House of Commons
Thursday 18 July 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—
A417 Brockworth to Cowley
I have taken a personal interest in this project, which I regard as an important part of our infrastructure that needs to be addressed, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that it is moving forward. Highways England announced its preferred route for the scheme in March, and it is now preparing for the next stage of the planning process, statutory consultation, followed by a development consent order process.
Sadly, there have been 10 fatalities and 123 casualties on that road in the last four years for which figures are available, so the improvement is desperately needed. Has my right hon. Friend had the chance to evaluate the Labour party’s proposals to scrap the roads programme, which would mean hundreds of road schemes such as this never being built and motorists being hugely inconvenienced?
No, no—[Interruption.] Order. Resume your seat. We are talking about Government policy. If the Secretary of State wants to say something about Government policy, he can, but he cannot ruminate or pontificate on Opposition policy. That is not a matter for the Secretary of State.
Labour Members say “Hear, hear!” because they do not want to hear the truth, which is that we are putting in place schemes that will benefit road safety, that will improve journey times and that will be good for our economy. The A417 improvement is a much needed scheme that does all those things, and it will be an essential part of this Government’s future planning. It is simply a tragedy that Labour wants to scrap it.
Electric Vehicles: Infrastructure
We are consulting on all new build homes in England being fitted with charge points, and we want all new public rapid charge points also to offer pay-as-you-go card payments from the spring of 2020. Our grant schemes and the £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund will see the installation of thousands more public charge points, adding to the 20,000 already installed.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for that reply. At sea, Lowestoft is at the forefront of the transition to a low carbon economy—the world’s largest offshore wind farm is being built just off our coast—but the town also wants to be in the driving seat on land. Will the Minister outline the initiatives that have been put in place to ensure that electric vehicle charging infrastructure can be rolled out quickly and early in Lowestoft, and that the work will not just be focused in large cities?
With my hon. Friend as the Member for Lowestoft, I believe that it is doing very well indeed on land, at sea and in the air. We have to remember that the majority of electric vehicle drivers charge their cars at home overnight or at the workplace. We want people across the country, and especially in Lowestoft, to switch to electric vehicles, and we want to leverage private sector investment to provide a self-sustaining public network that is affordable, reliable and accessible. As my hon. Friend knows, the market is best placed to identify the right locations.
That was slightly more pointed than I expected. At the moment, there is very little provision of electric car charging points in my constituency of Northampton South; I have only been able to find one in the whole constituency. What schemes does the Minister have planned for urban constituencies such as mine, and his?
I am very familiar with my hon. Friend’s constituency, which neighbours my own. I am pleased to say that in February this year Northampton Borough Council was awarded £45,000 under the Government’s ultra low emission taxi infrastructure competition to deliver two rapid charge points dedicated to electric taxis and private hire vehicles. He is right to focus on this issue, but we have a number of schemes that can be accessed by electric vehicle drivers across the country, including in Northampton South and Northampton North. The electric vehicles home charge scheme is just one of them; the on-street residential scheme is another. Local authorities are receiving significant funding to install recharging points, including with these new technologies.
I have recently been on an e-bike, and it was very good on hills. E-bikes are of great assistance to people with health and mobility issues. We want to encourage their use, and we are doing just that. We are also investing vast sums in cycle lanes and road infrastructure improvements, and we are focusing on safety. There is more to be done, as always, but we have done an awful lot more than Labour did in this area.
Of course, the market has been leading in this area, and we now have 20,000 publicly accessible charging points, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. We know from the charging of other devices that we use every day that they do not all share the same fixtures, but the fact of the matter is that we have an advanced system in this country. We are growing it, and we will be providing more funding in this area and looking to do more.
Contrary to popular myth, most particulates do not come from modern diesel engines, but from wear between the vehicle’s tyres and the road. Given that electric vehicles tend to be heavier than their conventional counterparts owing to the weight of the batteries, which increases tyre wear and road wear, does the Minister have any concerns that the increased use of electric vehicles may lead to increasing levels of particulates?
And what a good impression it is, Mr Speaker. The reality is that we all know that electric vehicles are tremendously advantageous to the economy and, frankly, to the environment, and there is work to be done. My hon. Friend is quite right to mention particulates, and we are looking at that issue, but electric vehicles provide massive benefits to the environment.
It is a sad day, because rumour has it that this is the Secretary of State’s last outing at the Dispatch Box. He is the gift that keeps on giving, but that is not funny because he has cost the country billions. Earlier this month, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders announced that sales of low-emission cars in the UK have fallen for the first time in two years. The SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, described the decline as a “grave concern” and blamed the Secretary of State’s confusing policies and premature removal of purchase incentives. Will the right hon. Gentleman finally apologise for his political blunders that have cost the taxpayer £2.7 billion?
As usual, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The fact is that the Secretary of State has been leading the way in this area, and the Department for Transport is also a world leader. Some 200,000 ultra low emission battery, electric, and plug-in hybrid vehicles are registered in the UK, and we are the second-largest market for ultra low emission vehicles in the European Union, so the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong.
Did I say “en suite”? We are investing in technologies and supporting innovations in on-street architecture—[Laughter.] We might invest in “en suite” architecture as well, but that would not be for my Department. Fixtures have been fitted to streetlamps, for example, and there have been innovations in contactless charging. Businesses around the country are working on various mechanisms, and this Department is supporting many of them with funding to help them to invent new technologies.
London Low Emission Zone: HGVs
Transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London and is delivered by Transport for London. Ministers and officials meet TfL regularly to discuss a range of topics. I have not discussed the effect of the roll-out of the London low emission zone on showpeople who drive heavy goods vehicles.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that under section 62 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, showpeople have a number of exemptions and concessions. There is a possibility that showpeople could get an exemption from low emission zones in recognition of their lifestyle and businesses. Will the Minister encourage Transport for London to look favourably at that and make sure that we are supporting these people?
Yes I will. The hon. Gentleman alludes to the fact that Transport for London has agreed a 100% exemption for some showpeople using adapted vehicles from both the ultra low emission and low emission zones. The detail of that is up to the Mayor of London, not the Government, but I understand that the Mayor’s office is agreeing a meeting with the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter, and I wish him well in that.
Blue Badge Scheme: Hidden Disabilities
From 30 August 2019, the blue badge scheme will include non-visible as well as visible disabilities. This change will be assessed 12 months after implementation, using feedback form the public, stakeholders and local authorities who administer the scheme. We will be tracking how many badges are awarded under the new criteria.
I welcome the £1.7 million that has been allocated to councils to implement the new regulations, but will the Minister encourage local councils to spend that money on autism training for assessors, so that they can have a better understanding of how autism can affect people’s ability to travel?
Yes I will. My hon. Friend is right: the £1.7 million of funding is to support local authorities in the administration of the scheme. Local authorities can use their share of the funding to train assessors on specific conditions such as autism. We will let local authorities make the actual decisions on how the money can be used most effectively to support the implementation of the new regulations, but I hope that local authorities will look sympathetically at the difficulties faced by people with autism.
I am sure that the whole House is keen to improve accessibility for people with all disabilities, which is why I am sure that the Minister will join me in condemning TransPennine Express and its decision to close the gate at Hull Paragon station, which is making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access the station.
While the £1.7 million is welcome, may I ask for advice and guidance for local authorities who might come under increasing pressure from the huge number of new blue badge applications? What advice can the Minister to give to local authorities such as Cornwall?
This is a matter for local authorities and they can exercise their discretion, depending on the circumstances in their particular area. I appreciate that there is a demand for the blue badge scheme; that means that the scheme works very effectively. It assists people who have mobility issues, and that is what it is designed to do. It is right that people with non-visible disabilities are also covered by the scheme. That has been the case heretofore, but this highlights the issue and we encourage local authorities to work with the system.
I am a Scottish MP, but the blue badge scheme is UK-wide. As the Chamber knows, my wife is disabled and nothing is a bigger pain than to run my wife to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and find that all the parking spaces have been taken or, worse still, that people who do not have the badge have taken spaces. Will the Government ensure that people who abuse the system are sorted out and brought to account as quickly as possible?
Yes. First, the fraudulent use of blue badges is a criminal matter and that can be dealt with accordingly, as one would expect. As for those who park in disabled parking spaces when they are not permitted to do so, such infractions ought to be dealt with by the supervisory authority, and that can be by way of fines.
Will the Minister further outline what training must be undertaken by those responsible for parking enforcement to ensure that people entitled to a blue badge for hidden illnesses are not interrogated by traffic wardens when their blue badge is clearly on display?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We expect those who are charged with enforcing our parking regulations to be sympathetic to these issues and alive to the fact that there will be people with non-visible disabilities who are perfectly entitled to use a blue badge.
Community Transport Operators
Community transport is incredibly important for both urban and rural communities, and in March the Department took steps to protect community transport operators so that they can carry on doing their valuable work. We have clarified, in guidance, the scope of two exemptions from the EU regulation on operator licensing, and we have enacted new legislation. We will revise the guidance on the non-commercial exemption once the High Court has reached a decision, and will carry out a review of the domestic permit regime later in 2019.
I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right: the service is very valuable. In parts of Bristol South, 40% of people do not own a car or van, so public transport is crucial to getting about in daily life. Will she join me in congratulating Bristol Community Transport on running the M1 metrobus service this year? Does she agree that local authorities need more funding to support bus services, particularly in communities where there are low incomes and older people?
I am more than happy to celebrate the work of Bristol Community Transport; Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, which is in or close to the hon. Lady’s constituency, also does incredibly good work. We have done everything we can in the Department to be as flexible as possible, so that those with community transport contracts in constituencies can carry on doing their work. We provide substantial financial support for all public transport, but of course I will always aim to secure even more funding, including in the next spending review.
Community transport in Essex would benefit from investment in Essex’s roads, and particularly from the dualling of the A120 and the widening of A12. Will the Minister work with the Department to ensure that both those schemes feature in the road investment strategy 2?
That is a fantastic question. My right hon. Friend has captured my imagination, and that of the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). I believe that the schemes are in the pipeline, and if I cannot meet my right hon. Friend, no doubt the roads Minister will, to make sure that the schemes are carried forward.
Over 90% of community transport operators in Scotland use section 19 or section 22 permits, but changes to legislation will lead to onerous conditions regarding driver qualifications and bus adaptations, and that threatens the existence of these important service providers. Coalfield Community Transport in my constituency believes that the measures will give them up-front costs of £50,000. Does the Minister accept how real these risks are, and will she meet me to discuss the issue and changes that could be made?
I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, because I am concerned about the cases that he has raised. I am also concerned that information is not filtering through, and that is creating panic among community transport operators that need not be felt. We have spent a lot of time working with community transport operators and local authorities; I have a list in front of me of everyone to whom we have spoken. Operators can also go on the community transport website, which has further clarification of what needs to be done. If they hold a licence at present, they are eligible to carry on doing their work.
Does the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) want to make a second inquiry? No? I do not want to tempt him beyond his natural appetite. I had him down for two questions, but we are grateful for his self-denying ordinance. In that case, we probably just about have time to include Mr Farron.
In places such as Sedbergh and Dent, community bus services have become a lifeline for people who would otherwise be isolated from the communities around them, and I am massively grateful to the volunteers who make those services possible. Community bus services have become essential because over the past 30 years Governments of all colours have chosen to stop seeing the provision of bus services as a service at all, and have allowed rural communities such as mine to become increasingly cut off and stranded. Will the Minister agree to launch a new transport deal for rural communities, with new investment for bus services that are regular, reliable and affordable?
The hon. Gentleman has mixed up two distinct types of services: community transport, and regular bus services. Over £1 billion is spent on concessionary travel, and over £250 million directly on bus service operators grant. If he wants to sit down with me and get further ideas on how his local authority can secure a partnership, I am more than happy to do that.
Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy
Spending on cycling and walking in England has doubled from £3.50 per head to around £7 per head over the current spending review period. The Government estimate that around £2 billion will have been spent on measures to implement the strategy between 2016 to 2021 alone.
While I welcome that increased investment, the Department has acknowledged that “current policy and resource levels will not enable the current aim of doubling the number of trips made wholly or partially by cycling to be met”, including in my own constituency of Warwick and Leamington. Will the Minister meet me and my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), to discuss a particular project, namely the Kenilworth to Leamington cycle route, which is in desperate need of investment?
I am always very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I would point out, however, that as well as the doubling of investment in cycling and walking and the £2 billion, we channel money from the Department for Transport and Government to local authorities such as his so that there is even more money for them to allocate to cycling and walking.
But will the Minister publish the evidence his Department has commissioned? Surely that will show that the current levels of investment will not be sufficient to meet the target. When he recognises that, will he direct his attention to the disused railway that Highways England wants to turn into a cycle lane between Ulverston canal and Greenodd roundabout?
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Morecambe Bay cycle way. The Government recognise the benefits of such schemes, which may be able to provide opportunities to increase active travel and significant benefit to the local economy, as well as to health and the environment. We have recently provided more than £20 million of support to Sustrans, to improve stretches of the national cycle network. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman if he wishes, but the reality is that we are putting considerable investment into cycling across the country.
I have seen the benefits of active travel and have been using the A44 cycle path from Woodstock to Oxford, but I want to see the same in other areas of my constituency, not least Eynsham, to alleviate, among other things, the congestion on the A40. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how that strategy might help the B4044 community path?
Studies now show that, even among older people, the resumption of an active lifestyle, including cycling and walking, helps counter the onset of dementia. Will the Minister do more to highlight that, to try to get older people even more active?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. There is no doubt that life expectancy increases among older people who are active. In fact, that is the case across all ages. We support that, which is why considerable investment is going into cycling and walking. I very much accept that the more active any person of any age is, the more likely it is that they will be in good health.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), the shadow Transport Secretary, has made clear the scale of the challenge we face with climate change and the urgent need to cut emissions from transport. Increasing cycling and walking is particularly important if we are to avoid a climate crisis. If cycling levels in the UK were the same as those in the Netherlands, carbon dioxide emissions from cars would fall by one third. Given the scale of the threat from climate change, why are the Government not doing more to avert this crisis?
The Government are leading the way in promoting the use of cycling and walking. We have doubled investment and it absolutely dwarfs that of the Labour party when it was last in government. The fact is that we have put £2 billion into cycling and walking, which is a monumental increase on Labour’s investment. We recognise that it is good both for the environment and for health, including mental health and wellbeing. That is why the investment is going in. We also have to factor in safety—we are very focused on that. As we have reiterated time and again, this is a priority for the Department.
The Government have once again shown their lack of commitment to tackling the real problems facing this country. The Secretary of State has failed to meet his own targets for encouraging cycling, and the Department for Transport is spending just 1.5% of its budget on walking and cycling. The Minister’s attempts to dress up what is clearly a failing policy are, quite frankly, deeply disappointing and show that the Government are simply not capable of providing the leadership needed to tackle climate change, which is the greatest threat to our country and, indeed, to humanity. When will the Secretary of State and his colleagues get a grip and show some leadership?
There is £50 million for Bikeability training for schoolchildren; £101 million for cycling infrastructure for cycle ambition cities; £80 million for the local authority access fund; £85 million from Highways England for cycling and walking; £597 million from the local growth fund; £77 million for local road schemes; £194 million from the integrated transport block for micro-enhancement projects—I shall keep going until Mr Speaker stops me—£196 million from the highways maintenance refund; and some £500 million from a range of cross-Government infrastructure funds, so there are hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, and that is what the Department is doing.
Transport for Vulnerable Children: Driver Training
We work across Government to ensure that safeguarding practice is as safe as it can be in the taxi and private hire sector. The issue has been discussed at an inter-ministerial group chaired by the Home Secretary. The Government have committed to legislate for national minimum standards, which will include making it a legal requirement that licensees undertake safeguarding awareness training. However, I encourage all licensing authorities to act now and use their existing powers to protect passengers.
My hon. Friend touches on an important piece of work that is being carried out across a number of Departments, including the Home Office and the Department for Education, and in local government. In the Department for Transport, we are looking to obtain the powers to create a national minimum standard, which will be quite high, and a national database, and to increase enforcement powers for traffic commissioners. Put together, all those things will ensure that the quality of service and safety for people when they enter a private hire vehicle is the same up and down the country.
We have known for a while that the Secretary of State does not run the railways, and yesterday he told the Transport Committee that
“we don’t really do buses”,
but the chair of the Government’s own task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing told us in March that he was “truly frightened” about the risk to the public under the current regulations. Thankfully, it seems that even the Secretary of State is not trying to dodge responsibility for legislating to protect passengers, but when will a Bill on taxi and private hire licensing be laid before Parliament?
The Chair of the Select Committee knows that I am just as passionate as she is about this issue within this part of my brief. I was hoping that we could start to legislate before the summer, and I now hope that I can crack on with it in the autumn. We have to remember that licensing sits with local licensing authorities. We are trying to put together a national database and to ensure that all the information is in one place, so that those who want to fish around to get a licence cannot do so. We are also increasing the traffic commissioners’ powers. All that work is in the pipeline, and I look forward to getting it done just as much as the hon. Lady does.
Strategic Road Network: Manchester to Sheffield
I absolutely accept that we need to improve the route between Manchester and Sheffield, and, indeed, we need to provide additional crossing points across the Pennines generally. That is why, in relation to the hon. Lady’s area, we have announced a £170 million package of improvements to the existing road link, including projects such as the Mottram moor link, to reduce congestion and improve safety and journey times. Construction on that will start next year. We are also going to smart-motorway the M62, and you will be aware, Mr Speaker, that we have started work on the dualling of the A66 further north. We are looking into ways to improve the links between east Lancashire and west Yorkshire and working with Transport for the North on the proposed trans-Pennine tunnel.
The Secretary of State’s confirmation of those projects is welcome, but fixing the strategic gap in economic productivity between Manchester and Sheffield will require a strategic road investment between the two cities, as Transport for the North has identified. Is the Secretary of State committing to prioritise that gap to unlock the potential £20 billion of economic productivity that could be unleashed?
I am clear that we need to deliver a much upgraded strategic road between Manchester and Sheffield—there is no doubt about that at all—as we do further north between east Lancashire and west Yorkshire, and further north still between Cumbria and Teesside, so I absolutely accept the hon. Lady’s point. She might, though, like to have a gentle word with her Front-Bench colleagues, who, of course, have committed to scrap the road improvement schemes that we have in the pipeline.
As someone whose constituency borders the city of Sheffield, I say to the Minister that we need to get economic productivity moving in our areas, as was outlined by the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George). Does he agree that, for communities such as Barrow Hill and Staveley, the Staveley bypass, which is 90 years in the asking, would be a great idea for Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire?
I know that my hon. Friend is seeking funding from the housing infrastructure fund for that scheme. I have been to the area and seen what is needed. I think that it is a very good scheme, and I hope that his application is successful. The reality is that, if we are to drive economic growth in the northern part of the country, we need road improvements. Those who argue against road improvements are letting down the north.
I declare an interest as a metro mayor. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) is absolutely right: the connectivity, both road and rail, between south Yorkshire and Greater Manchester is not fit for the 21st century. The 30 miles between Sheffield and Manchester is just about the longest 30 miles anywhere in England. It is good to hear from the Secretary of State that investment and work are taking place to address that, but does he agree that there is still more that we can do to improve that connectivity across the Pennines?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman: that route needs to improve; the M62 needs to improve; and the proposals for the trans-Pennine tunnel need to be taken forward. On rail, the Hope Valley line needs to be upgraded and then, of course, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the network that that will create, and the links that HS2 will bring, will be essential to unlocking the potential of Sheffield and the area around it.
Road Transport: Decarbonisation
It is the Government’s mission for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040. The Road to Zero strategy sets out the action that the Government are taking to support this mission, as well as the steps that they are taking to drive down emissions from conventional vehicles during the transition.
But the Committee on Climate Change made it crystal clear this month that the target for 2040 is simply in no way compatible with our international obligations under the Paris accord and advised that we bring it down to 2030, which would bring us in line with countries such as Norway and the Netherlands. Will the Minister explain to the House how that 2040 target is in any way compatible with the climate emergency that is facing this country now?
The move to zero-emission vehicles is the biggest technology upheaval to hit UK roads since the invention of the combustion engine. The Road to Zero strategy, which we published in July last year, sets out comprehensive plans to support this change and, frankly, the work that the Government are doing today will mean that they are handing the next generation a better, cleaner and greener Britain. That is crucial not only to improve the lives and health of people across Britain—it will do that—but to be able to meet the UK’s statutory climate change targets, and, frankly, the Government expect the transition to zero-emission transport to be industry and consumer led. Therefore, we are leading the way in this area and we have considerable ambitions. We are beating most countries around the world in terms of cleaner air, a better environment, zero-emission vehicles and a strong, clean economy.
Accidents on major roads cause terrible traffic jams, which increases pollution. As the Minister knows, I have written to him quite recently about the promised improvements to the A34 to improve safety. I would be very grateful if he updated us today, or wrote to me as soon as possible, about when these improvements will be made.
Low emission zones are vital to decarbonising our cities. My constituency of Edinburgh West has two of the worst polluted roads in Scotland. At the moment, the city is consulting on a low emission zone, but it can work effectively only if all road transport, not just commercial, is decarbonised and moved out of the city altogether—not just moved from one area to another. Will the Minister commit to what we have already heard, which is that we need to decarbonise to clean up our cities—and we need to do it quicker than 2040?
The facts are clear: the United Kingdom is a global leader in zero-emission vehicles. In 2018, for example, the UK was the second largest market in new ULEVs in the EU. We were behind only Germany. One in five electric cars sold in Europe was made in the UK. We are leading the way on design and technology. We are in the top tier in this area, and we are doing everything that we can with a highly ambitious project towards 2040, which is only 20 years away.
One of the best ways to decarbonise roads is to improve rail services, so will the Minister join me in congratulating Cooksbridge Area Rail Action Group, which has managed to secure an hourly rail service mid-week and, for the first time in years, on a Saturday, which will move more passengers in Lewes off the roads and on to the railways?
The best way of decarbonising road transport is to ensure that more people use public transport. It was therefore alarming to hear the Secretary of State tell the Select Committee on Transport yesterday that he thought that automated vehicles were the answer and that any modal shift should be incremental. Incremental? There is a climate emergency now and an incremental response will not cut it. Does not this show that the Secretary of State is not taking the climate crisis seriously?
That is quite wrong. The fact is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in charge of a record investment in rail. That form of public transport has seen huge sums of investment. In fact, we have invested across the board. The hon. Gentleman talks about the climate. This Government are doing more on that issue than countries around the world, and certainly far more than Labour ever did when it was in power. We are taking a multifaceted approach, and automated vehicles, public transport, electric vehicles and rail are also important in this regard. Rail investment from this Government beats them all.
I was delighted to hear that Andy Burnham has secured the recommendation of Transport for Greater Manchester to franchise bus services. Contrary to the nonsense spouted from the Government Benches, this has been done at the earliest possible moment following the passing of the necessary secondary legislation, and Liverpool will be next. Modal shift from car to bus will make an enormous contribution to reducing carbon emissions. Why, then, does the Secretary of State—perhaps as a parting gift—not do what a Labour Government will do and give every local authority the power to re-regulate their buses?
Rail Services: Cheshire
Since May, Cheshire’s passengers have received a new direct hourly service between Chester and Leeds, linking the two cities for the first time in many years. Services also started on the Halton curve after a gap of 40 years. Customers in my right hon. Friend’s area will benefit from Northern’s £500 million investment in new trains, which started being rolled out on 1 July.
Turning to stations, I had the pleasure of visiting Handforth station recently with my right hon. Friend. I am happy to say that it is one of the 73 stations in the Access for All programme that will receive an accessible route to and between platforms. The new £20 million Warrington West station is also due to open this autumn.
I thank the Minister for the Access for All programme at Handforth station, which is much appreciated by the local community and community groups. However, Northern won the franchise for the mid-Cheshire line in 2015, and the bid included a commitment to increase connectivity—from one to two trains an hour— between my constituency and Manchester. That was meant to happen in 2017. We are now in mid-2019 and it has not happened. I have heard the excuses from Northern and from Network Rail. What can the Minister do to ensure that there are no more excuses and that this line frequency occurs?
My right hon. Friend is a great champion for the commuters in her area. There is a commitment within the franchise to deliver additional services on the mid-Cheshire line, but this has proved to be very challenging operationally because of capacity issues in the area, particularly around Manchester and through Stockport. I have been clear that although I want to see the additional capacity delivered as soon as possible, this cannot be done at the expense of performance. Delivering a railway that passengers can rely on is the absolute priority. All options are being looked at to deliver these additional services. I will keep the House fully apprised of progress and this matter will be a priority for me.
I thank the Minister for his support for the upgrading of the Ebbw Vale line. That part of the Wales and Borders franchise has complicated responsibility and funding issues. Will he meet me and Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s Economy and Transport Minister, to tease out the complexities and seek investment for that important line?
I had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman only a few days ago, although I am, of course, very happy to have further meetings with him. I understand why he is making the case for that line. It is important for his constituency, which requires improved transport connections to address the economic difficulties faced there. I am very happy to continue to support the process.
As one of the ways in which we can reduce emissions of both carbon and other substances emitted from motor vehicles, the potential benefits of fuel additives and catalysts are certainly an area of great interest. Clearly, we need to be certain that there is scientific evidence about whether an individual additive makes a difference or not, but I have tasked my officials with looking clearly at the issue again to see what additions to our fuel can make a difference in the immediate future.
May I briefly thank the Secretary of State for giving us junction 7A on the M11, for which we campaigned in Harlow for more than 30 years?
The all-party parliamentary group on fair fuel for UK motorists and UK hauliers is shortly to publish a report showing that fuel catalysts, produced here in the UK, are an immediate and highly effective way to reduce emissions in urban areas. The APPG estimates that the Exchequer would save about 10% in costs, with an overall reduction in Government vehicle NOx and particulate matter emissions of more than 50%. Will the Minister meet me and Howard Cox, of FairFuelUK, to discuss how we can work on that?
Does the Secretary of State realise the urgency of this issue? These technical innovations are good, but 1 million people are likely to die from poor, filthy air by 2040. When will he wake up? Why will he not admit that the V word—Volkswagen—should have changed the whole world in terms of emissions? He should have taken on the car producers and he has not.
One of the things that has happened in the past two years, of course, is the sharp fall in the sales of diesel vehicles. We are now looking at ways to continue the transition to low-carbon vehicles, moving away from diesel, which, for many years, and particularly under the last Government, was the No. 1 strategy for dealing with carbon. Of course we need to continue to clean up air, but under this Government we are introducing clean air zones around the country.
Northern Rail: Pacer Trains
We have seen positive progress, with the introduction of the first brand new trains on routes across the north for a generation. There are currently nine in passenger service; the hon. Lady may be interested to know that they will be serving Rochdale from autumn this year. Alongside the roll-out of new trains and the introduction of the refurbished trains, Northern Rail is working to remove Pacers from the network. The first of them will be removed in August—only a few weeks away.
The National Railway Museum in York wanted to put a Pacer train in its history section this year. It was unable to, because Northern Rail is still using them. Is it not time that Northern Rail stopped treating its passengers like second-class citizens and consigned Pacer trains to their rightful place in the museum?
That, of course, is exactly what is happening across the network of the north: the new trains have to come in before the old ones can come out. The hon. Lady will be aware of the engineering issue with the manufacture of the new trains, announced in April. That was all resolved, which is why the new trains are in service now. The fleet changeover has been delayed by a few weeks, but the majority of the fleet of old 142 Pacer class trains will be removed by the end of this year. A small number of the newer 144 class will be retained for a few weeks to maintain a smooth and reliable service.
But let us fast-forward a few months: there will be new train fleets from TPE, new and refurbished trains from Northern Rail and the roll-out of Azumas on the east coast main line. No Transport Minister in a generation has been able to say what I can say now: we will have new trains across the north. That has been delivered by the Conservatives, catching up on the no-growth franchise that Labour gave the north and that served from 2004 until 2016.
Thankfully, Cleethorpes does not rely on too many Pacer units, but the Saturday-only service from Sheffield to Cleethorpes is provided by Pacers, and as they approach Cleethorpes station, they cross over the now-famous Suggitts Lane level crossing. The Minister is well aware of the problems that the high-handed actions of Network Rail have caused disabled people and local businesses. It now proposes to spend hundreds of thousands to resolve that. Would that money not be better spent elsewhere on the network where there is more danger and on reopening Suggitts Lane?
My hon. Friend is ingenious in the way he brings Suggitts Lane into all Transport question sessions. He is a most diligent campaigner on this issue. Since it was last raised, I have met Network Rail and the regulator to discuss the issue, and I know that he has also recently met Network Rail. I look forward to seeing the output of those conversations, and we will take up the issue.
Rail Station Accessibility
You may have noticed, Mr Speaker, that most of our rail infrastructure is Victorian. That is why we have made £300 million available for the Access for All programme, which will cover 73 stations over the next five years. We are also seeking nominations for £20 million of funding for smaller-scale accessibility improvements for the mid-tier Access for All programme.
I thank my constituency neighbour for her response. Many MPs across the House met the Office of Rail and Road this week. We were delighted to hear that it fed into the Williams review that it thinks passenger assistance notice should be reduced from 24 hours to the same day. Does she agree that it should be possible for everybody, including those with mobility issues, to wake up in the morning and decide to use the train later that day?
I agree with my constituency neighbour. As a member of the Transport Committee, he will have heard a lot of evidence about how we can use new technology to make our rail network even more accessible. I have tasked the Rail Delivery Group with looking at the Passenger Assist app, so that it works in a way that he and I would accept, with live, up-to-date information about what is accessible on trains, including toilets, and the services needed in between.
May I press the Minister on accessibility? One thing that could be done to improve station safety is the closure of dangerous level crossings, including the one at Pencoed in my constituency. This has been an issue for years. There is support from the Welsh Government and local authorities. Following the feasibility study by Bridgend County Borough Council, we need the DFT to allocate some funding, to ensure that the crossing is closed and new disability access is included.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware that vehicle idling is a major factor in poor air quality. That is why we plan to launch a consultation on increasing fines for idling drivers. We will seek a range of views on changes that would be the biggest since 2002 and how we can work with local authorities to tackle the issue.
Southampton, like many other cities, has poor air quality, and engine idling makes that worse, particularly on the Northam rail bridge in my constituency. I have written to the Secretary of State to support a bid to replace that bridge. When will he make a decision? Will he look favourably on our bid, and are we likely to be successful?
I am expecting to receive proposals from Transport for the South East at the end of July on the schemes that we prioritise for the major road network and large local majors funding for that area. I am certainly aware of the proposal in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is a potential candidate. I cannot anticipate the result, but he makes a good point about the way in which schemes like that can make a real difference to air quality. Those who seek to cancel improvements on our roads will make matters worse, not better.
Although we have one of the safest railways in the world, we must never be complacent, and I hope that the thoughts of the whole House are with the family, friends and colleagues of the two Network Rail staff who lost their lives in the tragic accident in south Wales two weeks ago. There is an ongoing investigation into what happened. I have asked both the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and Network Rail to ensure that lessons are properly learned from that tragedy.
I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments.
The £1.5 billion A14 improvement scheme is, I am told, the biggest civil engineering project in Europe. Highways England is brilliant at moving bridges and flyovers but hopeless at enforcing the diversions that should protect local people when the road is closed at night. Incredibly, it cannot even put traffic counters on the roads affected. Will the Secretary of State therefore join me at 3 o’clock in the morning on King’s Hedges Road to count the HGVs? Failing that—if that offer is not attractive enough—will he talk with me about how we can end the misery for my constituents?
I am afraid that I am not going to accept the hon. Gentleman’s offer to spend part of the night with him, but I will have a word with Highways England on his behalf and ask it to ensure that the impact on the surrounding area is lessened. No major project can be delivered without some disruption, but we do not want the disruption to be excessive or inappropriate.
The Department has funded a significant number of local authorities to trial innovative technologies and share good practice. Some of the connected traffic management measures, including the use of sensors to provide real-time parking space availability, for example, are already being adopted more widely. We are encouraging local authorities to install more of these systems.
Gareth Delbridge; Michael Lewis: today we pay homage to two rail workers who tragically lost their lives at work near Port Talbot. It is all the more shocking in the light of the report into the fatality of a track worker at Stoats Nest junction, which described Victorian methods of protection, brought about by casual labour, a zero-hours culture and the worker probably being fatigued, having had to work because his colleague had failed to turn up to work. It was clearly unsafe. Will the Secretary of State bring an immediate end to zero-hours contracts, as advised by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Rail, bring this work back in-house and end these exploitative and unsafe work practices?
I defend no unsafe work practices on the railways. I agree with the hon. Lady that the railways should always aspire to the highest safety standards. She should remember that we have the safest railways in Europe, but I am very clear, as I said in earlier remarks, that lessons need to be learnt when things go tragically wrong, as they have done on a small number of occasions in recent years, and I expect changes to be made as a result of the lessons that are learnt from those tragic incidents.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point. That experimental equipment is very interesting. The number of locations for the noise camera trials will be limited, because at the moment it is only experimental. We need to factor in such things as speed limits, road type, road gradient, accessibility and safety considerations. I cannot absolutely commit to Herriard having that experimental equipment at the moment, but my officials and I are well aware of Herriard’s willingness to contribute to the trials and we will definitely bear it in mind.
The Secretary of State has stated that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU regulation 2019/501 will allow UK drivers to continue to drive HGVs in the EU. That regulation has an end date of 31 December this year, so will he confirm that the 2020 vision under a no-deal Brexit for UK drivers, importers and exporters is one of chaos and uncertainty?
No, I will not confirm that. First, the Government’s policy is not to pursue a no-deal Brexit. We will continue under both our current and future leadership to pursue a deal with the European Union—that has been abundantly clear. However, both sides have equally been abundantly clear that we want trade to continue, and the European Union and we have both been very ready to say that we will allow the flow of hauliers to continue so that trade carries on.
I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to Market Harborough to see the work taking place there: the significant upgrade to services, the straightening of the line and a new station. The new east midlands franchise will deliver over £17 million of investment in station facilities across the route, including extra cycle spaces, 100 of which will be delivered at Market Harborough. I am very happy to champion that, and to encourage smooth and early delivery.
I understand the sensitivity, particularly for local Members of Parliament and local communities who see that joint role. I reassure my hon. Friend that there are very clear statutory rules on how a local authority can and cannot act when it owns a piece of land that is subject to a planning application. I give him that reassurance that clear rules are in place.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current £700 million upgrade to the east coast main line, the brand new trains arriving on the east coast main line, the new trains the Government are providing for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne metro, our plans to reopen the Blythe to Ashington rail line with financial support from Nexus, the opening of the last leg of motorway-grade road between Newcastle and London, and of course the mayor of Teesside’s exciting plans for his airport. One of the most extraordinary things I have come across recently is that the shadow Secretary of State proposes nationalisation in every field of transport except for his local airport, on which he is opposed to nationalisation. [Interruption.]
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for their campaigning on this issue. This is an important issue locally. Network Rail has made progress in finalising the design for the bridge and will start work as soon as possible. I will contact Network Rail to find the most up-to-date information, put pressure on it for the earliest possible completion of this project and keep my hon. Friend informed.
Three weeks ago, I went on a parliamentary visit to the Netherlands and had a tour of the port of Rotterdam. That one port alone is recruiting over 100 new vets to carry out the necessary regulatory checks in the light of a no-deal Brexit. Does that not demonstrate the scale of the cost of a no-deal Brexit and the likely delays from the checks that will be necessary?
It is not the Government’s policy to pursue a no-deal Brexit. It is the Government’s policy, under current and future leadership, to pursue an agreement with the European Union. That is what we want. We would all prefer to leave with a deal with the European Union, but that has got to be the right deal.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern that in response to a survey by the Guide Dogs charity, 42% of assistance dog owners reported being refused access to taxis and minicabs because of their dogs. What is he going to do in practice to ensure that all drivers of taxis and minicabs receive disability equality training?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but that is actually already illegal. I am working with a number of charities, including Guide Dogs, to ensure they can complain effectively and that the local authorities handing out licences are far more diligent about who those licences go to. As I mentioned earlier, once we are able to put together a national database it will be a lot easier to stop people who have already broken the law from getting licences.
It appears that the introduction of the hybrid Bill for HS2 phase 2b has been delayed yet again, causing further uncertainty and stress to my residents and businesses. Will the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that my constituents will receive a bespoke financial package, given that Long Eaton is grossly affected because the line goes straight through it, and put that on the face of the Bill?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s passionate and persistent campaigning on behalf of her constituents and the businesses in Erewash. I also recognise the disruption that HS2 causes for people’s lives and for properties. Support is provided through the statutory and non-statutory property compensation schemes, which aim to strike a good balance between ensuring fair compensation and protecting the public purse. A consultation on design refinement is running up until 6 September, and I urge my hon. Friend to make sure she puts forward her evidence.
The decision by Network Rail to shut the east coast main line on the bank holiday weekend is as baffling as it is nonsensical. Tens of thousands of people will be travelling to the north for our great sporting and cultural events, while rugby league fans will be heading to Wembley for the Challenge cup final. The economic impact on the north is likely to be significant. When was the Department first told about this decision, and will the Minister step in now to reverse it and prevent this misery for passengers?
I absolutely understand the hon. Lady’s concern—it is a very busy weekend. These things are always difficult to judge and to get right. I share some of her anxieties, and I have asked the Rail Minister to look, with Network Rail, at whether further ameliorations can be made that weekend to ease the pressure. Going forward, I will ask the train companies and Network Rail to try to be careful to avoid some of the busiest peak weekends. We have to use periods such as Christmas and Easter, but I do understand the hon. Lady’s issue about the August bank holiday.
For six years I have tried to work proactively with HS2 on the route going through my constituency, and had great success, only for HS2 now to produce a Bill that sees a viaduct tear through Rothwell Country Park. HS2 has now had the audacity to send me a letter saying, “We don’t think it affects your area”—that is to the MP for Elmet and Rothwell. What can the Minister do to make Labour-led Leeds City Council, which does not care about my constituents or about us having an inappropriate station location, make this route change? Quite frankly, I can no longer support the HS2 project as it stands.
I am disappointed that my hon. Friend can no longer support the project, because I know he understands the power of investing in infrastructure and how important this line is to ensure that communities and regions beyond London thrive going forward. I am disappointed that his local Labour-led council is not working proactively with him. I would hope that it is able to petition, when the opportunity arises, and also to put its comments into the design refinement consultation, which is open until 6 September.
Yesterday, Highways England wrote to me to confirm that it is going ahead with the road through Rimrose valley, an area with some of the worst roadside emissions in the country. Why are the Government not proceeding with the option of rail? Putting more freight on rail addresses the urgent need to address the climate emergency. Why are they so complacent about this existential threat to the world?
It is precisely because we want to see more freight on rail that we are spending £48 billion on our railways over the next five years, looking to expand capacity. Of course, one of the things HS2 will do—I absolutely understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), and the HS2 Minister and I will look carefully at the issues in his constituency for him— is create extra space for freight on rail. None the less, better road links to our ports, and to the port of Liverpool in particular, are also an essential part of economic development for an area such as Merseyside.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing on 22 July will include the following:
Monday 22 July—Tributes to the Serjeant at Arms, followed by remaining stages of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Tuesday 23 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Cableway Installations (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, followed by a motion relating to the reappointment of an electoral commissioner, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the British Nationality Act 1981 (Remedial) Order 2019, followed by a general debate on body image and mental health.
Wednesday 24 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Legislative Grand Committee (England) and remaining stages of the Kew Garden (Leases) (No.3) Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on the role and sufficiency of youth services.
Thursday 25 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
At the conclusion of business, the House will rise for the summer recess and return on Tuesday 3 September.
I thank the Leader of the House. I do not know what he said to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), but he is not in his place. I think it is because he would not allow the hon. Gentleman and the rest of MP4 to get into his car. However, we are pleased to see that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is present. I believe that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is, in fact, on a Select Committee trip.
There is one week to go, and the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has worked his charm. He has usurped the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and arranged a pre-recess Adjournment debate next week.
It seems that, just as the Leader of the House is hitting his stride, we will have a new Prime Minister. I have asked the Leader of the House this before, but will he tell us whether there will be a statement from the new Prime Minister that has not been included in the business for next week, or at least set out the timetable for what will happen next Wednesday, when the former Prime Minister will go to the Palace? I assume that the new Prime Minister will go to the Palace on the same day.
The Leader of the House said that we would return from the recess on 3 September. Is he able to say whether the House will sit throughout the conference recess?
The pound has fallen to its lowest level against the dollar in 27 months, and to its lowest level this year against the euro, because of the prospect of no deal. No deal would have a damaging effect on research: EU research funding would cease overnight. In 2016, the nine Russell Group universities engaged in 50 large European collaborations; in 2018, the number fell to 20. The Leader of the House will have heard from Venki Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society, how much more we get back when we collaborate with Europe in science projects.
Some Members seem to know more than the Chancellor. The Chancellor has said that there will be a £90 billion contraction in the economy if there is no deal, but someone who is not the Chancellor reckons that leaving without a deal would boost the economy by £80 billion. Who is right?
How is the Leader of the House getting on with setting up the Joint Select Committee that I asked about last week? We have received a Lords message about it, and I know that the Leader of the House was keen to respond to it
“this side of the recess”.—[Official Report, 11 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 462.]
He also said that he was having discussions with his end of the usual channels. Will they be the same usual channels next week? We need a response urgently, because we need to do this for the good of our country.
Despite what you and the Leader of the House said last week, Mr Speaker, Prorogation is now becoming a major issue. The team of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) have confirmed that they are looking into the possibility of proroguing Parliament for up to two weeks in October. A member of the team has said:
“A number of ideas are under consideration, including this one.”
Friends of the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped to have a “simple trade pact” with the United States ready to go on the day of Brexit, 31 October, but the Secretary of State for International Trade said that a deal could not be agreed before then. He said:
“We can’t negotiate anything with the US until after we’ve left the European Union. It would be in breach of European law”.
Who is right?
The Government were defeated in the other place yesterday on an amendment relating to intentions to prorogue Parliament. Now both Houses have spoken. I know that the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is due to come back to this House shortly, so can the Leader of the House categorically state that Prorogation will not happen, and that it is against the will of the House and democracy?
Mr Speaker, you kindly granted the urgent question yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). As Nazanin said, she went to visit her parents and has ended up in an asylum. This cannot be about a woman against a tanker; it is like a butterfly being crushed against a wheel. We say to the Iranian Government, “Show your humanity to an innocent woman and release her to her family.” And as you said yesterday, Mr Speaker, we won’t let go. I know that the Leader of the House has taken a keen interest in this matter: what update does he have for the House following the urgent question yesterday?
Ahead of the summer recess, I ask the Leader of the House to raise some matters with his colleagues in the Cabinet. Will he make representations to the Secretary of State for Education to tell all parents of schoolchildren, when they are taking their children abroad, that female genital mutilation is illegal: it is not a cultural issue and it is not a religious issue; it is an assault. And I would like the Secretary of State for International Development to say to those who are carrying out this practice that they should retrain so that they help the young women, not hurt them.
As we celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day, marking someone who suffered a terrible injustice but worked for a better society, I am sure all hon. Members will join me in welcoming the Bank of England’s decision to have Alan Turing on the £50 note; he was a genius, and during world war two he was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma code. He has been credited with shortening the war by as much as two years, saving countless lives in the process, and it is terrible that he could not witness how much we value his life.
We are celebrating the moon landing, and I am sure everyone was excited when they saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. I know I was; I was watching it on television in the sitting room and then ran out and looked at the moon and thought about the fact that someone was standing on it. I think I wanted to be an astronaut, but in the end I ended up here, which is not the Sea of Tranquillity. We should use our creativity and talent not to destroy each other, but for the good of all and our precious Earth.
May I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and express, as she did, disappointment that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is not in his place? I had lined up numerous dreadful gags at his expense, which we will now probably never hear. I also thank the hon. Lady for welcoming the pre-recess Adjournment debate; I was pleased that we were able to accommodate that. She referred at one point to “hitting his stride”, but I thought we were going to outlaw all bullying and harassment in this place—I obviously have a wolf in sheep’s clothing opposite me.
I feel sure that there will be an opportunity for the House to hear from the new Prime Minister next week, although clearly I cannot comment on the precise circumstances that may pertain to that; that will be a matter for him, whoever he is.
The hon. Lady also raised the issue of the recess dates beyond 3 September, and what I would say in response is that that, once again, will be a matter for the new Prime Minister to decide upon, and whoever is the Leader of the House at that time will come forward and make the announcement in the usual way.
The hon. Lady raised a number of matters around no deal, and she asked whether I thought the Chancellor’s assessment that the impact of no deal will cost the economy £90 billion or that of another person—I think I know who that other person is—who suggested that it might actually add to the economy by some £80 billion was right; I suspect the answer lies somewhere between those two figures.
The hon. Lady also rightly raised yet again the issue of the Select Committee on no deal, and when that motion will be coming before the House. I am afraid that I have nothing to add today to what I have said before on this subject, which is that I am engaged with our end of the usual channels and am keen to see that motion coming forward. At the earliest opportunity I will return to the House with further information on that.
The hon. Lady once again raised the issue of Prorogation, and of course there are a number of circumstances in which Prorogation may occur, but the essential principle here is that it should not occur simply as a device to exempt Parliament from the important decisions that there will be around no deal or a deal as we approach the end of October.
The hon. Lady, once again quite rightly, raised the issue of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the news that she has now been moved to a psychiatric hospital. This is a lady who, as we know, went to Iran simply to visit friends and family. She has now been detained for around three years. That is totally unacceptable. As the hon. Lady pointed out, my office has been in close engagement with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The latest update I have, as of tomorrow, is that discussions have been held at a senior level between the Foreign Office and the Iranian regime, and that we are again urging that Nazanin be released and returned to her family here in the United Kingdom. I will welcome every occasion on which the hon. Lady raises this matter because, like her, I believe it to be extremely important. She also raised the issue of female genital mutilation and made the important point that it is nothing less than an assault. She is absolutely right about that.
The hon. Lady also expressed her pleasure at the fact that Alan Turing will appear on the £50 note, and I share that, not just because of the huge contribution that he made to perhaps shortening the war with his code-breaking activities, but because this is indicative of how far we have advanced as a civilised society.
Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned the moon landing and said that she had seen it on television. I find that extraordinary, given that it happened in 1969. She cannot possibly be old enough to have been cognisant of that event at the time, but we all, right across the House, celebrate that one giant step for the whole of mankind.
Over the past month, a group of Travellers ensconced themselves in my constituency, first at Anmer Lodge, then on to Hatch End playing fields, then on to Stanmore Marsh and then into Canons Park, finally ending up at Whitchurch playing fields. Harrow Council and the police have done everything they can to move them on swiftly, but the Travellers have left behind hundreds of thousands of pounds’-worth of damage to be cleared up after them. May we have a debate in Government time on what more can be done to expedite dealing with the illegal occupation of public land by groups of Travellers?
I know that this is a problem for many of us, particularly those in rural constituencies such as mine. I would say two things to my hon. Friend. First, we have Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government questions next Monday and he might wish to raise the matter then. Secondly, I think that this would be an excellent opportunity for a debate—perhaps an Adjournment debate—and if he would like to speak to me, I will see what I can do to facilitate that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—in fact, I think he should be my right hon. Friend—is racing back in breathless anticipation of the Lords amendments. We all know how much he values the Lords and their amendments. I have been left here to respond, but I do not know whether I would qualify for a last-minute spot on the Leader of the House’s caravan holiday. I am not as musically talented as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire, but I was told at my auntie’s recent birthday party—she turns 70 today, Mr Speaker—that I mix a good Bloody Mary. That might be helpful for Conservative Members next week when they wake up after six weeks of self-indulgence with an almighty hangover and realise the enormity of what they have done in selecting the new Prime Minister. That is why the Leader of the House really must make time for my hon. Friend’s Prime Minister (Nomination) and Cabinet (Appointment) Bill, which would give this House the opportunity to endorse any candidate put forward for nomination as Prime Minister. That is what happens in most civilised democratic institutions these days—starting, of course, with the Scottish Parliament.
Failing that, perhaps the Leader of the House’s caravan could be fitted with a rocket booster so that we can all observe the new Prime Minister’s blunders from the safety of the moon. Perhaps we could also have some time to debate my early-day motion 2599, which I have launched with support from across the House. It commemorates the 50th anniversary of that shared human endeavour.
[That this House recognises that 20 July 2019 marks 50 years since humanity first landed on the moon; remembers that NASA’s legendary Apollo 11 mission was launched by a Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the ambition of landing a crew on the moon and returning them safely to earth; thanks the crew of three American astronauts, Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Buzz Aldrin; recalls that the Lunar module, nicknamed the Eagle, finally touched down on the moon on 20th July 1969; celebrates the legacy of Commander Armstrong who become the first human to ever set foot on the moon as he took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind on to the lunar surface; further recognises that the moon landing represented the single greatest accomplishment in human history as it pushed the boundaries of what was believed to be possible and united humanity in a sense of collective endeavour and hopes that the spirit of Apollo 11 will inspire future generations to better understand the complexities of the universe.]
If we cannot go to the moon, perhaps we could go to Kew Gardens. At least, Scottish National party Members could go to Kew Gardens, because we are all going to be shut out of the debate on the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill next week as the English Parliament—the English votes for English laws Legislative Grand Committee—meets for the first time in its full glory to consider that Bill in Committee. We look forward to seeing how many Members from England actually turn up to take part in that process, which was supposed to transform democracy in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps while we are in Kew Gardens, we can have a look under the bushes to see whether we can find out where the 1.5 allocated Opposition days that are still due to the SNP have got to. There are many good reasons not to prorogue Parliament in the autumn, but if it were to be prorogued without our having had those opportunities that we as the third party are entitled to under the terms of the Standing Orders, that—and the use of the EVEL procedures—would serve only to demonstrate the fact that Scotland’s voice is being tuned out, and that the Leader of the House’s caravan is ready to drive off into the Brexit sunset without us.
I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) to his place, standing in for the legendary hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who I hope will be here next week, so that I can use my various lines on him. The hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned the Prime Minister (Nomination) and Cabinet (Appointment) Bill, which would make the Prime Minister’s appointment subject to a vote in this House. However, I think it is just a thinly veiled attempt by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire to get himself into No. 10 Downing Street, coming hard on the heels, as it does, of his tilt at the speakership and his Speaker’s manifesto. We know that all that is just a blatant power grab.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned EVEL. All I have to say is that this approach is working well and gives everybody across the House the ability to participate in the various debates at the different stages of a Bill, while giving the final veto on devolved competencies to the relevant area, such as England and Wales. He also mentioned Opposition day debates, and the Standing Orders are clear that there will be 20 such days per session, with 17 for the main Opposition party and three for the second largest, which is the SNP. My understanding is that that allocation has been met.
I was elected chair at the inaugural meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for sustainable clothing and textiles. This House should have a debate on whether we are moving too far towards a plastic-free environment for the things that we pick up while retaining too much plastic in our textiles. We need to support our farmers who want to give us more natural fabrics, and we need to get out of wearing plastic.
My hon. Friend makes some important points, and I urge her to make them again at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions next Thursday. We should not overlook this Government’s considerable achievements in getting plastics out of our economy. Single-use plastic bag usage has reduced by some 86% since we introduced the plastic bag levy. I take on board her comments about plastics in clothing, which would make an excellent subject for debate.
I thank the leader of the pack—sorry, the Leader of the House—for next week’s business. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Backbench Business Committee puts on debates in the Chamber when the Government give us the time, so we are a little taken aback that the Leader of the House has decided that next Thursday will not be a Backbench Business day, going instead for a general debate in Government time on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
I am also a little surprised that the Leader of the House has also stolen from the Backbench Business Committee the subjects of two debates to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. That is fine, and I am sure that the Members who applied to the Committee will be happy to have the subject matters aired, but one of them was going to involve a votable motion and is now a general debate. The other thing is that the lead Members in those applications do not now get to lead those important debates. Mr Speaker, will you give special consideration to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) in the general debate on body image and mental health, and to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) in the debate on the role and sufficiency of youth services and give them slots high up in the pecking order?
I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the absence of a Backbench Business debate next week. He has become rather used to having such debates almost every day over the past few weeks. I am particularly pleased that we are having the usual pre-recess debate, because it would have broken the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) had we not done so. If I have the opportunity to find time at a late stage for a Backbench Business debate—the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this to me before—I will attempt to accommodate that, although I make no promises. Finally, I am sure that Mr Speaker has noted the hon. Gentleman’s request regarding my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle).
Apparently—not that I remember it—my parents got me up so that I could watch the moon landing, just as the shadow Leader of the House did. On its 50th anniversary, we should use its inspiration. May we have a statement on the importance of STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—as we remember the inspirational Apollo mission? I pay particular tribute to Ifield Community College in my constituency, which is undertaking a solar car project.
In case anybody was wondering, I was just eight years old at the time of the lunar landing, and I remember watching it; it was an extraordinary moment. My hon. Friend makes an important point. He rightly congratulates his college, and stresses the importance of STEM subjects. I point out that we are making major progress in this area; for example, A-level maths is now the single most popular choice among students.
Yesterday, a group of young people were involved in a serious knife attack in my constituency. One of the group was taken to hospital, and the others were taken into custody. All were aged under 18. A primary school sports day was taking place across the road from where the attack occurred. May we have an urgent statement from the Government on the effectiveness of the serious violence strategy, and what Ministers are doing to ensure that we take these weapons off our streets?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The thoughts of the entire House are with the family and friends of those involved in the incident. Knife crime, as she knows, is a complex issue, and there are a number of reasons why we have higher levels of it, albeit that crime generally has been falling since 2010. Often, knife crime is related to drugs, as she will know, and to county lines. That is why we have a cross-Government approach to tackling the issue. Some £100 million was provided in the last spring statement to make sure that we have the appropriate co-ordination to tackle the problem. I am sure that the Home Office and other Departments will have heard her question.
The National Crime Agency was first warned about the activities of the paedophile Matthew Bell in September 2016, but he was not arrested until March 2018, which allowed him to continue to abuse Filipino children, some as young as 11, until April 2017. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, described this as “incredibly disturbing”, and went on to say,
“I’ve been concerned for many years that there just aren’t enough resources going into this given the scale of the escalating problem we face.”
May we have a debate in Government time, or a statement from the Home Secretary, on the resources available to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command and the NCA, so that we can ensure that we are properly resourced to combat a crime that sometimes, alas, includes children around the world being peddled by their own family, and so that we can make sure that we are doing everything that we can to control and stamp out this abhorrent behaviour?
My right hon. Friend raises an appalling and deeply distressing set of issues that would be well served by a debate. Perhaps the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) might consider this a subject for a future Backbench Business debate. I would be very happy to go further and offer to facilitate a meeting for my right hon. Friend with any particular Minister.
In the very city where William Wilberforce led the fight against slavery, P&O Ferries is employing Portuguese and Polish crews on £1.83 an hour. The deck crew are required to work five months on. British ratings earn about £35,000 a year and are required to do two weeks on, two weeks off. Could we have a debate on this really important issue? I think this is slavery.
I thank my hon. Friend—I will call him that—for raising this issue with me personally prior to business questions. He is absolutely right. On the face of it, what he has shared with the House is a deeply unsatisfactory situation, which appears, to me at least, to be a form of exploitation instead of the wages and conditions we would expect. It is certainly a good topic for debate, but if he would like me to arrange a meeting with the relevant Minister to take a closer look at the issue, I would be very happy to be of assistance.
On Saturday, Brechin young farmers club will celebrate its 75th anniversary. I declare that I was previously a young farmer. Such clubs do fantastic work in raising awareness of the farming industry, with social events and sporting events, and my locality had an annual cabaret competition. It did not serve me particularly well, which is why I am not on the stage but on these Benches instead. Will the Leader of the House join me in commending the fantastic work of young farmers clubs up and down the country, because they should be recognised in this place?
I thank my hon. Friend for asking a fantastic question. The young farmers in my constituency are a vibrant and important force. Farming sits right at the heart of our rural communities, in terms of employment, looking after the environment and so on, but farmers are generally getting older and the average age is increasing as the years go by. It is really important to get young blood into farming, and the young farmers clubs, including my hon. Friend’s, do a great job.
Staff in libraries across Bromley are currently on indefinite strike because of draconian terms and conditions placed on them by the contractor, Greenwich Leisure Ltd, and Bromley Council has refused to take action. Our libraries are a fantastic community asset, but they are nothing without the dedicated staff who work there. Can we please have a debate in Government time about support and funding for our libraries?
I will direct the hon. Lady to Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday. I think that would be useful. Libraries are hugely important, and we have provided considerable funding for them. There is no doubt that the terrain on which libraries operate is changing dramatically, with the use of digital information as opposed to books and print media, but we as a Government are very keen to support them.
Can we have an urgent statement from the Housing Minister about Persimmon Homes, following my question yesterday to the Prime Minister, which you kindly allowed, Mr Speaker? The homes, dreams and lives of Gilden Way residents in Harlow have been ruined because of shoddy building by Persimmon Homes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Persimmon should be removed from the right to buy scheme until these problems are sorted out, not just in Harlow but in other Persimmon properties across the country?
We are making considerable progress in increasing the supply of new build housing, but that is not the same as saying that all housing is of the appropriate quality. It is characteristic of my right hon. Friend to look closely at that particular issue, to make sure that housing is fit for purpose. We have announced our intention for a new homes ombudsman, to protect the rights of homebuyers and to hold developers to account. I know that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will have heard my right hon. Friend’s request for a statement, and I am happy to meet him to follow that up if he wishes.
Order. In calling the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), I congratulate him on, and offer him best wishes for, his wedding on Saturday. I know that the House will join me in that expression of good will. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He is a very young man to be contemplating the state of matrimony, but we wish him well in its pursuit.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much. I am quite thrown now.
The Leader of the House may be aware that this week the Disability Benefits Consortium has highlighted the devastating impact of welfare changes on disabled people. The report highlights how disabled people have lost benefit payments of an average of around £1,200 each year as a result of Government changes. May we have an urgent debate on how we can change our benefits system to ensure that we actually help disabled people, rather than push them further into poverty?
In the spirit of the wedding fest, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and I thank my wife for having put up with me for 14 years. It is our anniversary this weekend and she has truly put up with a great deal. I love you very much, Michelle. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Now I can do no wrong, can I?
On the hon. Gentleman’s question, overall we have brought in through universal credit a welfare system that is making sure that work pays, which is the best way for people to work out of poverty and why we have the lowest level of absolute poverty in our history. We recently made some changes to universal credit, including an increase in the annual allowance, which is worth £670 per year to 2.3 million people. Various other changes were made to help those who need support, but at the same time to encourage employment.
It is a huge source of shame that modern slavery persists in our country, in some cases on an industrial scale. It is always accompanied by other forms of organised crime, such as people trafficking, sexual exploitation and money laundering. May we have a debate on whether the modern slavery unit in the Home Office has sufficient manpower and resources to successfully and swiftly bring the perpetrators of such heinous crimes, and the complex criminal networks associated with them, to justice?
Modern slavery is one of the scourges of a modern and global world. It is worth reflecting for a moment that one of the current Prime Minister’s key legacies will be the extraordinary work that she did and drove forward in this policy area, particularly when she was Home Secretary. For example, she brought in the various requirements on companies and on reporting, and she made sure that we have the resources and tools available to clamp down on this iniquitous situation.
Will the Leader of the House provide Government time to implement one of the Government’s own pledges? In 2015, they promised statutory guidance on school uniform costs. Since then, the cuts have got worse, and the Tory council has axed the school uniform grant in my constituency, leaving parents in Peterborough forced to fork out three-figure sums annually. Education Ministers have replied to my questions by stating that, four years on, they are still waiting for parliamentary time. Will the Leader of the House make it clear that time is available?
The hon. Lady appropriately raises the question with me, because it relates to the provision of parliamentary time to bring in measures that she wants to see brought before the House. On that basis, I am happy to meet her over a cup of tea to talk about what might be done.
On Tuesday, we learned that drug-related deaths in Scotland have reached their highest level on record—three times higher than the rest of the UK and the highest in the developed world. After 10 years in government, that is a shameful stain on the SNP’s record. This needless loss of life is a national emergency, so will the Leader of the House agree to hold an urgent debate in Government time?
Scotland questions are on Wednesday, so I urge my hon. Friend to raise that issue on that occasion, as I have no doubt others will too. As the House will probably be aware, the UK legislative framework in this policy area falls to the Government here in Westminster, but operations on the ground—if I may term it that way—are the responsibility of the Scottish Government, who I am sure will have heard my hon. Friend’s comments.
Sanctuary Care runs a number of care homes in the London Borough of Greenwich, and it is cutting the pay and conditions of staff who were TUPE-ed over several years ago from the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The chief exec earns £240,000 a year. At a time when people are concerned about standards of care in social care, is the company doing the right thing? May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about this kind of practice in the care system?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific issue relating to a particular care home in his constituency, and, of course, it is very difficult for me to comment with any intelligence on the points that he has made, other than to say that I would be very happy to assist him in facilitating a meeting with the relevant Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care should he so desire it.
Order. Ordinarily, I call everybody in business questions, as colleagues can testify from personal experience, but that will not be possible today because of the pressure on time. I give notice that we will be moving on at 11.30 am. Colleagues, therefore, should be considerate of each other and, dare I say it, perhaps behave in a comradely manner towards each other.
May we have a statement on the issue of short formation trains? In Lewes, on peak services, we still get four-carriage trains, and passengers who pay an average of £4,500 a year for a season ticket cannot get on them. Will the Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Department for Transport?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I try.
With new Government figures out this week showing that, for the first time ever, there are now more young black and minority ethnic young people in young offenders institutions than there are white people, will the Government make time for a debate on this important issue, given that their own race audit, the David Lammy review, and other evidence show that the way that charges are brought, prosecutions are made, and courts are run disproportionately affects those from certain backgrounds and certain communities more than their better-off peers?
The hon. Lady does indeed have a wonderful smile, though it is the smile of a crocodile, I think. Notwithstanding that, I will give her an answer and make it snappy, shall I?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. We did, of course, commission the Lammy review. We accepted its recommendations and we are keen to crack on with them. The Minister responsible for the issue, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), is sitting next to me on the Treasury Bench and would be delighted to meet her.