House of Commons
Wednesday 23 May 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
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
The Secretary of State was asked—
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.
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.
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
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
The UK is one of the leading humanitarian donors in the Democratic Republic of 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I invite my hon. Friend to the meeting of the all-party group on Somaliland later today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the party that opposed the NHS in the first place, that is a bit rich. [Interruption.]
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.
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 which 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The Prime Minister and the Labour Leader of the Opposition—[Interruption.]
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.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman, of course, but I call Andrew Bridgen.
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.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman, but I call Mr Simon Hoare.
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.
Right hon. Friend is fine. [Interruption.]
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.
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 as to 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).
[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.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain to me the difference between paying for something and financing it?
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.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
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—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
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?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
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 Select 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 Southeastern 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 Select 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”?
“If I was doing this kind of partnership, I would not do it on the east coast”
because it was
Can he understand why the Secretary of State is going down this path?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I value the work she does so astutely as Chair of the Transport Select Committee. It is remarkable that those experts and advisers are making such comments. I will come on to deal with the choice of the east coast for a potential partnership option in my concluding remarks.
A moment or so ago, the hon. Gentleman mentioned ideology. I am a Welshman and I thought I understood the Welsh Labour party. What is the difference between the ideologies of Welsh Labour and London Labour on these vital transport issues? Clearly there is a difference, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards).
The hon. Gentleman will recognise of course that the Government forced through the franchise option, so they had no choice in Wales.
Like his time at the Ministry of Justice, the Secretary of State must hope to be moved on before his wrecking-ball approach to decisions reveals its true horrors. He seems incapable of being direct with Members and the public alike. Given his track record, is it any wonder that no one takes the east coast partnership idea seriously? Where on earth did he come up with it? In the back of a taxi on the way to Parliament to deliver his statement?
As my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee has remarked, the east coast is the last line on the rail network on which a partnership between a train and track operator has been launched. More than 20 passenger, freight and open access operators use the east coast main line. The east coast franchise runs less than 10% of services. Why would anyone put this operator in charge? There is no basis for the Secretary of State’s assurances that the governance of the partnership would be independent.
The Secretary of State knows that Network Rail’s London and north-eastern route covers the east midlands. Putting that route into an east coast partnership will force Network Rail to prioritise the east coast over the east midlands and further damage a region that is losing rail electrification and services because of timetable changes. Will his east coast partnership not undermine the national rail infrastructure manager, Network Rail? His new market-led proposals for rail enhancements also undermine Network Rail’s role and increase the Department’s micro-management of rail. Is there not simply too much political interference in rail?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will give way briefly, but it will be my last intervention.
Like many north-east MPs, I travel on the east coast line every week, and I am always being asked this question by passengers and staff: why on earth did the coalition Government get rid of a perfectly good company that put £1 billion over four years into the Treasury and give the franchise to Virgin-Stagecoach? That has never really been explained.
I think the explanation is quite simple: it was done out of ideological obsession and to put the franchise outwith the reach of anybody else.
In contrast, the next Labour Government will allow rail professionals to get on with their jobs free from political interference. [Interruption.] They do not seem to understand the difference.
No, I am not taking any more interventions. Sit!
Last week, the Secretary of State failed to address my concerns about four other highly vulnerable rail franchises being provided with revenue support by the Department. Is it his intention to take these contracts within the “operator of last resort” function should they fail?
How does the hon. Gentleman square his statement that there is too much political interference in the rail network with his party’s stated desire to nationalise the entire network? It does not make any sense.
Had the hon. Gentleman been here for the entirety of the debate, he might have heard me refer to that; I know he has just walked in. The object of the exercise is to put rail professionals in charge of the railway system.
Is it not the reality that the franchise system is totally broken? It’s finished; it’s a dead parrot; it is no more. The one thing the Secretary of State is right about is that track and train should be unified, but that should not be done simply to further his ideological obsession with parcelling up public services for profiteers. I am glad, therefore, that this service has been taken out of the franchising system and placed under public control, although the fact that it is a consortium of private companies brought about during the partial privatisation of the “operator of last resort” prevents it from being properly described as full public ownership.
A minimum estimate is that £725 million flows out of the railway every year into the pockets of shareholders. In addition, £200 million each year is wasted through a disjointed system. Breaking the railway up into pieces was necessary to sell it off, but it has created an inefficient railway. A few years ago, the McNulty report found our railways to be 40% less efficient than European comparators.
I do not agree with the Members who favour a “halfway house” option—having a degree of public ownership, but retaining the broader franchising model, along with a public sector operator or two—as that would mean failing to realise the full benefits of public ownership. What is needed is a fully integrated railway that is fully in public ownership. A unified railway in public ownership, serving the interests of British citizens, their communities, their jobs and their businesses is what Labour will deliver, and the sooner we can have a general election to bring it about, the better. I commend the motion to the House.
What a lot of incoherence from the Labour party and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald)! Who does the hon. Gentleman think runs the railway today except rail professionals? It is a nonsense.
What we also have seen today is a classic example of the definition of the word “hypocrisy”. This morning the Welsh Labour Government announced their plans for what will be a public-private partnership to develop a new metro service on the Welsh valley lines. This afternoon, the Labour party at Westminster is trying to censure me for announcing a public-private partnership to improve services on the east coast main line. That says a great deal about what the Labour party has become.
I will give way in a moment; let me make a bit of progress first.
I am not going to go through, line by line, the process that I have been undertaking in the past few months to reach what I believe is the right position for taxpayers, passengers and employees, but I have been struck by how little Labour Members understand about the way in which such a process must be managed, and how little they appear to understand the financial structure of franchising, rail laws, or the fact that the Government have to operate within the legalities of contracts and other laws.
I believe that, when confronting a failing franchise, the Government have three duties. The first is to ensure that any transition to a new arrangement is smooth and trouble-free for passengers. That was why we engaged an “operator of last resort” team in the autumn, meaning that, if necessary, they would have plenty of time to plan a smooth takeover. The team registered the name and prepared the website so that they would be ready if this situation arose. That is good practice.
The second of the duties is to ensure that the failing company fulfils its contract with the Government. If I had moved to make this decision months ago, the operator of last resort would not have not been ready and, moreover, I would have left taxpayers short-changed—they would have been given back less money than they should have been. When this contract ends, the taxpayer will have recovered all the money that it is possible to recover under the terms of the contract. That is a key duty of the Government in such a situation.
The Government’s third duty is to act according to due process, to be seen to assess all options properly, and to ensure that they have proper legal protection against any challenge to the decisions that I make. In the last few months the Department has ensured that all those duties have been fulfilled, and I am grateful to all the members of the team who helped me to make that happen.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Welsh railways, but the motion is not about the Welsh railways; it is about the east coast main line, which has gone bust three times in less than 10 years. The Government are still obsessed with financing the private sector through taxpayers and railway users, whose fares have gone up by more than 32%.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what the motion is about: Labour Members saying one thing in one place and doing something else in another. Why should we take them seriously when they do that?
Is there not a much bigger problem with the Labour party’s policy of nationalisation? Labour Members are trying to keep us in the single market, but the state aid rules within the single market mean that we cannot nationalise.
That is absolutely true. The irony is—I shall say more about this later—that it is the rail unions that have been campaigning against the same European laws that the Labour party wants to keep. This is another example of Labour’s nonsensical position.
Will my right hon. Friend amplify something that he hinted at earlier? Will he confirm that he sees the Government as an interim operator of last resort and that this is not a permanent renationalisation?
I do not intend that the arrangement will be permanent. What I am saying—I have said this all along—is that when we move ahead with the full future shape of the LNER, we will not do everything in exactly the same way. What has been done on this railway in the past has not worked, and I do not intend to do it again. We will do things differently. We will consider giving the staff a stake in the business, and we will look at a different kind of investment from the private sector. However, as I shall make clear, I believe—the Welsh Government clearly believe—that a partnership between the public sector and the private sector is beneficial to the country, and not something to be cast aside as an evil and sinister attempt to do down passengers.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will give way once more, and then I will make some progress.
I am very interested by the comments that are coming from behind the Secretary of State. It is clear that he is in favour of state ownership of UK railways; the only problem is that it is German, Italian and French state ownership.
It appears that the Welsh Government—the Welsh Labour Government—take the same view, because they have just awarded the contract for the Wales & Borders franchise to a French state business in partnership with a Spanish-owned private business. Again, the Labour party says one thing in one place and does something else in another.
What we have heard from Labour in the last few months has been a litany of misinformation, misunderstanding and inaccuracy. Let us take the bail-out point. Labour Members claim that there has been a £2 billion bail-out. That is just plain nonsense. It is wholly inaccurate to claim that there has been a bail-out now, when the railway will continue to make a healthy profit for the taxpayer. It would equally be inaccurate to claim that Labour had bailed out National Express when it did not push through nearly £1.5 billion of future premium payments after 2009. The railway carried on making a profit then, and it will carry on making a profit now.
Had the franchise run its full term, would the Secretary of State have expected Virgin Trains East Coast to pay the full £3.3 billion in premiums?
Any franchise that runs its full term is expected to pay the full premiums, but when National Express went under and there was a further £1.5 billion of premiums to pay, that money continued to be paid by the new operator, in the same way that the premiums that we are expecting will continue to be paid by the operator in this instance. This is my point: the hon. Gentleman does not understand how the finances of the railways work, and that is why the Labour party is so unfit to be in opposition, let alone to govern.
I will give way first to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) and later to the Chairman of the Transport Committee.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I hope that he will clear up that point about the last Labour Government and National Express. As a member of the Transport Committee, I heard a former Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, explain that sanctions had been applied and that that particular operator was not permitted to bid for other franchises, which was a significant sanction.
If I am not mistaken, Lord Adonis actually accepted before the Select Committee that that did not happen. He thought that standing up in Parliament and saying that there would be a ban meant that there actually was one. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department looked very carefully at this and no evidence of any ban has been found. Moreover, a report from the National Audit Office stated that it had found no such evidence.
I was at the same Select Committee sitting. Of course, in the year following those events, the Labour party left office. What did happen at the time was that the then Secretary of State said that National Express would be stripped of other franchises, but of course that did not occur—I dare say that that could not happen legally—and the two franchises remained the same.
My hon. Friend is right. It is all very well Labour Members posturing, but we do have to operate within the law of the land, which is a fact that they sometimes miss.
I will take two more brief interventions, but then I must make some progress.
I want to deal with the loss of premium payments. According to the Secretary of State’s own “Short-term Intercity East Coast train operator 2018 options report”,
“the business revenues are estimated to reach around £2bn over the period of interim operation and the forecast income or premium for taxpayers is estimated at around a quarter of a billion pounds.”
That is about £420 million less than had been anticipated under the VTEC contract. Who will fund that black hole in the Government’s finances? Will it be taxpayers or will it be passengers? Will the Secretary of State have to cut other departmental budget lines, or has the Chancellor agreed to bail him out?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for confirming that the talk of a £2 billion bail-out that we keep hearing from Labour is absolute nonsense. The reality is that we will drive this business as hard as we can to keep the revenues as high as we can. But if this railway were going to deliver as much money as was forecast, none of this would have happened in the first place.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most generous. He is forensically taking apart the Opposition’s case. Was he struck, as I was, by the fact that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) did not even mention the cost of renationalisation? Across the board, the renationalisation of the utilities and the railways would cost more than £170 billion, and that is money that we simply cannot afford to spend.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Opposition never cost in their renationalisation plans the value of the trains that are currently privately owned, for example. That amount would be billions and billions of pounds, unless they are planning to nationalise the railways but have no trains to run on them, which is also a possibility.
I am going to make some progress. I will want to talk about a couple of other issues, for the benefit of the House, but first I want to be clear about what the debate is all about.
The Labour party, in its guise here today, unreservedly hates the private sector. Other parts of the party do not, however. Even Lord Adonis, who has been attacking me for months, said yesterday that he thought that the franchising system was working well. I do not necessarily agree with him on that. I think that some serious changes are going to be needed, as I have said in the House before, but the solution is not to go back to where the French are today. President Macron is trying to move things away from the model that the Labour party is advocating, which would be disastrous for this country. Labour’s vision for the future of transport in our country is precisely the opposite of President Macron’s. When a country has a system that is struggling, losing money and closing routes, Labour’s vision is not the way for the future.
I am not going to give way at the moment.
I will take no lessons from a party that says that it wants to dismantle capitalism and create a socialist society that looks fondly towards the disaster that has been Venezuela. Madam Deputy Speaker, did you hear the shadow Chancellor talking at the weekend about his vision for a socialist Britain? This is a man who does not even believe in private property. That would be disastrous for this country, and we must stand up very firmly against an ideology that would damage this country—[Interruption] Opposition Members talk about where investment comes from, but they do not understand that if the railway is in the public sector, that means it has to compete for precious capital day in, day out, and year in, year out, with other parts of the public sector—the health service and the education system. The reason why right now we have knackered old trains in the north of England—the Pacer trains that were no more than bus bodies bolted on to train wheels in the days of British Rail—is because British Rail, in the public sector, did not get the capital to invest properly, and that would happen all over again.
I am going to keep my remarks brief, because many Members want to speak. However, I do want to say a quick word about this week’s timetable issues on the railways, since the shadow Secretary of State raised them and they are of great concern to Members.
What we have seen in the last few days has not been good enough. No one should underestimate the logistical challenge of introducing a timetable change. The changes have been made for a very good reason: they mean a big expansion of services across the country. A timetable change of such a scale involves reorganising staff rotas, training staff for new routes, and reorganising how we deploy our trains. It needed months of preparation, and I am afraid that a number of things went wrong, but most particularly the fact that for the second time in six months, Network Rail was far too late in finalising planned timetable changes and left the rest of the industry struggling to catch up. I am not happy with that at all and I have told the leadership of Network Rail that it cannot happen again. But it is perhaps an uncomfortable truth for Labour Members, who keep talking about current problems as an excuse for nationalisation, that the problems that have arisen in the last few days are, to a significant extent, the result of failings in the nationalised part of the rail industry.
I know that many passengers have had disrupted journeys; that is not good enough. I am sorry that that was the case, and everyone in my Department and people elsewhere are working hard to get the problem sorted out. But this has been a major teething problem in what will be a step forward for the railways. Even with the unwanted cancellations, at the start of this week far more services were running than before the timetable change happened.
I know that some people have experienced change that they are not happy with. We cannot deliver everything for everyone, but this is going to mean better journeys for thousands of people up and down the country.
The right hon. Gentleman blames Network Rail for these problems and calls it a nationalised part of the railways, but he must remember that he is the Secretary of State. One of the main problems was the lack of consultation with the wider travelling public, or for that matter with many local Members of Parliament or local authorities.
There is a certain irony in Labour Members keeping on saying that they do not think I am competent and they do not think that the Department is competent, yet saying that they want to take a greater role in running a nationalised railway. That does not add up—it is a great contradiction—and the idea that they would be any better at it is for the birds.
The issue has arisen because of late delivery of the finalised timetable. That has created huge logistical problems, and two things have made them worse in the north. One is the fact that the electrification project on the Bolton line has gone wrong, which needs to be learned from very carefully indeed—[Interruption.] I do not electrify the railways personally. Secondly, there is the behaviour of the unions, which are currently, in the midst of a difficult period, going forward with work to rule in a way that is deeply regrettable.
I will give way, but then I shall wind up my remarks so that others have a chance to speak.
I have been experiencing some of these teething problems due to the new timetable in Stevenage. There continue to be issues, but we are looking forward to more seats, more services and more destinations. I was on a train today from Stevenage. I had to get off at King’s Cross, but it went through to Gatwick and then on to Brighton, so we are excited about the prospects.
We are very proud to have the east coast main line stopping at Stevenage. We would like more services, but we cannot forget the passengers. They do not care whether ownership is private, mutual or public—they just want things to work. I am grateful that the Secretary of State has stepped in to try to make that happen.
That is the most important thing. It is why we are pushing forward with the integration of track and train to make the railway more reliable, and it is why we have a strategy to bring in digital technology to improve the performance of the railway. It is also why, for the first time in a long time, we are investing in significant extra capacity across the rail network.
We sat in opposition looking at things that needed to be done but just did not get done, but now we are in government, they are happened. Last week the fantastic new London Bridge station opened. In the summer, I will be in the midlands to open the new Kenilworth station. In July, I will be opening the expanded Liverpool Lime Street station. These are big and positive steps forward for the railway.
In total, over the next five years, we will be investing £20 billion on renewing the current infrastructure, and another £9 billion on further enhancements, including the flagship trans-Pennine rail network. We are building HS2, we will shortly be opening Crossrail, we are just opening the Thameslink tunnels through central London, and we have done the Ordsall chord in Manchester. [Interruption.] The £2.9 billion trans-Pennine rail upgrade will begin in the spring of next year and make a massive difference to passengers.
The thing that passengers will probably notice the most, however—this is being funded by the private rather than the public sector—is all the new trains that are arriving. Every single train in the north of England is being rebuilt, starting from later this year, with all the Pacer trains going to the scrapyard, and every train in East Anglia. The new trains asked for by Opposition Members are arriving on the east coast main line later this year, and new trains are coming to the south-west, the midlands and the south. There will be new trains across the whole country because this Government are investing in our rail network. This Government want to give a better deal to passengers, and this Government are going to do what works. All we hear from Labour Members is ideology from a party that cannot quite work out what it is actually talking about, and I think we have one big job for this country: make sure they never get anywhere near government.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, let me say to the House that it will be obvious that a great many Members wish to speak. We have limited time, as there is another debate after this one, and I therefore want to warn colleagues that I will be imposing a six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That, of course, does not apply to Mr Alan Brown.
It is a pleasure to follow the Transport Secretary. He made a speech that will certainly appeal to his Back Benchers but I would not say it was a forensic demolition of the argument for public ownership of the east coast main line. When the Transport Secretary throws out phrases like “Labour just hate the private sector” and “they would turn our economy into a Venezuelan economy” that seems like smoke and mirrors to me, rather than forensic analysis.
This censure motion relates directly to the handling of the east coast main line franchise. I am happy to support it on that basis, but there has been a further catalogue of errors on the Transport Secretary’s watch. I want to touch on some of that as well, as it builds up to where are today.
It is clear from the opening speeches that there are opposing views across the Chamber on the merits of privatisation and franchising, but one thing that I am confident about is that, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) touched on, the Transport Secretary wrongly connects cause and effect when it comes to privatisation of the railways. He continually plays up the increased investment in the railways since privatisation and the subsequent increase in passenger numbers as if it all just magically happened when British Rail was broken up and sold off. It can be argued that British Rail was struggling—it did have some poor rolling stock and it was outdated—but that is only half the picture because the Government would not allow British Rail to borrow to invest in the railways. The Transport Secretary says British Rail did not have access to capital, but that was because the Government would not allow it to access capital.
There was another restriction on the railways at the time. Substantial investment was needed following the 1988 Clapham rail crash, and further rolling stock upgrades and the channel tunnel were bleeding money elsewhere that British Rail was not allowed to access. Once John Major’s Government sold off British Rail, they allowed private borrowing, so it is correct that additional money was levered in, but that money was levered in on the basis that it could be recovered only through fares or through Government subsidy. If the Transport Secretary cannot acknowledge that money can be borrowed only because it is underpinned by the taxpayer, either it shows a real lack of understanding of where the money comes from, or it shows his ideological blind spot.
That attitude permeates all the way through the failed east coast franchise. The Transport Secretary has previously more or less shrugged his shoulders in the Chamber and said, “Well, you know what? Stuff happens. Some franchises fail, and that is the way the private world operates. Some fail and we move on, but do you know what? Others will come along and they will be successful, so why worry?”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the flaws in the east coast franchise, and one of the reasons it failed, is that it was so badly set up in the first place, with the backloading of payments? Does he agree that perhaps we should take this opportunity, as we go into a different arrangement, to look at how we set up franchises to make sure we do not doom them to failure?
I agree with the hon. Lady. I will address a couple of those points because I agree wholeheartedly with what she says about the tender process and the backloading.
The reality is that private investors and companies either make money out of a franchise or they seem to be allowed to walk away. The Transport Secretary stated at the Dispatch Box that what is now happening is not a bail-out of VTEC. But if VTEC owes £2 billion in track premiums and is allowed to walk away without paying anything, that must by definition be a £2 billion bail-out. That is so simple and it cannot be argued against.
Surely the definition of a bail-out is when the Government actually have to pay money to the company, which of course they are not doing. If anything, the criticism of the Government is that they have ripped off the private sector and got more money from it than it could deliver.
Yes, there we see the ideological blind spot yet again. If somebody owes me £2 billion, I would be writing off £2 billion of debt if I said, “Forget about it. It’s okay.” Let us say it is technically not a bail-out, but the Government are writing off £2 billion of debt that that company owes the taxpayer. The company is walking away and getting rid of a £2 billion liability, and I do not understand why Conservative Members are trying to argue different.
The Transport Secretary has previously justified the predicament by saying the franchisee got its sums wrong. That should not be an excuse, but, as I have repeatedly said, and the shadow Minister also touched on this, it means the Department for Transport also got its sums wrong when it thought the tender was suitable for award. It is not just the franchisee that got its sums wrong; the Department for Transport got its sums wrong, too.
The Government failed in their due diligence. What about the supposed parent company guarantees? Those guarantees clearly have not been worth much to the taxpayer. We do not know what the runner-up bids looked like, but do those runners up have a case against the Government, given they clearly failed in their due diligence by awarding this franchise, from which VTEC gets to walk away?
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) said, we know VTEC backloaded the track premiums. If another consortium’s bid did not backload the track premiums, the taxpayer might already have made more money, but we do not know whether there was such a bid because it is all clouded in commercial confidentiality. It also shows, yet again, that no lessons were learned from the failed 2012 west coast franchise. The Transport Secretary had a duty to ensure that lessons were learned and properly applied in awarding the east coast franchise, and it is clear that not enough analysis was undertaken.
When the story broke, although VTEC got the sums wrong, Richard Branson blamed some of the reduced numbers on Network Rail. Given the Transport Secretary also has responsibility for Network Rail, what is the truth in that statement? If it is true that Network Rail was the problem, VTEC should be compensated because that is the way the franchise model works. If it is not true, why has the Transport Secretary not come out fighting to disprove Richard Branson’s comments, instead of casually defending VTEC at the Dispatch Box? It is more smoke and mirrors from VTEC.
At the Transport Committee, the chief executive of Stagecoach used excuses such as that the Scottish referendum and Brexit hit the numbers. Considering that our referendum was in 2014, before the franchise was awarded, that is clearly patent nonsense.
Despite all that, the Transport Secretary’s new wheeze to prevent a blame game between the track owner and the franchise holder is a combined partnership model. That might improve things, but at this stage we do not know what the set-up will look like or how it will interact with other services outwith the franchise. Given the repeated Back-Bench Tory support for open access on the line, there will clearly be further complications for such a partnership to address. It is absolutely guaranteed that there will be further issues down the line.
The Public Accounts Committee found last month that the passenger growth forecast by Virgin and Stagecoach was wildly wrong. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, does that prove the rail franchising model is broken?
It certainly proves the current model is broken. If a franchisee gets its figures wildly wrong, it goes back to the due diligence by the Department for Transport, which clearly accepted the wildly wrong and inflated figures. Action is needed to remedy that.
Even if we accept the Government’s partnership model, the Transport Secretary has made it clear he believes that the private sector always operates better than the public sector. Surely then, at the very least, he should allow the public sector to bid for franchises: if he is that confident the private sector will win, he does not have to worry about the public sector bidding. Let the public sector bid and let us see which is the most competitive.
Is it not the case that what we are seeing here is not a free market situation at all? In a free market situation, a failing franchisee would lose money, too. The current situation is tantamount to going into a casino, putting on a bet, losing and being given back the stake. Surely risk should be shared with the private sector in future arrangements so it takes a hit, as well as the taxpayer.
I completely agree. Rail franchise holders have been able to walk away. As has been said, the profits are privatised and the losses are underpinned by the taxpayer. That is not a proper free market model because there is absolutely no punitive action against franchise holders when they fail.
If that were the case, why did the share prices of the companies involved collapse?
Funnily enough, Stagecoach’s share price increased when the Transport Secretary gave a statement from the Dispatch Box in February. Share prices go up and down, which is to do with the overall performance of these companies, and they are very big companies. The whole point of these big companies bidding and providing parent company guarantees is that it is supposed to offset the risk, rather than leaving the risk to the taxpayer.
On the question of state-owned companies or public sector organisations running franchises, the Transport Secretary’s logic completely falls apart when we consider that four foreign state-owned rail companies already operate franchises in the UK. Those companies are making a profit here for reinvestment in their domestic set-up, which is proof that state-run railways can work efficiently.
The previous east coast main line services are further proof that public ownership can work. When the previous franchise failed and was taken into public sector operation, it returned £1 billion in track fees to the Treasury and turned an operating profit of £42 million. So, as has been asked before, why move away from that successful model to one where VTEC can come in with inflated sums and then get to walk away? It is clearly not right.
The southern rail franchise shambles also happened on the Transport Secretary’s watch. The main conclusion of the NAO’s report is that it could not be demonstrated that the franchise has delivered value for money. At the time, the operator blamed Network Rail and the unions, and the Government blamed the unions, completely ignoring the Transport Secretary’s role in refusing to engage with them. The fact is that 60% of the cancellations were due to Govia Thameslink Railway and only 40% were caused by Network Rail. The UK Government set up the model supposedly to deal with the complex infrastructure upgrades, but the Government took all the revenue risks, so the strikes actually cost the taxpayer, because the loss of revenue is underwritten. The Government also awarded the franchise based on an even higher roll-out of driver-only operation, which is what caused some of the disputes.
This is not just a problem with southern. Southern is a failing franchise, but northern seems to be on the verge of failing, too, with complaints from passengers across the north of England about services regularly not being provided.
I agree, and I think that the Government are now looking at northern because it is yet another failing franchise—another sign that the current system is just not fit for purpose.
I go back to the problems with the southern franchise. The NAO report makes it clear that the Department for Transport’s responsibility was large, especially for access to the network and timetabling pressures. Such errors led to an additional £60 million being allocated from the Treasury, following a loss in revenue and other costs. Again, all that happened on this Transport Secretary’s watch.
I do not want to deflect attention in any way, but may I remind the hon. Gentleman that that franchise was not set up while I was Secretary of State?
I am happy to accept that, but all the current problems are happening under the Secretary of State’s watch. He has refused to get involved in trying to resolve the disputes to move things forward. I accept the fact about when it was set up, but he could have been stronger in his leadership and his interventions instead of letting things rumble on.
Another issue that I have with the Secretary of State’s overall competence is his dogmatic refusal to devolve Network Rail to Scotland. The organisation is clearly too big, and it has a bad reputation for delays and overspend, so why would he not want to take the opportunity to devolve it, allowing the Scottish Government to take full responsibility? It has been estimated that a unified management structure could save up to £100 million a year, and that alone should appeal to a Tory Secretary of State, so I just do not understand his dogmatic refusal to engage.
Then there is his lack of engagement with the Scottish Government about the funding for control period 6 in Scotland. The allocation is way less than his regulator recommended for track maintenance and growth in Scotland’s railways. Why is he being so obstinate in refusing to meet the Scottish Government or to consider what might be a fair funding settlement? We also had the recent railcard fiasco. The autumn Budget included the announcement of a discounted railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds, except the Treasury did not put any money into the scheme. In answer to a written question, I was told that the rail industry would pay for it itself, but that was done without discussions with the industry so, lo and behold, the scheme is in chaos. Who would have thought it? Again, that happened under this Secretary of State’s watch.
The Transport Secretary’s slash-and-burn attitude to rail electrification projects and the short-sighted selection of hybrid engines will lead to continued diesel pollution. He has also so far refused to fund or consider meaningful upgrades to the west coast main line north of Crewe. The way that high-speed rail will be implemented means that journeys between Scotland and Crewe will take longer on high-speed trains than they take currently with Virgin Trains, so we need further investment north of Crewe.
I will deviate from rail slightly before I finish. The Transport Secretary’s incompetence is summed up by his proclamations that there will be no border checks post Brexit. The suggestion is that lorries will not be stopped—just like on the US-Canada border—but that just shows that he does not have a grasp of his brief. That is why I am more than happy to support the motion.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I am looking forward to making a short contribution—certainly no longer than six minutes. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). I note that he chastised Government Members for saying that the explanation was simple, but it appears that he does not understand the difference between revenue projections and debt, which is fundamental here. At its heart, the motion seems to be about the east coast main line, how it was franchised, how it is now operating, the solution and also the future of the railways. The divide between the two sides of the House is clear: the Opposition believe that everything should be nationalised, and the Government believe that a public-private partnership will work for the benefit of passengers.
I listened to the opening remarks of the shadow Secretary of State, and I understand his frustration, but surely he appreciates a Secretary of State who comes to the House to announce changes, rather than one who, as happened in the case of National Express, made an announcement on the radio at 7.30 am. When this Government had less talent available to them and I was a Minister, I met a number of people from the rail industry and I can say that to think that the railways are not run by professionals is an insult to the many who work on them. They will have been disappointed to hear the shadow Secretary of State say that today.
This is about rail franchising, the principles on which it is based, and then whether the Secretary of State has followed those principles. After the problems with the franchising of the west coast main line, the Brown review set out the principles for franchising and re-franchising. The principles contain clear guidance on the capital that must be put up by franchisees, on the risks and on the Secretary of State’s duties—duties that this Transport Secretary has surely followed. It is his job to ensure that passenger services are not disrupted and that there is a smooth transition if a franchise is failing. By getting the operator of last resort involved last autumn, services were preserved, and the reality on the east coast main line is that more trains are being run, more money will be generated for the taxpayer and more people are being employed. In addition, the most recent passenger satisfaction survey shows that 92% are satisfied with the privatised railway.
I will happily give way to the Chair of the Transport Committee.
I want to pick up on the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Brown review. One of its recommendations was that franchisees should be responsible only for the risks that they can manage, but that was not implemented. Does he agree that the failure to do so was one reason why this franchise has gone wrong?
If the hon. Lady reads on, she will see that that recommendation states that franchisees
“should not be expected to take external macroeconomic”
risks. Surely this franchise has underestimated the risk to itself by overestimating revenues. Now, whether the Department for Transport took the appropriate advice is for the Transport Committee to dwell on, but the Brown principles are quite clear.
The next duty on the Secretary of State is to ensure that taxpayers are protected, and this private failure has not resulted in public sector liability or taxpayer cost. The Secretary of State is right in what he says about that.
Finally, there are processes that must be followed. Like it or not, whether someone is a Minister or a Member of Parliament, there are many times when frustration with some public or private service can boil over, but due legal process must be followed. Looking at what this Secretary of State has done, I do not think that anyone can argue that he has not followed the process. He came to this House in February, and before that he set in place the operator of last resort. He has ensured continuity of service and that there will be no loss to the taxpayer. He has taken the appropriate legal advice. Against that test, the motion must fail.
On that point, I will give way to my right hon. Friend, a former Minister of State.
I was able to work with the Secretary of State, as the House knows, and I can say with absolute surety that he is a diligent Minister who does indeed know the detail and follows procedure in precisely the way my hon. Friend describes. I do not think it is reasonable to blame the Secretary of State for intervening when we all know that he would have got the blame had he not intervened. He has taken the right steps in the public interest and should not be blamed for doing so.
The former Minister of State is a friend of mine from when we were both in the Department for Transport. I wholeheartedly concur, as ever.
The second part of the motion is about the future, which is where the biggest divide is. I enjoy a good reminiscence as much as the next person. I remember my fifth birthday treat—my parents took me on the railways, because I always wanted to do it.
Was steam still around?
Yes, steam was still around.
For most of the first part of my professional life, I used British Rail to commute. The idea that it was a paragon of virtue and good service is just nonsense. My memory, which I do not think has deserted me, is of old and failing rolling stock, poor maintenance, timetables that were never operated, and a lack of investment. That is not the reality now. Since privatisation, the Government have invested billions in railway infrastructure. Over the next five years, they will ensure that there is another £20 billion—actually, there will be much more than coming that directly from the private sector investing in new rolling stock, which will be the biggest benefit for the public.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am mindful of the six-minute limit. I have taken two interventions, so I will not take one from the hon. Gentleman.
That private investment, which Labour so heavily opposes, is the very investment that will greatly benefit the people who travel on the trains, about whom all hon. Members should be most concerned. Under Labour proposals, that investment would disappear.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has come to the House with a future rail strategy. It is a great start, but he knows I would like him to go further in a few key areas. I went to speak to the managing director of South Western, which runs the trains around my area. The reality is that Network Rail is causing the bulk of the delays. I am delighted to see public-private partnerships, but I urge my right hon. Friend to go further with his plans to devolve sections of Network Rail, which would provide local accountability and responsiveness to local passenger need. Let us not worry ourselves about nationalisation; let us make sure we get this right. It is ironic that the part of the railway that is most criticised is the nationalised part.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the point about timetable delays and one or two other issues. The projects division inside Network Rail is responsible for many good works, but it is also responsible for a number of delays. I urge him to get the private sector more closely involved in the design and concentration of projects.
Finally, I am pleased to say that this motion fails at the most basic level. It is wrong to censure the Secretary of State, who has followed the right processes. The last thing this country needs is to go back to the 1970s. It needs to look forward to the 2020s, and nationalisation can never be the answer.
I am pleased to be allowed to speak in this very important debate. I start by thanking the staff on east coast rail who, during the eight years I have been in the House, have been unfailingly helpful on my twice-weekly journeys to and from Newcastle. They have been unfailingly cheerful and unfailingly efficient despite the turmoil that successive Conservative-led Governments have put them through.
Speaking of the workers, I would not normally support singling out one worker—in this case, the Secretary of State for Transport—for criticism and in effect a fine for a collective failure of this Government, but if anyone is responsible for that failure, it has to be him. What is more, it is not only a failure of competence; more importantly, it is a failure driven by ideology—the Secretary of State’s extreme free market ideology. If he wants to play ideology at dinner parties around the country, that is his decision, but here he is playing ideology with the east coast main line, a critical piece of national railway infrastructure serving more than 20 million passengers per year and contributing more than £300 billion annually to the UK economy. Also, independent research shows that investment in it could generate more than £5 billion in additional GDP for our country and our region. The Secretary of State’s ideology is destroying jobs in my constituency, for which he must be held accountable.
Hon. Members may have heard me mention that before entering Parliament I spent 23 years as an engineer. My last job was for Ofcom, the communications regulator. As part of that, I spent a lot of time looking at the economics of networks and the benefit of competition, which is where I shall focus my remarks.
Free markets require competition. Without competition, markets become monopolies. I hope we can all agree that private sector monopolies are bad—there are no interventions, so we agree. On the other hand, public sector monopolies can be run in the interests of the many, not the few. Many believe that rail is a natural monopoly. I agree. Railways were born in my region. The Rocket—the first commercial locomotive—was built in Newcastle by the Stephensons, and will return to Newcastle for the Great Exhibition of the North this summer.
From the very start, it has been impossible to run railways competitively in the private sector. The Office of Fair Trading states:
“Competition is a process of rivalry between firms seeking to win customers’ business over time by offering them a better deal.”
What better deal was there under Virgin? Were there more trains? No. Were there better trains? No. Were there better services? No. People could argue that the uniforms and the advertising slightly improved, but does that justify the huge costs involved in bailing out the private sector three times in 10 years? Does that justify the huge costs involved in regulating private sector companies to stop them exploiting their monopoly positions? Private sector companies always abuse monopoly positions. They cannot help it. Did it give us the investment in transport in the north-east that we need for our economic development? Transport for the North estimates that we need £27 billion invested in our transport infrastructure. Did it justify the huge costs involved in designing multiple tenders and the exposure to legal challenges? Did it justify the uncertainty that has been so bad for staff and passengers? Absolutely not. The Conservatives are ideologically constipated on free markets to the extent that they cannot see the reality of our rail network and its needs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. The Government are ideologically wedded to the privatisation model, but they must accept that, once the regular public subsidy for the railways is netted off, the amount of private sector investment is rather small.
My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right, which shows why this idea that this is a competitive market is a travesty. There is really no investment. More importantly, what little investment does take place is not at these companies’ own risk, because they are bailed out. Yet so infatuated are this Government with private sector monopolies that they do not seem to see that. We see the same thing when they deal with the tech giants: this Government are happy for private sector monopolies to walk all over UK citizens and yet the Government continue to stuff these companies’ mouths with gold.
We need a Government who recognise the role that the private sector can play in many industries and many businesses, but also recognise the importance of delivering natural monopolies through the public sector in such a way that citizens, consumers and passengers benefit. We need a Government who are not in hock to the private sector. As this Government are clearly incapable of understanding the very basics of network economics, I hope they will give way for a Labour Government who will do.
It is an honour to follow my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who always speaks wisely on all things engineering and technical. I long to be as knowledgeable as she is.
I wish to thank the Secretary of State for taking this difficult decision to bring the east coast main line back into public control while we find a long-term, sustainable solution for the train line that takes me and my constituents up and down the length of our great nation, week in, week out. As he knows well, I am the MP for the northernmost English constituency, which lies some 350 miles north of us here, and so I am well aware of the crucial importance of good transport infrastructure to ensure business investment can flow into my constituency. That will help to grow strong, long-term successful businesses, which create great jobs for my constituents. This is one of the most vital investments Government can make.
I have talked endlessly, and partially successfully, about why dualling the A1 from Morpeth to the Scottish border—[Laughter.] I heard that! I have talked about why that is so vital for economic growth and inward investment. Indeed, the Department for Transport based its financing decisions on that economic development model, which was so important to justifying why a rural county needed to address 40 years of lack of road investment. The Secretary of State has listened patiently to me over many years and has supported driving forward that investment. Obviously, we wait with bated breath for the sight of diggers, as they get closer in the months ahead. The Department can be assured that my constituents and I will not rest until the whole road is invested in, because that is a crucial way of linking up north Northumberland to Edinburgh, Newcastle and the rest of the UK.
It is not only road investment that is vital; the east coast main line, linking Edinburgh to London, is an efficient and speedy service, and it has two key stopping points at Berwick-upon-Tweed and at Alnmouth, which is Alnwick’s railway station. With recent and continuing improvements in parking provision at both those stations, we have seen substantial increases in usage by my constituents, who travel north and south for business, study and pleasure. It is a crucial rail transport link for my constituents, of all ages, so it is of the utmost importance to me that this train line is run sustainably, and that the long-term security of the east coast line’s investment in rolling stock and the management of fares to ensure a competitive and effective train line is assured.
With the Ministers here, it would be remiss of me if I did not highlight the continuing campaign by my constituents to reopen the Belford station, which sits between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick, in order to create more opportunities for investment in that 1,000 square miles of rural constituency. Good rail links bring investment and economic growth, and we must continue to be able to invest in the line.
I remember our nationalised railway systems of old; one of my granny’s Sunday afternoons involved seeing whether we could get a train that went somewhere and could get us home in time for tea—it did not always work. The Labour’s party’s vision for train provision, which does not put the customer at the centre—
I am sure the hon. Lady remembers British Rail, because we are still travelling on some of the 125 rolling stock first introduced by British Rail.
It is not so much the rolling stock that I remember as not necessarily getting back for tea because the train just did not go—that used to cause my grandmother and I some disconcertion. The railway timetables were more an idea than a reality a lot of the time. That is a childhood memory, and the Labour party’s vision for train provision, which does not put the customer at the heart of all policy, will not work. The customer pays the fares and must be at the centre of those decisions. So I believe the Secretary of State has taken the right, difficult decision to use his operator of last resort powers to get the London North Eastern Railway—that lovely brand, which I believe is on a poster in one of our bookshops in Alnwick—up and running to ensure that my constituents and I can rely on it and we invest for Northumberland, knowing that our train service will be sound.
Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like my party’s Front Benchers and others, I really am very happy to see this Government, with no hint of irony, realising the virtue of a rail franchise being taken into public hands, operated in the interests of the many, not the few. Let me be absolutely clear: the failure of Virgin East Coast, and this Secretary of State’s handling of it, shows this out-of-touch Government at their self-serving worst, looking after their rich pals in big business while people across the country are left to pick up the pieces. In January, we were offered the ridiculous suggestion from Virgin that the Government’s bail-out of the east coast franchise was somehow the “pragmatic” solution. Why is it that this Government can always somehow find the money to bail out their friends in the big corporations but refuse to help increasingly frustrated railway passengers, such as the ones who contact my office every day? What is “pragmatic” about that?
I have long been a supporter—since before I came to this House—of putting our country’s railways back into public hands. Real pragmatism would involve just that: giving power and control to passengers—giving the public ownership of our railways, because the utter failure of the franchise system is there for all to see. I worry about the precedent that the Secretary of State has set with the east coast line to companies such as Virgin, sending out a message loud and clear, “Under this Government, no matter how badly your business is doing, don’t you worry, we’ll be there to make sure the taxpayer looks after you.”
The public are paying these big companies more and more of their hard-earned money in exchange for a shoddier and shoddier service. Even just last week, I and other regular users of Virgin East Coast received a rather odd email. It was Virgin congratulating itself on the service being
“in a really good position thanks to the positive transformation we’ve started”.
Perhaps I missed that. I am sure regular East Coast users, both in this House and outside, will have been happy to see that Virgin was signing off with a good crack at a joke—that is all it could have been.
Our railways are in a significantly worse state than they were in 2010, and it is not just Opposition Members saying it; the public also know that things are now so bad that something has to give. Some 76% of the public and 90% of Virgin East Coast staff agree. What this Government just do not get is that their party’s privatisation of the railways 25 years ago has been such a deep, unmitigated disaster that the public are now willing to try something different. They are, frankly, sick of seeing a Secretary of State who comes to this House time and time and time again to tell me and colleagues that our constituent’s experiences of travelling by train—trains overpriced and late, people packed in like sardines—are not accurate and do not reflect the real picture.
Every week that this Secretary of State remains in his position—I note he is no longer in his place; perhaps he has something better to do—is yet another week in which mistrust of his Department grows deeper and deeper. Grand promises to improve the daily commute for people in my constituency are being made in one breath, only for the Secretary of State to turn his back on passengers in another.
“It is a bit of a cheek for a Member…to lecture and question us about rail investment when the Government have made so many promises that they have failed to deliver.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 221.]
I hope Conservative Members agree, because those are not my words; they are the words of this Secretary of State when he was the Conservative shadow transport spokesman, more than a decade ago. We do not even have to go back 12 years with this flip-flop Transport Secretary. In 2016, he said that nationalisation is “an expensive, reckless idea”, and in 2017 he called it Venezuelan. This January, he said, “We must never forget how badly nationalisation failed key public services.” Now, four months later, he talks of his excitement at bringing back one of Britain’s most “iconic” state-run brands. Well, the chickens really have come home to roost, have they not? If he cares to return to the Chamber, will the Secretary of State tell the House why he suddenly changes his mind on nationalisation and his seemingly long-held principles against it when nationalisation becomes a means of bailing out Richard Branson?
In Yorkshire, what have we had from this Secretary of State? My Labour colleagues and I have come to the House time and again to demand a fairer deal and highlight the concerns of our constituents, only for Transport Ministers to turn their backs callously on northern commuters. We have had the downgrade of Crossrail for the north. Yorkshire has been hit with the biggest fare increases anywhere in the country. We have seen the Secretary of State ducking and diving meetings with me and colleagues when we simply wanted to discuss our constituency concerns. If we continue to say that we will cut the Secretary of State’s pay if he continues with some of these incompetencies, I am worried that he will end up on less than the minimum wage.
Northern passengers have been told that twice as much is spent on them as is spent in the south, although through a rather imaginative calculation, that ignores London. Just this week, we have seen new timetables cause complete meltdown throughout the region, with barely an eyebrow raised in Westminster. And now this: an accidental renationalisation. On behalf of my constituents, who have quite frankly had it with the state of public transport across Yorkshire, I say this: surely the buck has to stop somewhere. The Yorkshire Post recently took the unprecedented step of calling on the Secretary of State to resign; with a record like his, surely the right hon. Gentleman should and must consider his position. The Opposition stand ready to transform our country’s railways for the better, and my constituents are crying out for it. Surely that is not too much to ask for.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. As a member of the Transport Committee, I hope to inject a rational perspective into proceedings. As has been mentioned, the Committee is currently scrutinising this issue. I should add the caveat that our proceedings are still under way and we might receive further evidence later.
The first point I wish to make is that this is not a failing railway in the sense that most passengers would understand it. It operates efficiently; there are high levels of passenger satisfaction; there is growing usage of it; and, yes, there is investment in it. Under Virgin, many of the trains have been refurbished and, although I appreciate that this is not a direct part of the franchise, King’s Cross station has been transformed in recent years, so the passenger experience is being enhanced.
The issue at the heart of this debate is that something went wrong with the revenue projections for the line. That is what we need to scrutinise. It is important to understand the nature of the east coast main line franchise. It has a much larger discretionary element than most other rail franchises, by which I mean that the passengers who use it have many more options for making their journeys. Those options are both on the railways, with other train operating companies running services on large parts of the line—at the southern end of the line, Hull Trains and Grand Central offer alternatives to the Virgin Trains, and further north there is TransPennine Express and ScotRail, meaning that there is a discretionary element to which service passengers use—and, because of the long-distance nature of the network, passengers can choose non-rail alternatives, including flying between Edinburgh and Glasgow or driving between some of the key towns and cities. That makes it much more difficult for anyone in the public or private sector accurately to forecast revenues over a lengthy period. I have had conversations with other train operating companies this week, and they said, “We don’t bid for these long-distance franchises because of that element of uncertainty.”
The hon. Gentleman is saying that the issue with the east coast