House of Commons
Thursday 14 February 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
With permission, I will answer this question together with Question 16.
A total of 7,800 new carriages have been ordered since 2010. More than 3,000 have been delivered, with more than 4,700 due by the end of 2022. Those trains will help to transform the passenger experience, offering greater capacity, more pleasant carriages, air-conditioning, and wi-fi, and they will enable operators to remove old and unpopular rolling stock from service.
Middlewich is a growing town, with jobs being created and a positive future. The people of Middlewich appreciate the Government’s recognition of that, with almost £50 million of funding being provided for a new bypass, but their aspiration does not stop there, and rail connectivity is poor. What support can the Government give on that?
My hon. Friend has campaigned continually over many years for the reopening of Middlewich railway station, and I know that she has very strong support within the town for this. I know as well that it is a top priority now that the Middlewich bypass has been delivered. We welcome the work being undertaken by the Cheshire and Warrington local economic partnership, including the proposals to reopen the freight line through Middlewich, in Cheshire, for passenger services and to reopen Middlewich station. Findings are due at the end of this month, and I look forward to hearing the recommendations from that work.
I call Tom Tugendhat. Not here—where is the fella? I hope that he is not indisposed, as he is the Chair of a very important Committee of the House. Perhaps he is preoccupied elsewhere; I know not. What I do know is that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is here. I call Mr David Davis.
The Minister will be aware that he could replace and upgrade every piece of rolling stock in the country for less than half the price of High Speed 2. Why do we not just cancel this white elephant and give the public something that they want?
If we believed Ministers’ promises back in 2012, passengers on the midland main line would be travelling on new electric trains this year. Instead, they are on old British Rail stock, the toilets empty straight onto the track, and they have to lean out of the window to open the door when the train arrives in the station. That is not great for anyone, and it is certainly not disabled friendly. The Government’s inclusive transport strategy, published last year, does not contain any commitment that all rolling stock on the rail network will meet the accessibility deadline of 1 January 2020—a deadline that this industry has known about for 20 years. The strategy does give that commitment for buses and coaches; why not rail?
We are making sure that we are dealing with the disability issue. We want to make sure that the rail network offers smooth, easy journeys for people with disabilities. With regard to the rolling stock coming on to the midland main line, of course, we will deliver it as soon as possible.
I wish to follow the line of argument of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I do not know whether the Minister has read the very authoritative transport study produced for the previous Government by the British Airways chief, Rod Eddington, which clearly made the case against grand projects and advocated widespread incremental improvement. Would we not be better served if the Government funded not only rolling stock but many other transport improvements by scrapping the ever more expensive, budget-busting HS2?
Again, I give the answer that I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis): we are doing both. It is not a question of one or the other. We are delivering HS2, which is required to add capacity into our rail network, and, at the same time, we are also delivering, in control period 6, maintenance and enhancements worth £48 billion across our classic rail network. So we are doing both, not one or the other.
My right hon. Friend has a very distinguished record in bringing new rolling stock forward into our rail network. The Pacers will be gone by the end of this year; they are being replaced by a new fleet of 281 air-conditioned carriages, which is more than double the minimum tender required by the Government. The first of those new trains are already in the UK and going through testing. The remainder of the Northern fleet are being refurbished to as good as new, and the first of them are already in service. That is a very positive piece of news, and I can confirm that the unpopular Pacers will be gone by the end of the year.
New rolling stock will of course be welcome, but is the Minister aware that there will be no stock rolling at all north of Preston over the busy Easter weekend because Network Rail is closing the line for maintenance? Does he not know that the Lake district is Britain’s biggest visitor destination outside London and that Easter weekend is our busiest time of year? Will he tell Network Rail to change its plans?
I am of course aware of the importance of the Lake district to our national tourist economy, and of tourism to the Lake district’s economy. It is not possible to upgrade the lines without closing them on occasions, and the work clearly has to be done to minimise disruption for the travelling public. I will pass the hon. Gentleman’s point through to Network Rail, but these things take a considerable amount of time and it is probably not possible to make changes at the very last minute.
A35 at Redbridge
As my right hon. Friend will know, the A35 is a local road. As such, it falls to Hampshire County Council as the local highway authority.
I can only admire my right hon. Friend for the extreme brevity of his question. Hampshire County Council did receive an entirely unexpected £11.9 million as a result of the budget settlement of £420 million for local roads, but I take his point. The Government are allocating the council £168 million until 2021, and the council can use that as it sees fit. There is also the possibility for it to apply to other schemes, including the major roads network scheme, which, as my right hon. Friend will know, requires some national transport body agreement. If that is secured, we would be happy to look at the matter later in the year.
As the House will know, I issued a written statement to Parliament last June that reported very good progress on the actions from the road safety statement. Those actions included £100 million for our safer roads fund to improve 50 of the most dangerous stretches of A roads in England, a refreshed road safety statement and a two-year action plan to address priority groups including young people, rural road users, cyclists and older vulnerable users.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to support my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) in his application to bring in a Bill to limit working hours for bus drivers, in response to the tragic bus crash in my constituency in October 2015. Will the Minister commit to backing that Bill and allocating proper parliamentary time for us to discuss the issue?
As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are already transforming connectivity through the south-west by creating a continuous dual carriageway along the A30, from the M5 through to Camborne. In due course, we aim to extend this to Penzance. My hon. Friend has been a strong campaigner on this issue and I recognise his concerns, particularly for his constituents in Crowlas.
My constituent Frances Molloy lost her 19-year-old son Michael in a coach crash caused by a 20-year-old tyre bursting on the coach that he was travelling on. Two other people lost their lives and others suffered life-changing injuries. Will the Minister now commit to allowing my Bill—the Tyres (Buses and Coaches) Bill—to pass through this House, instead of getting his Whip to shout “Object” at every opportunity?
I am very glad that the hon. Lady has raised this question because if she has paid close attention, she will know that we issued a written statement only a few days ago setting out a clear pattern of actions ever since Mrs Molloy raised these serious concerns with my predecessors. Those actions include guidance that has reduced the number of infractions to very low levels. We have also commissioned new research, on which my officials have met with and briefed Mrs Molloy and the hon. Lady. There really can be no question but that we have to make policy based on evidence; when that evidence is in, we will make the policy.
In the area I represent, Dover, Deal and east Kent, illegal lorry parking is a major road safety problem—[Interruption]—unsurprisingly. Does the Minister agree that councils should have more powers to tackle illegal lorry parking so that the police are more able to go and fight serious crime such as county lines drugs gangs?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question on an issue that we have met on and discussed on many occasions. He will know that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency already has powers in Kent, on a trial basis, to take action on this. Those are proving effective, and we continue to look at whether such powers can or should be extended to local authorities.
In the last debate on road safety, I raised with the Minister the concerns of many horse riders across my constituency, including the very large number of riders who are killed on the roads because of drivers’ poor awareness of how to deal with horse riders. Will he set out what steps he has taken since that debate, perhaps saying that all the changes that I, and many other Members, asked for will be added to the highway code to protect horse riders and horses?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the highway code already mentions horse riders in several of its provisions. At the end of last year, as he will recall, we published a safety review aimed at all vulnerable road users, including horse riders. It included, specifically, work on close passing, on which, as he will be aware, West Midlands police have taken a lead. That review contained 50 actions to be undertaken over a two-year period, and we are still in the middle of that, but I absolutely recognise the concern that he has.
Is the Minister aware that only seven people were killed in the St Valentine’s Day massacre? Yet in this country, we will shrug our shoulders when 1,700 people die on our roads this year, as they do most years. When is he going to do something about investigating every death on the roads thoroughly, with a good centrally directed and well funded unit, and when is he going to do something about the 1.4 million people a year who are being killed on the roads worldwide?
The hon. Gentleman regularly raises this issue, but I have rarely had a Valentine’s Day present as generous as that one. As he will know, contrary to his imputation, we take every road death and injury with great seriousness. As he also knows, since he will have done his homework, this country has the second-best record in the EU for road fatalities, and we stand by that record.
In his statement last week, the Minister again delayed taking effective action on dangerous old tyres on public service vehicles. I pay tribute to Frances Molloy and Tyred, who have campaigned vigorously on this very important issue. The Government’s record on road safety, I am afraid to say, has been disappointing. So will the Minister now do the right thing and support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), which is due back here on 15 March and which would rid our roads of dangerous tyres on buses?
I am afraid that my answer to the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) still stands. The fact remains that we will take action, and vigorous action, when we have evidence on this. Actions we have already taken have reduced rates of infraction to very, very low levels, although we take seriously everything that has happened. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that action taken—[Interruption.] This may be a signal of the behaviour of a future Labour Government, or the previous one, but we act on the basis of evidence—and, if we did not, we would be subject to legal challenge from those who were adversely affected.
Order. I must say to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) that only last week I informed an audience, prospectively, of 30 million American radio listeners of his penchant for shouting noisily from a sedentary position most days of the week, so he may have a new fan base in the United States.
Repair of Local Roads
My hon. Friend is a great campaigner on this issue. He will be aware that the Department is spending more than £6.6 billion to improve local roads through local highway authority work, including £420 million most recently, much of which is available to be spent in his constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He knows, because I have lobbied him relentlessly, that we are bidding for funding from the second road investment strategy for the A120 in my constituency, but there are other roads in my constituency, including the A131 and a number of local roads. I welcome the announcement of the money. What advice can he give me on how to ensure that I grab some of it for my lovely constituency?
I am not sure that “relentless” begins to describe the energy and vigour with which my hon. Friend pursues his campaign. As he recognises, we have already provided £4 million to Essex County Council for the A120. I understand that the council is currently undertaking a series of phased improvements to both the A131 and the A130, to enhance network capacity, but we remain interested in whatever it does on those roads in future.
I am sure the Minister is aware that, because of other pressures, councils are increasingly unable to address priorities that they would have addressed many years ago. The National Audit Office has shown that spending on road safety and traffic management across the country has fallen by 60% since 2010. Will the Minister accept that one of the most important things he can do is argue for increased funding from the Treasury for local authorities in the next spending round?
If HS2 is built, the inevitable heavy traffic will add to the damage to our roads in Buckinghamshire, many of which are already congested and suffer from pollution, including popular routes such as the A413. What additional funds will the Minister make available to Buckinghamshire County Council to repair the inevitable extra damage to our rural roads, so that the cost does not fall disproportionately on Buckinghamshire taxpayers?
Leaving the EU: Travel Disruption
My Department is undertaking a comprehensive and wide-ranging programme of work to ensure that we are prepared for a scenario in which the UK leaves without a deal. We continue to work to ensure that the UK does not leave without a deal.
I am grateful for that answer, which I am not sure even those on the Government Benches will buy. The Secretary of State told the House on Monday that Arklow had confirmed its backing for Seaborne Freight “from the outset”. Yesterday the permanent secretary to the DFT told the Public Accounts Committee that the DFT had awarded Seaborne Freight the contract before Arklow confirmed its backing. Those two statements are entirely contradictory, so who is telling the truth—his permanent secretary or him?
The director general for the Department for Transport said yesterday that it was no longer possible to complete procurement and operation for any large amount of further capacity across the channel by either sea or rail before the end of March. The Secretary of State’s handling of this issue means that there are now no plans in place for an alternative and a 10% shortfall in capacity. How does he plan to resolve this latest disaster?
I can assure the Secretary of State that I was absolutely listening intently on Monday. From that position over there, the Secretary of State said on Monday, in relation to Seaborne Freight, that
“we have not spent any money on this contract.”—[Official Report, 11 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 619.]
We now know that that is not the case and that his Department spent approximately £800,000 on external consultants for Seaborne. Will he now take the opportunity to set the record straight and apologise to taxpayers for what has amounted to a monumental waste of taxpayers’ money?
I am afraid that, once again, SNP Members have their facts completely wrong. Interestingly, we have heard complaints from the other side that we did not do enough due diligence. Actually, as with all major Government contracts—Mr Speaker, you will recall that £90 million of contracts are going to Brittany Ferries and DFDS—we contract professional support when we let contracts of that size.
The Secretary of State may wish to argue that he got his £800,000-worth since the consultancy did come back with concrete findings, including that Seaborne presented “significant execution risks” and that a “basic blush test” was the most that could be carried out on the company’s financials. Which of those two findings did the Secretary of State find most reassuring when deciding to proceed with the Seaborne ferry contract?
The Secretary of State said on Monday, “I believe in competition”, so why, after realising back in September that a no-deal Brexit would require increased freight capacity, did he embark on what has been called a
“secretive and flawed procurement process”,
tipping off some companies in private while leaving established companies, such as Eurotunnel, out of the loop altogether?
A major contributor to travel disruption over many years has of course been Govia Thameslink Railway. Its incompetence was recently underlined when a disgruntled constituent wrote to GTR, asking whom he should complain to and whether he should write to Chris Grayling. He received the reply from GTR:
“Chris Grayling no longer works for the company”.
Can the Secretary of State tell us whether a no-deal Brexit will make it easier to withdraw the franchise from GTR at long last and end this nightmare?
Happily, I have never worked for GTR. I would say to my hon. Friend that, if there are specific concerns he wants to raise about the franchise, he is very welcome to write to me. However, I am sure he is pleased that, over the last few months, the performance on that network has become significantly better.
I am sure the Secretary of State, like me, will reflect that it is always interesting to hear those who complain about the potential impact of a no deal then complaining about efforts to mitigate it. Will he confirm that he believes, the same as me, that the biggest potential for disruption to travel would be to put an international border across the east and west coast main lines, as the separatists opposite want to do?
Absolutely. Of course SNP Members fail to understand that their policies, if you follow European Union laws to the letter, require a hard border between Scotland and England. I have to say that I personally value the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I value our friends in Scotland, of whom we have many on the Government Benches, and I think SNP policies would be deeply damaging to Scotland.
No matter what the outcome in terms of the delivery of the democratic decision of the British people, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the electrification project between Preston and Manchester, going through the heart of my constituency, will continue to deliver more electric coaches for my constituents?
I was very pleased to learn this week that the electric trains have now started running between Blackpool and Manchester through my hon. Friend’s constituency. Of course, it is worth remembering that that single electrification project represents a level of electrification many times greater than the Labour party managed across the entire country in its years in office— 13 years: 10 miles, which is fewer, by far, than that single electrification project alone.
If I understand this right, the Secretary of State is claiming a triumph for having signed a contract with a company that had no ferries to provide no ferries and, because it cost the taxpayer no money whatsoever, that is okay. Is that where the Secretary of State is? We are still facing the south-east of England being turned into a huge car park if we were to leave with no deal, and what has he done about it? Absolutely nothing.
As I set out, we have substantial contracts with two major operators to provide additional capacity, and we have put in place contingency measures in Kent, in case they are needed because of delays caused not in this country but on the French side. When I see what is happening in Calais and the preparations being made, I am increasingly confident that the flow of traffic through the channel ports will continue pretty normally. It is in everybody’s interest on both sides of the channel for that to happen, and it will certainly happen if we leave the European Union with a deal. It is disappointing, however, that the Labour party seems to want to stymie us leaving the EU with a deal.
The Secretary of State’s handling of Seaborne Freight, and the way he is answering questions, proves that he lives in a parallel universe. The reality is that, with Eurotunnel taking the Government to court, his actions will cost the taxpayer at least £1.8 million and the costs are rising. Will he confirm how many representations have been made by other providers and whether there are likely to be further court challenges? Will he do the right thing and at least publish the legal evidence that the Government had, so that they can perhaps save some money in the long run?
The hon. Gentleman is trying hard, but the simple reality is that we approached the market and the market brought forward proposals. We have two substantial contracts to provide additional capacity. We took on a third smaller contract, where there was no upfront exposure to the taxpayer at all. Unfortunately that was not delivered because even though the company had ships lined up and agreements lined up, its principal backer decided not to continue with the contract.
The Secretary of State did not approach the market—it was all done in secret; that is not approaching the market. He is baffled by the criticism of his handling of this, which is incredible. Let us look at his handling of the mock exercise for lorries in a no-deal scenario, with 89 lorries mimicking 10,000. Under his watch, we have had the east coast main line bail-out, the Northern rail fiasco, the Thameslink fiasco, delays to High Speed 2, issues with drone legislation and contracts awarded to Carillion when it was obviously going bust. What does it take for him to do the right thing and go?
The hon. Gentleman continues to produce in the House statements that I am afraid are simply inaccurate. The trial in Kent, managed by Kent County Council, worked very smoothly to illustrate the nature of movements in and out of the port of Manston. He keeps talking about Carillion. Carillion had no contracts with HS2. It was part of a consortium that was jointly and severally liable and that work has continued.
Leaving the EU: Ports
Good morning, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to share the day of love with my colleagues under your watchful gaze this morning.
I have met port operators and their representatives on a number of occasions to discuss matters of current concern, including preparations for the UK leaving the EU.
Welsh ports, including Newport, have experienced strong growth and investment in recent years, contributing £1.4 billion to the UK economy. In a week in which we have witnessed Government mishandling and the Seaborne Freight fiasco, and just weeks away from the Brexit date, what confidence can we have that Transport Ministers are taking serious steps to avoid jeopardising our Welsh ports?
We are in constant communication with port operators, including Associated British Ports, which I believe has invested heavily in the port to prepare for Brexit and all the extra opportunities that will arise. We must not forget that our ports and maritime sector was great before we joined the EU and it will continue to be great after Brexit. Most of our ports are well used to dealing with traffic from both inside and outside the European Union and we will do everything we can to ensure that that continues.
I can. My hon. Friend is a great champion of the port of Immingham and I know I have an open invitation from him to visit it. I have indeed discussed that port with ABP and it has confirmed that ports across the country are looking forward to the extra business and trade that will come their way post Brexit.
On 8 January, the Secretary of State told the House that no public money was used in the Seaborne Freight contract, yet the National Audit Office says that £800,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on consultants. The Prime Minister says that things are hunky-dory, but it has been revealed that the Department bypassed its own procurement rules to award a high-risk contract to Seaborne. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Secretary of State has, however inadvertently, misled the House and has not followed his Department’s procurement processes?
That is such a ridiculous statement to make. It is just inaccurate. There are complaints when due diligence is not done and complaints when due diligence is done. When funding is allocated and spent within the Department, due diligence is carried out for a variety of reasons. What is interesting is that the Labour party is against business, against us helping our port sector and against Brexit. It would be interesting to know what it actually stands for.
Poor, very poor. The Secretary of State is, presumably, simply never wrong, but what about the timetabling mess on the trains, the east coast bail out, multiple transport and justice contracts to Carillion, the book ban on prisoners, court fees that push the innocent to plead guilty, and the catastrophic privatisation of probation and prisons? His ongoing presence in the Government makes an international laughing stock of us all. Quite simply, the country cannot afford him. So I ask in all sincerity: will he please step down before he does any further damage?
I am not quite sure what show we are on, but this is Transport questions and the hon. Gentleman attacking an individual because he has nothing left to say is absolutely embarrassing. We have record investment in our infrastructure. I believe that under the Labour Government infrastructure investment in our country dropped from seventh to 33rd. Labour is not a party for our country. May I just reflect on ports? Our ports are doing a fantastic job trading, they do the majority of trade outside the EU and they will continue to do really good trade post Brexit.
West Anglia Main Line
Work is nearing completion on the delivery of a third track on the West Anglia main line between Tottenham Hale and a new station at Meridian Water, enabling two additional trains per hour. Additional tracking is also being considered as part of proposals for Crossrail 2. I understand that the Greater London Authority has submitted a bid to the housing infrastructure fund for a fourth track from Tottenham Hale to Meridian Water.
On Saturday last, some 90 constituents turned up at my community meeting to complain, most loudly, about the cancellations, delays and poor service on the line. Frankly, they deserve better and have done for a very long time. Early delivery of four-tracking by 2026, in advance of Crossrail 2, would provide additional stopping services, up to 3,800 extra seats between Cambridge and Liverpool Street in the morning, faster journeys, improved reliability, accelerated delivery of up to 25,000 homes and 10,000 new job starts along the corridor. Why are the Secretary of State and the Government not getting on board with this proposal more quickly? I urge the Government to support it and to do so now.
To suggest that the Government are not investing in our rail network is clearly ridiculous. The Government are investing more than any other Government in British history. On the specifics of the scheme, on the West Anglia main line the right hon. Lady can look forward to seeing new trains and all the benefits that will flow from them. The investment work that has taken place, which I outlined in my earlier answer, is already starting to see benefits for the constituents she serves.
Rural Roads: HGV Traffic
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the very important issue of HGV traffic on rural roads, which has all kinds of negative effects, including congestion, air quality and noise. She will be aware that local authorities are best placed to address the issue. They have powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to make traffic regulation orders that prohibit the use of HGVs on any given local road.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he look at introducing mandatory commercial sat-navs to all HGVs, so they avoid using rural roads and stick to the A roads they should be on? That would also help with the enforcement of existing restrictions in villages such as Ditchling in my constituency.
I understand the problem. Some existing sat-navs are configured specifically for HGVs. Mandating them would be a major step that would undoubtedly have negative as well as positive consequences. This is primarily and mainly a market function, but protections are in place for local authorities to enforce against abuse of roads by HGVs.
HGV traffic can be dangerous, and the road safety charity Brake says that school crossing patrols are vital, so does the Minister have an estimate of the number of lollipop women and men who have been cut and whether or not that has led to an increase in accidents for children walking to school?
The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right about the concerns of children walking to school, which was a major theme in our recent work on cycling and walking safety. Part of the work that we are doing over the next two years precisely addresses areas around schools.
There is an important industrial estate in my constituency called the Leyland, which is served from urban Wellingborough. Unfortunately, the road bridge has been demolished and HGVs are now having to travel on rural roads. I understand that instead of the bridge being replaced, it is going to be left down, and that is causing a great deal of concern. Will the Minister be able to look into the matter and perhaps meet me to discuss it?
The A637 runs through the lovely village of Flockton in my constituency. It is a narrow road and is increasingly used by rat runners and HGVs, despite a prohibition order. There have been many instances of reckless driving and some near misses. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can make life safer for the people who live in Flockton?
If it is a purely local road, I am of course happy to look into the matter but it really falls to the local authority. If there is scope for the road to be part of the major roads network, which, as the hon. Lady will know, is precisely designed to relieve some of the pressures on local communities and the strategic road network, we can have that conversation as well.
Leaving the EU: Haulage Sector
The Government continue to work towards a deal and we are confident of securing a relationship with the EU that maintains the current liberalised access we enjoy. Of all goods moved by UK-registered heavy goods vehicles in 2017, 1% were moved internationally. We do not expect that there will be significant impacts on international trade movements, or on the haulage sector overall. If we leave without a deal, there might be some short-term disruption, and we have undertaken extensive contingency plans to mitigate this.
Short-term disruption—that’s a good one.
Haulage companies such as Scott Bros. and Devereux in my Stockton North constituency are extremely anxious about their future when we leave the EU. They are not helped much by the road haulage permits legislation, which in effect highlights the potential damage that Brexit will do to the industry, and certainly does not show a Government standing up for the industry. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman and, indeed, his constituents will welcome the fact that the European Union has been clear that the current arrangements will continue after April and is moving forward with plans to do that. In addition, we have bilateral agreements with other countries that will ensure that international trade continues to flow, and we are of course also continuing members of the common transit convention.
Seafood processing businesses in Banff and Buchan have expressed concerns to me about the possible requirement for European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits in the event that we leave the EU without a deal. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and representatives of the sector to discuss their concerns?
I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I meet people from the sector quite regularly. His constituents will be assured—indeed, we have written to all applicants for the permits to indicate this to them—that the European Union’s position is that it intends to continue with the current arrangements. We put through measures to make sure that we had a contingency plan, which was supported across the House, but I do not expect it to be needed because, according to the EU itself, we will carry on with the current arrangements.
We know that the contract with Seaborne was, in the words of the Secretary of State’s own permanent secretary, a “novel and exceptional” proposition, but she revealed yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee that the only confirmation that the Department had about the arrangements with Arklow were from Seaborne itself. There was no paper document and no contract was signed. The Secretary of State talks about due diligence, but we know it failed on due diligence, and we now know that there was no comfort document for the Department about the contract with Arklow, so will he tell us what due diligence he thinks did take place, because what we have seen shows that it did not?
At Christmastime, Arklow confirmed in writing, and we have copies of that—[Hon. Members: “In January.”] At Christmastime, Arklow confirmed in writing that it was backing the proposition. [Interruption.] At Christmastime, Mr Speaker. I hear the sedentary comments but I am absolutely clear: at Christmastime.
Despite Labour’s warnings throughout the passage of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill, just 984 licences have been made available following 11,392 applications. Despite the short-term agreement with the EU, if companies cannot move their goods, they will have no choice but to move their businesses, so why is the Secretary of State running down British jobs and British business?
What a load of absolute hokum! We are working very carefully, on a bilateral basis, to make sure that there are contingency plans in place, but the European Union—we have to bear in mind that 80% of the trucks that come through our ports delivering goods to the United Kingdom are run by continental hauliers—is being very clear that it wants that to continue, and it will.
It gets worse: crashing out of the EU in just 43 days’ time will mean that we are a third country, like the Ukraine or China—as indeed, would Irish companies who use the UK as a bridge to the continent. Haulage firms would have to fill out a 38-point document for every single consignment—that is not for each lorry, but for each consignment on each lorry—just hours before each transit, causing catastrophic delays. So who now is the enemy of business? It is this Government, who are running down the clock to create real chaos at our borders. It is surely not this Opposition, who are insistent on a permanent customs union.
Of course, what the hon. Lady does not understand is that she talks about a permanent customs union, but a permanent customs union requires border checks. The Labour party simply does not understand the arguments that it is making. It is trying to disrupt Brexit. It is trying to put forward policy ideas that do not work. We are working to secure a deal that will work, and we will carry on doing it.
Horse Riders: Public Highways
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the question of the safety needs of horse riders. They were an important part, alongside other vulnerable road users, of the cycling and walking safety review. We are reviewing the highway code, and our work on that will be done in connection with a whole range of interested stakeholders, including the British Horse Society.
The rise of electric vehicles is, of course, environmentally welcome. However, their silence often presents a huge problem for riders, horses and, indeed, other road users as a result of the nervousness that is often caused in horses by these silent vehicles either going past or accelerating from a stop. Will my hon. Friend take this issue up with the car manufacturers to see what can be done to ensure that there is safety and environmentalism on our rural roads?
My hon. Friend will recall that I have already discussed the recognition of horse riders within the highway code and the importance that we place on the avoidance of close passing. He will also be aware that electric cars make a noise above a certain speed because of vehicle tyre slap. At low speeds, vehicle type approval regulations will mandate sound generators on new electric and hybrid electric vehicles from July this year.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Horses and HGV lorries do not mix, so what consideration has been given to enhanced regulations with reference to horse safety, particularly to providing adequate guidance and protection for horse riders?
I cannot really do more than expand on my previous comment, which is that we are reviewing the highway code in this area and are working closely on issues of close passing. They are discussed in some detail in our recent cycling and walking safety review.
Heathrow: Regional Connections
The airports national policy statement expects post-expansion Heathrow to deliver 14 domestic routes and to work with airlines to protect existing and develop new domestic connections. We expect these routes to be commercially viable with support from Heathrow.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but during the airports national policy statement, the Government said that the aviation Green Paper would address the level of public subsidy required to support certain regional connections into Heathrow, but the Green Paper, now published, says that when there is such a requirement for a public services obligation route,
“funding contributions should increasingly be provided locally.”
Will he therefore confirm that many local councils that were hoping to reap economic benefits from additional regional routes may in fact end up having to subsidise loss-making routes?
Next week, I will hold a public meeting in my constituency on Heathrow expansion. Many of my constituents are concerned that Heathrow is just like Seaborne. It is another case where the Department for Transport has fallen hook, line and sinker for impossible claims made by a company that has very little chance of ever delivering on them—“Not a single extra car going to the airport,” and, “Air pollution not a problem,” even though we know that it is a huge problem in that part of London. It is exactly the same. The difference, though, is that when the Heathrow proposals go utterly pear-shaped, taxpayers will pick up the bill, and this is not just a £14 million project, but an £18 billion project.
My right hon. Friend is very committed to her view on this matter, but this House voted by a majority of nearly 300 to pursue this project and give Heathrow the green light. It now has to go through detailed consent processes, but I believe that it is a project that is strategically important to the United Kingdom.
A new Southern rail link connecting the south and south-west with Heathrow via Feltham was favourably assessed by Network Rail two years ago as having the highest benefit-cost ratio of all the Southern rail options proposed. We are waiting on the edge of our seats for progress towards the next stage. When will the Secretary of State be able to announce funding and proposed plans to take the project to the next stage, so that we can start to move forward?
I regard Southern rail access as extremely important. We are now looking in detail at what we believe the specification of the scheme should be. It will clearly require some degree of public support, and that is the next stage, which I expect to pursue in the coming months, albeit relatively soon.
I thank the Secretary of State for his support for the new Heathrow connection to Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is due to come into place on 1 April. However, with the proposed acquisition of Flybe by Virgin Atlantic, can he reassure the House that Government support for the new route will continue even if the operator changes?
Shipley Eastern Bypass
Art Garfunkel himself could not have asked for anything better, Mr Speaker. I can only thank my hon. Friend. He will know that we have contributed several hundred thousand pounds to the scheme, and discussions are continuing. Indeed, both sides will be meeting later this month.
I am extremely grateful to the Government and in particular the Secretary of State for their commitment to the Shipley eastern bypass, which is much needed in my constituency. Can the Minister tell me when the feasibility study, which the Government have kindly paid for, will be finalised and therefore when the next step forward for this project can be taken?
Buses remain the most commonly used mode of public transport, with local bus travel accounting for around 59% of all public transport journeys. The number of local bus passenger journeys has been falling since the 1950s. By contrast, the number of people owning their own cars has obviously been increasing.
It is now cheaper to fly to Alicante than to take a bus from Barnard Castle to Spennymoor in my constituency. Many of my constituents say that the buses are just far too expensive. Does the Minister not understand that her cuts to the bus grant are the problem?
I would not want anybody not to be flying to Alicante, but it is important to note that, when Labour was in control, bus fares went up three times as fast every year than under the Conservative Government. Anybody who wants to be out of pocket should vote in a Labour Government, because they will put up bus fares three times as fast.
It is clear that buses are a lifeline for many elderly people, particularly those living in rural areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) has hinted at. They are also the main means of travel for commuters, yet as we have heard, this vital public service is in crisis. I should correct the Minister: bus passenger numbers have been falling every year since 2014, under her watch. The cross-party Local Government Association now says that half of all bus routes are in danger of closing due to a lack of Government funding. Surely it is now time for the Government to admit that they have made a serious mistake and for them finally to agree to properly fund our bus services.
Buses are indeed incredibly important. Not only do they help people to get to work, but they tackle wider issues such as loneliness. The Government provide more than £1 billion for concessionary fares, and a substantial amount of that— including the bus service operating grant—goes directly to local authorities to fund bus journeys.
It concerns me that Labour Members are desperately trying to turn buses into a political football. It is important to note that Wales, where Labour is in charge, has seen a bigger drop in bus miles than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
A moment ago, I talked about the importance of the Union—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—and we also talked about regional air links. I am pleased to announce that I have agreed to extend the current public service obligation on flights from Londonderry to Stansted for a further two years from May. I believe that that will provide a boost for business in Northern Ireland and, rather importantly, allow spectators to attend the 148th open championship at Royal Portrush this summer.
The fantastic pupils at Outwood Primary Academy Ledger Lane in my constituency have organised a petition calling for Wakefield Metropolitan District Council to improve road safety and have persuaded 430 parents and teachers to sign it. The signatories want to see a speed indication device, or other speed restrictions, outside the school. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve road safety outside schools?
The Government are combining a range of measures including our cycling and walking safety two-year action plan, which addresses that issue specifically. However, I hope that Wakefield Council, which holds the power to install speed indication devices, will look carefully at the petition, and will respond positively to my hon. Friend’s young constituents.
I can confirm that the A39 meets the necessary criteria for the scheme. As far as I am aware, it has not yet been approved and prioritised by the sub-national transport body, but we expect that to happen by the middle of the year, and once it has happened, we will be happy to look at it.
I do not need to come and have a look, because I travel through Croydon, via the west Croydon route, quite regularly. I know that there is a need for significant improvement in the area of the Windmill Bridge junction. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) has been vociferous in telling me that that needs to happen, and the Department and Network Rail have already started work on what we believe will be an important project for the future.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Mayor of Manchester and I recently agreed to work together on the potential expansion of the Metrolink network with the use of tram-train technology. The Government have already funded a tram-train system in Sheffield, which is making a difference there, and I am keen to see how we can extend that to Greater Manchester.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising the issue. He will be aware that the local authority has the capacity to charge up to £10,000 a day for works overruns. We are working on a new programme called Street Manager to enable local authorities to track these works more effectively.
Leigh has recently been ranked one of the worst constituencies for social mobility. We are also the fifth largest town in the country without a rail station. Connectivity matters: to connect constituencies and constituents with more opportunities to succeed, will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can help to bring rail connectivity back to the people of Leigh?
The hon. Lady raises the important point that transport is not just about a single journey but is also about social mobility. I am proud that this Department supports our economy and communities and society in a way that enhances mobility. We have invested over £61 billion in transport infrastructure in the five years to 2020-21, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady.
Officials in my Department monitor the number of short formations on Govia Thameslink Railway services as one of its performance benchmarks. There are a number of actions we can take when performance falls below agreed levels, and I am pleased that we are now seeing the lowest number of short formations on GTR since the start of the franchise. I hope that this positive trajectory continues, and I will continue to monitor it.
People in Stockton cannot get a bus back home after an afternoon doctor appointment, while the Tees Valley Mayor has spent £15,000 on Facebook advertising after almost two years but still has not come up with a plan to improve buses. When will my constituents get better bus services?
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council receives almost £89,000 of bus service operators grant to support local bus services, and £75.5 million from the Government’s transforming cities fund has also been secured to improve local connectivity to Tees valley. We have not heard from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council or the Tees Valley Combined Authority about using the extra powers available to them under the Bus Services Act 2017 to improve services and work more closely with local bus companies. If they were to get in touch, we could also let them know about the world of improvements they could deliver for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
I am well aware that my right hon. Friend has been a doughty and particularly inquisitive Member of Parliament on behalf of her constituents on HS2. She knows that there is a set budget to deliver HS2, and we must not forget the benefits it will bring across our country, demolishing the north-south divide and building a fairer country. This is more than a transport project; it is a transformative project linking eight of our 10 cities and investing in the midlands and the north of our country.
Does the Minister recognise that while all that she has just said gives some reassurance, these continued rumours about HS2 raise concerns for companies like Bombardier in my constituency, which has a joint bid with Hitachi for the rolling stock? Can she say anything further to reassure such companies?
The right hon. Lady makes a valid point. So often, we lament that parliamentarians do not deliver long-term projects and that we do not invest in our country or our skills base, but that is what HS2 is doing. I ask Members to desist from undermining one of the largest European infrastructure projects, which will transform our country, and to think about the extra benefits this will bring to the midlands and the north. We are continuing to work with the HS2 programme. That was in our manifesto and that of the Labour party, and it is important to note that every time the Bill has come to the Floor of the House it has gone through.
At the last Transport questions, I asked the Minister for help in persuading First Group to lend Hull Trains a new train six months early. Does he agree that the fact that I have not had a direct response is disrespectful and indicates First Group’s dismissive attitude to Hull? Instead, I had to read the response in the Hull Daily Mail. Will he press on First Group the need to meet urgently to secure the continuing success of Hull Trains?
Following the last Transport questions, I asked First Group to take the issue forward. I am sorry if it has not actually contacted the hon. Lady, and I will pick this up with it, but I have already taken action as we discussed at the last Transport questions.
We have launched a consultation on extending the very popular pay-as-you-go Oyster system to other parts of the south-east, and we are looking at the underlying principles for the rest of the country, too. As the public consultation document sets out, we are considering different options, and I would encourage anyone who believes their local station should be included in a pay-as-you-go zone to respond to the consultation, saying what they want and why. I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s views are part of that consultation.
The Heathrow logistics hub process is coming to a conclusion, and there are a number of bids from Northern Ireland, including one from my constituency. Without prejudicing the outcome, will the Minister ensure that he co-operates closely to ensure that there are regional variations to benefit thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland?
While we are thinking about unfortunate absences, will you join me, Mr Speaker, in thanking the Tonbridge line’s commuters for highlighting the problem of ghost trains on the Tonbridge to Redhill line? On 30 December, 36 trains were advertised but only 12 ran. Could the Minister possibly do something to ensure that the train operating companies actually run the trains that they advertise?
The Department monitors performance on a daily basis, and there is a range of actions that we can take when performance falls below agreed levels. I understand that performance on the Redhill to Tonbridge line has been impacted by various things, including speed restrictions, but I am able to tell my hon. Friend that performance on the line has been much improved since the start of the year, with 90% of services now arriving within five minutes of schedule.
After awarding the contract to Seaborne Freight, the Secretary of State boasted to the House that he was backing a British start-up. I tabled a written question to his Department asking whether it was his working assumption that any ships operated by Seaborne would operate under the British flag. Why were his Ministers, in the answer I received on 14 January, unable to give a straight yes or no answer?
Speakerdate—hashtag! I should like to thank the Minister for her excellent visit to my constituency last week and for the HS2 meeting that she convened. On Sunday, I attended the AGM of the Toton, Chilwell Meadows and Chetwynd neighbourhood forum and saw its bold, realistic and exciting plans for the area, based in part on HS2 coming to Toton sidings. Do she and the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that, when the development body is formed for HS2 at Toton, the neighbourhood forum is fully involved in all its workings?
Absolutely. I was delighted to visit Nottingham and to have a meeting with all the east midlands business and council representatives. It is absolutely right to say that HS2 is a local and national project, and community groups such as the one my right hon. Friend has mentioned are indeed involved. I am also delighted to have visited her station.
As well as announcing funding for the resilience work at Dawlish, will the Government also secure Dawlish-proof trains by moving the HSTs on to the CrossCountry franchise?
My constituents and I have been campaigning for many years to secure a flyover on the A1 by Wittering. Will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituents with a view to progressing matters?
On Monday, the Secretary of State justified the non-competitive tendering process for Seaborne Freight by referring to a “change in the assumptions”. Would he care to elaborate on exactly what he meant by that? Does he think that that defence will stand up in court?
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 18 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Public Record, Disclosure of Information and Co-Operation (Financial Services) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Money Market Funds (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Cross-Border Mediation (EU Directive) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on serious violence.
Tuesday 19 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft European Structural and Investment Funds Common Provisions and Common Provision Rules etc. (Amendment) (EU exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on the NHS 10-year plan.
Wednesday 20 February—A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a general debate on antisemitism in modern society.
Thursday 21 February—A general debate on potential future free trade agreements—Australia, New Zealand and US—and on a comprehensive and progressive agreement for a trans-Pacific partnership.
Friday 22 February—The House will not be sitting.
It has been a great week for British artistic talent, with “The Favourite” taking home seven BAFTA—British Academy of Film and Television Arts—awards, and recognition for the excellent work of the cast and crew who support our thriving British film industry. At the Grammys, Dua Lipa won best new artist and Ella Mai won best R&B song. We congratulate all the nominees and winners, and look forward to more success as awards season continues.
It is Valentine’s day, so I thought a little poem might be order:
Labour is red, the Tories are blue,
Our future is bright,
With a good deal in sight,
For the UK and our friends in the EU.
I thank the Leader of the House for next week’s business, but I am afraid that I do not find any of it very funny—this is really serious.
Last week, I asked for an Opposition day debate, and the Leader of the House did not respond. Can we have an Opposition day debate? The last one was on 13 November, which is as long ago as when we were first promised the meaningful vote.
The Leader of the House read out a list of statutory instruments for debate next week; perhaps she will consider a debate on the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018. There is a possibility that the order may be ultra vires:
“The government can call it a service charge or a graduated fee but asking those who have larger estates to pay more is in effect a tax hike through the back door.”
Those are the words of the vice-president of the Law Society, Simon Davis. [Interruption.] I will, but I am just waiting for some silence. Will the Government say whether they are inappropriately introducing a tax through a statutory instrument? It cannot be a service charge, because it is graduated, depending on the size of the estate. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has raised concerns, so can we have a debate on the Floor of the House to give the measure proper scrutiny?
The Leader of the House has allocated time for a debate on serious violence. My hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) both welcome the debate, particularly the latter. He passionately asked the Leader of the House for the debate, but unfortunately he will be away in the Falklands, so I hope he gets another opportunity to debate this important issue.
Can we have a debate on due diligence, or perhaps a written statement setting out the tests for awarding contracts? We also need a statement on the definition of taxpayers’ money. The Secretary of State for Transport said that no taxpayers’ money was used in the Seaborne Freight contract, yet the National Audit Office said it was. Can we have clarification?
Every week there is chaos, which is an appalling way to govern a country. Employment and support allowance assessors said Jeff Hayward was fit to work. He then won an appeal—seven months after he died. When that happens, something has to change. I have already raised the matter of delays to appeals. What are the Government going to do to stop these assessments that do not work?
Students are having to pay off their loans at 6.3% interest, while vice-chancellors earn up to half a million pounds. Is the Leader of the House aware of the joint letter from the House of Commons Treasury Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee calling on the UK Statistics Authority to seek consent from the Chancellor to fix the retail prices index? The lower-rate consumer prices index applies to incomes, but the higher-rate RPI applies to outgoings such as student loans and rail fares. The UK Statistics Authority says that the Treasury will say no to fixing RPI, so it has not asked; and the Treasury says that it has not even been asked. Lord Forsyth called it a “ridiculous merry-go-round.” Can we please have a statement on when this will be fixed?
This week, the Leader of the House told the media—not the House—about when we will have a meaningful vote. There would not be loose talk in a Brussels bar from any civil servant of the stature of the one reported to have made the remarks unless they wanted the information out there, so he was clearly kite-flying. It is upsetting for the House that the Leader of the House has not come here to announce the date of the meaningful vote, instead announcing it on the radio. The vote is clearly not today. We have a vote, but all we get is a meaningless motion. How can the motion be passed? It states that the House notes that the discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing, but Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said yesterday:
“No news is not always good news. EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break Brexit impasse.”
More than 40 former ambassadors and high commissioners have written to the Prime Minister warning about this national crisis, so who is she actually talking to? When will the Leader of the House announce the timetable for the meaningful vote? She could do it today.
I was going to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner).
My hon. Friend is doing a lot of chuntering, but I want to wish him well. He had an important day earlier this week, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also hits a milestone today.
We paid tribute to the Clerk of the House of Commons yesterday, but bizarrely he was not in his place. While he is sitting here, I want to say that he will be missed. I hope he read the important tributes to him.
Finally, Eve Griffith-Okai has been in the Speaker’s Office for 33 years, and we wish her a happy retirement.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for what she has just said. Many Members from across the House will know Eve Griffith-Okai. I think I am right in saying that she has served under, with and in support of no fewer than four Speakers; she served Speaker Weatherill, Speaker Boothroyd and Speaker Martin, and she has brilliantly served me. She is much loved across the House and has an outstanding track record of public service, which I am glad to say has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated in the Chamber.
As Jane Austen said,
“Is not general incivility the very essence of love?”
I shall therefore take the slightly unhumorous remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) to be the beginning of a real friendship between us. I am grateful to her for asking some important questions. She asks about Opposition days. I hope she will accept that I have been able to find time for some of the important business that she has requested of me in recent weeks. I was pleased that, as she requested, we were able to debate the Securitisation Regulations 2018 yesterday. I hope that she will also welcome my announcement today that we will have a general debate on the NHS 10-year plan next week, which she requested on 31 January. I am seeking to deliver on requests that she is making. She asks about the probate statutory instrument, and I absolutely heard her request. I ask that she also makes it through the usual channels, as is the convention. The Government will of course respond, as we have done in the past, taking her requests very seriously and delivering on almost all of them.
The hon. Lady asks again about the awarding of contracts by the Department for Transport. She will be aware that we have just had DFT oral questions, where this issue was very much dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He also answered an urgent question earlier in the week on the same subject. Just to be clear—all hon. Members who have been involved in any kind of business procurement will understand this—a process is undertaken that seeks to assess who is suitable for a contract. That does have a cost associated with it, but as my right hon. Friend made very clear, no taxpayers’ money was actually awarded to the supplier involved, because it failed to meet the requirements of the contract.
The hon. Lady asks for a statement on a call for changes to use of the consumer prices index and the retail prices index. I will of course take that away and consider what can be done. She asks when we will bring back a meaningful vote. As the Prime Minister explained to this House just this week in a statement lasting two hours and 18 minutes, in which she answered questions from Members from right across the House, she is currently negotiating a revised deal. Members will be aware that there is a debate all day today on this topic.
The Prime Minister has explained that when we achieve the progress we need, we will bring forward another meaningful vote, but if the Government do not secure a majority in this House in favour of a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration, they will make a statement on Tuesday 26 February, and will table an amendable motion relating to the statement. A Minister will move that motion on Wednesday 27 February, thereby enabling the House to vote on it, and on any amendments to it, on that day.
Obviously, I will make a business statement in the usual way next week, setting out the details of the business for the week commencing 25 February. The hon. Member for Walsall South asks, “Where is the negotiation?”. She will appreciate that there is a negotiation; it is on the final element—resolving the issues associated with the backstop—that the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union are firmly committed to achieving in order to bring a motion to this House that it can support, thereby giving certainty to businesses, and citizens across this country and the EU.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the falling number of children being vaccinated against preventable illnesses? For whatever reason, there seems to be a loss of confidence among parents in some of these vaccinations. It is certainly a matter that needs addressing.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, as he always does. After clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health measure, protecting children and adults against diseases that can cause serious harm. Confidence in the vaccine programme remains high, and parents routinely have their children vaccinated. However, my hon. Friend is right that there has been a small decline, and we are working to address that, as outlined in the NHS long-term plan. There is absolutely no complacency, and we will continue to work to ensure that children get the vaccinations they need.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the very curious business for next week. This is what we have cancelled the mid-term recess for: statutory instruments and general debates. Members will be missing their skiing holidays and time in their villas for that! In the past few weeks, this House has regularly been rising early because there has not been enough to do. It is not as though we do not have any big decisions to make; there are only 43 days until we are supposed to leave the EU, yet there is nothing in this business statement that indicates when we will have the meaningful vote to determine on what basis we will leave—if we leave on a basis at all.
This is getting beyond a joke, and this Government are taking us all for mugs. We know that it is their intention to run down the clock, and to present the binary choice of their appalling deal or no deal at all, and they are doing everything possible to string this House along. We must stop them. Thank goodness we have you, Mr Speaker, in the Chair to ensure that this House will have its say, as it will.
When is a neutral motion not a neutral motion? When the European Research Group tells you that it is not. All we had to do today was have a form of words on which everybody could hang their favourite amendments, and the Government could not even do that. That has infuriated ERG members, and given that they are the de facto leadership of the Tory party, you would not want to do that. Here is a question for my colleagues: at what time today do the Government cravenly cave in to the ERG and amend their motion? We should have a sweepstake. I will have first go: 2.30 pm. That is when I say that the Government will cave in.
Finally, can we have a debate on what happens in Brussels bars? The first rule of Brussels bars is that what happens in Brussels bars stays in Brussels bars—unless you are Olly Robbins. Even with all the Stella Artois, we would not need Hercule Poirot to figure out what was going on. If this House wants to find out what is going on in this chaotic, clueless Brexit, perhaps we should all up sticks and head off to the “Voulez-vous Parlez Avec Moi?” bar in Brussels.
Given that it is Valentine’s Day, I shall say:
Labour is red,
Tories are blue,
The message from Scotland is
We’re staying in the EU.
I think the hon. Gentleman means the UK, according to the people of Scotland—but that does not rhyme; I grant him that. I am grateful to him for his contribution today; there were no surprises there. I say to him, in the immortal words of Shakespeare, that
“his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.”
I remain very fond of the hon. Gentleman. I will seek to answer one very important question that I think he asked: why is the motion for today’s debate not a neutral motion? I want to be very clear that today’s motion is amendable. Members will be aware that neutral motions are not usually amendable under the rules of this House, specifically under Standing Order No. 24B. The current exception to that is neutral motions tabled under the terms of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Such neutral motions are amendable, but under the Order of the House of 4 December. Today’s debate is not a motion under section 13, but a debate that the Government committed to outside the statutory framework of the 2018 Act, and they note that
“discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing.”
For the motion to be amendable, it needed not to be a neutral motion. I hope that that clarifies the matter for all hon. Members, and I do hope that they will take this in the spirit in which it is intended—as an opportunity to give the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster more time to negotiate an answer on the backstop, which is what this House requested of us in the last debate.
Can we have a debate on residential properties managers? Residents in Clyde House in my constituency have had to put up with floods, heating and ventilation systems that do not work, and inaction from A2Dominion, the company that is meant to be getting the repairs done quickly. Can we have a debate so that residents know where they can get redress and, most of all, urgent action?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise an issue about which many Members are concerned—that is, the way in which some tenants and leaseholders are treated badly by housing associations and freeholders. She will be aware that we have introduced legislation to protect tenants from rip-off fees, but there is more to do to ensure the right balance between protecting the interests of those who live in houses and those who own them.