House of Commons
Tuesday 3 July 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
University of London Bill [Lords]
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 10 July (Standing Order. No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Leaving the Customs Union: Scotland
Scotland exports almost £30 billion of goods and services, including its iconic whisky, and we want to make sure we have as frictionless trade as possible with the EU as well as the ability to strike independent trade deals with the rest of the world.
Alexander Dennis is a strong, world-leading bus-building company employing 1,000 people in my constituency, but its chief executive officer, Colin Robertson, has expressed serious concerns about a hike in costs within the supply chain should the UK leave the customs union. Given that the Chancellor has so far failed to stop the Prime Minister’s hard Brexit, what are we to expect from him at Friday’s Cabinet showdown on Brexit—action or evasion?
Of course we want trade with the EU to be as frictionless as possible, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the UK market is worth £46 billion to the Scottish economy, and his party wants to leave that market.
Given that Scottish businesses export more to non-EU countries than to EU countries, does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity for Scottish businesses from new trade deals is potentially that much greater?
My hon. Friend is right. Outside the UK, the No. 1 destination for Scottish exports is the US, which accounts for 16% of exports, and of course part of the opportunity of leaving the EU is the ability to negotiate new trade deals, such as with the US.
It is getting completely ridiculous now. When either the Chancellor or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is finally allowed to have a look at this mythical third customs plan from No. 10, will they at least have the integrity and honesty if it does not deliver the exact same benefits for Scotland—or, for that matter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland—to come to this House and actually say so?
As I have said, we want to secure as frictionless trade as possible with the EU as well as those opportunities with the rest of the world. It would be helpful if the Labour party, rather than trying to reverse the result of the referendum, was instead more positive about the opportunities in the future.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome with me the news that foreign direct investment project numbers are up 7% in Scotland compared to last year and have broken records every year for the past three years, and all this despite a Scottish National party Government in Scotland who are constantly talking down the prospects of the Scottish economy?
Those are fantastic figures for Scotland. We have seen good figures across the UK and the lowest unemployment for 40 years. The Labour party wants to overthrow capitalism; we want great businesses that will do well for our economy.
Could the Chief Secretary to the Treasury reassure the House and the people of Scotland that they will not be paying more in fuel and alcohol duty after Brexit in order to fill the post-Brexit hole in our public finances?
I am afraid to tell the House that the people of Scotland are having to pay more income tax thanks to the SNP Government. Everyone earning more than £26,000 is paying more tax under the SNP.
Would the Chief Secretary to the Treasury not agree that the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom will be better off if we leave the customs union and invest in state-of-the-art technology to ensure that we have frictionless trade and pursue the trade opportunities that lie ahead of this nation around the globe?
I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work at the port of Dover making sure it is ready for all eventualities. We want to have the best possible trade with both the EU and the rest of the world. That is the opportunity we have got.
The financial services industry is a very important industry for the whole UK and we want it to do as well as possible, which is why we are working on getting the best possible deal. It is in the interests of EU countries that rely heavily on UK financial services to get a deal that suits both sides.
According to EY’s recently released Brexit Tracker, a third of all financial services companies have confirmed that they will move staff or operations outside the United Kingdom. Most are going to Dublin, Frankfurt and Luxembourg, and they are going because this Government cannot give them the basic assurances for which they, and we, have been asking for 18 months. After eight failed years of Conservative government, we simply cannot afford this. What are the Government going to do to stop it getting any worse?
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the fact that the City has yet again been rated the top financial centre in the world. We hear nothing but doom and gloom from the Labour party about the future of our economy. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the solution to our problems is calling business the enemy and overthrowing capitalism, he is seriously mistaken.
As a result of tough decisions made by Conservative-led Governments, the UK’s fiscal position has improved enormously since 2010. Contrary to the consistent predictions of doom-mongers on the Opposition Benches, during that process UK employment has also grown consistently. It now stands at record levels, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest in 40 years. However, we are further supporting job growth through the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20, and reduced employment costs through the employment allowance.
My right hon. Friend will know that our track record stands in stark contrast to that of Labour. No Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment lower than when they entered it.
The Chancellor is right. Record numbers of women are in work in this country, but I would like to see more of those women in better-paid jobs. Does the Chancellor support the Prime Minister’s view that all jobs should be flexible from day one, and will he be doing anything to turn those words into practice in all our businesses?
Yes. Female employment is indeed vitally important, and it has grown to a record high of 71.3%. As the labour market tightens, it is not just fair for us to make it possible and attractive for women to take part in the workforce; it is absolutely essential from an economic point of view. Dealing with any concealed discrimination is key to making it possible for women not only to enter the workforce, but to progress within the workforce to highly paid and rewarding jobs.
One way to reduce unemployment is to encourage self-employment, and 4.8 million people are now self-employed. While that is welcome, there is a real problem of bogus self-employment, which is costing workers their rights and depriving the Treasury of tax revenue. Next week it will be a whole year since Matthew Taylor published his review “Good work” for the Government. When will they finally implement his recommendations and crack down on bogus self-employment?
The hon. Lady is right on both counts. Self-employment is an important contributor to our economy and genuine self-employment is very much to be encouraged, but there is a problem of bogus self-employment. People who are essentially employed are not paying the proper taxes and operating according to the proper rules for people who are employed, and in some cases employers are concealing the employment of people for their own selfish reasons. We need to deal with both those counts.
Business investment in the UK over the last eight years has recovered significantly since the financial crisis, but right now, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is a degree of uncertainty. We need to get through this period of uncertainty in order to see a continuing commitment by business to invest in the UK economy, and that is what the Government are committed to doing.
The Chancellor says that we need to deal with bogus self-employment, and I absolutely agree. One in 10 workers in the north-east are on zero-hours contracts, in temporary roles, or in low-paid and often bogus self-employment. What will the Chancellor do to ensure that these new jobs are genuinely sustainable roles, and that people are not leading their lives in insecure work without real employment rights?
The overwhelming majority of the over 1,000 new jobs a day that have been created since the 2010 general election have been conventional jobs; only a tiny fraction of people in the workforce are on zero-hours contracts—less than 2.8%. Zero-hour contracts do have a role to play, but the Government have taken action to make sure they are not abused, and we will continue to take action to make sure that the flexibilities that are essential to the operation of our labour market and the attraction of the UK for international investment are not abused.
Yes, the views of business, which is the great generator of employment, wealth and prosperity in our country, should always be taken very carefully into account. We should listen to what business is telling us and make sure that we deliver a Brexit that delivers on the needs of business.
The Chancellor lauds both the employment rate and the fiscal steps the Government he has been a part of have taken, but that data masks a host of problems, so can he confirm to the House today that he thinks a rising child poverty rate is a price worth paying for his spin and rhetoric?
No, and I should tell the hon. Lady that the proportion of people in absolute poverty is at a record low. Since 2010 there are 1 million fewer people in absolute low income; there are 300,000 fewer children in absolute low income and 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute low income, and 881,000 fewer workless households. That is a great result and a great record, and we are proud of it.
Tax Regime: Forestry Sector
The evidence from the Forestry Commission is that UK timber production is globally competitive. Our 25 year environment plan sees the Government committed to increasing timber supplies and to the greater use of home-grown timber within the UK construction sector.
I fully support this Government’s ambition to plant more trees, but do the Minister and the Chancellor agree that any tax incentives towards this endeavour should include a requirement not only to own woodland, but to manage it as well, so that we have the right amount of timber to fuel the timber industry? Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss this?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that forestry ownership and the management of woodland is extremely important. We keep all taxes under review—including some of the distortionary effects that taxes may have that I know she might be concerned about—and I am delighted to confirm that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is looking forward to meeting her shortly.
I thank the Minister for that response. With the UK having an internationally competitive timber processing industry and having produced timber products with an annual value of £10 billion, will the Minister outline how his Department intends to facilitate a smoother tax path to ensure that smaller businesses in this big industry get help and support?
The hon. Gentleman raises a specific issue around the participation of smaller businesses in this industry, and we will be looking at that as we look at taxation in this area going forward. If he would like to make any specific representations to myself or the Chancellor, I am sure we would be delighted to receive them.
First-time House Buyers
The Government have helped more than 300,000 first-time buyers to buy a home through our Help to Buy scheme, which includes the help to buy ISA, the help to buy equity loan and now the lifetime ISA. At the autumn budget I went further by abolishing stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers on property up to £300,000. Over 69,000 first-time buyers have already benefited from this change and we expect to help over 1 million first-time buyers over five years—and I remind my right hon. Friend that the Labour party voted against that measure.
Many younger homeowners will I am sure be delighted that the Government have cut stamp duty for 95% of first-time buyers. Can the Chancellor say how the rate of creating first-time buyers compares with previous periods, as keeping alive the dream of home ownership for many is essential for the long-term health of our society?
I can tell my right hon. Friend that under the last Labour Government, the number of people achieving home ownership fell by 61%. I think Labour’s position is clear. The Leader of the Opposition has described home ownership as a national obsession; for the Government it is a national priority. We are helping hundreds of thousands of people across the country to achieve the dream of owning their own home, and that is why I am proud that, under a Conservative Government, the number of first-time buyers is now at an 11-year high.
Will the Chancellor tell us what is being done for people who cannot afford their own home, in terms of lifting the borrowing requirement on councils so that they can build more social homes?
We have a £9 billion affordable homes programme, and we announced a £2 billion uplift in that programme last autumn. We have increased additional flexibilities to allow building for social rent and to relax the housing revenue account caps on local authorities in the highest demand areas. This Government’s programme to deliver the homes this country needs achieved 217,000 net additional dwellings last year and is on track to deliver 300,000 net additional dwellings a year by the middle of the 2020s.
It is indeed commendable that the policies the Chancellor has brought to the House and made into law have been of enormous benefit to my constituents. Will he intensify his efforts in helping not only first-time buyers but those who find it difficult to afford houses? Can he perhaps say a few words on what he might do for them?
The key to dealing with the challenge that my hon. Friend outlines is to ensure improvements in the supply of housing. We have a consultation under way on the national planning policy framework, which will get more houses built, and we have measures to support demand by making Help to Buy equity loans available to those who are seeking to enter the housing market. This Government will remain committed to increasing the supply and to supporting those who need help, in order to make effective demand in this market.
The Help to Buy scheme helps homeowners, but it also appears to be helping the shareholders, chairmen and chief executives of major building firms. Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to condemn the £500 million bonus paid to the chairman of Persimmon Homes and his staff?
Our objective is to increase supply, not to increase the profits of house builders. To do that, we need to ensure that the planning system can be responsive to the demand that we are creating by supporting people with measures such as Help to Buy equity loans, and that is what we intend to do through the national planning policy framework changes.
Leaving the EU: Agricultural Sector
We are of course in the process of our negotiations with the European Union, and until they are concluded it will not be possible precisely to assess the impact on our agricultural sector, other than to assure the hon. Lady that agriculture has a very high priority for this Government. That is why we have pledged the same cash total in funds for farming as under the EU until the end of this Parliament.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that Brexit will deliver significant damage to the economy and to Government receipts. In that context, will the Minister guarantee that farmers will not suffer a reduction in the level of support they currently receive in the post common agricultural policy period?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is consulting currently and looking at the results of the recent consultation on how we should fund farming. Public money for public goods is at the centre of that approach. I reiterate that we have pledged the same cash total in funds for farming as under the EU for the rest of this Parliament.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the agricultural sector is facing severe seasonal labour shortages, whose significant financial consequences are already being felt? Will he work with his ministerial colleagues to reintroduce the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which has worked so successfully in the past?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point of which the Government are of course acutely aware. We are working with DEFRA to examine the issue.
After seeing the collapse in motor industry investment, does the Minister now accept that the Government must heed the call of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to rethink their Brexit negotiating position and to support a customs union with the European Union after Brexit?
This is really about agriculture rather than about cars. The concept of an agricultural vehicle might come in handy to the hon. Lady in this context. I am sure that she meant to mention it—[Interruption.] Yes, I keep hearing about tractors from a sedentary position.
To be fair, Mr Speaker, farmers do own cars, which is an important point to take into account. I assure the hon. Lady that this Government’s overriding objective is of course to negotiate an arrangement with the EU in which borders are as frictionless as possible, trade is kept flowing, supply chains are looked after and the agricultural and motoring sectors are supported.
Due to the UK’s massive EU contributions, support to EU farmers will be cut as the UK leaves the EU. Does the Minister agree that the commitment to make payments to UK farmers until 2022 demonstrates this Government’s support for UK farmers?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The commitments of support that we have already made up until 2022—the end of this Parliament—are entirely indicative of the importance of the agricultural sector to our economy.
Given that over 18% of Scotland’s international exports are food and drink related—our top export—this is an important question for people in Scotland. The EU’s average applied most-favoured-nation tariff for agricultural products is 11.1%, but it is different for individual products: 170% on oils, 157% on fruit and veg, and 152% on beverages and tobacco. How many agricultural jobs does the Treasury believe will be lost as a result of crashing out of the customs union without a trade deal?
An objective of our negotiation is to ensure that we lower tariff barriers between ourselves and the EU27, as they will be known. The hon. Lady did not mention the tariff on whisky, which is currently 0%, and if we had an independent Scotland, she would be asking the same question in the context of the new border between ourselves and Scotland.
People in Scotland are used to the UK Government making empty assurances, but the reality is that farmers cannot make plans on the strength of such assurances. Scottish farmers should have received over 80% of the convergence uplift moneys that the UK was given by the EU, but the UK Government have slashed that, passing only 16% on to Scottish farmers. Given the UK Government’s track record, how can farmers trust them to deliver?
I repeat to the hon. Lady that we have already shown, through the actions that we have taken, the reassurances that we have given and the consultations that we have undertaken, that agriculture is a firm priority for this Government, and that will continue to be the case in the negotiations and going forwards.
Infrastructure Investment: Oxfordshire
Under this Government, investment in infrastructure will reach the highest sustained levels since the 1970s. In respect of Oxfordshire, the Department for Transport and Chiltern Railways have jointly funded a £400 million western section, delivering a new service between Oxford and London Marylebone, and we are of course backing the new Expressway and the east-west railway linking Oxford to Cambridge.
I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, but congestion on the A40 and reliability problems on the Cotswold line make travel a daily challenge for residents of west Oxfordshire. We urgently need upgrades on that line and extra capacity on the road network, particularly the A40. What can Ministers offer through central Government funding to give hope to my constituents?
I appreciate that my hon. Friend has been campaigning for such things since before his election. We have provided £35 million for the Oxford Science Transit scheme, which will enhance the A40 between Oxford and Witney. As for the A40 more generally, the Government are providing £150 million through the Oxfordshire housing deal, which he could tap into to see further improvements on that road.
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and Dudley have much to commend them, but they are both a long way away from Oxfordshire, upon which this question is focused. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) has always erred on the side of optimism in the 30 years that I have known him. He should keep trying, but later on. Resume your seat, man. Jolly well done.
It is a question about Oxfordshire.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman knows about Oxfordshire, but we will hear from the fella later. We look forward to it. A sense of anticipation is developing in the House.
Local Government Funding
It is right that money that is spent locally is raised locally. In 2010, councils were 80% dependent on central Government grants; by 2020, the vast majority of money spent locally will be raised by local councils.
The County Councils Network warned this week that
“the worst is yet to come”
for local government and that several authorities risk going bust. A survey of its members revealed that two thirds will struggle to balance their budget by 2021 unless more funding is made available, estimating the funding gap at £3.2 billion over the next two years. Is the Chancellor aware of the effect his austerity agenda is having on local services? Will he take responsibility for ending this crisis in our local councils?
As I said, we have moved from a situation in which local councils were majority funded by central Government to one where local councils are accountable for the money they spend and raise locally. We have given councils the extra ability to raise funds. I note that many councils have reinvented themselves, are doing things differently and are saving money, and public satisfaction with local services has held up.
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council.
By when do the Government expect to publish the conclusions to their fair funding review of local government?
We are currently considering those responses carefully, and we will publish them shortly.
Eight failed years of austerity have meant poor levels of funding for local government. In fact, today the Local Government Association reports that, by 2020, councils will have had £16 billion of funding cuts. With low pay, woeful productivity, tenuous job security, stubborn inflation, rising national debt, a huge deficit, a sinking pound, creaking public services, decaying infrastructure and chaotic railways, what other wheezes does the Chief Secretary have up her sleeve to wreck the economy further?
We are building. We saw a record number of new businesses started last year. We have record levels of employment across our economy. We have brilliant Conservative Mayors, like Andy Street and Ben Houchen, who are attracting new businesses to their areas and redesigning their port infrastructure, whereas Labour councils across the country are doing things like closing down Airbnb, trying to stop Uber and trying to stop progress.
Yes, that told me. It gets worse, if that were possible. This year, business investment growth is slowing, annual export growth is slowing, service sector growth is slowing and economic growth is slowing. With Brexit looming and punch-ups in the Cabinet, should the nation’s economic future really rest in the hands of a go-slow Government?
Given that the hon. Gentleman’s stated policy is to have a run on the banks, I suggest that our ideas for bringing in business investment are doing a lot better for Britain.
Public Health Funding
I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about funding for public health. We fully understand the need to continue supporting prevention and public health in order to manage pressures on the NHS, and we will be setting out budgets for the public health grant in the forthcoming spending review.
Gateshead Council will see a 15% reduction—that is £2.3 million—in its public health grant between 2013 and 2019-20, yet the recent NHS funding statement does not cover public health. With healthy life expectancy 13.8 years lower for men and 12.8 years lower for women in Gateshead than in many other areas, would it not make sense to invest in increased funding for public health services now to reduce demand on acute NHS services in the future?
The recent announcement of an additional £20 billion a year by 2023-24 for NHS funding was about core NHS funding. That is a huge commitment: £83 billion over the next five years. However, the hon. Lady is of course right to say that public health spending is also very important and has a direct impact on the way the NHS operates. Local authorities will receive more than £9 billion to spend on public health between now and 2021, but that is not the only stream of funding for public health. NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care pay for Public Health England and for immunisation, screening and other preventive programmes. The NHS 10-year plan, which is currently under development, will set out proposals for public health.
We thank the Chancellor for his views, which have been set out in considerable detail. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be accused of excluding any consideration that might, at any time, to any degree, be judged material.
Last year, NHS England was given £337 million to prepare for winter pressures, but the Scottish Government received only £8.4 million rather than the expected £32 million. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has claimed that Scotland will get £2 billion from this recent uplift. When we will know the real figure?
I can give it to the hon. Lady now, with a brevity you will be proud of, Mr Speaker. It is £2.27 billion in 2023-24.
UK Battery Storage Market
The Government have a number of policies in place to support the development of low-carbon technology, including battery storage technologies. Those include the carbon price support mechanism, which encourages decarbonisation of the power sector; the Government’s smart systems and flexibility plan; and the Faraday challenge fund.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the huge investment in the offshore wind sector along the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coast, where more than 1,000 individual turbines are in place, with the prospect of many more to come? The key breakthrough that is required is enhanced battery storage technology, which will enable wind-generated electricity to be put through the grid on days when the wind is not blowing. What more is he going to do to try to incentivise further breakthroughs on that?
I am grateful for that question. My hon. Friend is correct; we are maintaining our position as a global leader in offshore wind. But the combination of that with support for the battery storage sector is important, and we will be supporting it through the capacity market, which is helping to bring down costs.
As the Minister will be aware, Jaguar Land Rover is in my constituency and it is developing batteries. What discussions has he had with Jaguar Land Rover about tax incentives in that area?
I have not personally had any such discussions, but the Exchequer Secretary will have done. We are supporting that business, and many others up and down the country, through the comprehensive industrial strategy that we are rolling out in different sectors.
Schools: Per Pupil Funding
We have protected schools’ budgets in real terms since 2010, and through our reforms to schools and the curriculum children’s results have improved, particularly in reading.
Will the Minister confirm that the additional £1.3 billion announced a year ago does not address the £1.5 billion shortfall in school budgets? So what advice does she have for the 88% of schools in this country facing real-terms budget cuts, despite the new funding formula?
I suggest the hon. Lady reads last week’s edition of Schools Week, which said that the unions had admitted that they had their sums wrong and in fact per-pupil funding was being protected in real terms in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Will the Chief Secretary confirm that per-pupil spending in this country is higher than that in Japan or Germany? Will she also confirm that this is not just about how much we spend, but about how wisely we spend it, thanks to which 2 million more children are now in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010?
My hon. Friend is correct. In addition, the real-terms funding per pupil will be 50% higher in 2020 than it was in 2000. This Government’s reforms to reading and mathematics are resulting in students’ scores increasing, whereas under the Labour party we just had grade inflation.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that 10,000 more teachers are now working in our schools than under the Labour Government. He should look at the results that children are achieving and the improvements that we have seen, particularly in reading. Under Labour, we were among the worst in Europe, whereas we are now among the best.
Infrastructure Investment: South-west
The Government are investing in the infrastructure of the south-west. We are investing £2 billion in the strategic road network, including to transform the A303/A30/A358 into an expressway. We are delivering £146 million of investment in Cornish rail and, thanks to my hon. Friend’s efforts, we are investing £79 million in the A30 to St Austell link road.
Cornish wages continue to lag around 30% below the national average. The national productivity investment fund is designed specifically to increase wages and living standards; will my hon. Friend tell the House how much of that fund is being spent in Cornwall and the south-west?
We are investing significant funds, including £92 million to tackle congestion in the south-west and a portion of a £200 million fund for full fibre, and we are providing £40 million for small and medium-sized enterprises through the British Business Bank, which will go to Cornish small businesses.
There is a lot to be said for the London Borough of Harrow—I used to live near it myself—but it is a considerable distance from Cornwall. We will get to the hon. Gentleman in at a later point in our proceedings.
HMRC: Office Closures
HMRC’s analysis shows that 90% of those personnel in place as at 2015 will be able to move to a new HMRC location or see out their career in their current workplace. We will support those who have the skills necessary for the new workplaces, or, indeed, those who can aspire to those skills, to achieve that and provide jobs accordingly.
I thank the Financial Secretary for his answer, but although those employed in the soon-to-be-closed centres will still have a job, which we welcome, the relocation of the HMRC offices will leave a large gap in future employment opportunities in Bradford. What opportunities, particularly civil service opportunities, are being offered to the people of Bradford, bearing in mind the over-saturation of public sector jobs in Leeds?
As Departments right across Government do, we look at the opportunities available in various towns and cities up and down the country, including Bradford. The hon. Gentleman mentions the employment impact of this particular measure; I remind him that the employment rate in Bradford is up 6.4% since 2010. That is above the national average and is a direct consequence of this Government’s policies.
I slightly detected from the hon. Gentleman’s question the suggestion that that meeting between HMRC and the EBT did not take place, and it most certainly did. He and I have discussed this matter, both formally in a meeting and informally, and we have debated it in the House. I have always stressed that there is a dividing line between HMRC and Treasury Ministers: we cannot intervene in the tax affairs of individuals or organisations. I am confident that HMRC is progressing in an appropriate manner.
Eight years of economic failure from this Government have been exacerbated—[Interruption.] I suggest that it is economic failure, with productivity growth down, GDP growth down and investment growth down, and in comparison with our comparators. Economic failure: if it smells like it and looks like it, that is what it is. Let me finish my question. That failure has been exacerbated by the Government’s reorganisation of HMRC, with cuts in our country deeper than in any other, outside Greece. Will they abandon this failing reorganisation, which also means that there will not be a single customs hub anywhere along the south coast or north of the central belt?
The simple fact is that we need an HMRC that is fit for the 21st century, for the new digital ways in which we are working, and for our targeted approach on clamping down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance, for example. That requires these sophisticated hubs that have the right skills to do that job, so I defend our reorganisation entirely.
On the portrayal of the economy that the hon. Lady has just given, we have the highest level of employment in our history, more women in work than at almost any time in our history and unemployment lower than at any time in the past 45 years. We are bearing down on the deficit and have debt falling as a percentage of GDP.
Infrastructure Investment: Kent
The Government are committed to ensuring that every part of the country has a modern and efficient infrastructure. In Kent, the extent of superfast broadband has risen from 33% to 95% since 2010, and the South East local enterprise partnership has secured £590 million for 30 transport schemes. Work has recently begun on a £105 million upgrade to junction 10a of the M20.
Given that Kent is on the frontline of EU border trade and that local plans involve the potential of more than 100,000 new homes over the next 15 years, will my hon. Friend consider investing in the dualling of the A2 and the A256 to improve traffic flows and resilience in east Kent?
My hon. Friend makes a very sensible point. The dualling of the A2 near Dover was raised as an issue in Highways England’s route strategy for Kent and is being considered alongside other investments. The A256 is part of the indicative major road network and the Department will be publishing the final network by the end of the year. If it is included, it will be a matter for the local authority, working with the subnational transport bodies, to determine whether to bid into the fund.
The Minister’s initial reply did refer to the Government’s ambitions for every part of the country, so there is no reason why we should not hear about the Dudley situation.
London, the south-east and the home counties already get the vast majority of public sector investment. Civil service employment actually went up in London and the south-east while public spending was being cut in the rest of the country. Government Members impose austerity on the rest of us, and now they are coming to the Chamber to demand more spending for their own areas. Instead of thinking about London, the south-east and Oxfordshire, why do the Government not start looking at the position of the Black country so that they invest in infrastructure there and bring some new jobs to places such as Dudley?
I am very sorry but I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the Government’s intentions. We have actually rolled out a comprehensive strategy across the country in terms of the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine with the systematic devolution of decision making and resources to enable growth throughout the country.
Economic Growth: Car Industry
The automotive sector is an extremely valuable part of the UK economy and we have worked very closely with it in recent years. We have established the first automotive sector deal, and we have backed research and development projects, such as the advanced propulsion centre, with £300 million of investment. Through the future of mobility grand challenge and a succession of Budget measures, we are supporting the development of and transition to low emission and autonomous vehicles.
The Chancellor will be well aware of the importance of car sales and manufacturer investment as indicators of economic output and business confidence respectively. In the year to May, car sales were down 7% and truck sales were down 6%. Investment by vehicle manufacturers fell by 55% in 2017 versus 2015, and by 47% in 2018 versus 2017 for the first quarter of the year, so it is on track to be down 75% from three years ago. Does the Chancellor accept that these figures are the reality behind the Foreign Secretary’s assertion—I think this was the phrase—“fudge business”?
As I have just described, the automotive sector is extremely important, and few of its businesses are more important than Jaguar Land Rover, which I appreciate is close to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Car sales in 2017 were actually 25% higher than in 2010 and the UK remains the second biggest car market in Europe after Germany, so there is a great deal to celebrate in the UK automotive sector, and we will continue to support it.
We are working closely with the automotive sector, and the Treasury and other Departments have met its representatives on a number of occasions. The Prime Minister has made it clear that our intention throughout the current negotiations is to ensure that EU-UK trade is as frictionless as possible. We will continue to work with the automotive sector to ensure that we deliver a good Brexit deal for it.
My principal responsibility is to ensure economic stability and the continued prosperity of the British people, both during this period of heightened uncertainty and beyond it, after Brexit. I will do so by building on the plans that I set out in the autumn Budget and the spring statement. The Prime Minister recently announced a five-year NHS funding package that will boost spending on health by more than £20 billion a year in real terms in England alone. She also confirmed that we will stick to our fiscal rules and continue to reduce debt. It is our balanced approach to the public finances that enables us to give households, businesses and our public services targeted support in the near term, as well as to invest in the future of this country and to get debt down to be fair to the next generation.
The Chancellor mentioned the NHS funding package. Will he confirm how much of that extra funding will come from the Brexit dividend, and how much will come from higher taxes for businesses and individuals, and on alcohol and fuel?
Obviously, the element of funding that can be provided by net savings from contributions to the European Union will depend intrinsically on the deal that we negotiate with the European Union. We will be working to get the very best possible deal that we can for Britain to ensure that that contribution makes up the largest possible proportion of the additional NHS funding.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The way in which we will get higher wages is by improving productivity and skills, which is why we are investing in a record level of apprenticeships and the national training partnership.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) pointed out, the British Chambers of Commerce has said today that its patience with the Government over Brexit is at “breaking point”. Its sense of frustration reflects accurately what trade unions and businesses across the country feel. All the British Chambers of Commerce wants are answers to some very basic questions, so will the Chancellor and those on the Treasury Bench provide some answers today? Post-Brexit, will goods be subject to new procedures and delayed at border points? Will regulation checks on goods conducted in the UK be recognised in Europe? Will firms be able to transfer staff between the UK and the EU as they do now? Above all else, will Ministers stop squabbling and provide some answers to these vital questions?
It is fascinating to see the right hon. Gentleman posing as the champion of business when he has been attacking and undermining business ever since he got into his current position. Yes, I recognise all the questions he asked. The Cabinet will meet on Friday to set out our way forward in our negotiation with the European Union. We recognise that this is now urgent and that we need to make progress. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned minimising frictions and maximising flexibility for employers in order to protect jobs and investment. We agree with him and the British Chambers of Commerce on all those things, and we will be looking to deliver a Brexit that maximises employment and prosperity in this country.
The Chancellor does not have to worry about others undermining capitalism; the Government are doing a pretty good job themselves.
When the warring factions in the Cabinet meet this weekend, it is the role of Treasury Ministers to bring them into the real world and point out to them firmly the real cost of a no-deal Brexit for jobs, the economy and all our living standards, so will the Chancellor tell us today the Treasury’s latest estimate of the cost of no deal, its consequences for the economy and the potential loss of jobs? Surely it is time for him to show a bit of grit and to make it clear that no responsible Chancellor could remain in a Cabinet that is so recklessly putting our economy at risk through no deal?
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will be setting out for my colleagues, in the privacy of our Cabinet meeting on Friday, the Treasury’s assessment—indeed, the cross-Whitehall economic group’s assessment—of the implications of potential routes forward. However, as the Prime Minister has said, we cannot give a running commentary in public on a matter about which we are in intensive negotiation with our European interlocutors. I have said before, and say again today, that when the time comes for Parliament to vote on our proposed package, I will make sure that all the available material is put into the public domain so that Members of Parliament are properly informed.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The Government are determined that we should have an international tax regime that is appropriate to the digital businesses to which he refers, particularly search engines, online marketplaces and social media platforms. We are working with the OECD and the European Union on a multilateral response. In the absence of that, we are prepared to act unilaterally to make sure that fair taxes are paid by those businesses.
We are conducting a review of LASPO at the moment. I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice, and we are making sure that the Department has the resources it needs.
Fly-tipping and illegal waste sites are a blight in many parts of the country. The Chancellor announced additional funding in the Budget for enforcement activities. The Environment Secretary recently announced a review of waste crime, and we will follow the results of that closely.
The issue that the hon. Gentleman identifies is an important element of the tax avoidance that has been happening in our country. The vast majority of people pay the correct level of tax, but there have been schemes, such as the disguised remuneration schemes to which he refers, through which essentially very little tax indeed has been paid. The Government believe that that is wrong and that we should act to clean up the arrangements. We have given individuals until April 2019 to do exactly that. On the support that he mentions, HMRC’s door is of course always open for individuals in that situation to have discussions. I would urge all those individuals to make contact with HMRC to find a sensible way forward.
I warmly welcome what the Chancellor says about putting all information before Parliament before we vote on the final withdrawal agreement later this year, but of course that will not be the end of parliamentary involvement, because we will have to onshore all the current EU financial services legislation, including the binding technical standards. Will the Chancellor set out the Treasury’s thinking so far about how that process will be democratically accountable to Parliament or perhaps the Select Committees?
My right hon. Friend asks about Parliament’s role in dealing with the onshoring of a very large number of financial services regulations. Some of them will be dealt with through a parliamentary process, but other areas of financial services regulation are dealt with by the independent regulators—the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England. I will write to her and give her as much detail as I can about how that will break down between the different categories.
The hon. Gentleman is a cheeky chappie in this Chamber. I counted no fewer than four questions, to which I know the Chancellor, with his customary intellectual dexterity, will reply with one answer, embracing the gamut of issues if he wishes.
Indeed, Mr Speaker. What I will say is that we have spent the last eight years cleaning up the mess that was left behind for us by the last Labour Government and trying to mitigate its impacts on ordinary families up and down this country. It is the same whenever Labour gets into power: it is always ordinary people and the most vulnerable in society who suffer the most, and it is always the Tory party that has to clean up the mess.
To follow on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), the retrospective nature of the 2019 loan charge could bankrupt thousands of people. Will the Government revise legislation to ensure that that does not happen, with the loan charge only applying to disguised remuneration loans made after the passing of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017?
This is not retrospective legislation. The activities and arrangements entered into by those who are in scope of this measure were not legal when they were entered into, even though they may have been entered into in the past. The loan charge is there not to apply penalties for that behaviour, but to ensure that those individuals pay the right amount of tax.
I am not familiar with the project that the hon. Lady mentions, but I will look into it immediately and write to her.
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) was inadvertently erased, but I will come to him momentarily—he need not fear.
There was a recent announcement about extending contracts for rental homes to three years and losing the six-month rental position. May I urge the Treasury to look carefully at that? The last thing we want is fewer rental homes on the market and higher costs, as that would also have an impact on welfare costs.
That consultation was announced by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I am acutely conscious of the risks that my right hon. Friend sets out. I assure him that I have looked very carefully at the wording of the consultation and I am confident that we will not fall into the trap that he suggests. We are looking at making a three-year term the default option for private sector renting.
I held a workshop with representatives of various credit unions this week, and one with community development financial institutions last week. I have convened a working group from the financial inclusion taskforce, which will meet in September to consider urgently expanding access to credit options on better terms than the high-cost ones that exist in the market. We are doing all that we can to incentivise growth in that sector.
Dartford has seen over 1,000 new homes built in and around the town during the past 12 months, which is more than anywhere in Kent and one of the highest figures in the country. Does the Minister agree that investment in infrastructure needs to complement those new homes, not wait for several years?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we have created the £4 billion housing infrastructure fund—it is exactly to deal with this problem—and a £600 billion pipeline of new infrastructure projects. He and I have already met to discuss the issues in his constituency, and we will be taking that forward.
Is it possible to provide the funding that our NHS needs and at the same time keep to the reckless tax cuts that the Government announced in their manifesto last year?
We did not announce any reckless tax cuts in the manifesto last year. The Prime Minister made it very clear in her announcement about NHS funding that we will continue to deliver on our fiscal rules, and we will continue to ensure that debt falls. I will make announcements at future fiscal events explaining exactly how we will do that.
Given that the independent Centre for Economics and Business Research has said that the fuel duty freeze has contributed to creating 121,000 jobs, and that the Treasury said in 2014 that the benefits of the fuel duty freeze had offset the loss in tax income, does the Minister not agree that it would be absolute madness to raise fuel duty and hit working people up and down this country?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very relevant and, may I say, predictable question—he has been a doughty campaigner on this particular issue—but all I would say to him is that we will of course be looking at taxation, with everybody in their different ways paying a little bit more, to make sure that we fund the significant amount we have now committed to our national health service.
Rail electrification and the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon have both been scrapped by the British Government because they were not deemed good value for money. When it comes to designing the criteria for the proposed UK shared prosperity fund, will an immediate return on investment be the priority, as with every project scrapped in Wales?
We are looking closely at the shared prosperity fund to make sure that it delivers best value for money right across the UK, and I am in discussions with the Welsh Secretary about that.
What is my hon. Friend’s reaction to the FCA report on doorstep lending, and does it go far enough?
The report is a welcome step forward, and I note the provision that is made for further steps if the proposed measures do not have an effect. I will be meeting Andrew Bailey tomorrow morning to discuss it further.
Over 1,600 people work at the Jaguar Land Rover engine plant in Wolverhampton, and the car industry has serious concerns about the Government’s plans to leave the customs union. Will the Chancellor guarantee that, when he goes to Chequers later this week, he will only sign up to a customs arrangement that preserves just-in-time manufacturing and integrated European supply chains?
I assure the hon. Lady that on Friday, as I have done consistently for the past two years, I will argue for a future relationship with the European Union that protects our important supply chains, protects British jobs and protects British business.
British insurers, such as the ones based in Chelmsford, face a dilemma over what will happen to their European clients’ contracts: it would be immoral for them not to pay out on claims, but illegal if they do so. Will you urge the European regulators to come up with the same sensible, pragmatic solutions as the British regulators?
Well, I won’t, but the Chancellor might.
Yes, Mr Speaker, I will. I can tell my hon. Friend that we have established a European working group between the Bank of England and the European Central Bank to look at questions of contract continuity and other threats to financial stability over the period when we leave at the end of March. That will be looking at insurance contracts, and it will also be looking at the very large number of outstanding derivative contracts that could also, theoretically, become unenforceable at that point.
Who can ask a single-sentence question? I call Chris Williamson.
Public services define a decent society, but analysis by the Local Government Association has revealed that councils face a £8 billion black hole by 2025; public services are in meltdown. When will the Chancellor stop behaving like a public services vandal and start resourcing the public services that communities desperately need?
The hon. Gentleman is clearly a devoted fan of the semicolon.
That is the answer, Mr Speaker.
There will be a spending review next year, when we will look at the overall spending envelope and the Government’s priorities across the entire range of public spending.
I was pleased to welcome the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to my constituency a couple of weeks ago. Does she agree that the enthusiasm that we heard from local businessmen for free ports and free zones could be the way ahead for economic growth in Immingham and the surrounding area?
I was hugely impressed by the enthusiasm in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Immingham for more development and more opportunities for free zones—and also by the fantastic fish and chips we had on Cleethorpes pier.
On his way to Chequers, will the Chancellor give a thought to health trusts such as Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust? It still cannot deliver the healthcare that my constituents and people in the rest of west Yorkshire want because of the PFI hanging around their necks. Will he do something about PFIs?
I am afraid that I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that 86% of all PFI contracts currently in place in the NHS, draining money out of NHS trusts, were put in place by the previous Labour Government.
Order. We are very short of time. I will take two more: Kevin Hollinrake; and then Helen Goodman.
The all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking is undertaking an important body of work on dispute resolution between banks and business. We will give it a parliamentary launch next week. Once the Minister has had time to digest the contents of that report, will he meet us to see how we can take the recommendations forward?
I eagerly await the report’s launch next Wednesday. I will be happy to meet the all-party group and make a judgment about the best outcome on that issue, along with three other streams of work, in the autumn.
Ending tax secrecy in the overseas territories will bring in £10 billion a year. Will the Chancellor organise a lunch for my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the entire Labour Whips Office, who were instrumental in securing this change?
When I have the money in the bank, I will invite them around for a glass of champagne.
That is a pretty generous offer from the Treasury—[Interruption.] It will be recorded in Hansard; it will be in the Official Report tomorrow.
Govia Thameslink/Rail Electrification
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport to update the House on Govia Thameslink Railway and his plans for rail electrification.
The shadow Transport Secretary has asked about the current situation on Govia Thameslink Railway and electrification, and I will answer each in turn.
Performance by GTR has been unacceptable since the timetable change on 20 May. GTR is working to increase the predictability and reliability of journeys on its network, including reducing the number of on-the-day cancellations. On 15 July, it will implement an interim timetable, which will allow GTR to slowly build up services to the originally planned May timetable.
We have said that passengers affected by severe disruption on GTR will receive special compensation; an announcement will follow shortly. We have also commissioned the independent Glaister review to make sure that we learn lessons and that this does not happen again. We have started a formal review of the franchise to establish whether GTR has met its contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the May timetable. We will not hesitate to take tough action against it if it is found to have been negligent.
On electrification, the Government are clear that passengers expect high-quality rail services. We are committed to electrification where it delivers passenger benefits and value for money. We will also take advantage of state-of-the-art new technology to improve rail journeys.
Over recent days, there has been speculation over the trans-Pennine route upgrade. I can clarify for colleagues that the upgrade will account for one third of our anticipated expenditure for rail enhancements nationwide in the next spending period. It will be the biggest single investment we will make during this period, demonstrating our commitment to improving passenger journeys in the north.
The Department is currently awaiting Network Rail’s final project plan. We have instructed it to prioritise the elements that bring the quickest passenger benefits. We will update the House in due course.
Reports over the weekend said that a decision had been taken to cancel the electrification of the trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds. If true, much needed investment will be slashed, despite the north lagging far behind the south-east in terms of transport spending. It will kill any notion of a northern powerhouse. The Government should be matching Labour’s commitment of £10 billion-plus to build a Crossrail for the north, not threatening already promised investment. As the National Audit Office report revealed, the technology that the Minister says makes electrification unnecessary does not exist. As the Transport Committee last week showed, rail electrification is necessary to deliver the improvements the Minister has promised. Will he take this opportunity to confirm that the electrification will go ahead as promised?
We also hear that GTR is being stripped of its franchise unless performance on its services in the south-east of England rapidly improves, and that the process could start within a matter of weeks. If that is so, when will the decision be made?
The Secretary of State says that he does not run the railway. I can tell him that we have noticed. But if not him, who does?
It is reported that the compensation package for passengers impacted by timetabling disruption will be the equivalent of one month’s travel. Can the Minister explain who will pay for this?
We on the Labour Benches would welcome this incompetent train operator being stripped of its franchise, with services returning to public ownership. We have been calling for this for years, as GTR has repeatedly breached its obligations. Passengers have suffered needlessly because of the Secretary of State’s refusal to do so. Will he now do the right thing and terminate this franchise?
On the points made with respect to the railways in the north of England, I remind the House that the Government will have spent £13 billion by 2020 on transport in the north of England, the biggest programme of investment in decades. Specifically with regard to the trans-Pennine route, we will be spending £2.9 billion in the next control period, control period 6, between 2019 and 2024. We are looking carefully at the options Network Rail has presented to the Department and we will make a statement later in the year, ensuring that we deliver the highest possible value for taxpayers and significant benefits for passengers in the north of England.
On GTR, as I said, we have put in place a hard review of its performance in the run-up to the implementation of the May 2020 timetable. No options are off the table, should it be found to have been negligent in any respect.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about compensation. As he knows, we have already announced compensation for passengers affected by the timetabling debacle in the north of England on Northern. We will be coming forward with a similar rail industry-funded scheme for Thameslink and Great Northern passengers.
There was absolute chaos again on GTR-Great Northern yesterday for my constituents. The situation is not getting better. How long does this have to go on before they lose their franchises?
My right hon. Friend is understandably exceptionally frustrated and angry on behalf of her constituents. I completely understand that. GTR is putting in place a new interim timetable on 15 July. It is vital that this timetable makes real progress in stabilising services on Thameslink and Great Northern, on which her constituents and those of other Members’ depend.
We are constantly told by the Secretary of State that we should not believe everything we read in the newspapers, but it seems to be the only way we can actually get some information we trust. The Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says there will be a full statement on the electrification project later on in the year. That does not engender confidence.
On the performance of GTR, for once I agree with the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who said it was an absolute disaster. For once, I agree with the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), who said that this is a crisis. Does the Minister agree with his colleagues?
According to a Library briefing, in 2016-17, Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern received a subsidy of nearly £100 million. Does that really reflect value for money or does it not reflect the reality of franchising economics? When will the Government admit that the franchising system is broken and do something constructive about it? The Minister says that the travel compensation scheme will be funded by industry. What measures will be put in place to make sure that the industry does not claw that money back from the Government in one way or another?
The Secretary of State has blamed the unions and Network Rail, even though he is the one responsible for Network Rail. He blames anybody but himself. Charles Horton resigned as chair of Govia Thameslink. Does the Minister agree that it is time that the Secretary of State looks in the mirror, admits his culpability and does the right thing and resigns as well?
With respect to the speculation in the newspapers over the weekend, I clarify for the House that we are reviewing the options that have been presented to the Department by Network Rail on how we can make the most of the £2.9 billion that the Department and the Government have set aside for this important scheme. It represents one third of the entire enhancement budget across the entire railway network for the five-year period starting in 2019, and it is entirely right that the Government ensure that we get good value for money from it and deliver passenger benefits to the greatest extent that we possibly can.
The hon. Gentleman asked about GTR. A new chief executive is coming into post. I am due to speak to him later today. He has the vital task of ensuring that the new timetable that it is putting in place on 15 July stabilises services as rapidly as possible.
The Minister will know, because unfortunately for him I keep WhatsApping him every time my angry constituents tweet or email me, of the utterly unacceptable three-hour gaps that remain between trains at peak times in commuter villages. Four-carriage trains are turning up rather than 12-carriage trains; this is becoming an issue of safety, not just reliability. I understand that franchise removal could be the ultimate conclusion but, when he does his hard review, will he look at the commuter villages as well as the main hub stations in making that decision? Can he just give us a clue: what would the alternative be, are the risks worth it and will the service be better?
As my hon. Friend knows, I am in contact with her on a regular basis about the situation affecting her constituents using stations such as Royston and St Neots—
Royston is mine.
Stations near my hon. Friend’s constituency—Letchworth as well. Obviously, we see the pattern of services there as having been unacceptable in recent days and we have been pressing GTR to work tirelessly to ensure that it improves performance as rapidly as possible. As the Secretary of State has made clear, all options are on the table for the outcome of the review should it be found to have been negligent in any way in implementing this timetable.
Coming off the back of all the turmoil that we have seen on Northern and elsewhere recently, is not this equivocation on the electrification of the Manchester-to-Leeds line just another really serious blow for people in the north, who now feel overwhelmingly, time and again, that they are getting a second-class service from this Government? Will the Minister please offer some political leadership on this issue and say, “This line and its electrification is of such strategic importance that we will make it happen come what may”?
The Government are signalling their political commitment to the north of England by spending £13 billion on transport in the north in the years to 2020 and by allocating £2.9 billion to the trans-Pennine route upgrade alone. As I have already said, that represents a third of the entire rail enhancement budget for that five-year period. The trans-Pennine upgrade will be a phased project. It will be a rolling programme of enhancements, including major civil engineering projects and electrification.
Customers on Govia Thameslink Railway have only 28 days to submit a claim under delay repay, yet this disruption has gone on for the last 44 days. The amount of time required to submit those claims is extensive. Will the Minister ensure that everyone who has had a valid claim since 20 May receives compensation?
Yes, we are working very carefully with GTR and the rest of the industry to ensure that proper compensation is made available to everybody who has suffered on the most severely affected routes. We have already done so for passengers on Northern and other bits of the north of England. We will make an announcement about compensation for passengers on severely affected GTR routes, Thameslink and Great Northern shortly.
I attended an event last week at which many senior members of the railway industry were present. Clearly, it was well known that these problems would exist if the new timetable were introduced. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the industry advises him and his colleagues of any problems that may exist in the future?
The Secretary of State has set up an independent review chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister, who is the chair of the Office of Rail and Road. He is looking at all the lessons that need to be learnt from the May timetable changes to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes in December 2018 and with subsequent timetable changes of that scale.
My constituents are still experiencing delays, overcrowding and cancellations. In every meeting I have attended with TransPennine, Northern and the Secretary of State, I have been reassured that everything will be okay once we get electrification going. The Secretary of State is saying that we do not need to electrify all of every route, so will the Minister reassure the House now that, when electrification goes ahead, it will be the whole route and there will not be cherry-picking of what is most financially viable?
The Department wants to get the best value for passengers and taxpayers out of the £2.9 billion that has been set aside for the trans-Pennine route upgrade. All Members of the House should be able to understand that objective. The Department is currently awaiting Network Rail’s final project plan and we have instructed it to prioritise those elements that bring the quickest passenger benefits.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the misery of the constant delays and cancellations on the line from North East Hertfordshire into London, and we are told that 15 July is the great hope. Can he say whether any programme is being put forward or any measures taken for an operator of last resort, in case the promises are broken again?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right, and of course that is exactly what the Department is doing. We have a so-called hard review team in with GTR at the moment getting ready for exactly the eventuality that we need to put in the operator of last resort, should the review conclude that Network Rail has been negligent and does not have the managerial—[Interruption.] GTR, I beg your pardon, has been negligent and does not have the managerial strengths to deal with the challenges that that bit of the network faces.
The Minister is being far too measured in his response. He should stop pussyfooting about and put the boot in. He should sack Southern and GTR, boost compensation for passengers and hand over responsibility for rail services in London to Transport for London.
The Secretary of State has been clear that he is leaving all options on the table should GTR be found to have been negligent. He is clear that the operator of last resort will be ready to step in, should that turn out to be the case, but of course the Department wants to follow all the correct processes in this matter.
We are now into week seven of this Thameslink timetable shambles, and there is no sign of the service getting better. Never mind electrification—frankly, trains were more reliable 100 years ago in the age of steam. Will the Minister confirm that the compensation package that he is to announce will be generous and that specifically, it will be funded by GTR, because its shareholders, not the taxpayer, should bear the pain for this appalling performance?
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend’s concerns. His constituents, including those who use Hassocks station, which we have discussed on a number of occasions, have endured an unacceptable level of service, and he has been a strong champion for them. They will receive compensation and we will be setting out details of that compensation plan in coming days. It will be comparable, as the Secretary of State has indicated, with the compensation that was given to passengers on Southern about a year and a half ago.
With trains cancelled and delayed and journey times between Leeds and Manchester airport in my constituency up by 12 minutes, how does the Minister think the northern rail project is going, especially given the news at the weekend that he is reneging on the commitment to electrify the line between those two cities?
I have already addressed the issue of the trans-Pennine route upgrade. We await Network Rail’s final project plan for how to make the best use of the £2.9 billion the Government have set aside for it. It is a significant investment, and it is entirely right that the Government seek to secure the best value for money, both for passengers and for taxpayers.
I get no sense of urgency from the Minister about the devastating impact this is having on my constituents. The timetable changes will see a reduction in services for passengers in Plumpton, Lewes, Seaford, Berwick, Polegate and Wivelsfield, and since the disaster of the timetable roll-out, we are constantly seeing short-formed trains—which are severely overcrowded, station-skipping in rural areas, where there is no other form of public transport, leaving vulnerable passengers, young people and people with a disability stranded—and late-night cancellations. It took three hours to travel 50 miles home last night, and three out of the first seven trains were cancelled this morning. This is unacceptable. The franchise must go.
My hon. Friend speaks powerfully on behalf of her constituents, and has done consistently. We are looking at this as a matter of urgency. It is the Department’s top priority to ensure that the unacceptable level of service comes to an end and that passengers get the standard of rail they have every right to expect. The Secretary of State has been absolutely clear that all options are available to him should GTR be found to have been negligent with respect to its contractual obligations.
Seat bookings issued for carriages that do not actually exist; new 10-carriage trains where only five are available because passengers cannot walk from one end of the train to the other; trains cancelled because the companies do not have enough staff to run both parts of the train; endless cancellations; toilets that either do not work or where passengers get locked in, but where they do at least end up with a seat—this is complete and utter chaos. My constituents would dearly love to see the Government gripping this and making sure it gets sorted now, not in some distant future.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case on behalf of his constituents, and I understand his concerns on their behalf. We are improving the Great Western main line. There is a substantial investment programme, and, yes, there is considerable room for improvement, but it is good that more than 100 million rail journeys will improve next year as a result of the significant investment the Government are undertaking.
GTR’s performance has been abysmal not just for the past few weeks but for a number of years, with constituents unable to get home to see loved ones and some having even lost their jobs as a result of train lateness and cancellations. The timetable fiasco is simply the latest instalment in that record of failure. On Saturday morning, I tried to get from Coulsdon South to the centre of London and ended up having to drive because the trains were cancelled. This company is incompetent and the time has come for it to lose the franchise. I urge the Minister to act.
That is the exactly why the Secretary of State has put in place the hard review. If GTR is found to have been negligent, he will have the full gamut of options available to him, including the removal of the franchise.
I can catalogue similar misery endured by passengers from Cambridge, but the key question is: how did this happen? The conclusion I came to, listening to evidence to the Transport Committee, was that at the key time no one was in place to make the call. So let me ask: who is in charge of our railways?
We have a lot to learn as an industry from what went wrong, which is why the Secretary of State has set up the Glaister review, an independent review chaired by the Office of Rail and Road. It is important that we learn all the lessons from what happened in the run-up to May to ensure that mistakes are not made again in December and May 2019.
The Government’s strategy is to combine track and train. How does the Minister think this will improve the lot of passengers?
My hon. Friend refers to the Secretary of State’s strategic vision for rail, published last November, which seeks more integration between train operating companies and Network Rail to ensure less buck passing and less of the blame game in the future. A foretaste of how that will work can be seen in the new west coast partnership and the east coast partnership publications.
The Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway has calculated that the cost of electrifying the main line between Swansea and Cardiff at today’s prices is only £150 million, which is considerably cheaper than the Department’s estimation. Electrification has been rolled out across Europe, and indeed in Scotland, at a cost of about £1 million per mile, while High Speed 2 will cost more than £400 million. Will the Minister look again at the CEBR figures and finish the job of electrifying the main line all the way to the west of my country?
Our focus in the Department is on securing the greatest passenger benefits in a tax-efficient and value-for-money way. It was found that electrifying the route between Cardiff and Swansea would provide poor value for money and little by way of incremental time savings to passengers. It would not bring the significant journey time savings we would expect for such an expenditure and would result in significant disruption for passengers on the line.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment on compensation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), which will benefit our constituents. May I draw his attention to the problem of short-formed trains? Too often, fewer trains are coming into crowded platforms and they are short-formed, which forces passengers to pack themselves into trains that are far too small and in sweltering conditions. If GTR gets nothing else right, can it please sort that out in the coming weeks?
Indeed, that is one element we will look at as we assess whether GTR has managed to stabilise services following the introduction of the new interim timetable on 15 July.
People in Enfield who aspire to get on a train are running up and down the platform in the mornings, but the trains are full by the time they reach us, because of the delays and cancellations. Yesterday, almost half of all trains were either delayed or cancelled, and on 15 July we get our third timetable in two months. This cannot be acceptable. The Minister is a sight too relaxed for my liking about this matter. Does he realise that people in Enfield and further afield have completely lost faith in the Government’s ability to manage the railways? And the Government do manage the railways!
We are working urgently on improving GTR’s performance. It has a new chief executive coming in as we speak whose task is clear with respect to the instructions he has received from the Department, which are to get performance back to where it should be as rapidly as possible.
Bedford rail users are facing misery, delays and cancellations almost every hour. It is complete chaos. It is clear that GTR has breached the terms of the franchise and that it should be taken back into public ownership. When will the Minister stop making excuses, get a reliable timetable in place and commit to reinstating east midlands peak services for Bedford?
As I have said, GTR is introducing a new timetable on 15 July, and it will be held to account for the success of that new timetable. We want services to Bedford to improve as part of that.
Following the answers to my hon. Friends the Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), can the Minister confirm that it is no longer the Government’s commitment to fully electrify the route between Manchester and Leeds, and will he tell us where the Secretary of State is today—has he missed his train?
As I said, we await Network Rail’s final options plan for how to make the best use of the £2.9 billion allocated to the trans-Pennine route upgrade. As all Members will understand, that is an important part of how government makes use of taxpayer resources. We want it to deliver the best value for money. That will include major civil engineering projects and electrification.
Govia is also responsible for Southeastern. As the Minister will know from just a glance at Twitter this morning, our constituents were telling us yet again that they were suffering delays. Why do the Government consistently put the shareholders of Govia above the interests of our constituents? It is time for both franchises to be taken away from Govia.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern for passengers in his constituency. We want them to receive the services that they have every right to expect. As I have said, we are looking at GTR’s performance with that franchise, and we will not hesitate to take the appropriate actions should they be necessary.
The Government gave my constituents a solemn pledge to electrify the midland main line, only to renege on their promises. The Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) about the trans-Pennine route seemed to indicate that they will not proceed with the electrification of that route either. Does the Minister not realise that reneging on solemn pledges of this kind brings the political process into disrepute? Will he now say from the Dispatch Box that he will reverse those cuts in much-needed upgrades?
Announcements relating to the hon. Gentleman’s questions were made in July 2017. Passengers on the midland main line will benefit from a brand-new fleet of trains from 2022, but we have made clear since July last year that we do not need to electrify the whole route—every last mile of it—to deliver improved long-distance journeys, including more seats and faster journeys in peak hours. That will mean less disruption for passengers. We will, however, electrify the route from Bedford to the Market Harborough area and Corby, and, later, the route from Clay Cross to Sheffield to support HS2. We are also delivering upgrades along the route to improve journey times.
Will the Glaister review panel be able to look into the functioning and involvement of the Minister’s Department in the setting of the new timetable, the timetabling itself, the amount of influence that the Department had in signing off the timetable and the amount of time that it took to sign it off? Will the panel be able to look into his Department as well as the franchises?
The answer is yes, and the terms of reference of the Glaister review, which are public, allow for that.
As we have been talking about the north, I want to ask a question about it. I believe that the Rail Minister is also the Minister for London; it is a shame that the Secretary of State, who has the whole country on his watch, is not here today. If it is true that the Department has not yet signed off the trans-Pennine money, why can we not transfer the power to decide what is best for the north from the Department to Transport for the North, which is what the One North campaign has been asking for?
Transport for the North exists as a statutory body and has the ability to ensure that all transport investment decisions are informed by its transport strategy. We await with interest and excitement the publication of that strategy later in the year, so that northern transport authorities can prioritise appropriately what they see as the needs of passengers in the north.
The electrification work in the Severn tunnel have been a big failure. Rusting kit has led to the closure of the tunnel for three weeks and caused disruption to passengers, and it is very poor value for money. What is the financial cost of this electrification fault?
Cost overruns on that project have been a feature over the course of its life. We are looking carefully into the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and we will follow that up with him directly.
Does the Minister understand the depth of anger and dismay in the north at the shadow that has now been cast over the full electrification of the trans-Pennine route? What assessment is he making of the impact on our economy and on future inward investment?
The Government are making a massive investment in transport in the north of England, but Labour Members seem to be intent on downplaying its scale. It is worth reminding the House that £13 billion is being invested in northern transport in the years to 2020, and £2.9 billion is being invested in the trans-Pennine route upgrade alone. It is entirely right for the Government to seek the maximum value for both passengers and taxpayers when it comes to how that money is spent.
It feels almost like groundhog day. Last night, again, it took me three hours to travel back to Brighton. What does the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the union that represents staff—and I refer to my registered interest in that regard—say? It says that 95% of staff now face aggression from passengers whom they are unable to give any information, because the management does not give them any information, and 82% say that they have no trust in the management of the franchise any more. When will the Minister agree with passengers—and, now, with staff—and get rid of GTR?
Obviously, no staff in GTR or any other train operating company should accept, or should expect to suffer, abuse of any sort from passengers in these circumstances. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a hard review of GTR’s performance is now under way, and all options will be on the table following that review.
Since the timetable changes, travelling on Southern from Eastbourne and Hampden Park has been horrific for my constituents. I was told this morning that a journey that should have taken an hour and a half had taken three and a half hours. The Minister has talked about substantial additional compensation for people travelling on Northern. May I urge him also to make a commitment to those long-standing passengers on Southern?
The Government are committed to compensating passengers on the routes that have been most severely disrupted since the timetable change. We have already arranged compensation for passengers on Northern and other parts of the network in the north of England, and we will shortly announce details of schemes for passengers on the most disrupted parts of the GTR network. Southern’s performance, while not perfect, has not been as severely disruptive as those of the other two operators.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will, exceptionally, take the point of order now, because I believe that it appertains to earlier exchanges during Question Time. Let us hear from the hon. Gentleman.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
In my question to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I mentioned EU payments to farmers. I should like to set the record straight and declare an interest, in that I am a recipient of the EU single farm payment. My farming interest is recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that fact on the record.
LGBT Action Plan
To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities if she will make a statement on the Government’s LGBT action plan.
In July last year the Government launched a national survey asking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people about their experiences of living in the UK. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for beginning that process. I am pleased that the Government are today publishing the findings of the survey, alongside an LGBT action plan that sets out their policy in response to those results.
The survey received more than 108,000 responses, which makes it the largest national survey of LGBT people conducted in the world to date. Responses covered a range of issues, including safety, health, education, and the experience of being LGBT in the UK. The findings will serve as crucial additional evidence on which we can build. While there are many positives to take from the findings, they also show that there is much more to do before we achieve equality for LGBT people in the UK. For me, one of the saddest statistics was that two thirds of respondents felt unable to hold their partner’s hand in public.
The LGBT action plan consists of 75 actions that the Government will take to address the survey’s findings. They include the appointment of a national LGBT health adviser in the NHS to tackle the health inequalities that LGBT people face, the extension of our existing anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme, and a commitment to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK.
I want this plan to be delivered by the end of this Parliament, and funding beyond 2019-20 will be agreed through the spending review process. The documents the Government are publishing today represent a significant milestone in the Government’s commitment to building a country that works for everyone irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I thank the Minister for her answer to the urgent question. The Government’s action plan is a welcome first step. Although I would like to have seen more action, the action that it does contain is welcome. It is built on the foundations of the Labour party manifesto—I am grateful for that. I am more than happy for the Government to appropriate Labour’s ideas and policies because the more we can work cross-party, the better legislation will be. The Government would get a quick win on legislation if they were to implement Lord Cashman’s amendment to the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
I want the Government to be successful in this and to move the LGBT+ agenda forward. The “+” is important as many groups are not included and the “+” symbolises the fact that they are included when we talk about the subject, especially in this place. Paragraph three of the executive summary refers to the “bold action” that this Government are taking
“both at home and abroad.”
The lack of action on the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 created a hostile environment for trans people, so I hope that the Minister will say something that will move that forward.
We would also like to know the Government’s plans as chair of the Commonwealth. The Government now have a global platform from which to promote LGBT rights both here and abroad. Bold actions also require a stable Government and a stable Government Equalities Office. Since 2010 the current GEO has moved offices on at least four occasions and has had six different Ministers, and, shockingly, the Department’s funding has been almost halved. This type of upheaval is not conducive to a stable way of working for the equalities agenda.
Like the Government, Labour want to create an environment across the globe where people can be their true authentic selves at work, at home and publicly, and where they are not discriminated against because of who they are, who they love or how they look. I look forward to the Pride marches on Saturday and Sunday. I hope to see the Minister and her team there, and I look forward to challenging them with a #FlosswithPride dance-off.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s welcome of the action plan. We want to do this well and implement the action plan well at local level as well as national level, and I hope all Members on both sides of the House will help us to do that. We also want to send a clear message that this is what we want for the UK, that we need to stamp out homophobia and bigotry wherever it exists, and that we want everyone in society to be able to love who they love and be able to hold hands in public. We need that culture shift; that still needs to happen. We have come a long way but there is still much more to do. So I thank the hon. Lady for her comments.
The hon. Lady mentioned other groups covered by the “+”. They are addressed in the action plan; there are actions that will support them too, but more specifically we will also be making funding available to those groups because they need to be included in the work that is going on at national and local level. So funding will be available to groups specifically looking at those individuals. We are also setting up a new national panel that will have representatives from those groups in it, so they will be able to feed into future policy. That will be very helpful.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Gender Recognition Act consultation. We are launching that today—this afternoon. It will be launched by the Prime Minister and a written statement will be tabled to coincide with that launch. This is an incredibly important piece of work and it must be conducted as a national conversation as well as a consultation, and it must be conducted in a framework of empathy, focusing on facts, not myths, and being very practical. I hope that my speech today and the Prime Minister’s words this afternoon set that tone.
The hon. Lady mentioned our international work. There are some commitments in the action plan specifically to promote LGBT+ rights in the rest of the world. The Prime Minister took a lead on this at her key address at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit. She spoke at length about the need to promote LGBT rights across the Commonwealth. In addition to my work at the GEO, with my other hat on as International Development Secretary, we are doing a lot of work to support civil society and talk to national Governments about their policies and procedures.
The hon. Lady mentioned funding. I must apologise to her about the confusion as there is a smorgasbord of Departments that report on the GEO’s budget, but our budget has actually gone up: with the programme budget it is close to £15 million. At my appearance at the Select Committee I confirmed that I would clarify those numbers; our funding has gone up.
It is London Pride this weekend and I will be there. Over the summer there will be many other Pride events going on around the country. I feel that as the hon. Lady has thrown down the gauntlet on the dance-off, I will see her there.
Order. I am pleased to advise the House that the rainbow flag will fly above No. 1 Parliament Street and Portcullis House throughout the weekend, and I can also tell the House with some pride that ParliOUT, the workplace equality network based here, will be taking part in the Pride parade.
It is perfect timing to launch the action plan and survey results in advance of London Pride this weekend. It shows that while this country has come a very long way—I am very proud of the fact that it was our Government who brought forward legislation on same-sex marriage—there is still a very long way to go. My right hon. Friend mentioned one of the most shocking statistics, but another is that 70% of respondents still felt that they could not be open about their sexuality or relationship because they were worried about a negative reaction. I know how that feels as I have been part of that 70% in the past, so may I simply welcome my right hon. Friend’s action plan and say that this matters because people can only be at their best when they can be themselves?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and for giving us the opportunity to do this. It is our action plan, and I mean that for every Member of this House. There are some good policies in there that, if implemented, as I hope they all will be by the end of this Parliament, will transform the lives of LGBT people. It is not just about the culture; it is also about the practical access to services that meet their needs. It is an important piece of work and my right hon. Friend should be very proud of her role in it.
I, too, welcome the plan and the various aspects of it, particularly the health adviser and the plans to ban gay conversion therapy. I also welcome Vicky Beeching’s book, which I assume has advised much of this; she has spoken very openly and very bravely and was a great support to me personally before I came out.
On the plans for education, the right hon. Lady will know that a lot of this has been done in Scotland already. I put on record our thanks to the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, which I hope the right hon. Lady will also welcome as it has its third anniversary. She has shown a willingness to work with the Scottish Government, and we are proud that Scotland is one of the most inclusive and progressive countries in LGBT+ rights in the world, but will she talk about the plans to work with Scotland and the other devolved nations, because equality is important for all countries in the UK? Will she meet me to discuss this, and, as we approach many Pride celebrations across the UK, will she agree that they are vital and that it is fantastic to see such huge celebrations?
However, there are still many corners of the UK, as this survey suggests, where LGBT+ people cannot be open. There are now Pride celebrations—such as mine in West Lothian, which is now in its fourth year—in small communities. Will the right hon. Lady look at creating a map of LGBT+ progressiveness across the UK, and address what support can be given to those small and rural communities where LGBT+ issues are still very much at the fore?
I also pay tribute to the individual and the organisation that the hon. Lady referred to. She is absolutely right. In my remarks this morning at the launch of the action plan, I spoke about equality in all four nations of the United Kingdom. Clearly, some of the services that we are talking about, such as healthcare, are devolved, and rightly so. The Secretary of State for Scotland was present at the launch with me, and one of the strengths of having a four-nation healthcare system is that we learn from each other and share good ideas while providing the service that is best tailored for people in their particular locality. And of course I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady.
I thank the Minister for informing me of her intention to publish the plan today, and for the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I join her in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who did so much to commission the research relating to the launch today and who has put these building blocks in place. The Women and Equalities Committee looks forward to working with the Minister to ensure that these plans really do address the issues that LGBT people face in the UK, and to receiving the annual reports that she has described. Education has a pivotal role to play in dealing with the cultural issues and the cultural change that we need to see if we are to deliver her plan. Will she update the House on the progress that the Government have made on delivering statutory sex and relationships education, which is now in law? She also talked about the Prime Minister’s plan to launch the Gender Recognition Act consultation this afternoon. Will she say a bit more about how she intends to deal with the unacceptable anti-trans hostility that has filled the vacuum of policy, which, I have to say, has come about over the past two years as a result of a great deal of change in the people holding her role?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. I also thank her in her role as the Chair of the Select Committee for the work that the Committee has done on a range of issues to help to move this forward. It is absolutely right that the starting point for all this needs to be in our schools. We have made commitments to relationships education at primary school level and to sex and relationships education at secondary school level. The work in the action plan will be funded by the Government Equalities Office, and we are in discussions regarding the spending review in relation to future work, but the Departments responsible for these commitments are committed to them. We will be able to be held to account for that, and I am sure that her Committee will do that as well.
My right hon. Friend also made a point about the bigotry and abuse that has been directed towards the trans community. It is vital, with the launch of the Gender Recognition Act consultation, that we put some of the myths to bed, because there has been a huge amount of misinformation. I believe that once people understand our proposals and the conversation we are having about how we can best support individuals and enable the process to best support them, how we can educate services and communities to best support them and how we can reassure others, we will then have a sensible, quality consultation and national conversation. Where we see bigotry—and some of the practices that have been taking place on social media and elsewhere—we must all call it out for what it is.
Does the Minister agree that, while we have made great progress in ensuring that rights are equal in law, we have a lot more to do to ensure that they are equal in practice? Does she also agree that we are now experiencing something of a backlash, of which the LGBT community—and particularly the trans community—are at the forefront? Will she say a bit more about how she and her Department plan to tackle this? As she said, if LGBT+ people are still frightened of holding hands in public because of the likely reaction, we still have a lot of work to do.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Ultimately, what will enable someone to hold their partner’s hand as they walk down the street is not a piece of legislation but a culture change in this nation. As I have said before, back in the 1980s—before many of us were in politics—we saw the homophobia that gay men, for example, faced at the time. I am sure we all agree that if we had been in politics at that time, we would have called that out and stood up for those individuals. That same scenario is happening now to the trans community, and we must show our absolute unwavering solidarity with those individuals. As I said in my speech this morning, trans women are women and trans men are men. That is the starting point for the GRA consultation, and it will be its finishing point too. We need to send out a strong message on that front, and I thank the hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what she has just said about trans issues and on the action plan, which is welcome and comprehensive. I particularly congratulate her on the measures to ensure that Government support will be given through our diplomatic missions and through the Department for International Development to LGBT organisations on the ground worldwide. Will she say more about the Government’s bid for the chairmanship of the Equal Rights Coalition, which is mentioned in the action plan? That would be very welcome, as it would be a statement of the UK’s strong support for LGBT rights globally.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that suggestion. I am in complete agreement with him. In my time in this place, I have seen the effect of whichever party has been in government advancing the rights of LGBT people on other nations around the world. We now have a huge opportunity with our chairing of the Commonwealth, and there are many other opportunities coming up. I agree with him wholeheartedly on this.
We have come a long way since my Conservative opponent in 1997 described me as a sterile, disease-ridden homosexual who would put my constituents’ children at risk. I warmly welcome the right hon. Lady’s announcements today. I thank her for the announcement on gay conversion therapy, and I ask her to thank the public health Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), and the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) for the roles that they have played in helping to deliver this. On trans rights, though, will she talk to her Health colleagues about the horrendous waiting times, particularly for young people who are waiting to see a specialist and to have the counselling necessary to undergo eventual gender reassignment? They are waiting far too long at a time of great vulnerability, and many are at suicide risk. This is a critical period in their lives, and the waiting times are currently completely unacceptable.
I would like to add my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, and to others who have helped to get us where we are today. I made some detailed remarks about waiting times this morning, and about other issues relating to gender identity clinics. The Care Quality Commission is going to start inspecting those clinics, and there are many other things in the action plan that will help. The survey has given us a good understanding of the inadequacies of some services, and a good base for where we need to get to. We are determined to improve the situation.
Some of us have come quite a long way since 1997, and that also applies to the position of my party, of which I am now inordinately proud because of the 75 recommendations in the action plan and because of the way in which the survey has thrown up the prevalence of the trans issue. The number of trans people who took part in the survey clearly makes it entirely appropriate for us to make this issue a priority. Mr Speaker, I know that as president of the Kaleidoscope Trust you will be delighted with the balance of resources going into the Commonwealth and internationally from my right hon. Friend’s Department to enable our missions to directly support the groups and the very brave people who are fighting for the changes in their society that have been achieved over the past five or six decades here.
The hon. Gentleman understands me well, and I thank him for that gratuitous reference.
My hon. Friend makes some good points. At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, I had the privilege of sitting down with activists from nations where citizens do not enjoy the same rights as our citizens. They are incredibly brave and must be supported, and I am conscious, in both my Government roles, that we have a duty to do that. If we want change, civil society in those countries must be kept strong.
I have married an awful lot of people in my time—[Laughter.] To one another. I have also entered a civil partnership myself. Indeed, it happened in your house, Mr Speaker. I therefore know how important a marriage or civil partnership is to the self-validation and self-respect that couples have in society. Will the Minister see off anybody who starts campaigning for the abolition of civil partnerships and instead extend them to heterosexual couples, so that everybody is treated equally under the law?
In addition, if the Bermudian Government appeal to the Privy Council to overturn the Bermudian Supreme Court’s decision to re-allow same-sex marriage in Bermuda, will the Minister also ensure that the Privy Council will say, “Get lost”?
Finally, will the Minister ensure that we have same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, or at least a free vote in this House on the matter?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his several questions. I am aware that I have a number of issues in my in-tray as Equalities Minister, civil partnerships and equal marriage in Northern Ireland being just two of them. We have private Members’ Bills before the House, and we must resolve the issues and I will examine what I can do to support that.
On civil partnerships, the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I have brought forward the opinion research commissioned by the Government Equalities Office that was to report in autumn next year to autumn this year—the end of the summer. We want to make good progress on all such issues.
As for Bermuda, I will ask the Foreign Office to write to the hon. Gentleman.
I suspect that I may get the same answer, but may I urge the Minister to be less diplomatic and have a chat to the Foreign Secretary to see whether we can insist on every high commission and embassy flying the rainbow flag, particularly in countries where homosexuality is illegal?
The message that that would send is hugely important, and I know that it is the message that all those missions and offices wish to send. However, we do have to leave it to the judgment of the people working in those countries, because I know from my experiences in the Department for International Development that we must bear in mind the safety of the people doing such work. I hope that as many buildings as possible will be flying the rainbow flag in the coming days and weeks.
I welcome not just the fact of the action plan, but the sentiment behind it and the Minister’s obvious commitment to the culture change that we all recognise is necessary. Home Office statistics from 2017 show that 70% of claims for asylum on the basis of sexuality were rejected, so will the Minister use her influence in Government to press for a change to end the deportation of asylum seekers to countries where they could face torture or even death due to their sexuality?
Contrary to some media reports, there are some specific actions in the action plan relating to asylum seekers. We want to ensure that the process of making an application and going through the system is tailored to LGBT people, whether or not that is the basis of their claim. We will want to work closely with the Home Office and with others involved in the process to ensure that they are delivering for LGBT people.
The survey that my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) initiated has clearly proven to be a thorough and accurate review of the concerns of the LGBT+ community. May I suggest that the Minister commits to repeating the survey after an appropriate period to measure what will hopefully be progress in the identified areas of concern?
May I also take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to thank you for your leadership on this issue, in particular for your kindness in making facilities available in this place to the many charities, big and small, that do so much in this country to support LGBT people?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I also thank Mr Speaker for all that he does not only on this matter, but on many other equalities issues. My hon. Friend is right that, as well as enabling us to examine where public services and other things are failing LGBT people and to bring forward an action plan, the survey has given us a baseline to track what I hope will be considerable and swift progress.
I welcome the Minister’s answer to the urgent question and the launch of this action plan, and I recognise how far we have come in recent years. I also appreciate the Minister’s commitment to work with the Scottish Government, who have a good record on equality law. Will she consider the full devolution of equality law to Scotland so that the Scottish Government can get on with things in their own time? It is worth bearing in mind that the Scottish Government repealed section 28 several years before this Parliament.
I am a practical person, so I want to concentrate on the points in the action plan and on the other things that I can do to improve the lives of LGBT+ across the UK. As for other matters regarding other nations of the UK, Westminster has expressed a view that if devolved issues are not acted on, Westminster will act. I just want to point that out.
Civil partnerships were introduced to accommodate those couples who were discriminated against by being unable to marry, so the Minister should add to her list of actions the abolition of that institution of discrimination, should she not?
My right hon. Friend is highly consistent in his campaign. We have clearly had a ruling that we need to act on this inequality, but not specifying—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) should remain in his place.
I was coming for the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
That sounds like a threat! The right hon. Gentleman should not be beetling along the Bench when the Minister is answering. He is normally a most courteous fellow, but I think he has got carried away. I know that he will now listen with respectful attention and in all solemnity to the Minister.
If my right hon. Friend has a moment—[Laughter.] I will tell him that there are many reasons why people value civil partnerships; it was not just about the absence of the option of marriage. Some people do not want to get married, but they want to have a partnership with their partner. Other people who have been married and then bereaved may not want to remarry, but they may want to establish a civil partnership. People value civil partnerships for many reasons. I know that my right hon. Friend is very exercised about this matter, but I can reassure him that civil partnerships will not be compulsory.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on her initiative—it is a credit to her that her initiative has engaged with 108,000 people from the LGBT+ community—and I thank the Minister for the action plan.
I was shocked when, last year, a church in north Liverpool was exposed by former Liverpool Echo journalist Josh Parry as giving gay cure therapies, which are some of the most disturbing practices that could be imagined. I have raised such gay cure therapies with Ministers in the House. There had been some contradiction on those therapies before the report, and I hope the Minister will clear up some of those contradictions. The Home Office was initially dismissive, and the Department of Health and Social Care said no action would be taken. Will she clear up the contradictory advice that came from the Government before the report was published?
Furthermore, the report says:
“We are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking legitimate…support from their faith leader”.
I push the Minister to give a commitment today that she will not leave LGBT people in faith communities behind when this action plan is implemented.
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman those reassurances. We are going to ban these abhorrent practices—with the most severe form involving corrective rape, some of these so-called therapies are appalling abuse—and we will consult on the best way to do that. It may involve legislation, but there will be other things we can do, too. We clearly need to work closely with healthcare.
Obviously, we do not want to close down completely legitimate and needed psychological support and other therapies that people might want to access as they explore their gender identity or their sexual orientation. Those are important supports for individuals, but wherever those other practices are found, including in religious settings, we will have no qualms about tackling them.
There is a lot to welcome in this action plan. I am alarmed by the statistic that two in three respondents feel they cannot hold their partner’s hand but, of course, 100% of people in same-sex relationships in Northern Ireland cannot get married. I welcome the funding and support for Commonwealth nations, but what practical support can the Minister offer people in Northern Ireland to make sure rights are advanced there, too?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which he makes very strongly. As I said, there is a private Member’s Bill option. That and other matters relating to Northern Ireland are receiving a great deal of my attention.
I welcome today’s announcement, which is a huge step forward. What support and practical help can this action plan deliver in the regions, especially to help trans communities like Not Alone, which works so hard in Plymouth for trans and non-binary people who sometimes feel they have been left out on a limb and are not getting the support they need? Can the Minister advise on what support can be pushed into the regions so that the focus is not just on big cities?
There are many things we can do. Clearly a lot of the services we are looking to reform are devolved, but the £4.5 million that my Department is making available is precisely for such groups. We will shortly be announcing how groups can apply for that funding, but it is vital that those groups are empowered at a local level to shape local services and ensure people get the support they need.
I very much welcome today’s action plan, and I look forward to reading the documentation on the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The truth is that equality is never a job done; it is something for which we always have to strive. We would not be here today if there had not been marked progress in this area between 1997 and 2010.
In creating a debate on the Gender Recognition Act, which I agree has to happen—there is a lot in the Select Committee’s report that needs to be attended to—it must be recognised that we do not want a situation in which, in the protection of services, there is competition between the rights of the trans community and the rights for which women have fought so hard for many years. There is a way through this if people on all sides can debate it in an informed and discursive way that does not shut down conversations.
There has been abuse against the trans community, but there has also been a lot of abuse and insults against anyone who raises concerns about some of the implications. Some of it may need to be discussed, but people are genuinely worried about some of these things, and this debate should allow us to put it to bed and to make sure that we come out of it with something that is better for everybody.
The right hon. Lady puts it very well. The questions raised by women’s groups, for example, are completely legitimate. Sometimes people forget what we require of people who are changing their gender identity. We require them to live in their new gender for two years prior to changing their gender, so we are not catering for something new. The nation needs to have a calm, grown-up conversation, and this consultation affords us the chance to have it.
We want a good outcome. We want a less bureaucratic and more supportive process for those who are changing their gender identity, and we want those other people to be reassured. Both those sets of people have legitimate desires, and we need to come up with answers so that we have clarity on this issue and so that people can be assured of what is expected, of what is right and of how to treat people when they try to access services, and so forth.
That is how we need to conduct this debate, and I am confident that, having dispelled some of the myths, we will be able to have that debate and come up with a good outcome that suits everyone.
The Minister’s announcement today on the banning of so-called gay conversion therapies is obviously enormously welcome. As part of the process, as she looks to legislation or other processes with the Home Office, will she also try to ensure that such disgusting treatments do not go underground? Will she ensure that people are not able to access them in other countries? What representations is she making not just to Commonwealth countries but to countries across the world that these conversions are not needed, that they do not work and that there is no need for a cure for being gay?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. One of the additional benefits of this action plan is that it will be a catalyst for other nations to follow suit, as has happened with other groundbreaking LGBT legislation passed by this House over many years. I hope that will be the case, and clearly the more we can shine a spotlight on these practices, the more we can educate people who might be vulnerable to going through such appalling practices and the better and more resilient people will be.
Like others, I welcome the action plan. The weekend before last I was delighted to see that the British mission in New York had a float at Pride, and I am pleased to have taken part in Pride with the British mission over a number of years.
The survey says that 40% of LGBT+ people have experienced hate crime and that nine in 10 did not report those serious crimes. In Brighton and Hove we have an LGBT safety forum that, as a first stop, does much of the important work of reporting, particularly for trans people. This and other forums across the country have never received statutory funding, which is an absolute disgrace. How does this action plan look to support such community groups, which are often the first line of defence against violence and are often the ones dealing with the mess and picking up the pieces left behind?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I have mentioned the funding that we will make available to support those groups and forums, and we are putting in place the national panel, which will help Whitehall in its policy generation. As well as that practical support, the action plan gives us a good platform as we go into the spending review to really look at what good practice is out there and what we might need to do in future Budgets.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister and to all colleagues who have taken part in this set of exchanges.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answering a question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the Minister for Women and Equalities indicated that same-sex marriage is in her “in-tray.” The normal understanding of a Minister’s in-tray would be that action is about to follow. Given that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have repeatedly said that the issue is a matter for devolution to decide, I hope that at some very early stage, if not now, the Minister for Women and Equalities will return to the Dispatch Box to reconcile that oversight.
The Minister is indicating a desire to say something now, and I think the House is all agog.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am happy to clarify the position for the hon. Gentleman. The issue he refers to is in my in-tray. A huge number of letters are written to me every week on it, so that qualifies it as an issue in my tray. I am not bringing forward any legislation on this matter. On this and other issues that are for Northern Ireland and its people to decide, I have stood at this Dispatch Box and urged Members and Members of the Legislative Assembly to come together to represent the people who want answers to these questions. I also remind him that on equal marriage and on other matters there are private Members’ Bills in this place and the other place to address those concerns. If he wants, as I do, Northern Ireland to resolve these matters one way or the other, we must do everything we can to ensure that those political representatives are able to do that. This House has said that it wishes to resolve this issue and many others if Northern Ireland does not—that is the position. He has my assurance that I will not be bringing forward any measures to address this. The Northern Ireland Office is clearly leading on it, but these matters are in my in-tray because I have to respond to people in Northern Ireland who want action and want to be listened to.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development updated the House earlier this year, she was able to confirm that Daesh has lost control of almost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria. Today, I can tell the House that it is now confined to small pockets on the Iraq-Syria border, where it faces daily attacks from coalition forces on the ground and in the air, including from our own Royal Air Force. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by coalition air power, are continuing their campaign. This involves the clearance of desert areas, securing the Syria-Iraq border and rooting out the remaining several hundred terrorists who are in outposts in the Euphrates valley and surrounding areas. [Interruption.]