House of Commons
Thursday 12 March 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Queen's Speech (Answer to Addresses)
The Vice-Chamberlain of her majesty’s Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Addresses of 24 October 2019 and 20 January 2020, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answers:
I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the last Session of the previous Parliament.
I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Our £220 million better deal for bus users includes measures to improve bus services in rural and urban areas. This is together with the new £5 billion fund for overhauling bus and cycle links throughout the country.
As I mentioned, there is not only the £220 million fund, but the £5 billion fund, which will enable us to bring forward a comprehensive package of measures, which I hope will significantly boost Durham County Council’s current £347,000 towards the bus service operators grant.
My hon. Friend is right: it is really important to make these bus services work in a manner where people can just rely on them and where they do not even have to look at a timetable because the frequency is there. As part of doing that, we will be opening up bus open data powers, which will ensure that that information is transferred and available to people at bus stops and in their apps, enabling a much more frequent service to run.
Fares are crucial to funding railway operations and our upgrade programme. We have frozen regulated rail fares in line with inflation for the seventh year running.
Given that rail fares have gone up by a massive 40% since 2010, we now have the second most expensive railway in Europe. However, I still have a situation where constituents in the Northwich part of my constituency cannot get a reliable train service—in fact, disabled passengers cannot get one on one side at all. What are the Minister and the Government going to do about that?
Under the Conservatives, rail fares have rocketed by 40%. An annual season ticket from Coventry to London is now £5,760, to Birmingham it is £1,400 and to Nuneaton it is £1,200. That unfairly puts rail travel beyond the reach of many of my constituents and it discourages green travel. Privatisation has failed, so will the Government bring our railways into public ownership to slash fares and combat the climate emergency?
I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward, as I do, to the issuing of the Williams review, which answers some of the questions she raises, but she should be careful what she wishes for because, today, using a single fare—£7, I believe it is—to go from London to Coventry, a host of Conservative Members are going to campaign in her hyper-marginal seat, at very good value for money.
Trade unions represent the hard-working staff on Northern who have had to take the brunt of passenger frustrations as the franchise has collapsed under Arriva Rail North. Will the Minister explain why, with Northern having been taken back into public ownership, the expert advisory panel established to guide the new service through its first 100 days excludes rail unions, the experience and expertise of which could ensure that passengers in the north finally get the rail service that they need and deserve?
It is a fair question. The answer is that Richard George, the head of the operator of last resort, is working closely with the unions and will continue to do so, because the workforce is all important to the delivery of a reliable service for passengers.
Many Portsmouth people rely heavily on South Western Railway for their daily commute. The service that they receive is substandard, with less than 50% of mainline services operating on time, while rail fares have soared by 2.7%. Put simply, Portsmouth people are paying more but getting less. Will the Minister confirm what steps his Department is taking to address this injustice for my community?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correspondence and the way that he has engaged with my Department over this issue. He has been representing his constituents on this matter very well. As he knows, a request for a proposal has been issued to the south-west franchise owners, FirstGroup and MTR, and to the operator of last resort. Parliament will be kept informed of those developments. It is all about trying to improve the service for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
As we have heard, rail passengers throughout the country are struggling with the exorbitant cost of train travel, with fares having risen by a staggering 40% since the Conservatives took office. In stark contrast, Germany has recently cut rail fares, and in Luxembourg public transport has been made entirely free, thereby both supporting families and helping to tackle the climate crisis. The Government used yesterday’s Budget to prioritise once again unsustainable and expensive new roads ahead of support for public transport. When will the Government finally treat this issue seriously and take the urgent action that is needed?
I completely get where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but he should understand that taxpayers already subsidise the rail network by more than £4 billion a year, meaning that 54% of our transport budget is spent on the 2% of journeys that the railways account for. He mentions Germany, which has cut rail fares, but to do that Germany cut the VAT on rail fares from 19% to 7%; he might like to know that we charge no VAT on rail fares in this country.
Question 18, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] Will my hon. Friend give an indication of his estimate for completing the new airports national policy statement? Will there be sufficient time to take into account—
I note that the questions that my honourable and hairy friend has answered so far were about reducing the cost of rail fares, but that implies that either more people must make more journeys by rail, or taxpayers generally, such as those in Lincoln, must subsidise the rail industry more. Which would my hon. Friend prefer? Does he have any plans to improve the franchise process to make bidding for them more attractive to businesses?
We are going to change the franchise model—the Williams review is absolutely going to change how our franchise model operates—but my hon. Friend will have to wait a bit longer to see how that is going to happen. We have strong views on the direction of travel and look forward to informing the House shortly.
It is important to have affordable rail fares so that residents can access our railways, but many of my constituents do not have any access to trains at all because they do not have a local train station. The people of Gamesley were promised a railway station more than 50 years ago, but it has still not been delivered. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the bid for Gamesley train station?
The Secretary of State is already aware of how unhappy my constituents who use Lockerbie station are—after fare increases, they have seen an appalling level of service from TransPennine. TransPennine has now made certain commitments to improve the service; what can the Department do to ensure that it meets those commitments?
The Secretary of State and I met the TransPennine leadership not so long ago to put the very points that my right hon. Friend has just made. As he knows, there has been quite a big change at the head of that franchise. We are working with the new management to ensure that the new trains operate correctly and that the service his constituents would like is actually delivered for them.
While rail fares remain too high, the cost of disruption to our commuters when services go wrong, as is so often the case with Southern, is considerable. Although Delay Repay has been helpful, it does not reflect the true cost of taxis, hotels and loss of work that our constituents have been suffering. Can the Minister tell us whether the new ombudsman is going to tackle the issue and make sure that we have a compensation scheme that accurately reflects the costs that our commuters and constituents suffer?
It is absolutely true that there are huge numbers of delays and cancellations on our railway on a daily basis. That completely disrupts people going to work and kids going to school, and it also affects students and people just socialising. Different plans are being mooted. The Williams review will have a fuller plan, on which I will be able to communicate with my hon. Friend.
People who live and work in Nottingham need Ministers to do something about fares, sooner rather than later. Highways England’s partial closure of the A52 Clifton bridge is making their car journeys unbearable, and we urgently need more people to use trains, trams and buses to get into the city. Will the Minister or one of his colleagues meet me and other hon. Members representing constituencies in and around Nottingham, to discuss how the Department and Highways England can support Nottingham City Council and its efforts to get our city moving during this serious disruption?
The bus market outside London is deregulated, with service provision being a matter for bus operators and local authorities. We are, however, providing £5 billion of new funding to overhaul buses and cycling across the country.
The reality in predominantly rural North Warwickshire is that I can get to London quicker by train than it takes for me to travel by bus from outside my house to my constituency office just 6 miles away. The situation makes it really difficult for people to get to hospital appointments, to work, to school and, as I found out last week, to Jobcentre Plus appointments. What can we do to reinvigorate transport across North Warwickshire and Bedworth so that my constituents can access the fantastic opportunities that this Government are keen to deliver as part of their levelling-up agenda?
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. I am pleased to say that the Government have launched two schemes that are relevant to North Warwickshire. The first is a call for an expression of interest in a £20 million rural mobility fund to support innovative solutions to transport problems in rural areas, and the second is the allocation of £30 million to every local authority in England to support new bus services or replace lost services.
Covid-19: Public Transport
We have published health guidance for staff and the transport sector, following carefully the Public Health England advice on protocols. In addition, I have contacted the various ports on several occasions.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Obviously, the issue of covid-19 is occupying the minds of everybody in this country at the moment. As an example, 2,500 posters—digital as well as printed—have gone up in our railway stations. There is a very wide programme of enhanced engagement, and we are working with the Public Health England protocols. Yesterday, I met the chief executive and chair of Network Rail to discuss the subject. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who has responsibility for aviation, and I have also had similar discussions with all the aviation industry leaders.
Yesterday, we saw welcome support in the Budget for small and medium-sized enterprises to deal with coronavirus, but ferry companies and airlines are very much at the forefront of that challenge. What financial support and liquidity are available to these companies? Will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress he has made on reforming slot allocation, and will he meet me and sector representatives to discuss the adequacy of the Government’s support so far?
My hon. Friend was absolutely right last week to raise the issue of the so-called ghost flights; I think he was the first person to raise the matter in this House. I have since written both to the slots allocator in this country, Airport Coordination Limited, and to the European Commission, which has indicated that it will alleviate those slots to stop empty flights flying. My hon. Friend is also right about the pressure that the airlines are under, and we are doing further work with the Civil Aviation Authority and the EU, particularly over EU regulation 261. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss the matter.
The Bus Services Act 2017 introduced powers for local authorities and operators to work to grow their patronage. That is in addition to the £5 billion national bus strategy that I just mentioned.
Yes, I will gladly back that campaign. Everyone recognises that buses could and should be doing a lot more. I recognise that we have lost services over a period of time. Buses are still the chosen form of transport for 50% of travel, so it is important that we get this right. Even going back as far as 2017, we were passing legislation to ensure that franchises can work in conjunction with local authorities, and those processes are going into place. We want to see the London standard of bus service everywhere in the country.
As we have heard, the Government like to say that they support bus travel. However, they have cut bus funding for supported bus services by 45% since 2010. To make matters worse, the Chancellor has just announced 27 times more spending on new roads than on supporting buses and local transport. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the Government will finally stop paying lip service to public transport, and actually provide the investment that bus passengers so urgently need?
Of the £250 million in direct revenue support for bus operators, just £43 million goes to local councils outside London. We are going to need a lot more than that if we are going to reinstate local bus services in rural areas, aren’t we?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is where the £5 billion national bus strategy, which we will be publishing shortly, comes in. Our aim is quite simply to get to a London standard of service throughout the country, including in rural areas and his constituency.
For £1.50 in London—which the Secretary of State mentioned—I can get two buses anywhere across the capital for up to 30 miles. In Newcastle, £1.50 will not even get me three stops up the West Road, while if I want to go to Ashington, which is 18 miles away, it will cost me £8. Can we have a comparative study of bus fares in London and the north-east so that we can understand what we need to do to make them fairer and improve bus patronage?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I can assure her that that is exactly the process that we will be following in developing the national bus strategy, and I would be more than happy to work with her and incorporate her ideas. We can argue about the past, but it sounds to me that we both want to see bus services that are excellent for all our constituents, so I completely agree with her.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want buses that are cleaner and greener. We want them to be the right temperature—air-conditioned in summer, and warm in winter—with 5G plug-in points for phones. And we want to have electric buses—4,000 of them, with this new money. These new buses can be electric or, indeed, hydrogen powered, like the buses being developed by Wrightbus in Northern Ireland. We warmly welcome all such developments. My hon. Friend can be reassured that we are working closely with bus operators to develop new British buses.
Airport Expansion: Paris Climate Change Agreement
The Court of Appeal judgment on the airports national policy statement is complex, and we will set out our next steps in due course. This Government remain supportive of airport expansion, but we will permit it only within our environmental obligations.
From “No ifs, no buts, no third runway” to engineering a trip to Afghanistan to skip the vote, the last three Prime Ministers have started off very clear on Heathrow expansion and then obfuscation and U-turns have set in. Why do not the Government take the opportunity of the Court of Appeal ruling that expansion is incompatible with our Paris climate accord obligations and make this dead and buried once and for all, and also review the other 21 planned airport expansions?
As I have already outlined, the Government are, and remain, supportive of airport expansion where we are able to deliver it within our environmental obligations. I must point out to the hon. Lady that the Court did not conclude that airport expansion is incompatible with climate change. As I have already outlined, we are reviewing this complex judgment and will lay out our next steps soon.
In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Government were wrong to deny the relevance and application of the Paris agreement. Do the Government now accept that their overriding obligation is one of compliance with our Paris accord commitments in reducing emissions, meaning that their national policy statement on aviation has to be revisited and revised and that they should be saying no to climate-busting expansion at Heathrow?
I can understand the concerns that many hon. Members may have around the Government’s next steps. That is why we have outlined that it is currently an ongoing legal process. We have said that we will review the judgment, which is complex, and set out our next steps. As I have already outlined, the Court did not judge that the airport expansion is incompatible with climate change. But we will obviously update the House as soon as possible on any future steps that we will be prepared to take.
The Court of Appeal said that it was illegal.
In the midst of a climate crisis, the Chancellor announced the biggest-ever programme of road building—a £27 billion splurge that will increase car use, worsen congestion, and increase climate emissions. In anticipation of legal challenges, as with airport expansion, and before the Government go any further, can they confirm that the roads programme has been subject to rigorous environment impact assessments and complies with our Paris agreement obligations?
The climate emergency concerns us all, and the aviation sector faces a particularly tough challenge to decarbonise, whether or not additional airport capacity is added in the south-east. However, we cannot shirk that challenge, so I am proud that Loganair, based in my constituency, is currently working to provide passenger services using electric planes to help to tackle our climate change targets. In Scotland, these targets include aircraft emissions. Will this Government match that level of transparency and honesty, and include emissions in their targets?
As the Minister has outlined, progress has been made with new engine technology continually setting new standards of efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, and there is huge research and development in the sector right now. Given that background, plus the fact that it may cost up to 10 times more, and that it is one of just two bodies whose regulations are followed the world over, replacing the European Aviation Safety Agency properly may take up to a decade, and recruiting the expertise required will be extremely difficult. Does the Minister not realise that leaving EASA is an act of sheer folly that is putting Brexit politics before passenger safety?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know—I believe he spoke about it last week—that we will potentially see the first electric flight this year. We have invested £300 million in the future flight challenge fund. We are committed to working with everyone across the industry to ensure that we have the technology and the skills and can deliver on our target.
Electric Vehicles: Charging Infrastructure
As the Chancellor announced yesterday, the Government are providing an additional £500 million over the next five years to support the roll-out of a fast charging network for electric vehicles, ensuring that drivers will never be further than 30 miles from a rapid charging station.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I commend the Government on the progress that has been made on charging infrastructure over the last decade, from dozens to hundreds and now thousands of charging points; that challenge is being well met. My concern is that, even with the current grants, the purchase price of electric vehicles is still out of reach for most people on lower incomes. Does she agree that, if we are to see more electric vehicle use in the years to come, the purchase price of electric vehicles is equally as important as the availability of charging infrastructure?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks about the Government’s support. It is right that the Government are committed to supporting the up-front cost of an electric vehicle. That is why I am pleased that, at yesterday’s Budget, a further £532 million of funding was announced to keep the plug-in vehicle grant for another three years. He will know that those with fully electric cars will pay no company car tax this year, and vehicle excise duty for all electric vehicles in all price brackets has been abolished.
The extension of the plug-in taxi grant until 2022-23 is welcome. That works for bespoke vehicles, but what about cities such as Cambridge, where the city council rightly expects higher standards, but for hard-pressed drivers, the cost of the vehicles is prohibitive, as the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) said? What are the Government doing to help them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for what is happening in Cambridge. He will know that a range of support is available for all vehicles, including taxis that want to upgrade to electric vehicles, and the Government are committed to continuing the funding for those grants.
I wonder whether the Minister could help me with the next vehicle I should buy. I used to drive a petrol car, then Dave persuaded us all to go green, so I bought a biofuel car, which was destroying the planet, so they said, “Buy a diesel car because it emits less CO2,” so I bought a diesel car, and now I am poisoning people. An electric vehicle might be the solution, though it might be terrible because of the batteries, but I live in a flat both here in Westminster and in my constituency, so an electric car is not the answer. Is it a diesel car with AdBlue? Help me!
I am delighted to assist my hon. Friend. I encourage him to think about purchasing an electric vehicle. The answer is to ensure that there are charging points at his block of flats and across the country. In fact, the Government have doubled the funding available to local authorities to install charging points for electric vehicles on-street, to £10 million. I am sure that that will assist him.
Road Network National Policy Statements: Climate Change Commitments
We take our commitment to climate targets seriously. We have one of the world’s most ambitious plans for reducing carbon emissions from our roads, and our infrastructure policy is entirely consistent with that.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Court of Appeal judgment on Heathrow is a very complex issue. Our road policy contains many elements, including a plan for decarbonisation, funding to improve public transport and plans for road improvements. That balanced package is entirely consistent with reaching net zero, which is what the Government are committed to doing.
Noise: Heathrow Airport Flight Paths
The Government’s airspace modernisation programme should allow aircraft to climb more quickly and descend continuously, which will have a noticeable noise reduction benefit for communities overflown by Heathrow flights.
I thank the Minister for that answer. She will know that 70% of the aircraft that arrive at Heathrow do so via what is known as westerly operations, involving a final approach over my constituency and others in south London. Given the concerns about noise on the part of those living under these flight paths, can the Minister tell the House whether the Bill on modernising our airspace that the Government have committed to will include provisions aimed at reducing the concentration of flight paths and mandating measures to reduce arrival noise?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I understand his concerns. Airspace modernisation is intended to reduce the amount of noise per flight for those living under concentrated flight paths. However, there is a risk that they may experience more noise than currently. Whether this is the case will depend on the final routes proposed by airports, including any respite routes, and on the outcomes of consultation with local people, and I expect he will be very vocal at that time.
Rail Services: North of England
We are working with Network Rail, operators and stakeholders to raise performance, and we are investing billions of pounds to improve services for passengers.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree with me that, in addition to national rail projects, light rail projects such as extending the Metrolink to Middleton and Heywood in my constituency form a vital part of levelling up and increasing capacity?
Under this Government, the Metrolink has been extended to reach new destinations right across Greater Manchester. The most recent extension to the Trafford centre is due to open later this month. While the development of light rail proposals is a matter for the mayoral combined authority, we will work closely with them. I hope to see the Metrolink extended to my hon. Friend’s constituency. As the Chancellor said yesterday, we are getting investment done.
European Aviation Safety Agency Membership
The UK will leave EASA at the end of the transition period.
The Secretary of State will be aware that that news has not been well received by the aviation industry. The ADS, which represents over 1,100 UK companies, has noted that the UK and the EU could have an arrangement, in the same way that Switzerland does, giving us full membership of EASA without even having any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Why would that be a problem for the Government?
Because the EU said in its statement of negotiating parameters on 15 January that UK participation in EASA is not viable from its perspective. It would not be viable from a UK perspective either, because we would be subject to ECJ rulings in one form or another, and certainly, without any doubt, we would have to accept the European Commission creating the laws under which we would exist—and this country voted for Brexit. However, we will have a bilateral aviation safety agreement—a so-called BASA. We will also have a comprehensive air transport agreement—a so-called CATA—to enable smooth transport to continue.
The aviation industry is in crisis and 84,000 UK jobs are potentially under threat, yet the Government plan to withdraw from EASA, despite the warnings from the industry and despite its costing 10 times as much money. Will the Transport Secretary put a stop to this reckless plan, stop this needless waste of public money and protect Britain’s impressive and world-leading role in aviation safety?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the UK has the third largest aviation network, but the idea that we are there because of EASA is untrue. The reality is that we already have the expertise in this country. It is the Civil Aviation Authority that administers the entire system, so there is no particular role that we cannot step up and fill. In case the hon. Gentleman had not noticed, this country voted to leave Europe. I know the Labour party has struggled to understand this fundamental point about when we vote to do something, but people voted for it in a referendum and they voted for it again in a general election, and we are leaving.
Highways England has a programme of works under way, north of junction 2 of the M66, to resurface and renew road markings and studs. Once completed, those works will deliver safety benefits for all road users.
In 2011, lighting on the M66 between junctions 1 and 3 was decommissioned. Many of my Bury North constituents have contacted me, expressing their concerns that that has created unsafe driving conditions, especially during heavy rainfall. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me, and a number of local residents, to discuss those concerns and investigate what actions can be taken to address them?
I appreciate the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents about motorway driving without lighting. Highways England is working closely on that topic and monitoring the safety situation on that section of the M66. Baroness Vere, the Minister responsible for roads—she is in the Gallery—will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.
Airports National Policy Statement Review
The judgment by the Court of Appeal was complex, and the Government need time to consider it carefully. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued a written statement on 27 February.
I apologise for my earlier mistiming, Mr Speaker.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as digesting what I agree are the complex implications of that judgment, she could take this opportunity to consider the report by the New Economic Foundation, entitled “Baggage Claim”? That report debunks many of the received wisdoms about the value to the UK economy of Heathrow expansion and sets out in detail the economic opportunities created by regional expansion, especially in terms of levelling-up, which is a clear commitment of this Government.
As my hon. Friend has outlined, just as I have a number of times today, the Court of Appeal judgment is complex. We are considering it, and we will set out our next steps in due course. On regional connectivity, we are committed to delivering airport expansion that is in line with our environmental obligations. We are also committed to levelling up and ensuring that people are able to travel, whichever part of the country they live in, and that obviously relates to local and regional airports.
Rail Franchising System: Viability
Keith Williams has been tasked by the Government with leading a root and branch review into the rail industry, and he has confirmed that he will recommend scrapping the current franchising system. Full details will be set out in the White Paper, which, all being well, will be published before the summer.
I thank the Minister for his comments. Passengers in my constituency and across northern England welcomed the decision to bring Northern Rail into public ownership on 1 March, following the collapse of Arriva Rail North. In the past decade, more than £178 million has been paid in dividends to Northern Rail shareholders, while simultaneously, there have been cuts to safety-critical staff on trains and stations. Research has shown that if our railway was in public ownership, we would save £1 billion a year—enough to fund an 18% cut in rail fares. Will the Minister assure Members that Northern Rail will be kept in public ownership, to rebuild the trust and confidence of rail users, and that it will not be privatised at the earliest opportunity?
First, may I push back on the hon. Lady’s point about safety, which is completely incorrect? That issue is regulated by an independent body, and she is wrong. Since privatisation, we have seen the number of passenger journeys more than double, as well as more services and better trains. Northern Rail’s fleet is now being replaced with new trains, and that will be finished by the end of May. I very much hope that the new system will include a profuse and large group of private companies that want to run services for us.
Problems with the franchising system mean that London North Eastern Railway is now under control of the Minister’s Department. He will be aware of my long-running campaign to get through trains from King’s Cross to Cleethorpes. Can he tell me when that will happen?
Bus Accident Data Collection
It is up to individual local transport authorities to determine which powers in the Bus Services Act 2017 are used to address issues of bus safety. Under a partnership or franchising scheme, bus operators could be required to provide bus safety data at specified intervals.
While in London this data is collected, in all other areas of the country it is not. It is public transport we are talking about and the public should be made aware, or be allowed to be made aware, of this key data on the number of accidents and the causes of those accidents. Will the Minister agree to meet me and members of the family of Rowan Fitzgerald, who sadly died in 2015 in an unnecessary accident, to discuss the proposals in Rowan’s law?
I know the hon. Gentleman has met a number of bus Ministers to discuss the fatal accident in Coventry in 2015. I offer my deepest condolences for this terrible tragedy. Collection of data could be considered within the national bus strategy. I, or one of my colleagues, would be happy to meet him to discuss that further.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to say a few words about an issue that I know a lot of Members have been concerned about: smart motorways. I announced last year that the Department would carry out an evidence stock-take to gather the facts about the safety or otherwise of smart motorways and make recommendations. I have listened to friends and families affected, and I have looked hard at the evidence. Today, I am publishing a report into the findings. Alongside that report, I am launching an 18-point action plan to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. Overall, the evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional ones, but they are not in every way. I have therefore developed new measures to further improve safety.
I pay tribute to Edmund King of the Automobile Association and the families of those who have lost loved ones, including Meera Naran who is here today watching our proceedings. I also want to thank other campaigners, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and my hon. Friends the Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Harborough (Neil O'Brien). Their work to help to ensure our motorways are as safe as they can possibly be is, I think, something the whole House will welcome. I have laid copies of the report in the Library and a written statement will be laid later today.
I thank the Secretary of State for those comments on smart motorways. The new plan for a northern powerhouse between Manchester and Leeds has been announced every year since 2014. Why would anybody think it will be any different this year? If Northern Powerhouse Rail is to be a success, it has to go right across the north, so why is there is nothing about the Liverpool to Manchester part of the route, which is the easiest part to deliver? As the Prime Minister was fond of saying during the election, it is oven ready.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. I have a consultation virtually ready to go. I am working with Transport for the North to get that signed off across various different parties up there. I will be expressing the hon. Member’s concern to them to get on with that. I agree that Manchester to Leeds is part of it, but getting on with the bit to Liverpool, out to Hull and all the rest is also important.
The new Greater Anglia train fleet will certainly deliver many benefits, including extra passenger capacity on the great eastern main line. I am particularly interested, too, in seeing the results of the great eastern main line taskforce study work on the upgrades my hon. Friend mentions, and the renewal of the strategic outline business case and wider economic benefit studies so we can move forward.
More than 12 months has passed since the Government announced a consultation on banning old tyres from public service vehicles. The Tyred campaign and tens of thousands of supporters have waited far too long. I pay tribute to Frances Molloy and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for the work they have done. The Secretary of State has the power to act now before more innocent people are needlessly killed. Is it not time for the Government to get this done?
As with the smart motorway point that I made a few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the need to get this right, and it has been the subject of several coroners’ reports. He will not have to wait very long and I do not think he will be disappointed.
My hon. Friend mentioned that briefly to me already, so I know that it is on his radar. It is important that all our roads are managed by the appropriate authority in the interests of road users and local communities, and I would be quite happy to meet my hon. Friend and the roads Minister.
The hon. Lady will recall that when it was announced that we would go ahead with HS2, a £5 billion fund for buses and cycling was also announced. Cycling will get a very good chunk of that money and that will be outlined in the forthcoming spending review, but I absolutely understand the point that she has made. We are working to ensure that the gap that there could be in funding is resolved.
My hon. Friend will know that decisions are made locally for Transport for Greater Manchester, and Greater Manchester already receives just under £3 million each year to support local bus services. The Government have also committed to £5 billion more for buses, which I hope is a cause for optimism for him, but as he knows, I will always be happy to meet him to discuss any particular issues.
Fairground operators make a significant economic contribution to my constituency and use red diesel for their power-generating equipment. Members of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain have contacted me to say that the Chancellor’s planned increase in fuel duty on red diesel will put them out of business altogether, and they are not in line for an exemption. Will the Minister make representations to her colleagues in the Treasury to exempt the fairground industry from the planned increase to protect the livelihoods of this unique and vibrant community?
Red diesel has traditionally enjoyed a significant subsidy, which, as the hon. Member rightly points out, was constrained by yesterday’s Budget. The Government are working across the board, with many sectors, including farmers and fishermen, and the consultation will be open to reflecting exactly the concerns she raises about fairground operators and others. I would encourage her to engage in that consultation.
I am sure my hon. Friend was pleased by the £500 million a year—£2.5 billion in total, which is more than the £2 billion promised in our manifesto—to help fill potholes, and I look forward to working with her and other colleagues to ensure their potholes are filled as soon as possible.
At a recent meeting, London North Eastern Railway shared with me its ambition to introduce an extra train per hour between Newcastle and King’s Cross, but owing to a lack of capacity on the east coast main line, this can only be achieved by curtailing other providers’ services at York, meaning that fewer trains, if any, will run between Edinburgh, Tyneside, Tees Valley, south and west Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. How soon can we expect the levelling-up investment on the east coast main line north of York necessary to fulfil all these competing ambitions?
One day. Alas, I cannot promote him to that position.
I am fully aware of the problem the hon. Gentleman has just outlined, and we are working with the franchise and throughout the industry to resolve it. As he knows, investment in rail takes a long time to come through the system, but I promise we are looking at this.
Like my hon. Friend, I represent a coastal constituency. The south-west has great strengths in maritime autonomy and renewables and clean maritime innovation. We look forward to working with the recently formed Maritime UK South West to create an environment where these objectives can be realised nationally and in the south-west. I would be more than happy to work with him as we progress some of these ideas.
The Government’s airports policy has been struck down by the Appeal Court, and the Government have decided not to appeal that decision. Does the Minister accept that the Government cannot be a bystander on this and leave this for a decision between the courts and Heathrow’s management, who have no interest other than their own financial interests?
We have been clear that the court case is complex and we will set out our next steps. We have always been clear that any expansion would be done via the private sector. It is for the promoters of the scheme to take that forward, and as I have already outlined this morning, there is an ongoing legal case.
In my constituency, we have major issues with disabled facilities at Dewsbury railway station, where there is no tactile paving for the blind and partially sighted, and at Shepley and Mirfield railway stations, where there is a lack of wheelchair access. What assurance can the railways Minister give to my constituents that these problems will be tackled in the near future?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government recently made £350 million available to add another 209 stations to the Access for All programme. The stations he mentioned were not successful in that round of money, but I would be delighted to meet and work with him to ensure that those stations get the funding they deserve, because our rail network needs to be accessible for everybody.
The Coventry and Warwickshire branch of the National Federation of the Blind says that people with visual impairments are missing their destinations or cannot find timetable information as bus stops and buses are not enabled with audiovisual announcements. Can the Minister tell me what steps the Government are taking to make talking bus stops and buses a reality for visually impaired passengers?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and this is something we are really passionate about. My hon. Friend the Minister in the Lords recently made an announcement on talking buses. In addition, just a couple of weeks ago I launched a new Access for All campaign for stations in London to extend it right across our network. There are so many things that we can do to make our rather antiquated, old-fashioned railways and transport systems much more access-friendly.
May I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s decision, in principle at least, that something needs to be done about the rules of pavement parking outside of London? Will he join me in urging people to commit to the consultation and, if there is a case for change, ensure time in this place to deliver it for vulnerable people in this country?
May I pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, and indeed the former Chair, for promoting this subject so much? We are pleased to respond today to “Pavement parking” and will certainly wish to join him in taking forward those steps, exactly as he has described.
The development consent order decision for the Lowestoft third crossing should have been made by 6 December. More than three months on, I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State advised us to when a decision will be announced. Does he agree that if the UK is to build the infrastructure that the Chancellor outlined yesterday, we need a timely and efficient legal process for making such decisions?
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustrations with the delay. We will be issuing a written ministerial statement setting out a new date for the decision as soon as practically possible, but as it is a live planning application, I unfortunately cannot comment further on the scheme. However, as he knows, we of course want to ensure that all applications are dealt with in a timely way, and our Department will work to ensure that.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 16 March will include:
Monday 16 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 17 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 18 March—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. The subject is to be confirmed.
Thursday 19 March—Debate on a motion on the Government response to the Morse review of the Loan Charge 2019, followed by general debate on the Horizon settlement and future governance of the Post Office. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 20 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 23 March will include:
Monday 23 March—Second reading of a Bill.
Tuesday 24 March—Second reading of a Bill.
Wednesday 25 March—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 26 March—Debate on a motion on errors in payments made to victims of the Equitable Life scandal, followed by a debate on a motion on human rights in Kashmir. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 27 March—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. He will know that the Opposition want to work with the Government on any new legislation that is put through, so could we ask for early sight of it through the usual channels and the shadow Front-Bench teams? I know that the Leader of the House was having a meeting with Mr Speaker earlier yesterday; I wonder whether the Opposition parties could also be included in those talks.
The Leader of the House will know that there is speculation in the press about the restoration and renewal programme. We are all mindful of the costs, but does he agree with the Lord Speaker and Chair of the House of Lords Commission that vacating the entire building is a far more cost-effective option? Will he find time to come to the House and explain the Government’s position, if it is changing?
We had the Chancellor here yesterday and, whoever wrote it, No. 10 or No. 11, he delivered the Budget; he got it done. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware—he must be, because I know that he likes procedure—that the Government chose to introduce the Budget resolutions on an income tax motion instead of following the usual custom and practice of moving an amendment of the law motion. Can he explain why? It affects the ability of the Opposition and hon. Members to table amendments to and scrutinise the Finance Bill. Is this another example of the Government trying to stifle proper consideration of their plans? Will the Leader of the House please explain why this decision was taken, given that such a motion is normally used only at the time of an election?
The Chancellor said that coronavirus was on everyone’s minds; it could be in our systems as well. We wish everyone well who is self-isolating and those who are ill a speedy recovery. I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of the eight people who have now died. However, the Chancellor said nothing about the key demographic of the over-70s, who are going to be affected by the virus and the most at risk. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to look again at free television licences for the over-75s? They need information; they need access to television; they may well be self-isolating.
The Leader of the House will have seen that our Front-Bench Treasury team were jumping up and down yesterday saying that the Budget contained absolutely nothing on social care—another thing that affects the over-70s demographic. If the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was revoked, we could move towards a more integrated system of health and social care. As a former member of the Health Committee, I know that in 2015 we were calling for cross-party talks with the shadow Health Secretary, now Mayor Andy Burnham.
It was amazing that the Budget statement contained nothing about the falling markets. We have seen the biggest fall in shares since 2008. The Chancellor has said that the UK has seen a
“decade-long slowdown in productivity.”
He forgot to say that his party has been in charge for the past 10 years. I know that he called the shadow Chancellor’s “little-read book” a fantasy book, but the Government are borrowing the shadow Chancellor’s big red Budget book: they are borrowing to invest.
The Leader of the House will know that people affected by the floods are also suffering from the coronavirus outbreak. I know that the Chancellor has increased spending on flooding to £5 billion, but as I have mentioned in the House previously, the Labour Government increased flood funding and this Government cut it. The Leader of the House will know that the Climate Coalition has produced a report saying that extreme rainfall has increased by 40%, and the number of people in the UK facing floods during the winter is more than the population of Birmingham and Manchester put together.
I know that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating the climate champions at the Green Heart Hero Awards, which is organised by the Climate Coalition—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and the hon. Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk).
I ask the Leader of the House again about Nazanin, Kylie and Anousheh. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was right when she said we had been here before. Nazanin was about to be released and nothing has happened; 70,000 prisoners have already been released; we have provided aid in good faith to the Iranian Government. When did the Foreign Secretary last speak to his counterpart? This is one thing that we must get done.
The Leader of the House will know that it is British Science Week. I was delighted to welcome the Royal Society of Chemistry and Lab Tots. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) came to see experiments and how to make lava lamps. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in thanking the dedicated scientists who are looking at research and development to find a cure for the virus and developing the tests and interpretation of the tests. I place on record our thanks to Public Health England and the House staff, who are meeting daily to keep us safe. The Leader of the House will know that there is such a thing as society and community, and we will look out for each other.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to record our thanks to Public Health England, which has been remarkably helpful to the House authorities. As she knows, a representative saw the House of Commons Commission last night, and we are being kept fully up to date. Its advice is clearly well thought through and well presented, and we are following that advice along with the rest of the country, particularly in the Government’s approach. That is an important point, and she is also right to record thanks to the scientists, who are not making lava lamps but are doing the serious work of looking at the coronavirus and how it operates.
Going back to the beginning of the right hon. Lady’s questions, she says the Opposition are keen to work together on any emergency legislation that is necessary. I understand that today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be talking to the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and it is very much our intention to keep Opposition parties informed on what we are trying to do.
The devolved authorities have been kept fully informed and have been attending the Cobra meetings on these matters. The whole nation is coming together as one, and I am grateful for the support received so far from the official Opposition. The Government will do everything we can to ensure that co-operation continues to be given willingly, which is why I was not more specific about the Second Reading debates, because that will obviously depend on the talks.
The right hon. Lady raises restoration and renewal, which is currently a matter for the Commission, although there will be a handover to the sponsor body when the Act comes into force in April. There is always a regard to value for money, which must underpin everything we do, and there is widespread acceptance of the need to improve the mechanical and engineering plant—that is accepted—but some of the sums that have been mentioned are eye-watering, and Members should be concerned about that in relation to their constituents and tax purpose.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s warm words—as warm as she could manage—about the Chancellor’s speech. It is fascinating that the Opposition cannot find anything to criticise. We take that absence of criticism as the highest praise for a brilliant and very successful Budget. I am not sure that it is the greatest criticism if the only point that can be made is that the Budget was moved on an income tax motion, rather than on a change to the law, because that has been done with previous Budgets. The former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, used the procedure on a number of occasions, so it is not that unusual—[Interruption.] No, it is not that unusual. It has been done regularly over the past few years. This is the way of doing it. It is a perfectly reasonable way to do it, and I am sure the matters before the House will be debated vigorously and rigorously, because we will carry out proper scrutiny.
The medical advice for the over-70s will be coming forward, and we must not pre-empt what Cobra may say later today. Of course, the BBC should continue to give free TV licences to the over-75s. That is important, and it would be a great shame if the BBC failed to continue to support the over-75s. It is, of course, a matter for the BBC, but I think it would be right to do that.
The right hon. Lady is right to express her sympathy for the families of the eight people who have died from the coronavirus. It is a great sadness for those families and a worry for the nation at large that those deaths have taken place, which is why so much is being done to try to combat the effects of the virus.
Social care will obviously be an important part of tackling the virus, and the Government have asked for cross-party views to try to come up with a system of social care that will last, will have public support and will not be changed from one Government to another. It is important that we get to a settled view of social care and, therefore, the right hon. Lady’s views will be welcome in the consultation, as will those of other right hon. and hon. Members.
On share price falls, I spent most of my life before entering politics in financial services, so I know it is always unwise to predict what markets are going to do. I am glad that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s brilliant Budget will lead to a 2.5% increase in productivity because of the coming infrastructure investment, which is good news.
There is £5.2 billion going into flood defences, and I note that the Somerset levels, following a lot of mitigation efforts, seem not to have flooded recently, so it seems that the mitigation efforts work very successfully. There was an extremely interesting article on that in the Daily Mail a week or so ago, which I draw to the attention of hon. and right hon. Members.
No, I did not, but the article, on the success of mitigation policies on the Somerset levels, is well worth reading. The levels are not precisely where I live, but they are not a million miles away.
As always, I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for keeping up the pressure in relation to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other dual nationals who are held improperly by the Iranian regime. We continue to raise their cases at the most senior levels. The Prime Minister raised those concerns with President Rouhani on 9 January, and our ambassador is in regular touch. The exercising of diplomatic protection in Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has formally raised it to a state-to-state issue, and there are concerns about the coronavirus in Evin Prison, which we referred to last week. A number of prisoners have been released and we have asked, of course, for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released, but ultimately it is the failings and the bad behaviour of the Iranian regime that we are dealing with. That is not something that the British Government can control, but we are certainly pushing as hard as possible to get them to behave in a proper way.
Does my right hon. Friend share my admiration for the sheer calm stoicism of so many people who work in this place? We are greeted by the police officers when we come into the building, as though nothing has changed, and the Clerks of the House carry on servicing the business of this House as though nothing has changed, despite the anxiety that the whole country is feeling about the coronavirus. Will he join me in recording our thanks to everyone who works in this place who will keep the show on the road? Does that not set the best possible example to the rest of the country that we should keep things going and remain calm to make sure that we carry on making rational decisions in this crisis?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Yes, indeed, I would like to record our thanks to the people working in the House who are ensuring that it is kept open, which is of the greatest importance. As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary said yesterday,
“we have resolved that we will keep Parliament open…the ability to hold the Government to account and to legislate are as vital in a time of emergency as in normal times. Our democracy is the foundation of our way of life.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2020; Vol. 673, c. 377.]
This is of fundamental importance. I can tell the House that our security and frontline staff, including catering staff, are going to be briefed in the same way as people in the Border Force, and that will take place later today. We are trying to make sure—again, Public Health England is being extremely helpful in ensuring this—that people in this House who are working to ensure that democracy is effective and that accountability is working will be treated properly.
First, I want to return to a matter I raised last week to do with the establishment of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Last week, the Leader of the House implied that our party had filibustered a decision on that matter and that somehow we did not want the Scotland Office to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what we are seeking to do is establish a Scottish Affairs Committee that will properly scrutinise the Government rather than one that is jam-packed with Government placemen and women. That is why we have now submitted amendments to the Selection Committee’s proposals that are with the Table Office, and we stand ready to debate them and to test the will of the House on them. Will the Leader of the House make time available for this matter to be discussed so that we can establish a Scottish Affairs Committee?
I too want to ask about the coronavirus and what it means for how we do our business in this place. We are commendably focused across the House on dealing with this emergency, but there seems to be an attitude that what we do here is keep calm and carry on, perhaps mitigating what we do in some respects but doing the best we can in the way that we normally do it, with the implication that there will come a point at which that is not possible, when we will simply stop. I put it to the Leader of the House that there is actually a middle way: we can fundamentally change the way we do things in order to keep ourselves and the public with whom we deal a lot safer. For example, starting next week, we could use the deferred decision procedure in place of having to stand in Lobbies for up to 20 minutes in an extremely confined space with 600 other people. That could be done from the Budget debate onwards for as long as this emergency lasts.
We could also look at ways in which people can vote without having to be here for an extended time, for example, by concentrating all the votes, on all the topics on which they are required, into a single period of the week, so that people have to attend then and not at other times.
We must also surely be aware that the process of self-isolation, which may rapidly increase in the weeks to come, should not mean that we abandon our ability to act as political representatives. In this day and age, the technology is available for people to be able to function from the confines of their own house. Surely it is incumbent on us to look at how we can do that by using teleconferencing for Select Committees and other matters and allowing people to engage in discussions and debates even if they are not able to attend this building.
I will deal with the second half of the hon. Gentleman’s question first, because this is an area where we want to have as much cross-party support as possible. It is of fundamental importance that we keep this place open, but it is also important that we are treated, and we treat ourselves, in the same way as the rest of the country and that we go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country. There should not be a difference in how Parliament is behaving from the advice that is being given to our constituents. That is important; we should not seek to be a special case for ourselves. After the Commission meeting yesterday, I went into the Division Lobby with the expert who had presented to us from Public Health England, and his view, which I am allowed to share with the House, is that the Division Lobby is not a high risk and the only step he would recommend is that we open the windows, because a flow of air would be beneficial. On the basis that the Division Lobby is not high-risk, making major changes to the way we operate would not be the right response, but we wait upon the medical and scientific advice being given to us by the Government, and if that changes, we will of course consider whether any procedural changes need to be made. Currently, that is not the case. On those who self-isolate, it will be better to use the pairing system than to try to introduce other measures, partly so that people who are self-isolating or who have coronavirus may maintain patient confidentiality. Some people who may be affected may not want everybody to know, and if we introduce novel methods, that confidentiality may be harder to maintain.
I come to the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He was right to say that it would be wrong if he thought that I had implied that the Scottish National party Members had talked out the establishment of the Committee. I made it clear that I thought that they had talked it out. There is no question of my implying it; that was exactly what they did. They talked out the establishment of the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Government are now considering the way forward, including of course the amendments they have tabled. Deliberation will be given to these important matters.
My right hon. Friend will doubtless be aware, as will the Whips, you, Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers, that, along with many longer-serving Members, the 2019 intake, from across the House, are having incredible problems with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Surely it is time for reform? This is groundhog day, and, 10 years on, what does IPSA cost the taxpayer each year compared with what the Fees Office cost to do the same tasks pre-2008-09?
It is of course concerning to hear about any problems new Members are having with IPSA, but the House will appreciate that IPSA is independent of government. I am a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, so if my hon. Friend would like to write to me with his concerns, I would be happy to raise them on his behalf. I point out that we, as SCIPSA, are raising a number of points with IPSA, and the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has brought a number of concerns from Opposition Members on these matters.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Will he give us an early indication of his thinking on any Backbench Business Committee time that might occur on either Monday 30 March or Tuesday 31 March, to help us with our planning for and with Members from across the House?
I now come to a constituency issue that I raised with the previous Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). A constituent of mine, Mariam Lamidi, has again been refused asylum in this country and in my constituency with her children, who are two, six and eight, despite the fact that her two-year-old daughter would undoubtedly be subjected to female genital mutilation should she return to her district in Nigeria.
On the first point from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, yes, I will try to give him an early indication in respect of the 30th and the 31st. Very often, the day before a recess is available to the Backbench Business Committee—that might be a helpful comment. As regards the very important constituent case, if the hon. Gentleman is having difficulties with the Home Office in getting replies, I will obviously help, but I assume that he is taking it up in the normal way.
Notwith- standing the kindly overtures from the shadow Leader of the House, may we have a debate in Government time on restoration and renewal, particularly given the National Audit Office investigation into the shambles of the Big Ben restoration? We cannot afford to spend upwards of £6 billion on this place when there are better value-for-money options available that do not involve a full decant.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, this is a new Parliament and a new House of Commons, and it will be entitled to make decisions as it sees fit. It is accepted that the mechanical and engineering plant needs replacing, but some of the costs that one has read about are eye-watering. We have to focus on value for money, so I am sympathetic to the approach that my hon. Friend is taking.
I was recently contacted by my constituent Vikki Lewis, who, because she is paid every four weeks instead of on a monthly basis, has received two payments within the universal credit assessment period and so has had no choice other than to fall into debt to ensure that she can house, feed, clothe and care for herself and her six-year-old son. As there was absolutely nothing about universal credit in yesterday’s Budget, may we have a debate in Government time about the failures of the cruel current system? We need a system that supports and protects people like Vikki, and many others across Newport West, who are paid not on monthly but rather on four-weekly pay systems.
I am aware of the problem of four-weekly payments, because constituents have brought it up with me, but I point out that the universal credit has been a successful policy: 200,000 more people are in work; the withdrawal rate is significantly lower, at 63p in the pound of benefits, down from the more than 90p in the pound of other types of benefit; and 700,000 families see around £285 a month of extra money that they are entitled to. Without beginning to pretend that it is a perfect system, it is an improvement on what was there before, and its measured roll-out has been the right thing to do.
As our economy goes digital, it is not just about retail; money is going digital, too, and there have been predictions that ultimately we will be a cash-free society. However, that cash-free trend is going at different paces in different places. There are implications for business and risks of people in certain groups being left behind, and there are implications now, because access to cash is becoming harder despite it being the main payment type for many transactions. May we have a debate to explore the changes to cash access and cash use in our society?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: 2.2 million adults in the UK use cash as their main way to make a payment day to day. There was reference in the Budget to the fact that the Government are going to bring forward legislation to protect access to cash for those who need it and to ensure that our cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long term. My hon. Friend may wish to raise the issue in the Budget debate, because that has been announced and will happen.
Yesterday, I welcomed the students of Deyes High School in my constituency to Parliament, where they were looked after extremely well by the education service, which does a fantastic job for schools throughout the country. The students in years 12 and 13 raised with me the very serious concern that they have about what might happen to teaching in the event of disruption in schools throughout the country, and about the impact that that would have on GCSEs and A-levels. Would the Leader of the House care to comment on that concern and how it might be addressed, either in emergency legislation or in other measures that the Government are going to bring forward?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that deserves to be answered at the right point. We need to wait for the Cobra meeting later today and for the Government to set out how plans will evolve. I emphasise again that we must act on the medical and scientific advice and not try to take pre-emptive steps, which may not have the benefits that people assume that they will have. We will be guided by the medical and scientific advice.
Sadly, 63% of people in Kidsgrove are no longer physically active since Labour’s closure of Kidsgrove sports centre. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group and the Conservative-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council on having found a long-term plan to refurbish and reuse this important community asset? Will he set out the Government’s plan to use local sports centres as part of a long-term plan to promote healthy lifestyles?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and congratulate all those involved from Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and the Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group on their excellent work. Places such as the Kidsgrove sports centre are vital in helping local communities to come together, be more active and live healthy lives. The Government’s Sporting Future strategy emphasises the important role that facilities play in encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to get more active. Through Sport England, from 2017 to 2021 we are spending more than £120 million on grassroots facilities, to make sure that everyone, regardless of where they live, is able to access high-quality sports facilities. It is levelling up for sports facilities.
So far, Ministers have given very little clarity on what help will be available for people who are self-employed and on zero-hours contracts. I realise that there are statements and that legislation is in the pipeline, but unless there is clarity, people who are ill and have been told to self-isolate will carry on going into work. Discussions need to be held with the relevant Departments. Will the Leader of the House make clear that this issue has to be addressed?
This was referred to by the Chancellor in his statement yesterday and solutions are being brought forward. Department for Work and Pensions staff stand ready to support anyone affected. We encourage them to get in touch to discuss their situation. Universal credit will be paid up front to people who will need it: 100% of the first month’s payment may be made. Steps are being taken to help people who are self-employed. I think £1 billion extra is being devoted to the welfare budget, to help people who are in difficulties because of the coronavirus.
I apologise for not being present at Transport questions, due, ironically, to a delay on the Jubilee line. It is extremely welcome that the Budget announced that local authorities are going to be allowed to build more council homes and to borrow money at a cheap price from the Public Works Loan Board. However, local authorities up and down the country have used the very low interest rate to buy retail centres, which are high-risk ventures, to generate income for the future. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate or a statement to make sure that local authorities do not abuse their new powers and that, rather than buying retail centres, they get people the homes they need?
That was why the Public Works Loan Board interest rate was raised earlier and is now being reduced for councils that will be building council houses. It is absolutely right to raise that in the Budget debate, but it is fair to say that the Government are conscious of the issue.
The very high standards of agricultural production in Angus, Scotland and the UK do not come for free; they come with significant costs of production. Those costs are not borne by foreign imports. What will this Government do to protect agriculture after Brexit from very cheap, lower standards of production from foreign producers of food?
May I begin by saying how much I enjoy Angus beef and commend the hon. Gentleman’s constituency for the wonderful food it produces? He is absolutely right that the UK has the very highest food standards—higher often than those of the EU. Not only did the UK ban veal crates fully 16 years before the EU; we also want to go further than the EU in banning the live shipment of animals. The UK already ensures that, without exception, all imports of food meet our stringent food safety standards. Our independent Food Standards Agency will ensure that that will remain the case, regardless of trade arrangements. In all negotiations, the Government will ensure that any future trade deals live up to the value of farmers and consumers across the United Kingdom.
The Government are rightly committed to levelling up and creating opportunities. Two small changes to the admissions code would change the life chances of so many summer-born children. May we have a debate in Government time on making changes to the admission code, to benefit the summer-born?
This summer, the British transplant games will be held in Coventry. Nine hundred transplant athletes will travel to the city to take part in the event, which aims to raise awareness of the value of organ donation and to encourage transplant recipients to stay active post transplant. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging transplant recipients to register to compete in the games, and will he arrange debates on the life-saving benefits of organ donation and on the health benefits of sport in general?
May I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, because I must confess that I was entirely unaware, in my ignorance, of the transplant games? It is a wonderful thing that she has brought attention to the games, and I hope that people who follow our proceedings, and other outlets, will become aware of them. I hope that her local paper will also pick up her advocacy for the games. She is absolutely right to encourage transplants, and to encourage people with transplants to show what successful lives they can lead.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Budget debates that he has announced allow an opportunity to highlight that yesterday the Chancellor announced an additional £640 million for Scotland—far more than the Scottish Government anticipated—which, in addition to the £1.3 billion already announced, means an additional £2 billion bonus for Scotland? Does he also agree that there will now be opportunity to call the Scottish Government to account to introduce the same measures for Scottish businesses as will apply in the rest of the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend makes an absolutely brilliant point. What this Government are doing is helping the whole United Kingdom, and £2 billion extra for Scotland from United Kingdom taxpayers is a real commitment to the United Kingdom. It is extraordinary that however well we do things, the SNP always complains.
The UK Government consider Saudi Arabia an ally and important trading partner. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what influence he thinks the UK Government should bring to bear to enlighten Saudi Arabia’s medieval and backward attitudes towards women and homosexuals, such as a woman being owned by her eldest male relative and the fact that homosexuality is punishable by death—usually by public beheading or perhaps by crucifixion, of which there were 134 last year?
Saudi Arabia is indeed an important ally of this country, but that does not mean that we are unaware of human rights abuses that take place in friendly allied countries. The Government do raise the issues of such abuses with those countries. It is always harder for us to make representations about foreign nationals than about our own nationals. It is easier, for example, to make representations about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but we do raise these important issues, and the hon. Lady is right also to raise them in this Chamber.
At the start of the month, I welcomed my constituent Amanda Richardson, who is chief executive of the charity Action Cerebral Palsy, to Parliament. Her charity is concerned that children with cerebral palsy are not getting the best possible care and education in a timely fashion due to the lack of a national understanding across Departments, local government and the NHS about the level of need. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate in Government time on what the Government can do to remedy this, and better support children with cerebral palsy?
I commend my hon. Friend for bringing this crucial issue to the attention of the Chamber. All children with cerebral palsy and other disabling conditions should get the support they need from the health service and schools. General practitioners play a key role in co-ordinating the care of disorders such cerebral palsy, and the condition is identified as a key area of clinical knowledge in the Royal College of General Practitioners’s curriculum. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published best practice clinical guidance on cerebral palsy for adults and children to support clinicians to manage cerebral palsy effectively.
It is absolutely right that the attention of the Government and businesses is currently focused on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, but I do wonder whether there will be sufficient capacity in the system to finalise our new trading arrangements with the EU, so I ask the Leader of the House—in all sincerity—whether, in these circumstances, it is appropriate to begin considering an extension to the transition period?
As the advice from the Government on coronavirus changes and reaches a stage where many people are recommended to stay at home, a lot of people will want to watch sport on television. But, of course, major sporting events now take place on Sky and BT Sport. Would it be possible, while this emergency occurs, for those events to be screened on terrestrial television, so that people at home could watch them?
May we have a statement from the Government about whether it is now time for the Intelligence and Security Committee to become a full Select Committee of this House, thereby allowing us, as Members of Parliament, to vote on who we would like to see in the Chair of that Committee?
There are very good reasons for the process around the Intelligence and Security Committee being what it is, including the sensitive nature of the matters that it handles. Therefore, I do not see there being any plans to change the process that is set out in statute. Unlike other Committees, it is a statutory Committee under the Justice and Security Act 2013 and I foresee no changes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your endeavours to allow as many of us to ask questions as possible.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to pass on congratulations to the Chancellor on bringing forward a £400 million brownfields housing fund? That is absolutely the way to go. Will he consider a debate on relieving the real stress and strain on my constituents from repeated planning developments on greenfield countryside?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on having a constituency in which so many people want to live because it is so beautiful? My right hon Friend the Secretary State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is going to make a statement later about reforming the planning system. I think my hon. Friend’s concerns would be suitably raised in an Adjournment debate on his constituency.
I clearly was not happy with the Budget yesterday. Wales bore the brunt of Storm Dennis. Nearly half the people who were affected across the whole UK were in one local authority area, and there was not a single extra penny from the Government yesterday for the families, for the businesses or for the local authorities in Wales that are going to have to pick up the tab to the tune of many, many tens of millions of pounds. When it came to the business arrangements for coronavirus, perfectly sensible measures were being introduced in England, but there was not a single penny to make them available in Wales as well. Surely, we are one United Kingdom and there should therefore be fair money for all the different parts of the United Kingdom.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is ever happy, so there is no pleasing some people. However, I would point out that over £600 million extra is going to the Welsh Government’s budget—the biggest day- to-day funding settlement for the Welsh Government in a decade—and there will also be the concomitant Barnett consequentials from yesterday’s Budget statement. So it is simply not accurate to say that Wales is not receiving extra funding.
I refer the House to my entry in the register. There were some very welcome moves on coronavirus in the Budget yesterday, and some very practical advice from the NHS. I understand the need to keep schools open if the risk is low to children, to keep workers in important work positions, but the same applies to nursery schools and other forms of childcare, which do not appear to have been covered in the Budget yesterday, or in advice. I have had a letter from a constituent with a nursery today saying that
“Morton Michel, one of the biggest childcare insurers in the UK”
“refusing to add Covid-19 to its list of insurable diseases”,
which could result in many childcare places going bust. May we have guidance, and a statement from the Treasury and from the Department for Education, specifically for childcare providers, and also for children in care?
In recent days, the price of oil has plummeted, yet in the Chancellor’s Budget yesterday there was not a peep in relation to this hugely important industry. Does the Leader of the House share my concern in that regard, and will he commit to a debate in Government time on this hugely important matter?
The oil sector is obviously important and the price of oil affects the whole of the economy. However, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that, yesterday in this House, his right hon. Friend the leader of the SNP raised the matter in the Budget debate, so it has just been raised.
May we have a debate on disabled access to public transport? I want very quickly to highlight the situation in the beautiful village of Chinley, which has a growing population and a highly successful special school academy, yet the railway station has no step-free access, denying a huge number of people access to public transport. In 2020, this situation is quite simply unacceptable.
When will we see progress on the fire safety and building safety Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech? Thus far, the Government’s policy on the issues raised by the Grenfell Tower fire has been a ragbag of consultations and guidance notes. Are we not overdue clarity and comprehensive action on both those life and death matters?
The fire safety Bill will be brought forward, and the Chancellor announced £1.5 billion to deal with the cladding issue yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how the English Football League must do more to protect the interests of fans and towns such as Bury from unscrupulous club owners? The recent EFL report stating that the Football League could not have saved Bury FC defied belief. It is an organisation that is clearly not fit for purpose. We must ensure that other clubs and their fans are protected and not sold out like Bury FC.