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Commons Chamber

Volume 644: debated on Thursday 5 July 2018

House of Commons

Thursday 5 July 2018

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Investment Strategy

The Department is considering evidence about the strategic road network gathered by Highways England and stakeholders over the past two years, alongside responses to the consultation that took place over the winter. The Department will be announcing the decisions about which new enhancements will be included in the second road investment strategy in 2019.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. On the A417 missing link scheme Swindon to Gloucester, can he confirm that it is the Government’s intention that a preferred route will be announced in the first quarter of next year, followed by the development consent order process, followed hopefully by RIS2 funding, and with an intention to commence in the early 2020s to build this much-needed road where there has been a fatality recently?

This road is both dangerous and highly congested. Highways England has been carrying out a consultation on improving the missing link near the Air Balloon pub, as my hon. Friend will know, and I have recently met him and colleagues. Once the responses have been analysed there will be further consultation ahead of the preferred route announcement. We certainly hope there will be a PRA early in 2019.

I am sure the Minister is aware that road links between Sheffield and Manchester are as bad as between any two major cities in Europe, and I invite him to join me to demonstrate that fact, as one of his predecessors did. Will he confirm that even if construction work will not start in the next funding period, at least design work will start on the promised scheme to link the two cities together?

I can make no such confirmation; the hon. Gentleman knows the structure of RIS2, and we will make the announcement in 2019, but I will be delighted to have further conversations with him about the scheme in question.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). The A417 missing link road scheme is important to all Members of Parliament for, and the county of, Gloucestershire, so I welcome what the Minister said and urge him to follow through on his commitments to my hon. Friend, and remind him that we will all be watching and waiting to make sure he follows through on the commitments he has made at the Dispatch Box.

I am always grateful for reminders of the importance of parliamentary accountability, and I take that cue. My right hon. Friend will recall that this is not an inexpensive scheme. We are hoping to bring it to birth, and have given it a very strong commitment and continue to do so, and we are looking for a PRA early in 2019, as I have said.

Haydock island in my constituency is where junction 23 of the M6 meets the East Lancs road and very busy local roads. The system has been reconfigured but still is not working, and my constituents, residents and local businesses are suffering. Will the Minister meet me and local representatives to ensure we can improve it by including it in the next scheme in 2019?

If that scheme has been placed into the RIS2 consultation it will presently be a matter for consultation with officials. I am happy to have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman, but not in any sense that puts the formal process of consultation and deliberation at risk.

Transport Infrastructure

The Government are investing record sums to deliver the transport infrastructure that Britain needs. The Department for Transport’s annual capital spending will more than double over this decade, from £8 billion in 2009-10 to £17 billion in 2019-20. This money will deliver our ambitious five-year investment plan for the rail and strategic road networks, take forward delivery of High Speed 2, and help improve air quality.

First, I am going to use my position to wish all staff in the NHS a very happy 70th birthday.

The Secretary of State makes the classic mistake of thinking infrastructure is just steel and concrete, but the airspace routes above the UK were designed in the ’60s and simply cannot cope with the 2.3 million planes that use them every year. The NATS air traffic centre at Prestwick has invested in the technology to allow more direct planning and shorter routes and to save fuel and reduce noise. When will the Government actually reform the airspace?

I echo the hon. Lady’s comments about the NHS: I am looking forward this afternoon to travelling out with my local ambulance service to see the work of NHS staff, which, as she rightly says, is first rate.

As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, we have already launched the process of airspace reform in this country. We are currently depending on technology that is decades old; it is not now fit for purpose and we need to move to a world that is controlled by state-of-the-art digital technology. That will create the capacity we need, and a rolling programme is planned for the coming years of modernisation of our airspace across the UK.

A second entrance at Putney station would not only ease congestion, but would finally give connectivity with East Putney tube station. This project is supported financially by Wandsworth Council. Can the Secretary of State, following our recent meeting, look carefully at what support his Department can give this scheme so it can finally get the go-ahead?

I regard that scheme as a quick win that could make a real difference to passengers. I have asked my officials to consider it carefully, and I will carry on talking about it with my right hon. Friend. I am sympathetic towards the potential benefits of creating a better interchange between the underground and the mainline railway in her constituency.

The Transport Secretary mentioned technology. Since the Government have devolved funding for speed cameras to local police forces, cameras have been switched off due to policing cuts. Will the Government reconsider that? There have been some severe accidents on the A449 Stafford Road in my constituency, including a fatality, and we need new speed cameras on that route.

I will absolutely take a look at that issue. We try to devolve responsibility for such things, but I will look carefully at that. We should always be mindful of stretches of road where there have been fatalities.

I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for his interest in the Shipley eastern bypass and for coming to visit my constituency to see the route at first hand. Will he update me, the House and my constituents on the progress being made towards finally introducing a bypass?

My officials are currently considering what it would take to move the project forwards, and I have had discussions with the combined authority. The potential route sits alongside a growth area in West Yorkshire, so I am personally taking an interest in the scheme, which is now subject to careful assessment.

In recent weeks we have seen endless delays, cancellations across the north and a report from the Select Committee on Transport that confirmed a bias against northern regions in rail investment decisions, and we now hear reports that the trans-Pennine electrification will be scrapped altogether. Will the Secretary of State now respond properly to the One North campaign and commit to giving Transport for the North the full powers and funding it needs to deliver the necessary changes?

I am afraid that this is a total misnomer. First, the part of the country that will receive the highest Government spending per head on transport over the next five years is the north-west. Spending is higher per head of population across the north than it is in the south. Secondly, as I have already announced, we will start the £3 billion trans-Pennine upgrade next spring, which will substantially rebuild the railway line between Manchester, Leeds and York and deliver much better services to passengers. It is long overdue.

Network Rail plays a key role in delivering rail infrastructure investment projects both north and south of the border. Given that many of the Secretary of State’s colleagues think that Network Rail is too big, that he often gives it a kicking himself and that the Scottish Government have responsibility for the strategic delivery of rail north of the border, will he at last take steps to devolve Network Rail fully to the Scottish Government?

The hon. Gentleman keeps arguing for that, but it was not recommended by the commission that examined what powers the Scottish Government should have. My advice to the Scottish Government is to try to use the powers they have well rather than ask for more.

I urge my right hon. Friend to look favourably upon applications for investment in smaller schemes on de-trunked roads, such as the A350 and the C13 in my constituency. They are vital arteries for growing the economy in Dorset and, indeed, the wider south-west.

De-trunked roads are an important priority for me. We are shaping our plans to introduce the major road network and to start making funds available for things such as bypasses on roads that were de-trunked 20 or 30 years ago and where there is a pressing need for improvement.

Heathrow Expansion: Landing Charges

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of increased landing charges at Heathrow Airport on the financial viability of the proposed expansion of that airport. (906264)

I have been absolutely clear that expansion will be privately financed, and the Government have taken independent expert advice which demonstrated that expansion is capable of being financed without Government support. I have been clear that airport charges must be controlled, which is why I set out in 2016 that expansion should be delivered with airport charges remaining as close as possible to current levels. It is the Civil Aviation Authority’s job to enforce that, and I am certain that it will do so.

The Airports Commission has indicated that landing charges would have to rise by around 70% per passenger, and British Airways has warned that any such increase would make many routes from Heathrow no longer commercially viable. Would that not have significant consequences for regional connections and/or increase ticket prices for passengers?

We have of course been working to ensure that the cost of the original scheme was brought down in order to avoid a 70% rise in landing charges, but I have been clear that the requirement to set aside around 15% of slots for regional connections is non-negotiable and fixed. It will not be possible to change those slots to long-haul destinations because they are an essential part of the reform.

I expect that we will complete plans for airspace modernisation over the coming months. There will be a rolling programme in the early 2020s, and I expect details of that plan to be made clear, probably in 2019.

M65 Extension

4. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of extending the M65 from Colne to Keighley. (906265)

Highways England has gathered evidence about the performance of the strategic road network, and future pressures on it, to inform the decisions we have taken as part of the second road investment strategy. This process of evidence gathering and public consultation has taken into consideration the idea of extending the M65.

The Secretary of State has invested in the idea of a rail link between Liverpool and Hull, connecting the east and west through the central low Pennines. Do the Government accept that a road link would be complementary? It would go through deprived communities and provide a huge economic uplift. Do the Government recognise that this is the great northern powerhouse project?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are already investing £1.5 billion in road systems in the north-west. Of course the M65 is, in a way, a legendary road because it ends in a carpark, and no one thinks that is a satisfactory arrangement. I would welcome a further conversation with him about this, but the situation is far from straightforward.

Will Ministers also look favourably on restoring a rail link between Keighley and Colne by restoring the Skipton to Colne rail link, starting in the Government Chief Whip’s constituency? Will they look carefully at the feasibility study that is under way?

Leaving the EU: Ports

5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the level of transport-related activity at ports of the UK leaving the EU. (906266)

UK ports are adaptive and market-oriented. They are ready to facilitate growth in trade when we leave the EU. Over the medium and longer-term, patterns of maritime and inland traffic may be affected by the trade agreements we reach with the EU and with countries elsewhere. It is too early to predict in detail what those patterns will be, but ports nationwide are prepared for all likely eventualities.

The stunningly picturesque river port of Fowey is a magnet for visitors by both land and sea, but it is also a busy commercial port that ships the world’s finest china clay around the world. How will the Department’s recently published port connectivity study assist small river ports like Fowey?

As we plan infrastructure improvements over the coming years, I want us to look at how we best connect, in the most effective way possible, the ports upon which our country depends, both large and small. Of course, my hon. Friend will be aware that we are already demonstrating our commitment to improving the road network in his area, with the planned completion of the new link road up to the A30.

The Government have moved from saying they want trade with the EU post Brexit to be tariff-free to saying that they want it to be as tariff-free as possible. In which sectors of the economy and industry does the Secretary of State think it will be acceptable for there to be tariffs?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, this is not really a transport matter. Our ports will be ready, and our plans for how we manage our borders will be ready for all eventualities, but I want, I believe and I expect that we will have a sensible agreement with the European Union that avoids the charging of tariffs. That is certainly what the EU wants, and it is what we want.

My Inverclyde constituency has a thriving port at Greenock, with cruise ships and container ships docking on a daily basis. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the systems, including IT systems, that will be required post Brexit are well on their way to completion so that ports such as Greenock will not be adversely affected by the UK leaving the European Union?

The answer is yes but, of course, most of our ports are well used to dealing with traffic from both inside and outside the European Union. Those handling freight move it through extremely quickly and effectively, and they have great expertise in doing so. I am very optimistic that our ports will do a great job in the post-Brexit world.

In his opening remarks the Secretary of State said it is too early to predict the effects on transport at ports. That is ridiculous, considering that we will leave the EU in March 2019. Half of his Cabinet is arguing for a no-deal Brexit, so it is coming at us really fast. We already know it is predicted that an extra two minutes of checks at Dover would result in 30-mile tailbacks, so what is he doing to put in place IT systems and border infrastructure systems that allow joined-up, continued free movement?

The Government and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are doing extensive work for all eventualities. As I have previously said in the House, we do not intend to impose any form of hard border in Dover. It would be logistically impossible to do so, and therefore any flow of customs through Dover in the post-Brexit world will have to be managed in an online, electronic way. It is not possible to create fixed systems at Dover.

Transport Infrastructure

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of operationally efficient transport infrastructure on levels of productivity. (906267)

Transport infrastructure has an important role to play in helping to increase our productivity. That is why we have set out to more than double our capital investment in transport over the decade to 2020, and why it is a central part of our industrial strategy.

Many of my constituents in Chichester and the surrounding area lose hours and hours each week sitting in traffic on the A27. That has a knock-on negative impact on productivity, the local economy and the environment. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that road investment decisions for areas such as Chichester, which are already over capacity, are prioritised in the road infrastructure investments for 2020 to 2025?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been doing a fantastic job of trying to get the A27 project back on track. I am absolutely aware of its importance to her constituency and to the south coast. It is important that the community in Chichester reaches a consensus about the right option, and of course I then want to see the project go ahead.

The Secretary of State knows the effect on productivity in places such as Yorkshire and my constituency. On the 70th anniversary of the NHS, when we wish all those workers a very good day, is it not a fact that many of them are struggling to get to work because of his policies and his lack of sense of direction on transport infrastructure?

Actually it is this Government who are investing in rail and are providing new trains right across the north; who have just opened the last stretch of motorway-grade road between London and Newcastle; who are investing money in smart motorways; and who are putting money into Leeds, to ensure better connectivity there, and into towns and cities around the north. I wish Opposition Members would start to talk up the north and the improvements that are happening, rather than talking it down and pretending nothing is happening.

I have a wonderful piece of transport infrastructure in my constituency called Blackpool airport. Will the Secretary of State tell me what steps will be taken to ensure that with a third runway at Heathrow, we will see improved connectivity to my part of the north-west?

This is why I am committed to saying that the 15% of slots set aside for regional connections are set in stone. We are not going to see those suddenly disappear from 15% to 10% to 5%, with routes diverted elsewhere. The expansion of Heathrow is a really important part of delivering improvements right around the United Kingdom, and I am committed to making sure that happens.[Official Report, 12 July 2018, Vol. 644, c. 8MC.]

This summer, my constituents who commute by rail have had to put with up with delays, cancellations and ineffective bus services as a result of work on the great western main line, and we now learn that equipment is rusting in the Severn tunnel. Although the infrastructure investment is welcome, will the Minister ensure that this is not an excuse for train operating companies to provide a reduced quality service? Will he also ensure that there is no more disruption than there needs to be?

This is one of the great conundrums. We are spending money around the country and it is impossible to deliver investment without some disruption. I absolutely would not accept a train company using that as an opportunity to do things that are not right for passengers, but we have to accept that if we are going to modernise different parts of our road and rail infrastructure, some disruptive consequences are inevitable, however much we might wish that was not the case.

E10 Fuel

8. What representations he has received on the introduction of provisions relating to E10 fuel since the consultation on the alternative fuels infrastructure directive. (906270)

The Department absolutely recognises, as the Government do, the importance of clean air, and established a working group with the fuel industry and others in November 2017 to look at issues relating to the potential introduction of E10 fuel. This group has also considered the new fuel labelling requirements introduced by the alternative fuels infrastructure directive. We intend to consult on proposals later this year and, in some cases, potentially very soon.

The forthcoming mandatory changes to pump labelling are the perfect opportunity to consider introducing E10. Will the Minister confirm that there will be a question in that consultation that allows people to respond on introducing E10 in the future?

I can certainly confirm that we will be consulting shortly on E10 and that we are looking closely at the issue of fuel labelling, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has to be addressed relatively quickly.

Does the Minister accept that what is really needed is an overall, measured, strategic approach to the propulsion mix for vehicles? That will rightly include E10, but it will also include diesel. What has been so damaging to that industry has been the Government’s war on diesel, which has been hugely damaging to our automotive sector, as well as our engine manufacturing.

I can only salute the right hon. Gentleman’s expertise in crowbarring a question about diesel into exchanges about E10. We are taking a strategic approach. We introduced changes to the renewable transport fuel obligation earlier this year. We have changed the status of the crop cap. We are pushing for the increased use of waste-based biofuels, and we are supporting the introduction of higher-performance fuels in other sectors of the transport world.

The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) did mention diesel, which is a fuel, so I am not sure that a crowbar was altogether required. It is a matter of terminological preference, I think.

A12: Gallows Corner Roundabout

9. If he will take steps to ensure the improvement of safety at the Gallows Corner roundabout on the A12. (906271)

As my hon. Friend will know, the A12 in London is managed by Transport for London as part of its route network. The Department for Transport consultation on proposals for the creation of a major road network was launched in December and included an indicative network of the expected future major roads. That included the A12 and A127 at Gallows Corner. We aim to publish a consultation response this summer. The roads forming the final major roads network will be confirmed by the end of 2018.

The Minister will be aware that the Gallows Corner flyover at the A127-A12 junction is a very congested accident hotspot. The hopelessly inadequate response from TfL and the Mayor of London should be dealt with by the national Government. Will money from the national highways budget be used so that the Government can step in to help us to resolve this ongoing problem?

My hon. Friend has regularly and properly raised this issue. It is a matter for TfL, but I am happy to have a further conversation with him about how we can look into it.

Road Congestion

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are in the middle of a £23 billion programme of investment to upgrade our strategic road network. We are also investing money in pinch points, with an additional £220 million going to tackle them last year. Throughout the country, that money is being used for smaller local projects such as junction improvements that can really make a difference to traffic flows.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some councils cause avoidable congestion themselves by the use of unnecessary and poorly-phased traffic lights? Will he encourage local authorities to audit their traffic-light usage to see whether some can be switched off? Will he also encourage the greater use of traffic-sensitive traffic lights?

I agree with both those points. Traffic lights play an important part in the management of traffic flows, but if they are synchronised in the wrong way or used in the wrong way, they can make things worse, rather than better. I absolutely join my right hon. Friend in sending to councils the message that they should keep traffic-light usage under constant review.

The chaos on Northern rail is apparent, but even had there not been the timetabling problems, the Northern rail and trans-Pennine franchises were let on a no-growth basis. Does the Secretary of State now realise that it was a mistake to let rail franchises on a no-growth basis and that it led to road congestion?

That was an extraordinarily interesting question, but we were supposed to be talking about road congestion.

Oh, did you? I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I heard a reference to rail electrification.

It is simply not true that the Northern franchise was let on a no-growth basis, although it was under the Labour party when it was in power. One reason why we have had the timetable problems, apart from the delay to the electrification—the investment that we are putting into the railway line from Manchester to Blackpool—is that we were in May introducing hundreds of new services, additional services and longer trains throughout the Northern rail region. That is hardly a zero-growth franchise.

One thing is clear to me: if the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) encounters road congestion, his antidote to it is to pursue what might be called an indirect route.

One thing that would reduce road congestion is, of course, getting people out of their cars and on to their bikes. We very much welcome the upgrade of the A358 in Taunton, but does the Secretary of State agree that whatever route is chosen by Highways England, the provision of adequate cycling infrastructure should very much be part of upgrades?

I always hope that when a new road is put in place, provision will be made for other users—cyclists and pedestrians—alongside that road, particularly in respect of a major road like the A358. That new road will of course mean that there is substantial additional capacity on the old road, which will become much less congested, but I am sure that Highways England will be looking carefully into how it can make provision for all road users.

The A38 from Exeter to Plymouth closes too often owing to accidents and congestion. Will the Secretary of State look favourably on funding bids from Plymouth City Council and Tory-run Devon County Council to upgrade this road, address accident blackspots and start the much needed process of extending the M5 from Exeter to Plymouth?

I am obviously aware of the pressures on the A38 and, indeed, of the pressures on roads north and west from Plymouth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) who, last week, made a very strong argument to me when I visited Cornwall for improvements to the west of Plymouth. That is something that we are looking at very carefully.

Rail Disruption: Passenger Compensation

11. What steps he is taking to ensure the provision of compensation to passengers affected by recent rail disruption. (906273)

Recent disruption on the rail service has been unacceptable and the Government have been clear that passengers will be appropriately compensated. Transport for the North has agreed that the special compensation should cover weekly, monthly and annual season ticket holders on the worst affected northern routes who experienced severe disruption before and after the May timetable change.

Well, that all sounds very good in principle, but owing to weeks of chaos, cancellations and delays, my constituent, Alex Hodgson, has had to use a significant proportion of his annual leave. He is still being passed between departments at TransPennine Express and has now been offered the equivalent of £1 a day compensation. Despite assurances from the Secretary of State, he and other constituents feel let down and ignored. What will the Minister do about it?

Transport for the North has set out high-level details of the scheme, which will enable passengers who have season tickets to be compensated for up to one month’s cash compensation where they have suffered severe disruption. That is in addition to the normal compensation schemes available to passengers through the delay repay mechanism.

Passengers are experiencing significant delays travelling from west to east on TransPennine Express services, owing to cancellations and other delays. Will the Minister do everything that he can to persuade TransPennine Express to improve these services and to offer proper compensation? Season ticket holders in Yorkshire are getting one week’s compensation, whereas those in the north-west are getting one month’s compensation. That does not seem fair.

Transport for the North has determined that passengers on the most severely affected routes, principally on Northern services, will get four weeks’ cash compensation, as my hon. Friend rightly said, and those on the less severely affected routes, which happen to be in Yorkshire, will receive one week’s cash compensation. That is a matter for Transport for the North.

The National Audit Office revealed that the Minister’s Department has allowed Govia Thameslink Railway to buy out its liabilities for poor performance through to September 2018. The Public Accounts Committee has concluded that the threat to strip GTR of its franchise is not a credible one. What can he do to protect passengers from a continuation of the current appalling performance if the 15 July interim timetable fails to bring stability?

Rail operating companies will be held responsible for that portion of performance for which they are responsible and accountable, and that is now under way. The Secretary of State has set in train a hard review of GTR, and at the end of that hard review, all appropriate options will be on the table and available to the Secretary of State and to the whole Government.

It was a Labour Government who established the NHS, and today we thank all who have served in it since.

Following the Secretary of State’s statement on the timetable chaos to the House on 4 June, he said in his response to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that, with regard to compensation, the train operating companies

“will have to meet the cost of that.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 59.]

That is so untrue. It is Network Rail that will be funding the compensation. Last year alone, it paid out £482 million through schedules 4 and 8. Does the Minister agree that, while the operating companies write the cheques, it is the state that pays?

The Secretary of State has always been clear that we will review where responsibility lies, and the rail industry will be responsible for undertaking that appropriate compensation to make sure that passengers have the right redress. As Members will be aware, the rail industry is partly in public control through Network Rail and partly run by private operators. Each will pay its fair share.

Astonishing. Network Rail paying compensation means that this is coming from the public, so, in effect, passengers will be funding their own compensation for delayed and cancelled trains, for missing exams, for being sacked from their jobs or for lost business revenue—passengers paying their own compensation. How much has the Minister budgeted for to pay compensation for the Secretary of State’s decision to press ahead with this rail timetable chaos, or will he instead cut more Network Rail projects to pay for it?

As I have already said, the compensation involves four weeks’ cash compensation for passengers on the most severely disrupted routes on Northern services and one week’s compensation further afield in Yorkshire. Similarly, GTR announced yesterday a comparable package of special compensation for passengers on the most affected Thameslink and Great Northern routes.

Rail Services: Congleton

As part of the improvements to Northern Rail services, there are more frequent, hourly Sunday stopping services from Stoke to Manchester via Macclesfield. Congleton station will benefit from full waiting room refurbishment, new seating, customer information systems, new and improved signage and new ticket vending machines.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply—and all that in the north. It is encouraging that, after years of local campaigning by my constituents, a strategic outline business case has been developed for enhancing the mid-Cheshire rail line, including reopening Middlewich railway station in that growing town. What assurance can the Secretary of State give me that funding is available for this vital development work?

There are two routes in the north that I feel particularly keen to look at seriously reopening. One is the line from Skipton to Colne. The other is the line that passes through Middlewich in my hon. Friend’s constituency that, in my view, should be a commuter railway into Manchester. Transport for the North has been working on the options, and I am committed to ensuring that we take that work forward.

Passenger Rail Usage

With two decades of almost unbroken growth, we have seen rail passenger journeys more than double since the mid-1990s. For the first time since 2009-10, statistics from the Office of Rail and Road show a small decline in rail journeys over the past year, although passenger kilometres have continued to increase.

Rail passenger usage is falling. Is it any wonder that my constituents in Cardiff Central are giving up on using the trains, when a standard return rail ticket to London for a morning meeting costs £235? With that money, they could fly from our Welsh Labour Government-owned Cardiff airport to Barcelona and back three times and still have change for a taxi home.

The Government are conscious of the cost of fares to the travelling public. For that reason, we have ensured that fares have risen at a lower rate than they did under the last Labour Government. The causes of the decline in season ticket numbers are complex. Although the statistics show a fall in journeys made using season tickets, there has been an increase in journeys made using other ticket types over the past year. Factors such as strikes, station closures and weather have had an impact on season ticket use.

After years of campaigning, my constituents in Neston were delighted when they heard that the new Borderlands franchise would include a half-hourly service on the Wrexham to Bidston line. However, that joy was tempered somewhat with the news that the new service might not stop at every station. Given that a frequent and reliable service is vital for the residents of Neston, will the Minister join me in writing to his Welsh counterpart to impress on him the need for this service to stop at every station?

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he engage the Welsh Government in Wales, who have primary responsibility for specifications to that service.

Given growing demand for rail travel from Kettering, will the Rail Minister ensure that there is more capacity on local train services under the new midland main line franchise?

I would be delighted to engage with my hon. Friend on that question. We are investing substantially in midlands services and ensuring that new trains provide extra capacity and reduced journey times.

The most recent assessment must be that passenger rail usage is down, because people cannot get into London today. Can the Minister tell us why that is?

Yes, I can tell my right hon. Friend why that is. There has been a major signalling outage on the Brighton main line service, which has affected services throughout the network. Although this is the responsibility of Network Rail, the situation has affected services substantially on the Brighton main line. That is why we are investing £300 million in this route, with work starting in the coming months.

The concept of a signalling outage was previously unknown to me, but I suppose that it merely reinforces one in the knowledge that one learns something new every day.

May I take this opportunity to convey my very best wishes to the NHS—the greatest social achievement in British history—and also to convey my best wishes and a happy birthday to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell)?

Quite clearly from yesterday’s PMQs, the Prime Minister is clueless about the sharp decline in bus ridership that her Government have presided over. I hope that the Secretary of State has a better analysis of the collapse in rail passenger usage—although I am not holding my breath. Can he explain last month’s figures from the Office of Rail and Road that show the biggest fall in passenger journeys since privatisation? Is he not alarmed that there were 2 million fewer journeys on GTR year on year and millions fewer journeys on South Western Railway?

As I said, the decline in passenger journeys is a relatively recent phenomenon. Passenger kilometres continue to grow. It is difficult to determine exactly why we have this decline in season tickets, but we believe that it is due to factors such as strikes and recent station closures. In areas outside of London where there have not been those factors, we have not seen similar declines in passenger journeys.

Poor, very poor. The fact that the Minister is not more alarmed by this sorry state of affairs will be of great concern to millions of long-suffering passengers. It has never been clearer that there is something very seriously wrong with the railways on his watch, with franchising failure, timetabling chaos, broken promises on investment and people shifting from rail to road. He says that he does not run the trains—which is self-evident, by the way—but, for goodness’ sake, does he not realise that he has to step in and get a grip before our great railway hits the buffers?

Labour’s policies of nationalisation would be no panacea for the challenges we face. Indeed, those challenges spring to a very large extent from the publicly owned parts of the rail industry—namely, Network Rail, the part that is in state control. We see passenger interests as best served by bringing together in partnership the very best of the public and private sectors, as the Secretary of State set out in his strategic vision for rail last November.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Northern powerhouse rail would transform rail journeys for passengers in Liverpool, with journey times to Manchester cut to 20 minutes, but it simply cannot happen without the electrification of the trans-Pennine line. So instead of playing party politics with the numbers, does the Minister not realise that his Government will be judged on the major infrastructure projects that they complete?

We are just completing the £1 billion investment in the great north rail project, which included significant electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester route. We are now about to embark on the next control period for rail, in which we will spend £2.9 billion on the trans-Pennine route upgrade. This is the single largest enhancement programme across the entire country, representing a third of all such spending.

Rail Network: Devon and Cornwall

14. If he will make an assessment of the role of the rail network in Devon and Cornwall in supporting the economy of the south-west. (906276)

The rail network plays a vital part in supporting our economy across the country, including in Devon and Cornwall. That is why we are investing more than £400 million in the rail network in the south-west. This includes a fleet of brand-new trains for services to Devon and Cornwall.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware from our recent discussions that there is real disquiet in Devon and Cornwall about the references to it in recent consultation about the future of the CrossCountry franchise. Can he reassure me that there is no intention of ending vital direct services from key locations such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol to the heart of south Devon’s English riviera?

As I said to my hon. Friend when we discussed this issue a few days ago, the south-west is a vital part of our rail network. I am looking forward to discussing these issues with him further, as well as with the Peninsula Rail Task Force, which I hope to meet next week when I am in Cornwall discussing rail issues. The CrossCountry franchise offers passengers the ability to travel to Birmingham and on to the north-east and Scotland, or they can change at stations en route to connect on to trains that take them to other parts of the country.

The Minister just mentioned the Peninsula Rail Task Force. In the Government’s response to the recommendations in February, they said:

“we will look at improving connectivity between the Peninsula, Bristol and beyond”.

However, as we have just heard, that does not sound like it is happening, particularly with the CrossCountry franchise. Can the Minister explain what is meant by “improving connectivity”?

No decisions have been taken on any options for the next franchise. This consultation is a way for us to gather the views of the travelling public and of Members of the House, so that we have the best-informed choice of possible options when we take those decisions.

A19: Collisions

15. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of collisions on the A19 in the North East. (906279)

On a point of information, the NHS was brought into policy by William Beveridge, a Liberal, and it was framed in law in a White Paper by Sir Henry Willink, a Conservative. It is therefore—[Interruption.] It ill becomes the Labour party on the 70th birthday to make a party political issue of the national health service.

Order. I indulged the Minister, who is an historian and a philosopher, and these are matters of argument. If I may say so, Mr McDonald, you are almost unfailingly a good-natured person. You are, in addition, one of the most excitable denizens of the House. I do not know whether you rejoice in that status or regard it as an accolade, but there it is.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I think I can calm the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) by giving my answer to the question asked.

Highways England’s 2017 regional safety report assessed the safety performance of all the routes in the Yorkshire and north-east region, including the A19. The A19 is performing well compared with other routes of its type, but Highways England is not complacent, and a number of further studies and safety improvement schemes are planned.

Happy 70th anniversary to the NHS—an institution that was opposed every step of the way by the Tories when the Labour party brought it in. Can I bring the Minister’s attention to the “Safe A19” campaign run by my local newspapers, the Shields Gazette and the Sunderland Echo, and supported by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris)? It is of no surprise to anybody that the number of incidents and accidents on that road is linked to the fact that roads in the north get half the amount of investment as roads in the south-east. What is the Minister doing to protect the people of the north-east?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we take all issues of safety very seriously, and the same is true in the case of the A19. I have visited the A19 and seen schemes at work. We have further work planned on it, always with safety in mind.

The hon. Gentleman should ask his Question 17. [Interruption.] I could have linked it, I suppose, but I did not.

Transport Expenditure: London and the North-east

17. If he will take steps to close the gap in transport expenditure per capita between London and the north-east. (906281)

The Government are committed to investing in infrastructure to support regional growth, and that is why we are addressing under-investment in the north with the biggest investment programme for a generation. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s analysis shows that between 2018 and 2021, central Government transport spend per head is in fact highest in the north-west.

The Transport Select Committee has found that a disproportionate amount of transport funding is being spent in the capital, at the expense of the regions. What steps will the Minister take to close the gap and to specifically address issues highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), including the “Safe A19” campaign, the Seaton Lane A19 junction improvement and ensuring that east Durham gets a rail halt at Horden?

The Government are investing substantial sums in the north—£13 billion in the five years to 2020—and in the next control period for rail, we will invest £2.9 billion on the trans-Pennine upgrade alone. The hon. Gentleman, I am afraid, is factually wrong to say that Government investment per head in London and the south exceeds that of similar investment in the north. IPA analysis shows that for the three years to 2021, the north will receive £1,039 per head, which is £10 more than similar figures for the south of England.[Official Report, 9 July 2018, Vol. 644, c. 4MC.]

Oxford to Cambridge Expressway

We expect to make a decision on the preferred corridor for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway this summer. There then has to be further work on the detailed route within that corridor.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Given that any of these routes will have an enormous impact on both communities and the environment, does he not share my concern that the public have not been consulted at all?

No roads can be built without public consultation. We are working out in broad measure which route a corridor might follow, so that we can then do detailed consultation with the public.

Bus Routes: England and Wales

19. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of bus routes in England and Wales. (906283)

Whether for commuting to work or seeing friends and family, buses play an important role in keeping communities connected, with 4.4 billion passenger journeys a year. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of live local bus services registered increased by 14% in England and by 6% in Wales.

My constituents have had to face a 480% rise in the cost of their children’s bus passes in the past five years. The No. 14 bus connecting Canterbury to rural east Kent villages was cut in September, and replaced by only a twice-daily bus service. This is just one of the cuts proposed by Kent County Council. What steps is the Minister taking to protect much needed rural bus routes from being cut by cash-strapped local authorities?

Local authorities receive a substantial amount of money from central Government to support bus services. The Government paid out some £250 million last year to support bus services in England. Kent County Council receives over £1 million per year, and Canterbury City Council receives over £83,000 per year. The hon. Lady mentioned bus fares. They rose almost three times faster every year under Labour than under the Conservatives, with local bus fares across Great Britain rising by an average of 1.9% each year in real terms. Bus fares go up under Labour.

The hon. Gentleman from the Opposition Front Bench needs to be very brief, because time is against us, but we are happy to hear from the fella.

May I, too, wish the NHS a very happy birthday?

Nearly 500 bus routes have been cut every year under this Government, snatching away a lifeline from elderly, disabled and young people, as well as from rural communities, yet the Government seem unaware of the impact of these cuts. I have to say that the Prime Minster floundered yesterday, and sought to blame local authorities. Does the Minister share that view, or does she accept the undeniable truth that her Government have totally mismanaged bus provision in this country?

Bus passes for the most vulnerable, older and disabled people are being supported by this Government with £1 billion, enabling 10 million people up and down this country to travel for free. As you may be aware, Mr Speaker, this is Catch the Bus Week, so the hon. Gentleman could have said something about bus services to encourage people to jump on the bus. There are good case studies up and down the country. In Liverpool, for example, young people are taking buses 142% more than they did in the previous three years. In Bristol, bus patronage has gone up by 42%, and in South Gloucestershire by 38%. There are good case histories of places up and down this country where bus patronage is going up.

I appreciate the fact that the hon. Lady has mentioned Catch the Bus Week. Rural communities have been hit particularly hard by the crisis in our bus services. Interestingly, we have visited Northamptonshire—bankrupt Tory Northamptonshire, I should say—which has one of the worst track records for cutting services. What would the Minister say to the resident I met yesterday, who told me there is no bus to take her child to school and that an older daughter has been unable to take up her preferred job option because there is no bus service?

Bus service provision is the responsibility of local authorities. About £800 million of funding is made available for concessionary bus fares, and £40 million is given directly to local authorities to support journeys that might not otherwise be profitable. As I mentioned earlier, there are local authorities working hand in hand with bus companies to make sure services are viable and attractive. May I just mention one? In Brighton and Hove, bus patronage has gone up by 22% since 2009-10.

The Minister is a treasure trove of previously unearthed information, for which we are extremely grateful.

Topical Questions

May I take this opportunity to thank Members on both sides of the House for the support they gave last week to the vote on the expansion of Heathrow airport? I think that sent a powerful message about the future of our country. The support came from the Government side of the House, the Opposition, the parties in Northern Ireland and Scottish Conservatives, and it was a resounding vote for the country’s future.

Although Greater Anglia and the Government both say that they want 15 minutes to be the trigger period for passenger compensation, travellers from Ipswich are still unable to claim any compensation until their trains are more than 30 minutes late. Given the number of failed trains, failing overhead wires, failing rails, failing points and failing signals, when will the Secretary of State rectify this anomaly and ensure that my constituents can claim the compensation that is readily available to passengers in the rest of the country?

The move across the country to repayment after a 15-minute delay is being phased in with new franchises that will start over the coming years. I say to passengers in East Anglia that every single train there is being replaced with a brand new one. That will improve performance, stop the blight of broken down old trains, and mean a much better travelling experience.

T4. As I have said to Ministers previously, urgent repair works are required on the North bridge at Oundle to avoid a weight limit being introduced that would badly affect those who use the bus services, businesses, and the community more generally. What Government support is available to get such work done urgently, particularly in exceptional financial circumstances such as those currently faced by Northamptonshire? (906291)

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner on this issue, and I absolutely recognise his point. This is, in law, a matter for local government. We have provided them with some funding, and I would be delighted to have a further conversation with my hon. Friend about other ways in which we could consider the situation.

T3. In a deregulated bus system, local authorities have no control over routes and fares, and the amount of money for tendered services is being cut by 45%. How can the Prime Minister justify her statement that local authorities should be improving bus services? Will the Secretary of State give the Prime Minister a lesson in how the bus service system works? (906289)

What I will do is give a lesson to Labour Mayors about the reforms that we put in place in the last Parliament, which gave them franchising powers. The hon. Gentleman might like to ask the Mayor of Greater Manchester why his promise on bus franchising is years away from happening—the last estimate I heard was that it might just about be completed by 2023, which is way after his first term of office, and way after he made that commitment.

T9. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have no intention of allowing direct flights between the United Kingdom and the northern part of Cyprus? (906296)

Let me be clear: all Members of the House would like to see a long-term solution to the issues on the island of Cyprus. This country will continue to work with our friends in Cyprus to try to achieve that goal, but our policies on flights have not changed.

T5. The east coast franchise is now run with the part publicly-owned London North Eastern Railway, and it is a major transport operation in Scotland. Despite that, the UK Government have not allowed any Scottish Government representation on the board. Will the Secretary of State rethink that, and commit to ensuring that the Scottish Government are represented on that vital piece of infrastructure? (906292)

The London North Eastern Railway started operations on 24 June. We are in the process of establishing the east coast partnership board, and we will ensure independent representation on that board. We are in consultation with stakeholders across the length and breadth of the line to ensure that their views are taken into account in the management of that new operation.

In Redditch there are only two electric vehicle charging points, but nearby Coventry has 25. Redditchians are just as keen as Coventrians to take advantage of electric cars. What are the Government doing to help them?

My hon. Friend is right to focus on charging points. We have a large charging point network, and we are rapidly expanding it. As she knows, we have just announced a local charging infrastructure fund of £400 million. A lot of work is being done with local authorities, and I encourage her to work with us to develop further charging points in her area.

T6. Today’s Financial Times carries a warning from the British Retail Consortium about the fear of food rotting at ports as a result of a no-deal Brexit. What is the Secretary of State doing about that, and how will he ensure that our ports are not left in chaos? (906293)

As I keep saying clearly, we do not intend to put in place measures that would create long incoming queues at our ports. Our ports successfully support inward trade from around the world, and in the post-Brexit world we have no intention of changing that.

Thank you. May I first welcome today’s announcement of an HS2 depot in Leeds, which is welcome news for the northern powerhouse? The A59 at Kex Gill is an important trans-Pennine route, and its closure is impacting on residents and businesses in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss what support the Government can provide to North Yorkshire County Council to carry out works on that site, including its potential re-routing?

I say gently to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) that one of his most endearing qualities is his gentleness and modesty. However, he should not be quite so modest—he is, after all, a distinguished former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for buses, and that was a motivational factor in my calling him to ask a supplementary at Transport questions.

I, too, share my hon. Friend’s delight at the news about the HS2 depot. I would be delighted to meet my distinguished former colleague.

T7. Can the Secretary of State explain how the decision to award the Wales & Borders franchise is made solely by the Welsh Government? This is a main commuter route for my constituents into Manchester and Warrington, but we have no say over it. Is it not ludicrous that decisions about English rail passenger services are being made exclusively in Wales? (906294)

We have taken care—this is a genuine issue—to ensure that the Welsh Government, while they control the letting of the franchise, do not have the power to degrade services within England. That is very important. The Department holds clear responsibilities for making sure the Welsh do not take decisions that adversely affect the English.

Heathrow flights are capped at 480,000 flights a year. That was set as a condition of the 2001 terminal 5 planning consent. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are no plans to override the existing cap for existing runways?

T8. Many of my constituents have had to endure a consistently poor and wholly unacceptable train service from GTR-Great Northern since the new timetable was introduced on 20 May. Does the Minister agree that the time has come to end the franchise for GTR-Great Northern and allow the Mayor of London to take over the running of the service, so that my constituents can get into London to work, study and get on with their lives without travelling being such an ordeal? (906295)

The service on GTR’s Thameslink services has indeed been unacceptable. A hard review is under way, which will give the Secretary of State all options when it concludes. With respect to the size of that franchise, the Secretary of State has also indicated that he is open to breaking it up once the Thameslink programme is in place and when that franchise comes to an end in 2021. He has had discussions with the Mayor of London about some services moving to Transport for London.

We are approaching the summer and traffic will be driving down the M20. I am sure that you, like me, Mr Speaker, will wish to have a speedy exit towards the coast. Will the Minister explain what he is doing on the smart motorways programme on the M20 to ensure not just that it works but that communities are protected from noise?

I am very glad my hon. Friend mentions noise, because that is a topic of great interest to us. We are actively exploring whether we can bring to local concerns about noise-capturing the same kind of concerns we are bringing to the structure of the highway.

Delays, non-accessible platforms, cancelled trains, failed investment—would the Secretary of State like me to add broken promises of electrification to the list of issues with the trans-Pennine route for my constituents?

We have already modernised the line from Liverpool to Manchester and we are about to start a £3 billion modernisation of the railway line from Manchester to Leeds to York, so I make no apology to the people of the north for the fact that we are spending £3 billion on upgrading their railway line when the Labour party, when it was in office, did absolutely nothing.

As we reach the halfway point through the Year of Engineering, will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all those who have joined the campaign so far and encourage those who have yet to get on board to join up and make 2018 the success I know it can be?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, especially as he is the ambassador for the Year of Engineering. We are working with 1,400 companies up and down the country to create 1 million interactions to encourage young people to take STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and become engineers of the future.

There are some excellent new businesses housed in railway arches on the Gateshead side of the High Level bridge, such as Block and Bottle, Arch Sixteen Café and the Station East Public House, but Network Rail is about to sell off the leasehold for 5,500 arches around the country. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the representatives group, Guardians of the Arches, to discuss proposals that will not ramp up rents for these new businesses and businesses around the country?

Network Rail is in the process of managing its estate to ensure it contributes towards housing and commercial development where that is sensible. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and the campaign group he mentions.

Will the Minister update the House on what her Department is doing to investigate the use of distributed ledger technology, such as blockchain, in the maritime sector?

My hon. Friend, as you may be aware, Mr Speaker, is an intellect in blockchain, having published a report yesterday on unlocking blockchain. My officials explore new technologies such as blockchain, which may help to improve maritime trade. We have recently contributed to “Are You Decentralised Yet?”, a paper for the Transport Systems Catapult, analysing blockchain technologies and how they can benefit maritime.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Transport said that he would be meeting the people from Newton in Bolsover regarding HS2 and the alternative to knocking down 30 houses. Will he repeat that at the Dispatch Box, in view of the altercation that took place at the last Transport questions? We do not want another broken promise, do we?

I am not quite sure exactly what meeting the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Meetings take place between HS2 and the community engagement officers up and down the route. I believe that a meeting is already taking place, but this gives me an opportunity to remind Members from across the House of the importance of HS2, as well as the 100,000 jobs that it brings with it and that it connects eight of our 10 great cities.

Earlier this year, a joint feasibility study conducted by South Gloucestershire Council and Highways England into a new M4 junction 18A recommended a western option at Emersons Green be adopted rather than an ill-thought-out eastern option that would cut through green-belt land. For the sake of local residents, will the Secretary of State now rule out this eastern option, which nobody supports and which now needs to be erased entirely?

As my hon. Friend will know, this topic is under active consideration and consultation at the moment.

It certainly will be, Mr Speaker. Accessibility on bus routes is important for disabled people; in particular, what has been done to help wheelchair users to access buses?

That very important question enables me to remind the sector and bus drivers that wheelchair spaces on buses are first and foremost for the use of wheelchair users, and other passengers must respect that.

On the NHS’s 70th birthday, can I give you the present of a spare badge, Mr Speaker? It is for the NHS, to which my family have dedicated their entire working life.

On the subject of trains, will my right hon. Friend look at extending the delay-repay system to cover the circumstances when our very popular trains are so crowded that people cannot actually get on to them, just until our new trains arrive with the extra seats?

We do hold train operating companies to account for capacity in our monthly review of how they are performing under the terms of their franchise agreement, and remedial plans are put in place to address overcrowding when that is found to exist.

I have written to the Secretary of State about my constituent who had no access to a toilet on a bus replacement service or at any of the stops along the route between Salford and Preston. She is a pregnant woman, and she was forced to wet herself and then sit on the floor of the train from Preston to Glasgow because it was overcrowded and delayed. Does the Secretary of State believe that she should be compensated for that indignity?

The inclusive transport strategy, which is due to be published, will look at issues around accessibility and toilets, especially looking at changing rooms and how we can make that information more available at the appropriate time when toilets are not functioning.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. Now that Kettering Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council have resolved their differences over how a new decriminalised parking system might operate, will the roads Minister issue the order to enable this to happen?

Oh very well, it is always good to encourage a new young Member at the start of his parliamentary career. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

The Secretary of State knows very well that millions of our people are being poisoned by the filthy emissions from buses, trucks and cars. When is he going to do something about it?

Before I respond to that question, I just say to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that I had been under the impression that the meeting was already organised. If that is not the case, I will make sure that it is.

On clean transport, this is a central part of the Government’s strategy. It is why we are spending money on supporting low-emission bus vehicles and on encouraging people to buy low-emission vehicles. When we publish our Road to Zero strategy shortly, we will be setting out more of our plans to create a greener vehicle fleet on our roads.

Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) to put his urgent question, I should remind the House—I hope it is a question of reminding the House of something of which it is already conscious—that we have very considerable pressure on the parliamentary timetable today. There is of course the business question, and there are two ministerial statements, but I have also to have regard to the level of interest in the debate on proxy voting. This urgent question will therefore not run for longer than 20 minutes. The Front Benchers must stick to time; otherwise, I am afraid they will have to be sat down. After the expiry of that 20 minutes, that’s it—we will move on to the next business.

Universal Credit

(Urgent Question): Will the Secretary of State please use this opportunity to apologise for the three instances where she has dissembled on the National Audit Office report on universal credit?

Order. That is rather naughty of the right hon. Gentleman. I will say that it was an innocent error, but he is an immensely experienced Member of this House whom we all treat with great respect. The proper form in these cases is simply to read out the urgent question that is listed, not to invest the question with a degree of rhetorical licence. Anyway, I think it was probably innocent.

I had information that the question was on the letter that I received yesterday, so that is obviously where we will be going: the letter that I received yesterday. Opening the letter was a comment about a meeting that the Comptroller and Auditor General had asked to have with me. He had written to me on 27 June. Our Department got back at the end of the week and that meeting will be on Monday. There was possibly an inference from that that I had not accepted a meeting or that there was not going to be one. That was not the case, and it is diarised for Monday.

The next bit was about the information we had received, and accurate up-to-date information being shared with the Department. We agreed that information had been shared up to 6 June, but when we signed off the factual information contained within the report, we raised concerns about the context and conclusions drawn from that information and where we went from there.

That goes on to the impact of the recent changes. We looked at the impact of the changes we brought through: waiting days being abolished on 14 February, the housing benefit run-on on 11 April, and advance payments on 3 January. As I said in my apology yesterday, the impact of those changes is still being felt and the definition therefore cannot be that it has been fully taken into account by the NAO. They also talked about slowing down the process, which we always agreed with. This is about the test and learn process, and we will learn as we go along. That is what we agree with, too. The Comptroller and Auditor General also said in his letter:

“I’m also afraid that your statement in response to my report claiming Universal Credit is working had not been proven.”

That is where we differ on the conclusions. While the NAO had the same factual information either way, we came to very different conclusions because the impact of the changes we brought in at the end of that period is still being felt.

So that is where I would like to leave it—[Interruption.]