House of Commons
Thursday 5 September 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Supply of Medicines: No Deal
The Department of Health and Social Care has assessed and contacted 448 suppliers of medicine and has regular and detailed conversations with the industry.
This week, the Nuffield Trust joined 11 union leaders to warn that no deal would disrupt the supply of life-saving medicine and exacerbate the largest staffing crisis in our NHS’s history. What level of mortality rate is acceptable to the Secretary of State as the price to pay for this devastating no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman does not reflect the reality of the significant preparation that the industry has done over the last three years, and I pay tribute to it for that. For example, one of the leading insulin manufacturers, Novo Nordisk, has 18 weeks’ worth of supplies, while the Government had asked for six weeks’ worth. The industry has gone above and beyond in its preparation, and a huge amount of work has been done.
I was recently contacted by a constituent with a rare condition. She has stopped producing cortisol and needs to take a synthetic form of it to survive. If she stops taking her medication, she will be dead within 10 days. What does the Secretary of State have to say to my constituent, who is afraid that the Government are gambling with her life?
I would say that we should not be scaring people unnecessarily. The Government have put in place a framework to ensure supply. We have also put in place an express freight service, which will give even more capacity on a 24-hour basis and between two to four days for larger pallets. There is additional capacity, and a huge amount of work has been done on storage, but this is an issue of mutual interest for the UK and the Commission, and we are working on it jointly.
Anyone who is facing cancer treatment wants to know that they can get the medicine and the medical devices they need as quickly as possible and with certainty. Dr Buscombe from the British Nuclear Medicine Society says that the system for delivering radioactive isotopes in the event of a no-deal Brexit is “fragile”. What does the Secretary of State say to patients who are concerned to hear that?
I was a Health Minister, and as part of business as usual there are always issues of supply, usually with around up to 50 lines. We have had it in the last few weeks with HRT, which is totally unconnected to Brexit. These are issues that the Department is well used to preparing for. It is in the interest of both sides to get this right. Two thirds of Ireland’s medicine comes through the land bridge in Great Britain. This is something that both sides are working to deliver because it is of interest to both of us.
I welcome the Government’s preparations to prevent medicine shortages in the event of no deal and the fact that the Secretary of State highlighted the impact this will have on the Republic of Ireland. As he rightly says, two thirds of medicines to the Republic come through and over UK motorways, so it is in the EU’s interests as well to prevent no deal.
My hon. Friend is right. This is about preparing. It is not about scaring people unnecessarily. Around 220 lorries impact Ireland. This is of mutual interest, and we want to get it right with them. That is why we are working with member states on this. It is not just about stock and not just about flow; it is also about flow the other way. A significant number of UK medicines from firms like AstraZeneca go to Europe, so this is in the interests of the EU27 and the UK, which is why considerable work has been done on it.
Exports: No Deal
The Government have prioritised flow of goods at the border and put in place a range of easements to support that fluidity.
I do not get any sense from the Secretary of State that he intends to implement the decisions of this House in ruling out no deal. What would his response be to Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association, who only this week said this of his experience of Ministers in relation to what he describes as the “clear and present” threat of no deal:
“What we need is action, and we need action now. And there’s this gap between what they say they’re going to do, and what they have so far failed to deliver”?
When will we see delivery from this Government? When will the Government even meet unions representing drivers to discuss their real fears about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on drivers’ hours and safety?
Again, the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the evidence. The Government are acting. He should look at, for example, the auto-enrolment of EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers. Some 87,955 VAT-registered businesses that trade only with the EU have, as part of auto-enrolment, had those numbers sent out. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was in Calais meeting his counterpart and discussing these very issues. There are material issues to address, but it does not progress debate in this House if people ignore the reality of the work that the Government are doing.
My right hon. Friend said last week that the
“car industry’s ‘just in time’ supply chains rely on fluid cross-Channel trade routes”,
and that we
“need to start talks now on how we make sure this flow continues if we leave without a deal.”
Some of us have been making this point for some time. Can my right hon. Friend say: who are these proposed talks with, have they started, when does he expect them to finish and will he publish an update on how far they have got?
This is the first opportunity I have had since my right hon. Friend left the Government to pay tribute to the work that he did as a senior Minister, in particular, if I may say so, in relation to the British steel industry. I know he was an assiduous champion of its interests at the Cabinet table.
What I was highlighting in that thread was the talks the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was having that Friday in Calais. The fact is that issues about the documentation required and the flow are of mutual interest. It was pertaining to the issues touched on in the communiqué issued by the Commission yesterday. It is in the interests of both sides, including those of leaders in northern France, that we get the flow of these goods right.
About 3 million wooden pallets are used every month to transport goods, including food, between the UK and the EU. After a no-deal Brexit, those wooden pallets will no longer be able to be used unless they have been heat treated or fumigated. Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance, because this is absolutely about the supply of food, that there are sufficient pallets available to the companies that keep our food supplies moving?
We have a ministerial meeting, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is tasked each day with looking at specific issues. My focus—as Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of this—is on the negotiations, as opposed to every item such as pallets, so I will pick that up with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, considerable work has gone on. As I say, this issue applies to the EU—to its exports and the flow of goods through Calais—and it is these very issues that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was discussing with his counterparts in Calais last Friday.
The Secretary of State quite rightly referred to the EORI numbers, but as I understand it, businesses will also have to get a similar number from the country in the EU27 with which they trade once we are outside the EU. Are businesses aware of that, or are they just aware of getting the UK one?
My hon. Friend is right that there are a number of things businesses need to do. That is exactly the purpose behind the public information campaign that we have launched to improve readiness. Contrary to the perception often implied in this House, a huge amount of work has been done in Government over the last three years and a large amount of work has also been done in large companies, including large pharmaceutical companies. The area of more concern has been within the SME community to which he refers, and that is what the public information campaign is targeting.
Would not the best way of measuring the effect of transportation of goods on the UK leaving the EU without a deal be to publish the Operation Yellowhammer documents, rather than sanitising or shredding them, and allowing Members of Parliament to interview the civil servants responsible for writing them?
A huge amount of information has already been published, not least in the form of the technical notices that the Government have issued. However, I fear—this may be a rare area of agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and me—that there is no level of documentation we could publish that would fully satisfy him.
The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel for short stays, subject to reciprocity. The Government have also said that we do not intend to require visas for tourists or short-term business visitors from the European Union.
On longer-term working visas, 19% of people in the Calder Valley work in manufacturing, a sector that is now suffering from skill shortages and benefiting from very high employment. Can my right hon. Friend put the minds of businesses at rest, and explain how we can fill these skill shortfalls in the short term after Brexit that are currently filled through freedom of movement?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I can certainly reassure him. As the Home Secretary set out, as we leave the EU we will transition to a new points-based immigration system that is built around the skills and talents that people have, not where they are from. In the short term, Swiss citizens and those from the European economic area who move to the UK after a no-deal Brexit on 31 October will still be able to start to study, as now.
My hon. Friend makes an important point—it is essential that we attract the brightest and best, not just from the EU but from around the world. That is what the Government are doing by repositioning ourselves with real growth areas around the world, alongside the EU.
Is the ministerial team aware that my constituency of Huddersfield, where I come from, is, like that of the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), the centre and heart of manufacturing in this country? We must be mobile and be able to visit places. People in the manufacturing centre of Huddersfield, and the university, are absolutely appalled by what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit. We need access to our markets and to travel, and we believe it will be the end of the world if we crash out without a deal.
Last week I spoke to Universities Scotland, which is deeply concerned about the status of Erasmus students who are currently in Scotland. If they go home for Christmas, can the Minister guarantee that they will be allowed back in, in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
The Government are committed to leaving the European Union on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. We would prefer to leave with a deal, but to achieve that the EU must be willing to reopen the previous withdrawal agreement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I believe the best way to avoid no deal is to secure a deal. He will know that I voted three times for the withdrawal agreement, and I will support this Government as they seek to secure a deal. Given that the comments reported overnight from Monsieur Barnier appear to be in conflict with the aspirations of our Prime Minister, will the Secretary of State say when the Prime Minister intends to deliver his proposals for the revised deal, so that that deal can be secured before 31 October?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. Despite some misgivings and the way that he campaigned during the referendum, he has consistently voted for a deal, and he was consistently willing to compromise where many others were not. On the substance of the talks, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser was in Brussels yesterday, and the Prime Minister is due to meet the Taoiseach on Monday. I am in regular contact with my counterparts, and I have visited a number of capitals in recent weeks. A significant amount of work has gone on, but we will not fall into the trap that befell the previous Government, where the Commission has an absolutist, all-weather, all-insurance position and then asks for deals on the basis of creative flexibility, and against that test then dismiss it as magical thinking. We need to have detailed discussions, but they must be done in the right way, which is what we are doing.
The Secretary of State has said once again that the new Administration want to secure a deal, rather than leave without one, yet we know that no new concrete proposals have been presented to the EU. It has been reported that in the technical talks that took place yesterday between the UK’s chief negotiator and EU Commission officials, the UK team made it clear that the Government want to jettison the level playing field provisions contained in the withdrawal agreement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that removing those provisions is now the Government’s preference?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the Government want to leave with a deal. We also know that Labour Members do not want a deal, they are not prepared to leave with no deal, and therefore they are not prepared to leave at all. The Government’s proposals made it clear in the letter to President Tusk that, notwithstanding concerns about the wider withdrawal agreement held by many of my colleagues on the Government Benches, the issues have been narrowed down to that of the backstop. That is distinct from the Northern Ireland protocol as a whole, and that is the constructive approach that the Prime Minister has taken. He has also answered the charge that was often levelled from the Labour Benches about what sort of deal we seek in the political declaration. The charge of a blind Brexit was often levelled at me, and the Prime Minister has answered that question. He is seeking a best-in-class free trade agreement, and he has been crystal clear on that.
There was no answer there on the level playing field provisions. I am not sure why the Secretary of State is so reluctant to confirm that regulatory divergence from the EU, rather than alignment with it, is what the Government want to achieve. After all, as he mentioned, in the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk on 19 August that was for him “the point” of our exit. We have gone from Canada plus plus plus to Canada minus minus with barely a mention and no debate in this House. Let me ask the Secretary of State this simple question: will the Government now come clean with the British public about the fact that far from maintaining workers’ rights, Ministers want the freedom to chip away at them and environmental protections and consumer standards?
If the hon. Lady will give me a moment, I was just coming on to do precisely that. The point at issue is whether the UK is, as a sovereign state, able to determine its own laws and regulations, or whether it is in dynamic alignment, taking rules and regulations from the Commission over which we would have no vote. Opposition Members may huff and puff. What it suggests is that they want this Parliament to continue to take rules from the Commission, but in future have no say over those rules. We do want a situation where we have two sovereign states, not on the basis of deregulation but of sovereignty.
My right hon. Friend tempts me, with his knowledge of the relevant box sets, into dangerous territory. The Prime Minister does have clarity on what he is seeking in the negotiations. The framework was set out in the letter to President Tusk, where we narrowed down the negotiating objectives to the backstop in the withdrawal agreement and to a best-in-class free trade agreement in the political declaration. That is the plan. It is very clear.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Diolch yn fawr iawn. What would the Secretary of State say to the National Farmers Union, which says that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for farmers? The Farmers Union of Wales says it would have disastrous consequences for farmers. What would he say sitting opposite family farmers in places like Brecon and Radnorshire and across Wales who really fear for the livelihoods and their futures?
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming the hon. Lady and paying tribute to her maiden speech yesterday? I thought she spoke with great distinction. The specific issues pertaining to the sheep industry were addressed, at much greater length than perhaps the Chair can allow me now, in the Adjournment debate by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would first refer the hon. Lady to the comments and the issues the Minister of State—
I can go into it. I watched the Adjournment debate. The Minister talked about the misunderstanding by an Opposition Member of the impact of depreciation on experts. We can talk about the measures put in place in terms of headage and the support for the industry. We can talk about the level of exports. We can get into the detail with the hon. Lady; it is just that the Chair will, I am sure, want me to be fairly succinct, and the Adjournment debate covered the issue at greater length.
Ethanol Imports: Tariff Schedule
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK would implement a temporary tariff regime. This would apply for up to 12 months while a full consultation takes place and a review of a permanent approach is undertaken.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s response and the letter I received from the Department for International Trade this morning, but in the meetings we had with the Department we were told that biofuels would not be covered by the protection tariffs. Ensus in my constituency tells me that the fear of a no-deal Brexit is already harming business. We know that a no-deal Brexit without tariff protection will kill British biofuels, end jobs and leave us relying on imports. Will the Secretary of State commit to working with his colleagues to maintain tariff protection on ethanol before it is too late?
The hon. Lady raises a legitimate issue in a constructive way, and I am very happy to work with her because she is championing a genuine issue on behalf of her constituents. There is always a balance in setting tariffs between protecting consumers and the issues for producers. It is about how we calibrate those two sometimes competing issues. She will understand that within the market— within the industry—there is domestic pressure, regardless of Brexit, but I am very happy to work with her on that issue.
The Secretary of State will be aware from Yellowhammer that the proposed tariff regime under a no deal creates very specific risks for the UK oil-refining sector. Given that the Valero refinery in Pembroke is the largest and most important private sector employer in west Wales, will the Minister tell me what the plan is for protecting the UK refining sector if we end up leaving the EU without a deal?
My right hon. Friend will know that concerns have been raised by the industry in respect of that. Pertaining to the answer that I gave a moment ago, existing questions within that market are also a factor. I am very happy to have further discussions with him, as I am with the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), because a number of issues come into play for that industry.
There is a group of medicines that simply cannot be stockpiled and which rely on an uninterrupted supply of imports. Will the Secretary of State give a 100% guarantee that none of my constituents will suffer a shortage of that type of medicine as a result of a no-deal Brexit?
As I said, we have not only put in place an additional procurement framework in terms of capacity, but we have procured an express freight service to deliver small consignments on a 24-hour basis, and a two-to-four day pallet-delivery service. These issues are being addressed by the Department and a huge amount of work is going on exactly on that issue.
Since joining the Department on 27 July, I have personally met more than 20 business organisations. Since July 2016, Department for Exiting the European Union Ministers have collectively undertaken over 700 meetings with businesses and business organisations from every sector in the economy.
That is a very sensible question. The Department has engaged extensively with logistics companies and representative bodies from across the sector to ensure that they are prepared for 31 October. I encourage my hon. Friend and businesses to consult the public information campaign on gov.uk to get a practical, step-by-step guide on what is required for business. That is a powerful thing to do—it is the right thing to do—in preparing to leave properly on 31 October.
What information can the Minister give us about what preparation has been done—what proactive contact his Department has made—with businesses that may not trade directly with Europe but whose supply chains or customers do so, and who therefore may not have availed themselves of the Government web pages?
I would certainly encourage those businesses to avail themselves of that opportunity. The Department has sent out 1,300 bits of information and that is captured on the gov.uk website. I have engaged with businesses—I am the small and medium-sized enterprises champion for the Department—and the one thing that I have noticed is that larger businesses tend to be more prepared than smaller businesses, and particularly the type of which the hon. Lady speaks. The Government website is a rich source of information, so I encourage Members to return to their constituency and—alongside campaigning—promote the Government website.
There is a massive difference between some of the realistic concerns of businesses about no deal and some of the madcap scare stories that are going around. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there is an understanding of realistic concerns and to dismiss some of the other wild stories?
There will always be knockabout politics, but I would prefer to engage in the detail. I was in Northern Ireland last Thursday talking to businesses on the border and then in Belfast discussing alternative arrangements with a wide range of businesses, engaging them in the very real detail and not the high-level scare stories. There are concerns and they are being dealt with, but they should not be confused with the bigger scare stories.
Discussions with EU Counterparts
Over the summer recess I had extensive discussions with my European counterparts—I suspect that my right hon. Friend and I saw a little less of the summer than some—including in the past fortnight in Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki and a couple of other places. There has been extensive engagement, and that engagement continues.
I am very encouraged to hear my right hon. Friend begin to list some of his summer itinerary. I think that helps to build confidence in the fact that the Government are engaged in serious discussions with the European Commission and other counterparts. To that effect, would he be prepared to publish information on whom he has met and the discussions he has had when not in meetings, with whom and when?
I fear that I might get into trouble with the said unknown place, but I hope that a bit of latitude will be granted. My right hon. Friend raises a material point, because it goes to the crux of last night’s debate and the sincerity of the negotiations. The Prime Minister has also had extensive contact through the G7 and his visits to Berlin and Paris, among other places, and there has been the extensive work, to which I pay huge tribute, of the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, who was in Brussels last week, this week and who has also travelled extensively. Significant work has been going on, and I am very happy to look at what further detail we can set out.
First, as the hon. Lady well knows, the Government do not comment on leaks. Secondly, the issue is really about looking at the substance. Look at the letter to President Tusk that narrowed down the issues. It would have been much easier for the Prime Minister to set out a long list of demands but, because of the seriousness of the negotiations, those have been narrowed down, as set out in that letter. One of the European Union’s charges against the previous Government was that they had not been specific enough about what sort of future relationship they sought in the political declaration. The letter answered that very clearly: a “best in class” FTA, and one that covers not only the economic side, but security and other aspects. There is substance there. The problem with the other side is that they do not want to leave at all, and therefore they will not take yes for an answer.
Policing and Security
I spoke this week to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister about security matters and exiting the European Union. My Department’s Ministers and officials hold regular meetings with the Home Office, and we are working closely to prepare for business, keeping our plans under rigorous review, and I will continue to do so.
Under a no-deal Brexit, UK police would lose access to 40 enforcement tools, including the European arrest warrant and access to European information databases, which are vital for identifying international terrorists and criminals who could be targeting this country. Can the Minister explain how that is assisting us to take back control of our borders?
One thing that will certainly assist is the 20,000 extra police officers—[Interruption.] I do want to get down to the specifics, but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for making a political point, given that we are now into an election—at least, we think that we are into an election. On the specific details, Interpol notices function very similarly to SIS alerts. The hon. Gentleman reasonably talks about the European arrest warrant. In the event that we leave without a deal, the UK will operate the Council of Europe convention on extradition with EU member states. We have worked intensively with operational partners, both here and across the EU, to ensure that there is a smooth transition between the two.
Operation Yellowhammer found that a no-deal Brexit could lead to
“a rise in public disorder and community tensions”.
Do the Government not recognise that the toxic and irresponsible use of language, such as “collaborators”, “treachery” and “surrender”, deepens the divisions in our country and puts the public at risk, including Members of this House? Have they not learnt the tragic lessons of history?
Legal Services Sector
Let me start by thanking my hon. Friend, who does not seem to be in the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “He is in the Chamber.”] I apologise. That was in no way an insult to my hon. Friend’s height or presence. I congratulate him on his work in the Justice Committee.
The Government are committed to maintaining, over time, the growth in the United Kingdom’s £4.4 billion trade surplus in legal services, and that includes setting the right framework in future trade negotiations.
There is always more than one way to be overlooked.
Does the Minister accept that, at present, the United Kingdom has the second largest market in legal services in the world, and the largest in the European Union? That is because of the unparalleled access that British lawyers currently have to EU legal markets under the appropriate directives. Does the Minister recognise that if we are to avoid the 10% hit that the Law Society estimates would be taken by this country’s income from its legal services in the event of a no-deal Brexit, we must not only preserve maximum access to those markets, but develop a comprehensive strategy across all Departments to market British legal services as a world centre of excellence elsewhere?
I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Given that 6.5% of global legal services pass through the United Kingdom and three out of 15 top firms are based internationally in the UK, it is essential for us to work on a cross-departmental basis. The Legal Services are GREAT campaign is a good example of this ambitious programme. Since its launch in Singapore in October 2017, it has operated in more than 30 countries, with trade missions to Kazakhstan, China, Chile and Nigeria. Those missions are very effective, and they will continue.
Freedom of Movement
The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, even in a no-deal scenario. In the event of no deal, however, the arrangements for UK nationals travelling to European Union countries will change, and we have published advice on gov.uk on the steps that they will need to take.
Many EU nationals in my constituency have endured incredible stress and anxiety owing to the uncertainty that they have faced since the referendum. Their rights have been used as a bargaining chip with the EU, and the new Home Secretary even proposed legislation to stop freedom of movement immediately after no deal. Will the Minister assure us that citizens’ rights will no longer be used as a negotiating tool, and will be unilaterally guaranteed?
Citizens’ rights will not be used as a negotiating tool., and they have not been used as a negotiating tool. The hon. Lady has mischaracterised the position. It is the Prime Minister who has made a big bold offer to EU citizens, and it is now for member states to reciprocate.
What assessment have the Government made of the impact on people with pre-existing health conditions who will no longer be able to use their European health insurance cards to cover their conditions if they either live in the EU or are travelling?
I welcome the Minister to his post. As he will know, over the summer recess a Home Office advertisement relating to settled status was banned for being misleading. The uncertainty created by conflicting messages is causing real fear among EU citizens in the UK and the British in Europe.
On 21 August, I wrote to the Secretary of State seeking clarity on five key issues. I have not received a reply, so I wonder whether the Minister can answer one of those questions now. I am reassured by his indication that he likes to engage in detail. EU citizens were promised that if the UK left the EU without a deal, their rights would be the same as they would be under the withdrawal agreement. Can the Minister confirm that, despite previous indications to the contrary, the Government will retain the right to appeal against settled-status decisions in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
The Government are delivering more than 300 specific no-deal projects across a range of sectors and delivery is well advanced. There is still more work to do and we are turbo-charging our preparation under the leadership of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
We have heard so much nonsense this morning—in fact over the last three years—that it was not really a surprise to hear the Secretary of State talk about a “depreciation of experts” in the Government. Last night this House voted for legislation to block a no-deal Brexit; does he accept the vote of this House and will his Government strictly adhere to the rule of law when this Bill has Royal Assent?
It is a little dismissive for the hon. Gentleman to say that all this is nonsense. That was the first SNP question, so saying that we have already heard the nonsense seems a tad premature. The reality is that the Government are preparing extensively for no deal. We have a big information campaign that has launched, over 300 projects are under way, and we are working actively and constructively with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government.
My hon. Friend is a keen observer of these matters, and he is absolutely correct: the decision on an extension is not a—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) says “So what”; I am merely stating the legal position. I am sorry that she finds the legal position somewhat distasteful, but that is the legal position. The legal position on an extension is that it requires the support of every member state including the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend is correct. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps chuntering, but my hon. Friend is correct: we would need to continue to prepare for no deal, because it is within the scope of any member state to block an extension. That is the legal position.
Not just this Government will pay attention; I am sure the people of Scotland will pay attention to a vote against democracy. It is not the first time that those on the SNP Benches have ignored the votes of the British people, whether in the referendum in 2014 that they want to overturn or in the referendum of the United Kingdom in 2016. They seem to have a problem with listening to the democratic will of the people.
In my discussions with Associated British Ports, which manages the port of Immingham and the other Humber ports, there is a clear indication that they are well prepared in their contingency plans to handle any problems that may occur. Can the Secretary of State confirm that our ports are indeed well prepared for no deal and also that they can take much heart from the advantages, such as free-port status, that will be available post-Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before the reshuffle I met the ABP and others looking at these issues, and their preparations are well advanced. He will also know that the Government have allocated additional funding for those ports, and he will be aware that, although in this place a huge amount of the debate tends to focus on Dover because of the vehicle flow through it, in terms of the containers and value of goods, the other ports are actually more significant.
The Yellowhammer report that the Government are determined to hide from us warns of delays of up to two and a half days at ports, freight target capacity being reduced by between 40% and 60% and, in terms, medical supplies being vulnerable to severe extended delays. The Government tried to pretend that that was an old report, but that was not true. It is dated August 2019. They also tried to pretend that it represented the very worst case scenario, but that is not true either. It is a reasonable worst case scenario: not the most likely, but likely enough to need to be planned for. When will the Government accept that all the trade organisations, professional bodies and people who understand the industry who are saying that no deal will be a disaster are right, and that it is this Government who are wrong?
There is an oddity within the hon. Gentleman’s question. He accuses us of hiding the Yellowhammer documentation, yet it is shared with the Scottish Government as part of our internal working to prepare for no deal. We are not hiding it; in Government we prepare documents and on that basis we put in place funding and other measures to tackle them. In fact, the Public Accounts Committee, among others, would be the first to criticise us if that detailed preparation was not taking place.
It is always the case that in Government we prepare documents in order to ensure that we have preparations in place. The point is to determine what is likely to be the impact on the EU27, for example, and what we can put in place to address concerns such as those on the flow of goods. I referred earlier to the fact that two thirds of Ireland’s medicines come through Britain. I could also have mentioned the fact that 40% of Irish exports go through Dover. This is an issue that concerns the Commission and the United Kingdom. That is why we are preparing these documents, and we are working openly with the Scottish Government and others on that. That is what the Government should be doing.
EU Settlement Scheme
I spoke to the Home Secretary this week on the issues of the EU settlement scheme. The scheme is operating well: 1 million people have passed through the scheme out of the 3 million, and there have been no rejected applications. The Prime Minister has made a big, bold offer to EU citizens, who remain our friends and neighbours and who are welcome here in the United Kingdom.
The Minister says that the system is working well, but I can tell him that the reality is that it is not. My wife Cyndi is an EU citizen and, due to the Government rhetoric, she reluctantly decided to apply for settled status. I can tell the Minister that the system crashed, and that the officials operating it said that they could not handle the volume of traffic. Is it because this process is a shambles that the Government have had to do a U-turn on the threat to end freedom of movement on 31 October, or is it the threat of court action that has caused the U-turn?
We have improved the system on an ongoing basis, and we are keen to do so. The default position is that we want people to get that settled status. The hon. Gentleman makes specific points about a specific case, and I am sure that the Home Office would be happy to look at that and to understand how it can improve the system further.
Since I last updated the House, I have had the pleasure of welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) to his ministerial place. I should like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and for Braintree (James Cleverly), who have now both joined me in the Cabinet. We have a new Prime Minister, who is committed to leaving on 31 October, and within the ministerial portfolios I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has taken on responsibility for domestic operational planning in the context of no deal. This enables me and my Department to focus on negotiations with the EU, in which we will seek to achieve a best-in-class free trade agreement. Throughout the summer I have visited a number of European capitals and had regular conversations with my key interlocutors, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland and the French Europe Minister, with whom I had recent productive meetings in Paris.
If I was still a serving police officer and I arrested a European national who, unbeknown to me, was wanted for a string of serious violent sexual offences, at the moment I would simply have to access a database on booking him into custody in order to find that out. Will the Secretary of State spell out in detail how I or my custody sergeant would do that if we were to leave without a deal on 31 October?
Under the current position, that would depend upon to which member state the situation pertained. We already have in place a bilateral arrangement with Ireland to reflect the common travel area, but the arrangements vary between member states. However, the premise of the hon. Lady’s question is right, because the UK puts more data into the European arrest warrant system than any other member state, and we think that the UK’s contribution is of value to the European Union and that it is not in its interest to put its citizens at risk by not reciprocating. We stand ready to work with member states, but it is the European Commission and my counterpart Michel Barnier who have ruled out what he calls “mini-deals” to address the hon. Lady’s concerns.
As was covered earlier in the question session, a huge amount of work has been done by the Department of Health and Social Care, including on additional procurement capacity and express delivery. That builds on extensive work by the industry, including the additional stock and additional flow capacity that it has procured.
I want to ask specifically about the important issue of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government remain fully committed to all the existing elements of the December 2017 joint report between the UK and the EU negotiators? Yes or no?
I asked a careful question, and I got a careful answer, which did not confirm full commitment, so let me press on. It has been reported this week that EU member states were told by the European Commission that the UK Government were proposing to reduce the ambitions of the 2017 joint report relating to Northern Ireland—not the Good Friday agreement, but the 2017 joint report. In particular, it has been reported that the UK is rowing back from the “legally operable” solutions to avoiding a hard border to what has been described as “aspirational” measures—that is quite specific. The pledge now is only to have trade across the Irish border that is “as frictionless as possible”—again, a difference. These are important issues, and I know that there has been a bit of knockabout this morning, but this is of huge importance across Ireland. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reject those reports and make it clear that there will be no rowing back from the solemn commitments made two years ago in the 2017 joint report?
First, as I said in my previous answer, there has been no rowing back from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which is an area of common accord between us. Secondly, the reason I pointed towards north-south co-operation is that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware, the Prime Minister drew a distinction in the letter to President Tusk between the backstop and the Northern Ireland protocol. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also know that, while the two terms are often used interchangeably in the Chamber, there is a distinction between them, particularly on the basis that the north-south co-operation, the common travel area and the benefits of the single electricity market are distinct from the points in terms of alignment.
As for his further question around the legally operative text, I addressed that point to some extent in my remarks in the Chamber yesterday in that there is a distinction between the European Commission saying that all aspects need to be set out in a legally operative text by 31 October and looking at, for example, what role the joint committee will have during the implementation period, because the implementation period means that things need to be in place by the end of December 2020 or, if extended by mutual agreement, for one or two further years. It is therefore within that that there is a distinction to be drawn.
Yes, we need to know who, at the 17 October council, can negotiate for the British people and, in particular, who can deliver on the express will set out in the referendum. What we have from Labour Members is doublespeak that will leave us in legislative purgatory, because they are saying, on the one hand, that they will vote against every deal that is put forward—three times they voted against the deal, and their own deal was rejected by the House as well—yet they also vote against a no deal.
Well, the inevitable consequence is that they are not prepared to leave, even though their own manifesto said they are. The real question for the British public at the next election will be, how can they trust what Labour says in its manifesto on Brexit when it has gone back on every word it said at the last general election?
I think the Chair of the Select Committee would concede that, of the holders of my role—I know there has been more than one—I have probably been the most frequent in appearing before his Committee and others. Actually, that is not the case when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), but it is when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who is now Foreign Secretary.
On the substance of the question, there has been a huge amount of work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) asked about the different working groups, for example, and I chair the technical working group. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union chairs the business group, and he was in Northern Ireland with that group over the summer.
Again, it goes to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. Work has been going on throughout the summer on alternative arrangements, but if it is simply published against an all-weather, all-insurance test, it will be dismissed, as it was under the last Government, as magical thinking. That is what the last Government experienced. We need to get into the detail, and that work is going on, but it needs to be discussed in the appropriate way.
My hon. Friend raises a specific issue and, as a former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I know the markets take a keen interest in such discussions. If I may, I will ask the Chancellor or the Economic Secretary to come back to him on this specific issue.
I think the hon. Lady would agree that there is more than one voice in Tooting. I am sure there will be a range of voices, as indeed there is, but I do not resile from the fact that I am sure she speaks for a majority in her constituency in making that point.
My approach is that when this Parliament says it will give the British people their say, when the Government of the day write to the British people saying they will honour the result and when this House then votes by a significant margin to trigger article 50 to deliver on that result, it undermines our democracy if Members of this House, on the one hand, vote against a deal and then, on the other hand, say they will not countenance a no deal. I think that is a threat to our democracy, and I think it is a threat to our international reputation as a country that defends democracy around the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it will support farmers in the same cash terms as they have been supported under the current scheme. We are working with farmers to look at new markets and, across Government, we continue to work with businesses, both large and small. We are particularly encouraging small businesses to engage with the Government in their preparation for the eventuality of no deal.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his grand tour of Europe in recent weeks during the recess, notably to Finland, a nation of 5 million people and an enthusiastic member of the European Union. Given that the UK was only the seventh largest importer to Finland in 2018, how will leaving the single market and the customs union improve that dismal position?
On the one hand, colleagues question whether we are engaging and on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that we are engaging too much. He needs to make up his mind.
On how we promote further trade, first, there are opportunities beyond Europe that we are keen to seize, and we have a Secretary of State for International Trade. [Interruption.] On Finland, about which the hon. Gentleman is chuntering, I chaired a breakfast meeting with business leaders when I was in Helsinki and we looked at, for example, links on key areas such as timber where there is an appetite to strengthen bilateral trade further. There was a huge appetite among the business leaders I spoke to there to do more trade with the United Kingdom, including with Scotland as part of that United Kingdom.
This is my first time at the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State for Transport and I welcome the opportunity to update the House on HS2.
There is no future in obscuring the cost benefits or timetable of HS2, so on 21 August I announced an independent cross-party review, led by Douglas Oakervee, of whether and how HS2 should or should not proceed. The review will consider the project’s affordability, deliverability, benefits, scope and phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail. The chair will be supported by a deputy chair, Lord Berkeley, and a panel of experts from business, academia and transport to ensure that its assessment programme is independent, thorough and objective. Some of the individuals on the panel have been passionate advocates and others have been vocal critics of the project, but they will provide input to and be consulted on the report’s conclusions.
The review is under way and will report to me on time this autumn. I will discuss its findings with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and its recommendations will help to inform our decisions on the next step or otherwise for this project.
Colleagues will be aware that on our first day back, 3 September, I placed in the House advice that I received over the summer from the recently appointed chairman of HS2 Ltd, Allan Cook, on the cost and deliverability of the current scheme. He has said that he does not believe that the current scheme can be delivered within the budget of £55.7 billion, set at 2015 prices. He estimates that it requires a total budget, including contingency, in the range of £72 billion to £78 billion, again set at 2015 prices. The chairman does not believe that the current schedule of 2026 will be met for the initial services of phase 1. He does not think that that is realistic.
In line with lessons from other large major transport infrastructure projects, the chairman’s advice proposes a range of start dates rather than a specific one. He recommends 2028-31 for phase 1, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects phase 2b—the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds—to be open between 2035 and 2040.
The chairman is also of the view that the benefits of the current scheme are substantially undervalued. All those matters will now be considered by Douglas Oakervee within the scope of Oakervee review.
When I announced the independent review into HS2, I said that I want Doug Oakervee and his panel to assess independently the findings and other available existing evidence. The review will provide recommendations on whether and how we proceed.
I wish to make one further, wider point. Everyone in the House knows that we must invest in modern infrastructure to ensure the future prosperity of our nation. However, it is right that we subject every single project to the most rigorous scrutiny possible. If we are truly to maximise every opportunity, this must always be done with an open mind and a clean sheet of paper.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his new responsibilities and welcome the review that the Government have set up.
I have three questions for my right hon. Friend. First, in view of this week’s revelation that HS2 is overrunning both its budget and its schedule—something that many of us have been predicting for a long time but that has been systematically denied for years by HS2 Ltd and by his Department—what assurance can my right hon. Friend give about the transparency of both the review that has been commissioned and the Government’s formal response to it?
Secondly, my right hon. Friend will know that enabling works for HS2 are still being carried out along phase 1 of the route. Ancient woodlands are being felled. Productive farmland is being occupied and used by HS2 Ltd. Public money is being spent on these works even though, as my right hon. Friend says, the review may lead to a recommendation to cancel or significantly change the project altogether. Will the Secretary of State now accept that those works are prejudicial to the outcome of the review that he has established and order that they cease?
Thirdly, I have a queue of constituents whose land has been taken by HS2 Ltd for preparatory works, but who have still to receive the payments that were formally agreed with HS2 Ltd. The Government have rightly committed to crack down on late payment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that HS2 Ltd should be setting an example in this regard, not acting as a laggard? As he, as Secretary of State, is the sole shareholder in HS2 Ltd, will he now take responsibility for insisting that HS2 Ltd puts this injustice right immediately?
First, on the budget and the schedule, it is exactly as I said in my opening statement: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no future in trying to obscure costs or in being unclear. It is the case that in a massive, developing infrastructure project—Europe’s biggest—costs just are not known. They are speculated about and then start to firm up, in this case, literally as we start to dig into the ground. I can see how over a period of time things move. None the less, I take the view that as soon as I have the information, I will inform the House—as soon as I got that Cook report and the House returned, I stuck it straight into the Library. I assure my right hon. Friend that I will continue to do exactly that going forward.
Secondly, it might be helpful to colleagues to know that I have asked for Douglas Oakervee to meet Members of Parliament. He will be in Committee Room 2A on Monday 9 September, between 3.30 pm and 5 pm. That is an opportunity for any colleagues to go and see him. Colleagues can make their own arrangements with him separately, and I will inform the House of that.
Thirdly, on the enabling works, we are in a position where I have to make a go/no-go decision in December. I know that this will not a delight my right hon. Friend, but it seemed to me that if we did not continue to make preparatory works, I would not even be in the position to make a go/no-go decision. I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but that is the current position. We can then take a decision.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concern and anxiety about compulsory purchase order payments. When people’s lives, livelihoods and homes are potentially going to be ripped apart by a project that is supposedly for the wider good, it is right that the state compensates them promptly and efficiently. I would be most grateful to see more details of the cases he mentioned. I have already had one across my desk, which I have sorted out, and I would like to see others. There is no excuse for a CPO for which people are not paid.
I too congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and welcome him to his place. He comes into post at a time of crisis for the country, but at an absolutely critical moment for HS2.
I gently remind the Secretary of State that we did ask for regular reports and recommended a peer review when phase 2a was before the House some weeks ago. I am sorry that he was not able to vote for that—or, indeed, that the Prime Minister was not able to express a view at all.
The Secretary of State mentioned that the review that is under way is a cross-party one, but I gently point out that there has been no consultation whatever with me. If it is to be genuinely cross-party, perhaps he might want to take up that invitation.
We have consistently been told by the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the then ministerial team that the 2015 figure of £55.7 billion for the entire project was the full cost of HS2 and that there was no reason to change it. It is hard to conclude anything other than that it has been plain and obvious for some considerable time that this was not accurate. Will the Transport Secretary tell us when his predecessor was told that the figure of £55.7 billion was not accurate or sustainable, and when he was first told that the timetable for delivery could not be adhered to?
Is this not yet more evidence that this Government have totally failed to exercise any control over the project—not just over costs, but with regard to redundancy payments and key appointments that transpired to be unsustainable? In addition, when the contracts for phase 1 were being granted, despite hedge fund managers making a packet out of the inevitable demise of Carillion, this Tory Government crashed on regardless, awarding the doomed organisation a valuable HS2 contract.
It is beyond doubt that the Government have been totally incompetent and reckless, but, worse than that, there hangs over this Government the unpleasant smell that Parliament may have been misled—however unwittingly—given that it is stark staringly obvious that when the Minister responsible for HS2 stood at the Dispatch Box a matter of weeks ago to tell the House that there was only one figure and one figure alone for HS2 that assertion was completely and totally inaccurate. If there is going to be delay, what assurances can the Secretary of State give to the 9,000 people currently employed by HS2?
This Government continue to be characterised by a lack of transparency. I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks that he intends to put that right, but it still remains, as does a lack of candour. Once we can be assured that there is no prospect of the Government reneging on the legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Labour relishes the prospect of a general election to turf them out.
On regular reports, I will come back to the House as many times as it is prepared to hear about this matter, and I will continue to update Members in every possible way. It might be helpful if I were to make the introduction—if the hon. Gentleman has not already had it—to Doug Oakervee; perhaps I could organise for the hon. Gentleman to meet him separately. Of course, there are cross-party members on the review panel and it is genuinely full of sceptics. I think people were surprised when we launched a review of this project that had such a broad, cross-party view.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that prices have changed over time. I seem to recall that this was originally a project by the previous Labour Government, and that when it was conceived the whole thing was going to cost about £13 billion. One of the issues that we have, which is a wider issue than just HS2, is that these things start off being fixed at a price of a particular period of time—the figure of £55.7 billion was about 2015 prices—and that does not actually allow for inflation. We therefore end up quoting prices that are just out of date. On that basis, every project will always be said to have overrun on cost, although of course the benefits probably improve as well. We have to find better ways of doing all this.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the first time that I received advice on this matter was Allan Cook’s final report on 1 August, and that is the report that I published. Finally, I undertake to ensure that we return to the House with every update that we have, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to be involved in the Oakervee review.
As colleagues will be aware, there is pressure on time today, because there are several further pieces of business to follow, but equally and understandably there is intense interest in this monumental mess and I know that the Secretary of State is very keen, to his credit, to answer questions, so I shall do my best, as always, to accommodate the understandable interest of colleagues.
Mr Speaker, I was just about to say that there are Members affected by this project who do not have a voice, and I was going to include you, but clearly that is not the case. Of course, there is also my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who has always joined me in the fight against HS2.
In welcoming the Secretary of State to his position, may I also welcome my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington)? It is so good to hear his voice raised in this Chamber against this dreadful project, and I endorse everything he said. It applies to my constituency as well.
The Secretary of State also needs to look at the national rail travel survey, on which one of the raisons d’être for this project is based, but which has not been updated since 2010. In answers to me, the Department does not appear to know how much it would cost to update it. That, coupled with the fact that we are still not allowed to see the passenger forecasting documentation, means that transparency is far from the watchword of HS2. Pages right the way through the chairman’s stocktake have been redacted. Transparency is not the order of the day.
The Secretary of State should grasp with both hands this opportunity to review the project entirely and review the nationwide transport and communication policy. I urge him to take a deep breath and carry out a comprehensive assessment across car, bus, train and air, as well as new technologies such as 5G and broadband, because it is essential that we look at the technological advances before we let this project go any further.
As the carriages being built for Crossrail pile up in Worksop because we cannot get that project right, let us draw a deep breath, cancel this project, start again and get a decent comprehensive transport policy.
I know that Douglas Oakervee will have been listening to my right hon. Friend’s words with great interest and will no doubt take into account the national rail travel survey information. She will of course meet him as well. I will just reflect on her final point—because of course Douglas Oakervee is looking at all this—about all forms of travel across the country. I entirely agree with her. Having ordered it two years ago, I recently got an electric car. It finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. It is clear that transport is changing in this country and that we have to take a more holistic view of it. Rail is one part, but there is much else to consider.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. He must be so thankful to have inherited another failing Grayling legacy.
We know that the increased costs and delays have been covered up since 2016 and denied at the Dispatch Box, so, while I welcome the review, should there not be an inquiry into this hiding of key information from the House? While I welcome the review, I find it strange that about a third of the document that sets out its terms has been redacted. Can he explain why?
What changes will be made to the cost-benefit criteria, and why? While the Secretary of State said that many of the benefits of the scheme were previously underestimated, I would remind him that the business case rested on the assumption that time business people spent travelling by train should be treated as downtime, meaning that shorter train journeys were treated as increasing productive time, when clearly that is not the case now that we have wi-fi on the go. Will he confirm that that aspect of the business case will not be over-egged?
The current proposals also mean that journeys north of Crewe to Scotland will be slower than the existing Virgin service. Will the review look at that and perhaps a different type of rolling stock? If it does, what will that mean for the existing rolling stock and ongoing procurement? What further reviews and cost-benefit analyses will be done of track design that could mean slower high-speed trains but reduced costs? What is the contractual status of the recent contract awards to First Trenitalia, given that the Government might now be doing a full stock decision? What would that mean for that contract? What is the committed spend, to date, in the Barnett allocations to Scotland, and what will happen going forward? We were promised at the Dispatch Box that on day one of the high-speed trains operating they would go all the way to Scotland, and that is now not the case. Will the Secretary of State answer those questions and, if not, please put his responses in writing?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I write to him on some of that, rather than detain the House on all of it. He is absolutely right about the Allan Cook report. I should have mentioned that in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). I am unhappy about having any of that report redacted. I have read the rest of it. It is not hugely exciting. I pushed back on that with the Department, and apparently it is just that the lawyers are saying that it is commercially confidential stuff that I cannot force to be released. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be much better if we could read every single page, but that is the law. [Interruption.] I do not disagree—it is just that lawyers will not allow it to happen.
On downtime when travelling, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Lots of people work very productively when travelling. It is my favourite time to work uninterrupted. I can assure him that Doug Oakervee will look at that. Allan Cook referred to some of the build benefits where there could be new industry, homes and so on in an area where a line runs.
The last point I will comment on—I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the rest—is the implications for the west coast partnership. That is very important. Under the contract, I think in 2026—it would be in line with if HS2 went ahead—the company would become a shadow operator, so it is built into that contract if the thing goes ahead.
Order. There is a further urgent question after this and there are then three ministerial statements before we get to the Backbench business. Therefore, there is a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. For the avoidance of doubt, what I am looking for from colleagues is not dilation and not preamble but single-sentence questions, which will be brilliantly exemplified, I feel sure, by the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin).
Thank you for that challenge, Mr Speaker. May I first welcome my right hon. Friend to his position?
The easiest thing for the Government to do is to cancel this project. That would be easy to do, but it would be the wrong thing to do, for this reason: I would find it ironical that, as we leave the European Union, I can get a high-speed train to Paris or to Brussels but not to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds or Sheffield. My right hon. Friend talks about the overspend, but we seem to be able to accommodate at the drop of a hat the overspend on the Crossrail project, which is overrunning. That is a London project that is incredibly important for London, but we do not take a similar view of a project that has been long thought out and is absolutely essential for the major cities outside London.
I am not short of advice on what to do on HS2, but few pieces of advice come from somebody as distinguished as a former Transport Secretary. I have heard what he has had to say, as I know Doug Oakervee will have done, and I look forward to taking it into account.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place.
The Secretary of State must understand the huge disappointment in the east midlands that HS2 phase 2b —which will, as the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) said, transform connectivity between Birmingham and the economies of the midlands, Yorkshire, the north-east and Scotland—is now facing a delay of up to seven years, or even cancellation. That is particularly the case when the Chancellor failed to even mention the midlands rail hub in his spending review, and when the Secretary of State’s predecessor not only repeatedly assured us that HS2 would happen but cancelled the electrification of the midland main line. I know that the Oakervee review is due to report, but the disappointment will turn to deep anger if the Secretary of State does not ensure that the midlands receives the investment in its transport that it needs.
I thank the hon. Lady; it is a pleasure to have a question from the Chair of the Transport Committee. The one thing I can assure her of is that there will be £48 billion of other unrelated rail investment over the next few years, so both the midlands and the northern powerhouse rail side of things will certainly have huge—massive—investment.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. Secondly, I entirely endorse the views of my right hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). The reality is that this whole project is completely out of control. The costs have gone up repeatedly. I voted against it. There is a petition in the House of Lords, which my constituents were absolutely right to pursue. This whole project is a complete white elephant and should be cancelled.
I will try to be brief, Mr Speaker. I have always been against this. I was reviled by Ministers when I said that the cost would end up at £100 billion. I wanted the investment in a network across the north of England in preference to this. Will the Secretary of State assure me that we will learn the lessons? This is a great sector that we do wonderful things in. We built the Olympics on time, and it was magnificent. I understand that there are 12 gagging orders for senior former employees of HS2 Ltd. Can they give evidence to this inquiry, and can we ensure that we learn the lessons? We are good in this sector, so why has this gone wrong?
Even with the Olympics, the cost changed over a period. The hon. Gentleman will know that big projects require management, and the process is designed to ensure that this is properly grasped. I agree with him—we need to deliver that transport infrastructure across the north. I am surprised that no Member has mentioned it yet, but these two questions are not entirely unrelated, so we must get it right for the north and for all our country.
I am not sure it is the entirely appropriate expression to congratulate my right hon. Friend on inheriting responsibility for HS2, but I wholeheartedly congratulate him on becoming the Secretary of State. In agreeing entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) said, may I press the Secretary State on the point he made about enabling works? As he knows, there is more than one kind of enabling work currently under way. Some of the enabling work is the destruction of ancient woodland sites. There are seven of them in my constituency, along with a very old and much valued pear tree in the village of Cubbington. Given that he has announced an all-options review, including the possibility that this project will be cancelled or significantly revised, surely it is possible and sensible to categorise those types of enabling work that will do irreversible damage and postpone them until the review has concluded. He has already announced a substantial delay in this project. Surely a delay of a few weeks more would be sensible, to ensure that we do not do irreversible damage.
As I said before, to have a proper go/no-go decision, we need to continue to allow enabling works. However, I can ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is handling these major projects, to meet my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss that specific concern.
Unlike Derbyshire Dales, HS2 goes through many villages in the Bolsover and north-east Derbyshire area. The result is that there are a lot of people in those villages—more than 100—affected by HS2. I want to know as soon as possible just exactly what is going to happen to this £100 billion project. It goes through Derbyshire on two separate lines. Not only does it go past Sheffield; it also stops at a Sheffield station, so there is a slow track and a fast track in Derbyshire. The idea that HS2 is based upon getting to London 30 minutes sooner is a joke and, for that reason, the Secretary of State should start over again.
I know that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is affected in a big way. I refer to what I said before. This project affects a lot of people’s lives, with demolitions and the rest of it in his patch. He asked me to do this as soon as possible. I have Douglas Oakervee on an unbelievable timetable, supported by a fantastic group of people, to get this done and reported back this autumn. The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait before the end of the year.
Long Eaton, Sandiacre and Stanton Gate are grossly affected by the eastern arm of HS2 but, as the Chair of the Transport Committee has already indicated, it brings advantages as well—jobs and growth as well as the pain. I will say two things. One is that any delay causes further stress and uncertainty not just for residents, but for businesses. They will be blighted for ever more, even if my right hon. Friend takes the easier way out and cancels the eastern arm. My plea to him is: do not cancel that eastern arm. I will not allow the east midlands and Erewash to be the poor relations yet again.
Inflation aside, this multi-billion increase in cost betrays nothing other than sheer incompetence in the management of this project. In the west midlands, 100,000 jobs are now in jeopardy; hundreds of millions of pounds of new rates are now in jeopardy; and the future prospects of the younger generation are now in jeopardy. I want to know from the Secretary of State what compensation has been sought by the Mayor of the West Midlands, because my understanding is that he has asked for precisely nothing?
We have a range of different people on the Doug Oakervee board, including Andy Street, and we are making sure that all the representations go into it. As I say, I do not want to rush to prejudge this. We do know certain things. We know from the Allan Cook report about the range of £72 billion to £78 billion. I do not have confidence in the data I have been provided with to know yet whether the benefits have outstripped or under-stripped these various different costs. I just start with a blank sheet of paper. I just want the data: give me the facts and then we will be in a much better position to decide, including for people throughout the west midlands.
I am sure I was as pleased as you were, Mr Speaker, to hear about the review undertaken by the new Secretary of State. Can he reassure me that, as part of the new cost-benefit analysis, the review will take into account that many people work very hard while on trains, as I am about to do as I return to my constituency on a high-speed train run by Chiltern Rail?
Absolutely. Travelling on a train can be a fantastic way to chomp through constituency work or anything else that people are doing on business or for pleasure. It is one of the most civilised ways to work—when we have our trains running on time, which is another related priority.
Will the Government widen this review not just to their complete lack of grip on the HS2 project, but to the continued failure of the Department to remember that there are towns as well as cities in this country? It is continually locking billions of pounds into ever-delayed, ever-escalating projects for cities, while towns such as Castleford and Pontefract have inadequate trains—overcrowded, old Pacer trains, with no disabled access to our trains—and, once again, we are just expected to accept a trickle-down of benefits many decades into the future. It is not good enough. When will we actually get a fair deal for our towns?
As the representative of two towns—one, Welwyn Garden, calls itself a city, but it is actually a town—I absolutely agree with the idea that towns have a significant part to play in the economic and social life of our country. One good piece of news: those Pacers are finally going by the end of this year.[Official Report, 9 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 5MC.]
As I say, it is not just a question of the expenditure. As I mentioned before, it is also what the benefits are. May I ask my right hon. Friend just to be patient enough so that the data is covered on both sides of that, and we can come to a rational and sensible decision?
This project is too serious to be thinking in those terms, and I certainly was not when I asked Douglas Oakervee to carry out this review. As I have now said twice, this is about people’s lives and livelihoods, and the ability of this country’s economy to function. Regardless of what happens when we finally get that election call, I hope there will be cross-party consensus to continue this important work on a cross-party basis and get the job done.
Given the delays to the southern section of the route, will the Secretary of State ask the review to consider the possibility of starting the northern sections before the southern section is finished, so that there is a degree of working overlap?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that spiralling costs must be challenged and held to account, but this project is vital for the northern routes, which are already overstretched. Will he assure me that this review is not just a smokescreen to cancel the project, which many of our current Executive do not like?
My hon. Friend’s question reminds me of a clip that I made on the day of announcing this full, thorough and open review. When the camera was switched off they said, “What do you really think?” What I really think is that we should have a full, thorough and open review.
HS2 is vital for the economy of Manchester and the north. As the chairman’s stocktake says:
“HS2 is not a standalone railway but rather an integral part of ambitious regional growth plans,”
and it is already attracting investment. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those wider benefits will fully be taken into account in this review?
Will the Secretary of State commit to investing in the costs of places with collateral damage, such as villages such as Woore in my constituency that will suffer grievously during the construction process? Will he also commit to look at the value of spending £100 billion, which this project is cantering towards, on full-fibre broadband for every household?
We must have full-fibre broadband in every household, and that is a commitment of this Government regardless. My right hon. Friend describes devastation to villages, and I agree that we must find a better way of doing this. We must look after people properly when great national projects drive through their homes.
HS2 will be the most expensive railway ever built by mankind. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a very significant opportunity cost and therefore to get bang for our buck we should be investing in significant regional infrastructure projects?
I would extend that further to Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and other cities in the north. We can do both things and we will do both things: both upgrading the national rail infrastructure and—the Prime Minister mentioned this in his first speech, which he made in Manchester, so I think it would be a bit churlish not to recognise it—linking northern cities.
The problem with HS2 is that the benefits are not shared around the country. The west, in particular, gains nothing. Will the Secretary of State look at how we could put the money into electrification and rebuilding the Severn tunnel?
I do not know in what form this will or will not take place, but I do know that the jobs, skills and supply chain affect the entire nation. There is almost not a constituency in the country that would not benefit in some way. As with any big national infrastructure project, we need to ensure that the benefits of that work and supply chain are spread across the nation.
Given that the entire review will be completed in a matter of weeks, can the Secretary of State really have confidence that it will have thoroughly considered the impacts that scrapping or changing phases 2a and 2b would have on Crewe and Nantwich, as a significant centre of economic activity for the wider region?
Yes, I think I can reassure the hon. Lady that, although the review is reporting very quickly—within weeks, as she says—the experience on the panel adds up to years. I have not added it up, but it is possibly hundreds of years of rail experience. I think they will really take that into account. Again, I invite and welcome her to speak to Douglas Oakervee to make sure 2a and 2b are fully represented in her terms.
Can the Secretary of State give us a date for when we can expect HS2 to be extended to Scotland? If not, are the people of Scotland expected to sit and watch £100 billion being spent on this project when it literally pulls up short?