prevents parliamentarians from properly scrutinising the Government’s trade policy at a time of intense public debate on these matters—something we have a duty to Parliament to do. I make no judgment of whether it is by intention or incompetence on the part of Ministers, but I seek your advice as to how we may redress the situation.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope he will not take it amiss if I begin my response to him by saying that, although it is an attempted point of order, in a very real sense it appeared to me to resemble an intellectual dissertation, which of itself is no surprise to those of us familiar with the cerebral quality of the hon. Gentleman. I think it is important to distinguish between parliamentary proceedings on the one hand, in respect of which I may have some modest powers and capacity to assist Members, and freedom of information requests on the other, in relation to which I am literally powerless, as those are not matters for me. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised a concern, and it may well be shared by others. It is on the record, and I hope, consistent both with the letter of obligation to those who submit such requests and with its spirit, that full account will be taken of the situation the hon. Gentleman has painstakingly highlighted. If I may, I suggest we leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following last Wednesday’s difficult day, will you clarify a point of Chamber etiquette? Is it now acceptable in the Chamber to call a colleague a liar?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I would say to him very respectfully and courteously by way of reply that I made a statement on those matters in the Chamber. I think what I said at the time was very clear to people, and I do not feel the need to add to that statement. My position has been very explicit. I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to dilate on the matter, but I do not intend to do so, and we shall leave it there. I am deeply obliged to him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that, if action were taken every time a Member of this House felt moved to say under his breath something rather abusive about another Member, the Chamber would be deserted for considerable lengths of time? Do you not agree that it is better to leave this to the body that is now investigating it and hope that some common sense will be applied to this rather overheated subject?

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said, and Members will make their own assessment of it. I simply appreciate the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says what he says on the strength, next month, of 48 years’ uninterrupted service in this House.

I am saving the hon. Gentleman up, as I often say. I do not want to squander him at too early a stage of our proceedings. I call Mr Martin Docherty-Hughes.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Two hundred days have passed since my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal was held in India without charge, with accusations of torture and with trial by media. I am grateful to Ministers who have engaged with me so far in holding the Indian authorities to account. Nevertheless, I have now written to the Prime Minister twice, without formal response other than a holding response from their office. Will you assure me that all Ministers of State take their responsibilities seriously in responding fully to a constituency Member of the House of Commons on a critical matter involving a constituent—a UK citizen, and a true son of the Rock of Dumbarton—who has made accusations of torture against a close ally?

I hope that these matters are always treated with the utmost seriousness and that responses to parliamentary colleagues are both timely and substantive. I say to the hon. Gentleman, without fear of contradiction, that that notion of a timely and substantive response should apply both in relation to parliamentary answers to parliamentary questions and in relation to correspondence. I was not familiar with all the details of this matter, although the hon. Gentleman has apprised me of some of them, but it is of course important that these matters are addressed fully.

A moment ago, we heard from the Father of the House—perhaps I may respond on this point because it is quite an important one for all of us. A former Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, when he did not receive substantive replies to questions or letters, was given to tabling a written question on the matter, inquiring when he would receive a substantive reply. If I remember correctly, Sir Gerald was inclined to say that that was an extremely effective technique. I volunteer that advice gratis to the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you are probably aware, there have been problems with the wi-fi connection in the House for remote devices during the past few days, and the authorities have been reasonably good about keeping Members up to speed. May I invite you to provide the House from the Chair—today is a sitting day, but we are coming up to the recess—with both an update on progress and confirmation that those of us on recess next week will be able to access the intranet, our emails and parliamentary sites in the usual way, notwithstanding the problems?

I believe the Parliamentary Digital Service is attempting to keep Members updated on this matter. It would perhaps be rash of me to proffer any—[Interruption.] Well, it would certainly be rash of me to proffer any technical advice, as I have no expertise in that matter, as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) can perfectly well testify. It is probably unreasonable to think that I can offer any sort of oral statement on the matter tomorrow, which is the last day that we will sit before the Whitsun recess, but I think the Parliamentary Digital Service will seek to keep Members updated. On the back of what the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) has said, if there is a further way in which the House Service can help him and other right hon. and hon. Members, we shall do so.

However, this particular subject will not have been exhausted until we have heard the views on it of the right hon. Lady.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry not to have given you notice of this, but it flows so naturally from what was said by my right hon. Friend; sorry, by my hon. Friend.

No doubt in time.

Mr Speaker, it has come to my attention that some constituents are unable to email me. I believe this is a common problem from which all hon. Members are suffering. Obviously, we will not know because the emails do not even get into the spam filters. For some peculiar reason, which I will not trouble you with, I found out that one constituent—she had a very serious concern about a personal independence payment application being refused—had emailed me and included attachments, quite properly, with her email; I found out through another source that she had emailed me. Therefore, I could deal with her inquiry, but I would never have known about it if that other source had not contacted me.

I have contacted the parliamentary authority, PICT, on more occasions than I would care or want to remember, I have to say, to no avail. In short, the spam filters are set too high, and there are certain popular email addresses that simply do not get through even to the spam filters. It is a serious problem, and I simply do not know how we can resolve it. Can you help, Mr Speaker?

I rather fear that I am not able to help. I do not want to make too many declarations on the Floor of the House. Suffice it to say that I am not myself technologically sophisticated. I think I owe it to the right hon. Lady to disclose that candidly to her. I am not saying that I have not the slightest idea what she is talking about, but I am not closely familiar with the detail, and when it comes to this filter or that filter, it all seems very confusing to a simple chap like me.

I would say to the right hon. Lady that these are serious matters. PICT of course ceased to exist about three years ago, but the Parliamentary Digital Service—I think that is what she means—does try to assist. I think there are ways of dealing with this outside the Chamber, but knowing the right hon. Lady as I do, I feel sure that if she is not satisfied on this matter ere long, we will all be hearing more about it and I will doubtless be hearing more about it. [Interruption.] Indeed, the right hon. Lady will probably send me an email. It is always a pleasure to hear from her both in the Chamber and outside it, but in all seriousness, people are aware of this and I will try to ensure, as of now, that there is some progress and that Members are satisfied, because they should not be obstructed in the discharge of their parliamentary duties. I thank her for raising what she has raised.

It is a case of patience rewarded for the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was excellent pronunciation, as ever. In the north-west of Scotland, fishing boats have been sold, processing jobs lost and exports lost because the Home Office will not provide visas for such work in Scotland or Northern Ireland. All of that is happening to keep the Home Office happy, essentially. We need seasonal workers from non-EEA countries urgently, otherwise we will only have European Union fishing boats around our waters. How can I best get this matter on the record and raise awareness of it? I seek your advice and guidance.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, he has achieved his objective with immediate effect. His words will have been heard on the Treasury Bench and will be recorded in the Official Report by the dedicated and expert staff of the House. He can therefore go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step, which might otherwise have been lacking. If he feels that he has not exhausted his energies on this matter, he can of course seek a debate in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall. Who knows? The hon. Gentleman might be successful.

Bills Presented

Non-Domestic Rating (Nursery Grounds)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary James Brokenshire, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr David Lidington, Secretary Greg Clark, Secretary Michael Gove, Mel Stride and Rishi Sunak, presented a Bill to make provision for buildings used as nursery grounds to be exempt from non-domestic rates in England and Wales.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 214) with explanatory notes (Bill 214-EN).


Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Secretary Matt Hancock, Andrew Leadsom and Dr Thérèse Coffey, presented a Bill to prohibit dealing in ivory, and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 215) with explanatory notes (Bill 215-EN).

Terminal Illness (Provision of Palliative Care and Support for Carers)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of comprehensive palliative care to those with terminal illnesses, including adults over the age of 60; to require certain public bodies to co-operate with hospices in the provision of palliative care; to make provision for support for those caring for individuals with a terminal illness; and for connected purposes.

I was moved to choose the subject of palliative care for my ten-minute rule Bill following a visit to my local health and wellbeing day centre run by North London Hospice, where I heard an inspirational speech by Joy Watkins who is a patient and user of the amazing facilities there. Joy said:

“So what do I get from coming here to the Hospice? My GP and hospital doctors are excellent but they don’t have the extra time to give. What I get here is the space, time and flexibility to talk through things with experts who know about living and living with a good quality of life; help in dealing with the impact of a life threatening or terminal illness; and also the chance to meet others like me and have honest supportive conversations and encourage each other.”

Joy and some of the other patients, carers and staff are in the Gallery today. I welcome Joy and everyone.

As the population grows older and lives longer, many will develop health conditions that could become a terminal illness. Macmillan Cancer Support has estimated that by 2040, older people will account for 77% of people with a cancer diagnosis. The number of people dying of cancer is increasing and is expected to continue doing so. There is a real prospect of unprecedented pressures on the already overstretched NHS.

Palliative care needs to go hand in hand with hospital treatment and should be available for all people with advanced and progressive illnesses and life-shortening conditions. Unfortunately, the provision of palliative care is patchy at best. Even those with a terminal illness are not being identified as in need of referral for palliative care. In some regions, one in four people dying of cancer has never been referred for palliative care and has not been on a care register. For people with motor neurone disease, early access to palliative care is essential, as one third of people with motor neurone disease die within a year of diagnosis. Sufferers should be able to plan ahead for their end-of-life care and ensure that their wishes are known.

Research has shown that early referral for palliative care can improve the quality of life and lengthen it. Early referral also results in fewer admissions to hospital and helps carers by alleviating the stress and pressures they face.

It cannot be right that palliative care funding is dependent on local clinical commissioning groups, whose contributions to local hospices’ costs range as widely as 1% to 50% from region to region. The average contribution of CCGs to the costs of children’s hospices is 10%, compared with 30% for adult hospices. This week is Children’s Hospice Week, and the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity has identified that hospices save the NHS money by freeing up hospital beds, reducing the number of missed appointments and, in the case of children with terminal illnesses, helping parents stay together by allowing them to manage their feelings better in a supportive environment. I am still staggered by the thought that many hospices survive thanks only to their own fundraising activities or the generosity of donors.

We need to have properly funded nationwide palliative care provision that is integrated with local authorities, community care providers and local NHS providers, so that there is a comprehensive and coherent way of addressing end-of-life care. This Bill will seek to provide that.

There is still a big taboo about talking about end-of-life care and there is limited understanding among the public about what palliative care is and when it is appropriate. This is a challenge for all of us, but doctors and healthcare professionals could also benefit from training and a greater understanding of the work that hospices do and what is available from palliative care. Better communication is needed and more sensitivity and empathy are required from health professionals when discussing an end-of-life diagnosis and options such as palliative care.

One cannot underestimate the value of district nurses in providing care for the terminally ill. They build a trusting and supportive relationship with patients and their families and friends, making the patient’s last few months as comfortable and pain free as possible. Many more district nurses are needed to provide that support.

Palliative care is only part of the picture and we cannot forget the role that carers provide in supporting their loved ones at the end of their lives. We have only one chance to give decent care to each person who is diagnosed as terminally ill. No matter what age someone is when diagnosed, there is likely to be a relative or friend who goes above and beyond to unconditionally care for and support them in the last stages of their life. Hospices like North London Hospice’s health and wellbeing centre in my constituency of Enfield Southgate can play a role in identifying carers who have not realised that they have suddenly become a carer and are entitled to an assessment. Someone focusing on a person who is at the end of their life can find it tough to identify their own needs and to fully appreciate the role they have taken on.

The health and wellbeing centre works for outpatients and carers, recognising the holistic and inclusive approach that is needed. Carers face many physical and emotional challenges as they provide the essential support that their loved ones need—things like dressing them, taking them to the toilet or physically helping them move about, all while trying to preserve their loved one’s dignity. Even where there is palliative care provision, there is virtually none that is out of hours, so carers rarely get breaks at night time or at weekends. Many carers get no support or respite at all and are often stressed to breaking point as they adjust to a time when the sole focus in their life is the care of their loved one.

At a time when there is chronic underfunding in social care, there is a serious lack of high-quality community care and support for carers. Carers UK estimates that as many as one in eight people are providing unpaid care and support to a family member or friend. That unpaid care is worth £132 billion each year, which is equivalent to the entire NHS budget for one year. Under section 10 of the Care Act 2014, councils in England must carry out an assessment of a carer of an adult if they may need support. However, Carers UK research shows that 25% of people who provide palliative or end-of-life care are waiting over six months for an assessment. Even when assessments have been carried out, many carers get no extra support, leading to carers suffering ill health, financial pressures, stressed relationships and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Carers need breaks, an allowance in line with jobseeker’s allowance, a right to paid leave and support from a more carer-friendly NHS, for which Hospice UK has been campaigning for some time.

It is for those reasons that I am seeking a clearer recognition from the Government of the existing contribution of carers and an understanding that without this support, the situation would become unsustainable. In tandem with that is the need for a new right to paid care leave for carers who are in work and an increase in carer’s allowance for those not in work.

Marie Curie Cancer Care has estimated that in the next 25 years an extra 100,000 people will die each year. The need to do something about this problem could not be starker. The Bill seeks to ensure that there is equal access to community palliative care services for anyone who is terminally ill; better co-operation between hospices, agencies and NHS services to join up the currently fragmented provision; and better funding for district and community nursing.

Each person who becomes terminally ill has only one chance to live well until they die, and it is unacceptable that their only chance of living well is dependent on the prioritisation of funding for their hospice from their local CCG. In all probability, when the Bill receives its Second Reading, Joy will no longer be with us, but, in her words,

“the hospice can help us live with a better quality of life. It is about living not just about dying, until we are ready and then it will be a safe place to die.”

We owe it to Joy and all current and future sufferers of terminal illnesses to make sure that we improve the provision of palliative care and make the system better and fairer.

I should mention that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker), and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) also support the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Bambos Charalambous, Jo Platt, Emma Hardy, Tonia Antoniazzi, James Frith, Eleanor Smith, Laura Smith, Layla Moran, Dr Philippa Whitford, Dr Lisa Cameron, Jim Shannon and Will Quince present the Bill.

Bambos Charalambous accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 216).

Opposition Day

[12th Allotted Day]

Transport Secretary: East Coast Franchise

I beg to move,

That this House censures the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt hon Member for Epsom and Ewell, for his handling of the East Coast franchise and his proposal to re-privatise the route rather than operate it as a public sector operation; and calls on the Government to reduce his ministerial salary by £2,400 per year.

Labour has brought forward today’s motion because of the lack of candour and lack of debate around the future of the east coast franchise, both inside this House and outside. Not for the first time, the Secretary of State for Transport has fallen desperately short in matters of clarity and courtesy in his ministerial conduct. I believe that manners maketh the man and manners also maketh the Minister.

I would like to take this opportunity to advise the House that a week ago today I was denied the usual courtesy of being furnished with a copy of the Minister’s statement at least 45 minutes before the statement was made. I was allowed sight of the statement at 12.15 pm in an ante room on the upper ministerial corridor. I was not permitted to retain a copy and simply had to grab the few minutes afforded to me to make brief handwritten notes. With Prime Minister’s questions scheduled to finish at 12.45 pm and there being no other business before the House, that gave me the briefest sight of the document that I was to respond to.

To add insult to injury, I was not even provided with a hard copy of the statement as it was being delivered at the Dispatch Box. I noted that you, Mr Speaker, did have the benefit of a hard copy of the Secretary of State’s statement as he delivered it, but sadly I did not have that luxury.

I say in the most gentle spirit—we do not want to go over all of it in detail—that the copy for me was of limited use. It was very interesting to read, but of limited use. It would have been of greater use to the hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

It seems that certain newspapers had sight of the statement approximately an hour before its delivery. That courtesy ought to have been afforded to Her Majesty’s Opposition. To add further injury to further insult, the Secretary of State told this House, in the course of responding to questions on the statement, that the Opposition had been provided with a copy of the statement. Being given brief sight of the statement, by any reasonable interpretation, is a far cry from being provided with a copy. I trust the House will accept that this is not the way to go about business. Even at this stage, I live in hope that the Secretary of State will accept that his behaviour was not what is expected of a Minister of the Crown.

In my remarks today, I intend to examine how rail operations in the United Kingdom got into such an inexplicable and unsustainable place and consider whether the Government’s policy solutions are the right ones. Before I do so, however, I would like to deal with a preliminary issue. Each time we debate the railway, the Secretary of State argues that the private sector funds investment in the railway that we would not have under public ownership. That is simply untrue and misunderstands where investment comes from. It is the taxpayer and the fare payer, not private companies, who fund investment in the railway. Every bit of new track, every new station or new train is paid for by the public. The private sector only finances investment and it does so at a profit, such as rolling stock companies who finance the purchase of new trains and take home eye-watering profits.

Absolutely. The private sector can organise financing, but the funding has to come from somewhere. It always comes from the same source: it is provided by taxpayers and by fare-paying passengers. It is paid for, so it is wrong for the Secretary of State to repeatedly credit companies with the investment made by taxpayers and passengers who are paying sky-high fares. Public ownership does not mean less investment. Under Labour, it will mean greater investment.

I am not sure whether this is bad timing, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that today in Wales the Labour Government have awarded the Welsh franchise to a multinational French-Spanish company, KeolisAmey, in a £5 billion 15-year deal, despite a manifesto promise to award it on a not-for-profit basis. Why are his Labour colleagues in Wales directly contradicting what he is proposing today?

That is entirely a matter for the Welsh Government.

The east coast saga is littered with incompetence and delusion, alongside a frankly cavalier regard for the public and passenger interest by a succession of Transport Ministers.

This is now the sixth change of management for the east coast main line in 11 years. That cannot be good for any organisation. Does my hon. Friend know what is happening to the planned investment programme of new trains being built by Hitachi in the north-east?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There are people now working on the east coast main line who are expecting their sixth change of uniform in 10 years. It is absolutely ludicrous. There has been an appalling record over the past several years.

My hon. Friend says something that sums it up. This has been about changing uniforms and livery on trains, while the promised improvements to service, the new routes and the benefits to passengers have never ever materialised.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is ludicrous that the reported cost of changing the livery yet again on this network is an estimated £13 million.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is being very kind in giving way. Does he recognise that since 2015, when the franchise was put back into private hands, there have been an extra 1.74 million seats and an extra 40 services each week from London to Edinburgh? Is it therefore not the case that we have seen not only a 20% increase in money coming in, but an increase in service?

If we speak to people who take that train journey regularly, I think they will have their own observations about the quality of service. However, if the hon. Gentleman bears with me, I will deal with his remarks as I develop my speech.

I really want to make some progress—I have taken a lot of interventions thus far.

I am concerned that the Government’s unimaginative and ill-thought-out response to the current crisis threatens the taxpayer interest yet further. Following the west coast franchise debacle in 2012, there were numerous reviews and process changes to rail franchising. We were told that nothing like that could ever happen again. In an act of ideological spite, the east coast franchise was forced back out into the private sector by a coalition Government desperate to tie the hands of a possible Labour Government in 2015. Passengers and taxpayers have lived to regret that decision.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is huge support in the north-east for a directly operated railway in not just the short term, but the long term? The experience in the north-east proved that this was a viable proposition and one that has tremendous support from the public and passengers.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There is great support for a publicly owned railway on the east coast—

I’ll tell you what: I will answer one intervention and when I have finished with that one, I’ll see if I should answer another one—how does that go as a deal?

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) is entirely correct about that, and she is right about the response from the people who work on the railway. The investment in their training and performance reflected that and the benefits of the quality of the railway are because of the hard work and dedication of the people who work within it.

The Secretary of State said more than once that Virgin-Stagecoach got its numbers wrong when its bid for the east coast franchise was accepted in 2014. Why, then, did the Department accept the bid? What due diligence of the bid took place? Two of the Department’s franchise bid advisers told the Transport Committee on Monday that the Virgin-Stagecoach bid got through the DFT’s financial robustness test and financial risk assessment test. If that is the case, the financial robustness test and the financial risk assessment test are wholly ineffective and inadequate. Those same witnesses—the Department’s own advisers—suggested that the east coast franchise was doomed from day one. That is hardly a ringing endorsement from those in the know. In all those circumstances, what faith can we have in the Department’s processes?

This week it emerged that the Secretary of State allowed HS2 to appoint Ernst and Young to investigate Carillion, notwithstanding that EY was advising HS2. Clearly that is a direct, obvious and major conflict of interest. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Work and Pensions Committees asked if appropriate diligence took place. It seems that the Secretary of State’s failure to conduct proper due diligence is not isolated. EY, it should be recalled, is one of the Department’s technical advisers on the east coast operator of last resort.

Stagecoach knew that it would not meet its revenue targets weeks after taking over the east coast franchise in March 2015. The company was in constant dialogue with the Department about it. The Secretary of State has been in post since July 2016 and must have known about this for that period of time. Why did he do nothing? Has not this Transport Secretary been asleep at the wheel?

We learned this morning that the Government knew that Carillion was at risk for more than a year before the company went bust. As with the east coast franchise, the Government sat on their hands and did nothing. What about the Department’s managing director for passenger rail services, Peter Wilkinson, who was brought in at such great expense in 2012 to “get rail franchising back on track”? I am not a personnel expert, but I would say that Mr Wilkinson must be in breach of his contract.

Let us get into some of the details. On 14 Feb 2018, DFT OLR Ltd—presumably OLR stood for “operator of last resort”—was renamed London North Eastern Railway Ltd. It is a company limited by shares to a nominal value of just £1. The company has six directors, four of whom are listed with the occupation “civil servant”. They include the DFT’s head of passenger service, Peter Wilkinson; the DFT’s lead on in-franchise change, Richard Cantwell; and the DFT’s head of franchise policy and design, Simon Smith—the other civil servant does not show up on the DFT’s organogram.

Not only was LNER established in February, but the domain name was registered on 29 March. Why has it taken the Secretary of State three months to inform the House of a decision that he took all those months ago? Last year, it emerged that the Government decided to cancel rail electrification projects in March but they did not announce the decisions until after the general election in July. The collapse of the east coast franchise should set alarm bells ringing at the Department for Transport.

Virgin-Stagecoach has let down passengers, as well as the taxpayer. Does my hon. Friend agree that Virgin-Stagecoach should not be allowed to bid for any other train routes? If it were, that would make a mockery of the whole system of privatisation and outsourcing, with absolutely no responsibility or accountability?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point: we seem to be in the business of rewarding failure. The smack on the wrist for Virgin-Stagecoach was to give it an extension on the west coast line. How on earth does that relate to a franchise that has failed?

As I said, the collapse of the east coast franchise should set alarm bells ringing at the DFT. The Secretary of State acknowledges that his Department accepted a bid that was too high, yet at the time of the bid, Virgin Trains East Coast was told by the DFT that it was the highest-quality bid that it had ever received. If the highest-quality bid ever received could go so badly wrong so quickly, what does that mean for other franchises?

Order. Before the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) intervenes, the shadow Transport Secretary has been most generous in giving way, and that is perfectly proper, but I just emphasise that 15 Back Benchers want to speak. Therefore, it might be an idea to think in terms of finishing the speeches from Front Benchers by 10 past or quarter past 2 at the latest. If it is possible to do so earlier, so much the better. I call Mr Gareth Thomas.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for accepting this intervention before you got up to make your own. Is my hon. Friend aware of the Centre for Policy Studies—not a natural ally for him, perhaps—and its recent report in which it alluded to fundamental problems with rail competition and the declining market interest in bidding for rail franchises? Would he therefore take this opportunity to commend to the Secretary of State the recent Co-operative party report setting out a new approach to public ownership of the railways?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes his point very well. With your guidance in mind, Mr Speaker, I put the House on notice that I do not intend to take any further interventions—I shall crack on.

The franchising model is based on ever-growing passenger numbers. Indeed, other franchise agreements have been agreed with similarly optimistic assumptions about growing passenger numbers and fares revenue. Even in times of growing usage, franchises have proven to be unsustainable, yet we are now seeing a period of falling passenger numbers. In the last two quarters, rail passenger usage fell by 0.4% and 0.9%, driven by respective 8.1% and 9.4% falls in season-ticket journeys. That is a result of above-inflation fare rises; people who have seen fares rise at three times the rate of wages since 2010 are opting for cheaper modes of transport. Passengers are being priced off the railway. This declining usage threatens the integrity and financial sustainability of the railway and the franchising system itself, as other operators find themselves in similar trouble to Virgin-Stagecoach on the east coast.

What, then, is the Secretary of State’s solution? Will he abandon above-inflation fare rises, as Labour has pledged to do, so that passengers can afford to travel by rail and patronage can be boosted? If not, how does he plan to handle problems with franchises down the line? Will he do as he has done with the east coast and allow companies to walk away from their contracts, thereby forfeiting billions of pounds in premium payments owed to the Treasury, before handing services over to other companies that will agree to pay less back to the taxpayer?

The new west coast partnership franchise has a £20 million parent company guarantee. This contrasts with the £200 million guaranteed by Stagecoach on the east coast. Less risk for the private sector means more risk for the public purse. Both options would allow private operators to renege on their contracts, at a cost of billions of pounds, and makes a mockery of rail franchising by telling private operators that the state will intervene if they are in trouble, removing risk and incentivising reckless bids. It would be a case of profits being privatised and losses socialised.

The Public Accounts Committee and the Transport Committee have published reports that are scathing of both the Secretary of State’s handling of franchises and the franchising system more generally, which is clearly failing on its own terms. The Secretary of State is attempting to prop up the franchising model for ideological reasons. Since 2010, there have been more direct awards—companies being gifted services without having to bid—than successful franchising competitions, meaning that the system resembles state-sponsored monopolies rather than a market where franchisees make bids they are expected to honour.

I have yet to hear the Secretary of State articulate a solution to these fundamental flaws in rail franchising. So far, he has only proposed to tinker around the edges. The strategic vision for rail announced last November will be a future case study for media students on Government presentational double-speak. Amid reversing the Beeching cuts and announcing the invitation to tender for the next south-eastern franchise, there were two sentences on how the east coast franchise had failed. The strategic vision embodies his approach to his ministerial brief and to announcements in this House: smoke, mirrors, ambiguities, jargon, technicalities, empty aspirations and discourtesy.

Can my hon. Friend offer any insight into the Secretary of State’s long-term vision for rail franchising? Did he hear the evidence to the Transport Committee on Monday on the proposed east coast partnership, when Iryna Terlecky, a rail professional with decades of experience, told us that she had

“no idea how it might work”?

She added:

“If I was doing this kind of partnership, I would not do it on the east coast”

because it was

“completely counter-intuitive”.

Can he understand why the Secretary of State is going down this path?