House of Commons
Thursday 22 October 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Business before Questions
National Audit Office
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty had received its humble Address of 1 July, praying that she should appoint Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE to the office of Chair of the National Audit Office from 10 January 2021, and that she was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Local Government Boundary Commission for England
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty had received its humble Address of 7 September, praying that she should reappoint Professor Colin Mellors OBE as Chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, with effect from 1 January 2021 for the period ending on 31 December 2025, and that she was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty had received its humble address of 7 September praying that she should reappoint Alasdair Morgan as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 October 2020 for the period ending on 30 September 2022, and that she was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Transport Sector: Support and Covid-19 Emergency Funding
The Government continue to provide the support that is necessary to maintain public transport throughout this pandemic. It may be helpful to the House if I let Members know that the Department is expecting to spend between £10.6 billion and £12.6 billion on supporting the transport sector in response to this pandemic.
If there is, as many predict, a disruptive end to the transition period, with long delays and blockages at the EU border and the inevitable financial costs this will bring to hauliers and traders, will the UK Government financially support and compensate these businesses and workers for the costs inflicted on them by this Tory Government’s failure to secure anything bearing any semblance of a deal with the European Union?
I have just described the between £10 billion and £12.5 billion of support this Government have provided to the transport sector through covid. The hon. Gentleman talks about what will happen at the end of the transition period. I hope he is reassured to know that I am leaving from this House to go straight to Kent to review the many plans that are very advanced and in place to ensure that the transition is smooth.
Covid-19 has resulted in the transport sector being hit hard in the north-east. I hear what the Secretary of State says, but will he commit to providing long-term emergency funding support beyond the end of the financial year to cover the damage caused by restrictions on the economy to prevent major service cuts and job losses in the transport sector in the north-east?
I hope the hon. Lady will accept that an enormous amount of money, as revealed today—between £10.5 billion and £12.5 billion—has been put into the transport sector throughout this crisis, and it has taken many different forms. I will say a bit more about, for example, light rail, which I know will be of interest in parts of the north-east, later. But, yes, we will commit to ensure that our transport sector continues to function, and in particular to ensure that key workers through this difficult period are able to continue to travel and able to serve people in this country, particularly NHS and care workers.
A constituent of mine worked as a member of the cabin crew for British Airways out of Edinburgh for over 21 years. They have been forced out of their job and pressured to sign an agreement that has no transparency of the pay breakdown; frankly, they have been totally shafted by BA. Does the Transport Secretary recognise that, on the one hand, there is an urgent need for more financial support for the aviation sector, but on the other, companies such as BA need taking to task, and the fire and rehire Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) would be the perfect way to do that? Would he also commit to meet my constituent and me, so that he can hear at first hand their horrendous experience?
I know this is a subject that the whole House has been concerned about. The Select Committee on Transport has spent some time looking into this and has made a number of different comments on the matter. It is the case, of course, that these are extraordinarily difficult times for many businesses in this country, but I do not think that any are more impacted than the aviation sector. The most important thing we can do to help the hon. Member and her constituents is to make sure that the sector gets going again, which is why things such as test and release are very important. But I will certainly ensure that a meeting can take place between the aviation Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—and her constituent.
The independent coach sector must be unique in the impact that covid has had on its business and the level of support—in other words, not very much—that it has had from Government. What can this Government do to support private enterprises such as JP Minicoaches in Forfar and Black’s of Brechin to weather what has been a disastrous summer followed by a catastrophic winter looming?
About 3,000 coach operators in the country employ 40,000 people in businesses worth about £4.5 billion, and it is true that they have been at the forefront of this crisis. They make a lot of their money from tourism, with the remainder coming from things like school runs. I am pleased that through the return to school, the Department for Education made available £70 million, which has assisted in getting some of those often family-run businesses up and running again.
Until we recover from covid, coach operators will not be able to run at full pelt. They have been able to access some of the ground-breaking additional assistance that the Chancellor has made available, but we will continue to work with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, and other Government Departments, to ensure that coach operators are able to continue as best as possible through these difficult times.
When it comes to financial support, the railways have had billions, and I am grateful that they continue to run. The Williams review to reform the railways envisaged a “guiding mind” body that would be at arm’s length to the Department for Transport, the train operators and Network Rail, in order to properly oversee and run the railway. There is some concern that that arm’s length body may end up as Network Rail, which sounds a little like the days of the old British Rail. Can the Secretary of State assure me that there will be that independent “guiding mind” body to run and oversee both train and track?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the Transport Committee, and the close attention that the Committee pays to these subjects. Clearly, the rail network has been going through extraordinary times, with much of the support that I described earlier going to rail. As we move forward, it is important that we do not end up back with the old British Rail, with bad sandwiches and the rest of it, but at the same time we bring a fragmented system back together. That is what the Williams review aims to do, and in some ways covid has enabled us to accelerate that process. I assure my hon. Friend that the outcome will not be some conglomerate with no real “guiding mind” and all the worst from the past, and we will move forward with the Williams reforms.
Despite failing to deliver the promised sectoral support, the Secretary of State has said time and again that his Government are listening to and working with the aviation sector. How does that tally with the Government ignoring every response to a Treasury consultation on abolishing the airside shopping VAT exemption, which will cost Glasgow and Edinburgh airports combined £10 million-plus? Does he agree that the last thing his Treasury colleagues should be doing is pursuing policies that will cost yet more jobs in that beleaguered sector?
The aviation sector has enjoyed a significant amount of support from the public purse. I do not think I have previously drawn this figure to the attention of the House, but the covid corporate financing facility scheme, which is run by the Bank of England, has lent 11% of the money that it has lent to aviation, so there has been a huge amount of money. I am aware of the changes in airport shops to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Treasury has been consulting on that issue for some time and I will ensure that his comments are reflected back to it.
Let us try a much simpler question, to which I am sure the Secretary of State can give a straightforward and categorical answer. With the news that the black hole known as HS2— the English-only HS2—needs another £800 million ploughed into it, when will the UK Government update the Scottish Government on the timing and amount of Barnett consequentials that should flow from the project, so that those funds can be spent supporting and revitalising transport in Scotland?
The Barnett formula is a matter for the Treasury, but at the moment the £800 million is entirely within the budgets. One thing we have done—the Minister of State, Department for Transport ensured that this happened—is to come to the House with six-monthly updates, so that no big surprises suddenly appear in the HS2 budget. I would say in general though that the benefits of HS2 will be felt by the whole United Kingdom. That means, potentially, ultimately, a journey from London to Edinburgh in three hours or so. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that levelling up and connectivity throughout the Union.
Our country faces an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus, and I pay tribute to transport workers—bus drivers and others—who have risked their safety at this very difficult time. At this difficult and dangerous time, will the Minister explain why the Government are spending £7 million on a pointless rebranding exercise for Highways Agency rather than spending the money protecting lives and saving jobs?
Tilting Train Services: West Coast Main Line
No decisions have been made relating to the types of rolling stock required for the west coast main line after the completion of HS2.
I am grateful for that answer, which was very different from what HS2 told me in a meeting recently. Lichfield is one of over 20 stations along the west coast main line that will not be served by HS2; the nearest station will be half an hour or more away. At the moment, we have the tilting Pendolinos, which are very fast, but HS2 told me that when they are phased out, they will not be replaced by any fast train, and the west coast main line will be used only for slow commuting trains. Can the Minister assure me that HS2 got it wrong at that meeting, and that stations such as Lichfield Trent Valley will still have a fast service down to London once HS2 is completed?
I am always happy to provide reassurance to my hon. Friend. Fast inter-city trains will continue to run on the west coast main line once HS2 opens. One of the key aims for future service patterns is that all towns or cities that currently have a direct service to London will retain broadly comparable or better services once HS2 is completed.
With reports of further overspends on High Speed 2, it now appears that the Government are abandoning their commitment that the track will connect all the way to Leeds. For all their soundbites and promises of levelling up, once again, the north is being punished by the Government’s failure to get to grips with the financial management of this project. I hope I am wrong, so let us find out. Can the Minister confirm categorically, right here today, that if HS2 is to be delivered, it will be delivered in full, and that it will benefit, among others, the good people of Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds?
As the shadow Minister is well aware, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead to HS2 in February this year, he said that we were committed to delivering phase 2b but how phase 2b was delivered would be subject to the integrated rail plan. We have been making significant progress with the integrated rail plan. Sir John Armitt and the National Infrastructure Commission have already published their interim report. We look forward to their further recommendations and to responding to them before Christmas.
Rail Network: Accessibility for Disabled People
The Government have recently made £350 million available to make accessibility improvements at a further 209 stations through the Access for All programme, ramping up provision across the country. We also require the industry to comply with current accessibility standards whenever they install, replace or renew station infrastructure.
Currently, nearly 40% of stations in Britain do not have step-free access. Some upgrades are planned for Davenport and Heaton Chapel stations in my constituency of Stockport, but if updates to stations continue at this rate, our rail network will not be fully accessible until 2070, so what plans does the Minister have to ensure that more trains and platforms are made accessible?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, because, as he knows, much of our station infrastructure is Victorian and therefore not accessible to many disabled passengers, and it is a huge shame that it is taking a long time to rectify that. Only around a fifth of stations have step-free access to and between all platforms, although 75% of journeys are through step-free stations, compared with 50% in 2005. However, there is a lot more to do, and we have an ambitious target to get this all sorted as quickly as possible.
Walking and Cycling Rates
It is for local authorities to determine prioritising investment in local transport. The Government are taking steps which were outlined in the Prime Minister’s cycling and walking plan, published in July, with a £2 billion budget.
The Minister will be aware that areas experiencing the largest growth in new housing are some of those most interested in investment in cycling and walkways. With Central Bedfordshire Council and Bedford Borough Council experiencing some of the highest growth in the country, will the Minister give special consideration to their active travel network plans?
My hon. Friend’s county borders mine and I know it has very ambitious plans, with Bedford Borough Council, to enable it to develop a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan that is positive and engages lots of people. Where possible, we are working with local authorities, but it is for local authorities within Bedfordshire to work in tandem and consider what sort of approach is appropriate for the locality. Should they wish my Department to offer any extra advice, we will, of course, be happy to do so.
Rail Bridge Upgrades
Local authorities in England have benefited from this year’s £1.7 billion transport infrastructure investment fund to repair and improve bridges, as well as the £12 billion local growth fund. Future funding will be subject to the current spending review.
Crewe is proud of its heritage as a historic railway town, but it does create challenges. It is criss-crossed by railway lines, with some very old and narrow bridges that create quite enormous congestion. The cost of replacing them sits outside the ordinary maintenance and repair budget. Will the Minister explain what the process might be to get support for such big capital expenditure and agree to meet me to discuss, for example, replacing Earle Street bridge.
I remember the layout of Crewe very well from walking around it in a by-election a few years ago. As my hon. Friend knows, the future arrival of HS2 in the town provides a unique opportunity for Crewe to undertake a comprehensive review of its transport infrastructure requirements. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to engage with local partners, agreeing priority projects that will facilitate growth and address the traffic constraints he outlined. They can form part of the discussions he would like to have with us. I would be delighted to meet him, as would the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has responsibility for HS2.
Maritime Workers’ Pay Protection
We have extended the national minimum wage to cover all seafarers working domestically in UK territorial waters.
The maritime industry has submitted a £1 billion bid through the comprehensive spending review to kickstart maritime decarbonisation. That will boost wages and create jobs in coastal communities like Ynys Môn across the UK, and help the UK to lead in green maritime technology. Will the Minister confirm that his Department supports the bid, and that he will commit to meeting me and MPs from coastal communities to discuss this matter in more detail?
I thank my hon. Friend for her passionate advocacy on behalf of the coastal communities of Ynys Môn. I cannot go into the detail of draft proposals, but I can reassure her that across Government the issue of decarbonisation and the need to achieve net zero is central. Decarbonising shipping is essential to achieve the target of net zero emissions across the economy by 2050. I would be delighted to meet her and other parliamentary colleagues to discuss that further.
The second road investment strategy, published in March, continues our commitment to create a high-quality connection for the south-west along the A303-A358 corridor.
I thank the Minister for her reply. She will know how important the A303 is to us here in the far south-west—it is one of just two arterial roads into this region. Can she confirm that work on delivering the dualling of the A303 from Stonehenge to Taunton will begin on the ground shortly? We have had many promises over the years from various Governments. The people of the far south-west would like to see some action. Can she please confirm that work on dualling this important road will begin in the very near future?
Let me assure my hon. Friend that the Government absolutely recognise the critical importance of the A303 for journeys across his part of the south of England for the people who live there and for the economy of the region. Our second road investment strategy provides the funding for removing the bottleneck at Stonehenge and underlines our commitment to find solutions to the remaining issues along the A303, with the next phases of construction likely to take place after the Stonehenge tunnel is completed.
Covid-19 Quarantine: International Travel
The global travel taskforce is considering how to implement a testing regime for international arrivals to reduce self-isolation.
The restrictions on air travel have had many further consequences, not least for coach operators. When the pandemic first struck, the Government introduced a very generous package for coach operators that saved many businesses and jobs. Now that coach operators such as J&C Coaches in my Sedgefield constituency are back up and running again, the Government’s package has stopped. However, fleet insurance is back to normal, the vehicles all have to be taxed and the drivers are back to work. All the coach operators have to fund these expenses on very basic school contracts. There are no swimming baths, no Beamish, no Hadrian’s wall, no excursions, no football and no nights out in Darlington, Durham or Newcastle. Will the Secretary of State please encourage his right hon. Friend the Chancellor to find something from somewhere to support this industry that is part of the glue that connects our citizens?
I very much understand the pressures that the coach industry in particular is under, as I mentioned in a previous response. It is a fact that those parts of the economy, many of which my hon. Friend described, are not up and functioning right now, so the Government need to do things to provide support to the sector, which we have been doing across all UK businesses—in particular, through the 24 September winter economy plan from the Chancellor—to try to assist, while also recognising, as I know right hon. and hon. Members do across the House, that the Government do not have a magic-wand solution to ensure that business is running at its usual capacity while we are tackling covid. I referred earlier to the 3,000 coach operators. I understand the pressure they are under, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I are very much focused on other ways that we can find to assist the sector.
I have heard from a number of constituents in the travel and tourism industry who are very concerned about staying in business over the next six months. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent proposal to reduce quarantine to seven days and on the use of testing capacity at major airports such as Heathrow. What can the Government do to help smaller regional airports, such as Southampton, to create their own testing capacity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That links to the previous question inasmuch as we have to get this economy going if we are going to have to live with coronavirus for quite some time. We need to do that by ensuring that economic activity can continue and that people can continue to travel by coach, covid-safely, and by air. The global travel taskforce is working on the implementation of some really quite complex issues related to, for example—she mentioned testing at airports—whether testing at airports actually provides the solution. As we know, what is required at the moment, according to the best science, is still a period of self-isolation, followed by a test, which could take place either at an airport or perhaps even in a more convenient, more local location. That is what the global travel taskforce is working on with the airports, the travel sector and academics, as well as medical experts, in order to implement exactly that kind of system to assist the entire industry.
Sixth Carbon Budget
Ministers have regular discussions about our ambitions for the sixth carbon budget and net zero target.
I am pleased to hear it, but what are the results of those discussions? Aviation accounts for 8% of our UK emissions and international flights for 80% of that, so is it not time that the Government actually acted on the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change and included those emissions in carbon budgets, so that we can face up to our climate responsibilities?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Emissions are a global problem and they require a global solution. The UK is working with international partners, and leading with international partners, through organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, and I think that that is the approach we should take.
Can I get some clarity on the timing of this? In last week’s response to the Committee on Climate Change, the Government said that we would ideally be looking at negotiating a long-term emissions reduction goal for aviation at ICAO in 2022, and that we would be working at the IMO in advance of its revising its strategy for shipping in 2023. That would all be too late to put anything in the sixth carbon budget, particularly if there is insufficient progress at those talks. It would push action into the 2040s. Why are the Government stalling when it is very clear that we need action on international aviation and shipping emissions now?
It is important to realise that the Government are not stalling. When we look at the leading role that the Government have in both of those organisations and the progress on programmes such as the carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation, we can see that the Government are driving ahead and taking their international partners with them.
International Roll-on Roll-off Ferry Services
A mid-year financial health assessment of carriers has provided assurances for the continued flow of freight on international roll on, roll off services.
I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for their helpful engagement with me over P&O ferries threatening to scrap the Hull to Zeebrugge route. International shipping routes are critical to our economic future yet P&O is threatening to walk away. Does the Minister agree that the time has now come for the company to be told to invest in our area, step up and, instead of paying millions to its Dubai owners, put something into our local economy?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for our recent meeting. He is a powerful advocate for his area, its identity and its economic vitality. Although these are commercial decisions, I want to see a commitment from all operators to the UK workforce and the coastal communities for whom these routes are so important.
We wish my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) well. There was a fire on the Pride of Hull last night, but all hands are safe.
Brexit talks between the Prime Minister and the maritime sector this week have been poorly received and it is a failure of statecraft that the Department has had to award £77 million worth of contracts to secure vital medicine in the event of no deal. To be fair to the Secretary of State—and I am fair to him—at least he awarded these ferry contracts to companies that actually own some ships this time. What undertakings has the Minister pursued to ensure that they will actually employ British seafarers?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the Pride of Hull. I was concerned to hear about the incident, but I am glad to confirm that the ship is safely back at berth. I commend all those who were responsible for responding to the incident. I am relieved that nobody was seriously injured, and I thank the crew for ensuring that everyone on board was safe.
There are, of course, ongoing conversations among all parts of Government to ensure that we have an appropriate response to the end of the EU transition period whatever the result of negotiations.
Covid-19: Transport in Newcastle
The Department is in regular contact with Nexus and Transport North East and has a number of schemes in place to support transport operators at this difficult time.
The Minister will know that many of my constituents, particularly those on low and insecure pay, cannot work from home and are still taking the bus to work, so are still paying significantly more to go a few bus stops across Newcastle than it would to cross the whole of London. The Government talk about levelling up. When is he going to level down bus fares?
As the hon. Lady will be aware, we are putting huge resources into supporting the bus sector at this time. On 8 August, we announced additional funding of £27.3 million per week to support the bus sector. We are developing a bus strategy and I am sure that fares and the fairness of fares across the country will be part of that strategy.
A27: Worthing to Shoreham
We are committed to improving this part of the A27 by 2025. We have been discussing options with local councils and will be going to public consultation in due course.
Last week, we had the welcome news about the preferred route for the Arundel bypass on the A27 at a likely cost of more than £250 million. Yet just down the road on the A27 in my constituency of Worthing—a town 10 times the size of Arundel—we were allocated just £70 million on the road investment strategy, RIS 1 scheme, back in 2014. All we have seen so far are inadequate plans for tinkering with junctions and improving cycle routes. Will the Minister step in to help progress a proper scheme to deal with the much worse and worsening congestion on the Worthing-Shoreham stretch of the A27 and perhaps come down to visit and sit in a traffic jam with me and see the problem at first hand?
I would be delighted to accept the invitation. However, this would be a matter for my hon. Friend in the other place, Baroness Vere, as this is her portfolio, but I am sure she would also be delighted if her diary allows. To answer my hon. Friend’s question, he is absolutely right to be committed to alleviating congestion. Highways England is making progress on developing options for improvements on that important stretch of road, and it is keen to work with local stakeholders to scope the best options for local communities, at which point it will be ready to look at delivering for the local communities.
Regional and National Transport Links
We are committed to supporting regional and national connectivity, and we recently launched the union connectivity review.
The A66 is a vital route for residents of Barnard Castle and right across the north-east—[Laughter.] This happens every time I say that. Can my right hon. Friend please give me an update on the dualling of the A66, and will he meet me to discuss the issue of the Rokeby junction?
A popular question, Mr Speaker. I thought my hon. Friend was going to rise to discuss the A68 and the Toft Hill bypass, on which I know she has campaigned a lot, but the A66 is in the second road investment strategy—the RIS 2—for the period 2020 to 2025. Earlier this year, I launched the preferred route for the A66. That is completing its analysis, and it will then go for a statutory consultation, so it is moving at pace. I can confirm that someone has even set up a Twitter account about the A66, which she might like to follow.
The HS2 East Midlands hub will be located in Toton in the heart of my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the construction of the eastern leg of HS2 to deliver vital jobs and investment into Broxtowe and the wider region?
As the House will know, the eastern leg is called the 2b, and, as the Prime Minister has said from this Dispatch Box, it is not a question of “to be or not to be”—it will be; it will be constructed. I think my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that, through the integrated rail plan, we will ensure that we can properly connect up the midlands to the north, going up to Leeds on the eastern leg, and do so in a way that now takes into account the many plans that have evolved since HS2 was originally dreamed up 10 or 15 years ago.
No Agreement with the EU: Preparedness
Our priority is to ensure that road and air transport continue to operate between the UK and the EU. We are making extensive preparations to ensure good flows and, as I mentioned, I am off to Kent immediately after I finish at the Dispatch Box to update on progress.
The Republic of Ireland is preparing by creating new port facilities and supporting new direct ferry routes to Europe. Rather than seeking to turn Kent into a car park or sustaining south-east ports that can never materialise, would it not be more appropriate to provide the resources to ensure that new routes and port and ferry facilities can be established both in Scotland and north-east England?
I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Gentleman. We have a curious situation where an awful lot of goods passage through the so-called short straits from Dover, but that is not by any means the only port in this country. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ports. He might have missed it, but I recently launched the £200 million port infrastructure fund to further boost the capacity of ports around the country, and that is in addition to the large amount of additional infrastructure spending that has been put in place over the past few years as we have got closer to the end of the transition period.
Rail Connections: North of England
We announced nearly £600 million of investment in the rail network across the north in July alone. This is part of the £48 billion being spent on rail between 2019 and 2024.
Leyland has some exciting plans for development with the Government’s towns fund, and an important part of that is the reopening of Midge Hall station, but at the moment we have the nonsense of trains stopping there but passengers not being allowed to get on or off. Will my hon. Friend give every consideration to that as part of the restoring your railway fund?
That was an excellent Lancastrian question, from an excellent Member of Parliament. For the second round of applications to the restoring your railway ideas fund 51 proposals have been submitted to the expert panel. The recommendations have now been made and we are considering them for funding. We will be announcing the outcome of the second round in the coming weeks.
Covid-19: Rural Bus Routes
The Department is working closely with local authorities and operators to ensure that the bus routes people most rely on continue to run throughout the pandemic.
The Government have announced a £5 billion package to support buses, including 4,000 energy-efficient buses. Will the Minister look at local routes in my area, such as the 15 and 16 in and around Brixham, to see how we might extend them in the future, given the vital services they provide in a community that has few bus links?
I understand that my hon. Friend recently met the Minister responsible for buses to discuss this very issue, and I pay tribute to him for the campaigning he does on behalf of his constituents. We are creating a £20 million rural mobility fund to support innovative solutions to transport problems in rural areas, and we will also be taking rural transport into account in the national bus strategy, which we aim to publish by the end of the year.
Transport Funding in London
The Department regularly engages with Transport for London and the Mayor in order to understand the impact of covid-19.
In the past 48 hours, Conservative Members have already begun campaigning about what they are describing as the Mayor of London’s proposed extension of the congestion charge. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to confirm to the House today that he wrote to the Mayor in these terms:
“We propose that you maintain the congestion charge at its current level and hours…we also propose the extension of the…congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone and at the same time, October 2021.”?
It is important to understand that the Government have already provided funding of £1.6 billion to TfL. The Mayor is now back for another tranche of funding, which is understandable in part because of covid. However, in other parts, for example through not having maintained fares with inflation previously, he has left a gap. We have gone to the Mayor with a long list of different things he could do. It is up to him what he does, but I want to make it clear to the House that it is his choice and we are not going to require him to extend the congestion charge anywhere.
Carbon Emissions: Aviation
The Government are committed to net-zero aviation. This year, we established the Jet Zero Council to drive delivery of that, by encouraging the development of clean technologies, sustainable aviation fuels and regulatory changes.
We all appreciate that the aviation industry is under immense pressure, and we want to see it recover through covid-19, but will the Government ensure that part of the support and encouragement for the aviation industry is tied to those developments of fuels, and that the UK oil and gas industry is also involved in finding alternative fuels?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to say that alternative sustainable aviation fuels are a major part of this. The Government have made £20 million of capital funding available through the future fuels for flight and freight competition, which is for projects that produce low carbon, waste-based fuels, and we will be looking further at what else we can do.
We have started trials of this innovative new mode of transport, the e-scooter, in 15 areas of the country, with more to start soon. We are thoroughly gathering data on journeys. A lot of very positive feedback is already coming through and we are assessing the wider impacts.
My constituent Mark Rawinski recently bought an e-scooter, and he has been telling me that it is far more affordable than a car or a motorcycle and drawing my attention to how much better it is for the environment. There is a strong case that e-scooters should be classified as personal electric vehicles, in the same way as electric bikes are, as they have similar power and speed. Does the Minister agree?
I am absolutely delighted to hear of the support of my hon. Friend’s constituent for this new, clean, green, convenient and, as he said, much more environmentally friendly mode of transport. We do support active travel and active transport, which is why we are trialling e-scooters and gathering the evidence. The evidence that we gather will inform the decisions that we make about whether to legalise e-scooters in the future. Until then, it is important to say that privately owned e-scooters should not be used on the public roads.
My Department is committed to improving maritime safety across the UK, including through the maritime safety action plan.
Tugboats operate in our port night and day 365 days a year, and the pandemic has not stopped this. I recently went aboard a tugboat on the River Tees and was told of the lengths that the team at Svitzer Teesside goes to to ensure safe tugging operations along the busiest ports on the east coast. However, the crew expressed some concerns that other tug services do not conform to the same safety standards. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the sector to see how we can level up the safety of our tugs?
Tug and work boats are critical to the operation and safety of our ports. They ensure that vessels can complete the most dangerous part of their voyages into ports in safety. My hon. Friend has done a great service to those who work on the Tees by bringing this important matter to the House’s attention, and I would welcome the chance to meet him and representatives of the sector in order to discuss this further.
Today, I will be joining the great northern conference. I will not only reinforce the Government’s belief in the northern powerhouse, but announce further funding to allow trams to continue to operate, helping people to get to work and NHS staff to get to hospitals. That will go to local authorities and operators in Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, Manchester and Blackpool, which will be among those that will share £35.4 million, which I am announcing today, over the next 12 weeks to keep those essential services running.
The Government’s 2019 road safety statement once again recognised the evidence that
“restrictions on new novice drivers’ post-test driving, have proved very effective at improving the safety of young drivers.”
The Government promised to commission research to explore the social and economic consequences of introducing a graduated driving licence. Baroness Vere told the Transport Committee that the Government have abandoned work. What does that say about the commitment of the Government to tackling the tragic and avoidable road crashes that claimed the lives of 99 young drivers in 2018?
The hon. Lady, who is the former Chair of the Transport Committee, is absolutely right about the number of incidents that take place among young drivers. Let me just declare an interest: I have children who have both started to learn to drive and are about to start to drive. There is a decision for society to make as to whether it wishes to restrict the ability of young people to be able to drive their cars after, for example, 10 o’clock at night to drive back from a library or to be able to work, because graduated driving licences would restrict those rights—I see the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) asking about this. She is right to say that we have looked very carefully at this issue and come to the conclusion that there are other ways, through things such as black boxes in cars, that will provide safety without restricting freedom.
Transport operators have been devastated by covid, and it will take some time for them to recover to strength. The Government have stepped in to underwrite all the revenue risk of rail franchise operators, despite shareholder dividends being in the region of £1.7 billion since 2011. There was a sense that we needed to keep rail going, and that that was the right intervention, but the Government have gone further, paying out operators’ profits on top of that, with even more to come. Yet here in the nation’s capital, our essential transport workers, who are working hard to keep the city going, are routinely deployed to attack the Mayor of London. Why are the Government content to underwrite all revenue risk and bail out foreign Government shareholders, but not back the people of this country?
Whether it is Sadiq Khan in London or Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, the Government are systematically drawing political fire at those who dare to speak out. Let us be very clear: it was the Prime Minister, when he left City Hall, who handed back the subsidy and left a £1.1 billion deficit, and it was Sadiq Khan who reduced it by 71%. Will the Government right this wrong and match the intervention for rail franchises across all operations, including TfL, or have they gone from the poll tax to the polling day tax, where they deliberately seek out anybody who dares to vote for a Labour Mayor?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that other countries certainly have more PSOs. Actually, the European Commission’s website suggests that France’s has 37 PSOs—but none the less, significantly more than this country. We are looking at all this through the regional airport review, and I know that the PSO route from Newquay has been extremely important.
First of all, the negotiations are still ongoing, so we need to await their outcome. Secondly, there is nowhere else in the country that gets more concessions than London; constituents in my part of the world and the constituencies of other Members in this House will not be enjoying the same concessions that are available to London. But, as I say, we will need to await the outcome of these discussions.
The Government are committed to creating a high-quality route along the A303—this is the second time it has been mentioned this morning—and the A358 from the A3 to the M5. This will be the south-west strategic route. I very much thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to this route, but consequently the Government have no plans to dual the alternative A303/A30 route between Ilminster and Honiton.
The hon. Gentleman may know that we recently launched the Union connectivity review, led by Sir Peter Hendy; we look forward to hearing what he says. The hon. Gentleman may also know that this Government at least are very keen to connect all four parts of the Union together as best as we possibly can, and will look at any good ideas to get that job done.
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is a champion of levelling up for her area. I am aware of these proposals. As with other rail freight terminals, we expect the private sector to bring them forward, but we are working together closely on improving connectivity in Hyndburn.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight our focus on encouraging active travel through a huge investment in cycling and walking that has been welcomed by communities up and down the country. However, we are aware of some schemes, such as the ones he highlights, where better consultation with local communities and businesses would have resulted in better schemes. Local communities should be consulted fully before schemes are implemented.
When it comes to playing politics with these issues, I think we can hear where it is all coming from. The simple fact is that we have already funded £1.6 billion, and we are talking to the Mayor about another large injection of money. I will do this, politics aside, to make sure that we get the best deal for Londoners.
The residents of my hon. Friend’s constituency are lucky to have such a dedicated champion. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has recently requested a review of the land and property acquisition process to ensure that people along the route are supported, fairly compensated, and treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
The Government have increased funding to subsidised bus services in the hon. Lady’s constituency throughout the pandemic, but more than that, we are publishing a national bus strategy to address all these issues. We want to see bus services improved across the country.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 2 November will include:
Monday 2 November—General debate on covid-19.
Tuesday 3 November—Remaining stages of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.
Wednesday 4 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Blood Safety and Quality (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, the draft Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the draft Quality and Safety of Organs Intended for Transplantation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
Thursday 5 November—Debate on a motion on coronavirus business interruption loan schemes, followed by general debate on the UK Government’s role in ensuring innovation and equitable access within the covid-19 response. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 November will include:
Monday 9 November—Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business next week and for the motion extending proxy voting until 21 March. I do not know whether he has heard the outcome of the Public Health England visit, but I say again that the voting queues are not safe. On Monday, as we were walking round and round, it felt like something out of the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. We want remote voting because it is safest for Members and, most importantly, for staff, and it is quickest for staff behind the scenes.
The Leader of the House continually talks about democracy and “Erskine May”, but he is excluding Members from taking part in debate at this really difficult time, because some of them are in tier 3 areas that are in lockdown. Will he please reconsider remote voting? It is just for the pandemic, not for life. He will know that proxy votes do not count as a quorum for private Members’ Bills on Friday. We know that more than 25% of Members have proxy votes. I wonder whether he could consider, perhaps through the usual channels, a fairer way of enabling Members to take part via a proxy, so that those votes are not wasted.
Again, there is no update from the Foreign Secretary on Nazanin, Anousheh and Luke Symons, even though Iran is now in its third lockdown and other countries are having some success.
They came for our public money and wasted it. The Government have already spent £12 billion on Test and Trace, and yet they have accounted for only £4 billion, with the private sector consultants being paid £7,000 a day and everyone saying that this is a failed Test and Trace programme. The worst thing is that the Care Quality Commission has been told that its inspectors cannot have weekly testing when they go into care homes. That is one of the most important jobs that needs to be done at this time. Could we have a debate on the whole Test and Trace programme? Who is getting the money? Let it be laid bare. It is difficult to get answers from the Government. Even if we table written questions, the responses are taking a long time to come back. The Government need to be accountable for public money during this pandemic.
Then they came for the Labour Mayors. The Government are now dictatorially moving areas from one tier into another. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has brought everybody together. The Conservative leader of Bolton Council, the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who has resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady)—a really serious person who has been in the House for a long time and is chair of the 1922 committee—have all said that they want to do the best for their community in Greater Manchester. On Tuesday, in response to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said:
“the cases were shooting up before we took action and then levelled off.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 1032.]
It would be nice to know what figures he is using. If cases are levelling off, why are the Government taking this action?
Let us look at the facts. Liverpool city region has received £44 million; that is £29 per person. Lancashire has received £42 million; that is £28 per person. After three months of restrictions, Greater Manchester was offered—by text—£22 million; that is £8 per head. Will the Government publish the funding formula behind those decisions? The shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), has called it a “phantom” formula.
Then they came for the trade unions. The union learning fund is about to be abolished, at such an important time. It was established in 1988, in the time of Margaret Thatcher. It is one of the most successful learning, training and reskilling projects currently running in British industry. It is value for money. For every £1 invested, there is a return of £12.30, with £7.60 going to the worker taking part and £4.70 going to the employer. The Trades Union Congress said that it contributes £1.4 billion to the economy at a cost of £12 million. Can we have an urgent statement on that decision or a reversal of it?
Yesterday marked the 54th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster when 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives. There was a one-minute silence on Wednesday at 9.15. We must remember them.
Our thoughts are also with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is in hospital after testing positive for covid-19. We wish her well, as we do my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), who is an assiduous attender in the Chamber, and all other Members who may not have said that they have got covid.
Yesterday, the deputy leader of the Labour party, despite grieving for her aunt, Anne Irwin, who died of coronavirus last week, came to the Chamber and said:
“I come here wanting the Government…to succeed, because lives literally depend on it.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 1081.]
We say that there is another way: Labour in Wales’s two-week circuit break and £300 million package, just as was done in New Zealand. The Prime Minister of New Zealand memorably said that the tooth fairy was an essential worker, and we congratulate Jacinda Ardern and Labour party on their historic landslide victory. As they in New Zealand, “Mihi.”
The right hon. Lady kindly translated not only for the benefit of Hansard but for me. I believe the Prime Minister has also congratulated the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I absolutely align myself with the right hon. Lady’s remarks on the anniversary of Aberfan. I am sure it will be remembered. It was a great tragedy, and it was acted on, with most coal tips removed for safety reasons. I also very much join her in sending best wishes to the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). The hon. Lady is an assiduous campaigner, and the work she has done on Primodos is of fundamental importance. I supported her strongly from the Back Benches, and I hope that she will soon be back to resume her effective campaigning and holding Government to account.
On the union learning fund—£1.4 billion on £12 million? That sounds a little bit exaggerated. One can always find experts to come up with some figures if they are asked. With that sort of return, they ought to be in my former profession of investment management rather than in a union learning fund.
As regards the Manchester issue, the Government have provided £60 million of taxpayers’ money, not £22 million. In Lancashire, Liverpool and South Yorkshire, agreement was reached with the Mayors, whereas in Manchester we had this ridiculous fandango with the Mayor pretending he did not know when he had been told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government hours earlier. It was as if he was trying to go on the stage. It was the most ridiculous prancing performance that one could imagine when he should have been seriously trying to help the people of Manchester, which is what Her Majesty’s Government were doing. I am afraid he was playing party politics of the cheapest and most disagreeable kind, whereas people such as the Mayor of the Liverpool city region, who was clear in his political opinions when he was in this House, were able to work with the Government and put aside party political differences. He has shown himself to be a model of how to behave.
As regards Test and Trace in care homes, 120,000 test kits are made available to care homes on a daily basis, so the Government are doing everything they can to ensure testing in care homes. Of course, it is expensive to set up a system from scratch—that is not something people should be surprised about—but the system is now testing up to 300,000 people a day from zero earlier in the year, because nobody knew that Test and Trace would be needed. One should recognise that significant achievements have been made. Of course, I accept that it is expensive.
I will, once again, take up the issue of Nazanin, Anousheh and Luke Symons with the Foreign Secretary. I do so every week on the right hon. Lady’s behalf. She is right to carry on raising it. The Government are doing what they can, but obviously there are limits to what the Government can do when dealing with foreign regimes that are undemocratic.
As regards remote voting—we have discussed this on a number of occasions—it is important that MPs are here. MPs have a right to be here. They are essential workers, and all the advice that the Government have given, whether it be in tier 1, 2 or 3, states that people who have essential work to do must carry on doing it. We are in that category. We expect people to teach schoolchildren, and we expect other people in other categories to go to work, so we should do the same. We have, as yet, received no formal response from PHE on Divisions, but they seem to me to be working well and efficiently. We are getting through them in about 15 minutes, which is in line with the time that a Division takes ordinarily. The system is one that I think you came up with, Mr Speaker, and it is working extremely well.
In recent months, a number of constituents have written to me about completing processes online, and how it is assumed that they have a mobile phone that can receive a code, a smartphone on which they can download an app or, indeed, a good enough internet connection that will hold through multiple stages of a process. Given that more and more processes are going that way, may we have a debate about how we can ensure that our constituents are not indirectly excluded from being able to perform everyday tasks?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point, and I am sure that many Members across the House understand the challenges facing some of our constituents in today’s digital age, especially in the covid-19 era, which is replete with essential smartphone apps and fast-moving data. I assure him that the Government are driving forward access to the digital world, with £5 billion of spending to ensure that the whole UK benefits from world-class broadband infrastructure. Mobile coverage is improving, and 91% of the UK is covered by a 4G signal from at least one operator. Although 91% sounds quite good, I must confess that when I am at home in Somerset and I have no mobile signal, 91% is not good enough, so it needs to get better. As we become more digital, this becomes more pressing.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We should, I suppose, be grateful for small mercies, so I welcome the Government’s intention to extend the limited virtual participation and proxy voting until Easter. At least that represents a recognition that normal service will not be resumed any time soon. It is a slightly more mature and considered approach than the histrionics of last week, when the Leader of the House likened MPs to essential service workers.
To be clear, this decision establishes a default position that, although it is better than nothing, hardly represents the optimum or enthusiastic use of technology to deliver democracy. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate at the earliest opportunity after the recess on how we can do it better, which includes switching the remote voting system back on and allowing full virtual participation? I know that he does not support either of those approaches, but he must accept that there is now a majority across the House, including many in his own party, who do so. Let us have an open debate on a Government motion that can be amended by others and, crucially, since individual MPs are affected in different ways, let us have a free vote on the matter.
This week will have brought home to many in northern England what it feels like to be Scottish. Devolved structures are created to allow the voice of people in particular areas to be heard, but if that voice differs from Westminster’s, it is ignored. Moreover, the representatives of the people are then attacked and vilified, just to be sure. I feel much empathy for the people in the great regions of England, but my principal concern is that the Government’s piecemeal approach in England has grave consequences for Scotland. The Barnett formula provides Scotland with a proportion of new public expenditure in England, but what happens when the extra spending is in only 10% or 20% of England? The Barnett formula was not designed for such a situation, and that is why I ask again for a debate on helping the Scottish Government to fight the covid emergency by removing the fiscal and policy constraints that the UK has placed on it.
The hon. Gentleman’s initial silence spoke eloquently for why we do not need a difference in the technology that we use. It showed why it does not actually work and why we are keeping this House sitting primarily in a physical sense, certainly for legislation: so that there can be proper scrutiny. It may be that some people like silence from the hon. Gentleman—most of us enjoy his questions—but that is not how to scrutinise Her Majesty’s Government.
As regards the funding for Scotland, UK taxpayers have contributed £7.2 billion to help Scotland, protecting 779,500 jobs. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) heckles me, saying “We are UK taxpayers.” Does that not prove how beneficial it is to have the United Kingdom? I am hoping that he will now become a Unionist and join our Benches, because it is the United Kingdom that has provided the £7.2 billion and is helping Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and all the regions of our great nation.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the support given to fairground and showground operators? Their livelihoods have been devastated by the restrictions placed on them by the coronavirus pandemic, and also by the taxation on red diesel.
I am in so much sympathy with my hon. Friend. In normal summers I spend a lot of time at fairgrounds. That is one of the things about having six children; what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon but try to find a fairground? This year I missed the opportunity to do that or to open the Clutton flower show, which has lots of amusements attached.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. The Chancellor announced in the 2020 Budget that the Government will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture, fish farming, rail and non-commercial heating. The policy is designed to ensure that the tax system incentivises users of diesel to improve the energy efficiency of their vehicles and machinery, invest in cleaner alternatives or use less fuel. That is the argument for it, but let us hope that fairgrounds flourish.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for guaranteeing time for Tuesday’s very timely and successful debate on Black History Month. Our Committee has been able to fill all the slots available to us in Westminster Hall for the majority of November, and we have two Backbench Business debates scheduled for Thursday 5 November: a debate on a substantive motion on the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, and a general debate on the UK’s role in ensuring innovation and equitable access in the covid-19 response.
I am also the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters. Last week, England’s six richest Premier league clubs put forward a disgraceful proposal, Operation Big Picture, to restructure the league. It was laced with bribes to English Football League clubs, many of which are under extreme financial duress, to secure their agreement. Thankfully the proposal was rejected, but the hares are running. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and a debate in Government time about the future of our national game, which is in the hearts of millions in our country?
The Black History Month debate on Tuesday was indeed a very successful debate, brilliantly wound up by my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities. I am delighted to hear that Westminster Hall is using its time efficiently, which is very important. It is a reason for getting Westminster Hall back up and running, and another reason why we are here physically: to ensure that the Government can be held to account, not just in the main Chamber.
As regards Operation Big Picture, I must confess that the detailed workings of the football leagues is beyond my remit and realm of knowledge; if the hon. Gentleman had asked about the County championship, I would have been better placed to answer. However, I think he should ask his own Committee for the debate, because it would be very well subscribed and of great interest to many Members.
Is the Leader of the House aware that over the years we have had several debates about unfair practices by the operators of private car parks, culminating in the passing into law of my private Member’s Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which he supported? Now that the consultation period for the new code of practice has closed, can the Government avoid the need for further debates by acting quickly to bring the code into force and bring transparency, fairness and justice for motorists when parking?
My right hon. Friend knows the level of sympathy I have for that cause, which he has championed so effectively. He, like the Conservative party, is a fantastic supporter of motorists generally. He is a model for how we should back motorists and ensure efficient, fair and well-priced parking, which is one of the essential cogs in our local communities, and much of our local economy depends on it. Rogue private parking firms—they are not always private, it has to be said—have made drivers’ lives a misery, with improper fines, harassment, intimidation and over-zealous enforcement. I am very glad that the consultation has started, and I look forward, as my right hon. Friend does, to the implementation of the parking code of conduct, restoring fairness and accountability, and barring rogue parking firms from accessing Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data. I hope the rogue parking firms are listening, because it is getting that DVLA data that has allowed them to make such a nuisance of themselves.
No sector has been harder hit by the pandemic than live music, and research this week says that the UK’s live music sector faces the loss of 170,000 jobs, which is nearly two thirds of the workforce. The culture recovery fund helped to some extent, but we did not help the thousands and thousands of freelancers who make up a big part of the industry. Could we have an urgent statement on what more we can do to help our fantastic, viable—when we are through the pandemic—and world-leading music scene?
The hon. Gentleman referenced the culture recovery fund, which is important, at a total of £1.57 billion. The Arts Council has spent £160 million of taxpayers’ money on an emergency package supporting more than 10,000 organisations and individuals. In addition, £3.36 million has already been allocated to 135 grassroots music venues. Action is being taken, but I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is particularly difficult for freelancers in this area.
Select Committees are ultimately a matter for the House and they have the opportunity to set up cross-cutting Sub-Committees among themselves. For the examination of cross-departmental spending, the Public Accounts Committee plays the crucial, most important role, but other Select Committees can, as I say, collaborate if they wish.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal held that Home Office regulations used for the removal of people under immigration rules, which have been used in an estimated 40,000 cases, were unlawful. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make a statement in relation to that judgment, or are the views of the judges at the Court of Appeal to be dismissed as those of a bunch of lefty lawyers?
The Home Secretary has the greatest respect for our judicial processes, as do all members of Her Majesty’s Government. The Home Secretary will be here for oral questions on 9 November. The good news is that the Home Secretary has announced that legislation on this matter will be coming forward, which will no doubt increase the clarity over the immigration law.
Ahead of COP26 and during the lead-up to the UK hosting the presidency of the G7, does the Leader of the House agree that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the world, and will he agree to a debate titled, “Keeping the lights on while reducing greenhouse gases”?
My hon. Friend—or, rather, Ynys Môn—leads the world in this respect. The nuclear power plant in her constituency can keep the lights on and the radiators warm in this country for decades for come, and that is a way of providing green energy. The UK is committed to delivering an ambitious and inclusive COP26 in 2021, to reaching net zero emissions domestically by 2050, and to doubling our international climate finance commitment to £11.6 billion from 2021 to 2025—but I think the answer is that where Ynys Môn leads, the United Kingdom and then the world follow.
My constituent Ewan Cameron was involved in an accident and assaulted. He undertook successful private litigation because, basically, his insurance company did not want to know. It then rebuffed his complaints while withholding information from its own solicitors. The Financial Ombudsman Service found against Ewan, although the complaints handler did make some criticisms of the FOS. The regulator now refuses to engage with me, saying the matter is closed. So can I have a Government statement advising how the regulator is regulated and how I get clarity for Ewan over a saga that has spanned a few years now?
Once again, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the way he highlights issues for his constituents and regularly does so at Business questions. Regulators are, ultimately, accountable to this House, either via the Treasury Committee or via a Treasury Minister. I will happily take this matter up with the Minister responsible immediately after Business questions. I think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has responsibility for this area, but I will certainly take it up with whichever of the Ministers it is.
My council, Kensington and Chelsea, is at the forefront of rolling out electric vehicle car charging. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to invest in our electric vehicle infrastructure, so we can phase out diesel and petrol cars more quickly than 2040?
I think that is a jolly good heckle, don’t you, Mr Speaker, though for the record, I deny that I model myself on Mr Toad. The policy on petrol and diesel cars will be beneficial, and a consultation is taking place on bringing it forward earlier. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the key to making this happen will be changes in behaviour driven by the ease with which people are able to charge their cars, and that means having more charging points. There is £500 million over the next five years to support the roll-out of infrastructure for electric vehicles, so taxpayers’ money is being spent in this direction.
I thank both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their kind words over recent weeks about my tandem skydive for local charity. I would also like to express my gratitude to the brilliant tandem instructor at Black Knights, Lee Rhodes, for safely delivering me back to earth without the need for a Denton and Reddish by-election. I did the jump for Florence, a six-year-old girl with a very rare life-limiting genetic disorder called GM1. Can the Leader of the House help find time for either a statement or a debate on GM1 and other extremely rare genetic conditions to help raise awareness across the House?
It is very reassuring to see the hon. Gentleman, albeit virtually, all in one piece. I join him in congratulating Black Knights for ensuring that everything happened safely. How inspirational it is of him, as a local constituency MP, to be raising money for such an important cause, GM1. I suggest, initially, that this is very suitable for an Adjournment debate, which would of course receive a ministerial response.
Does the Leader of the House agree that at a time of national crisis it is essential that Parliament continues to conduct its business of holding Government to account and representing our constituents in this place whenever possible? Will he commit to doing all in his power to enable Members of Parliament to continue to come to this place in person to enable us to do our duty?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Free, unhindered attendance at Parliament is one of our most ancient rights, going back to 1340. There is no law and no local lockdown that may prohibit elected Members from attending Parliament. But let us understand what we do in this House. Let us not downgrade our role. We are an essential service. It is crucial that the Government are held to account when extraordinary powers are taken, powers that many of us never thought a Government would be taking in our lifetimes. These must be scrutinised and voted on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to use the word “duty”, which you personify, Mr Speaker. You have done your duty every day and we should do our duty, too.
The Government’s view of devolution is that they dictate and local government must obey. The Transport Secretary has written to the Mayor for London, setting out his plans to expand the congestion charge to the north and south circulars. That excludes any opportunity for my constituents to have a say, because he wants it to be imposed in October 2021. Can we have a debate on devolution so we can speak up for our constituents against this dictatorship from the centre?
The hon. Gentleman overstates his case. He needs to remember that the finances of Transport for London were extremely difficult prior to the coronavirus. The Mayor was not running Transport for London well. He was failing voters in London and running a deficit. Do I want a widespread extension of congestion charging? Does the Prime Minister want that? No. The Prime Minister has said he does not wish to see that because we all know that congestion charging is a means of taxing the motorist. But Transport for London has to be paid for and the Mayor has singularly failed to do that.
Last week I received a letter signed by eight local primary school headteachers. They are concerned about the state of their local leisure centre in Appleton, which has not been able to reopen since covid. That means that children cannot do PE lessons, at a time when we need to ensure that they are outside and getting lots of exercise. Set against that, Warrington Council has borrowed £1.6 billion to invest in offices in Manchester, supermarkets in Salford and even an energy company—all that while facilities in my constituency are run down and cannot be used. Can we have a debate in Government time to consider how local councils have accessed the Public Works Loans Board to fund reckless commercial investments, rather than using loans to support public facilities such as Broomfields leisure centre in my constituency?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the use of borrowing by councils, particularly if they are not providing the services they are meant to provide. I hope that the good people of Warrington have been able to enjoy other leisure facilities in the meantime, possibly even private sector ones. The Government are clear: councils should not borrow more than they need in advance of their own requirements, purely to profit from the investment of the extra sums borrowed. Councils are not speculators and they should not behave as if they are.
A memo that was recently leaked to the Bloomberg news agency revealed the view of senior Tories that the majority of people in Scotland support independence. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to set out why he believes that support for Scottish independence is at record levels? Does he agree with the view in the memo that continuing to dismiss calls for an independence referendum in Scotland is counterproductive?
Six years ago, in the year of our Lord 2014, a referendum was held in Scotland to decide on whether Scotland wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland, in their wisdom, voted to remain in the United Kingdom and that is why they are benefiting from £7.2 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to help them through the coronavirus crisis. The benefits of the United Kingdom are enormous. But I would say this, as an Englishman. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we are a single country to which Scotland has contributed enormously over the centuries. We are all kith and kin. We should be so pleased that we are a single country and grateful for the contribution of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Carshalton and Wallington residents living in New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge recently woke up to find that they had no heating or hot water for the eighth or ninth time in a few short months, thanks to the failings of the local Lib Dem district energy network. The scheme has tied residents into a long contract with no option to switch suppliers, and despite the patchy services and high utility prices, they cannot do anything about it. Can we have a debate about decentralised energy networks and how we can protect consumers such as those living in Hackbridge?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, every single week, manages to come up with another example of absolute incompetence by Lib Dem councils. Perhaps he should ask the Backbench Business Committee for a more general debate on why the Lib Dems cannot run anything and why it would be better voting Conservative.
Across the country, the hospitality, sports and leisure industries and their millions of workers are facing closures and restrictions, despite very little evidence being provided that they will have any significant impact on the pandemic—especially the 10 pm shutdown. May we have a specific debate, in which the Government can finally provide the basis for such draconian actions and we, the industry and the public can debate them and be clear whether the benefits really justify the costs of these measures? Frankly, they seem to be driven more by the need to be seen to be doing something than by any evidence.
It is always difficult, when a debate has already been provided, when one is then criticised for not providing quite specific enough a debate. In a broad debate, any range of subjects can be raised relating to the coronavirus crisis. There is a debate later today, and one on the Monday when we get back, when these points can be raised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made regular statements to the House, where he can be questioned on these issues. Therefore, I think parliamentary time has been provided, while recognising the real difficulty that people in the leisure and hospitality sectors find themselves in. It is very tough for them, but the Chancellor is making a statement later, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will want to listen to that with care.
Town centres such as Accrington and Haslingden are struggling. We have some of the most amazing businesses, such as the Unscripted boutique, D. T. Law and the Lancashire Tea Room. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on high street and town centre regeneration so that we can discuss how we can support amazing businesses such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of support for town centres. There is the £3.6 billion town centres fund, which is making really important efforts to help rejuvenate town centres. Town centres are important as community centres as much as for the economic activity they provide, but their economic activity is crucial. I cannot provide a specific time for a debate, but I think it is a good issue for a Backbench Business debate.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you do not need me to tell you that rugby league clubs are the lifeblood of cities such as Hull. Yesterday I spoke to the owner of Hull FC, who explained the serious short-term challenges the club faces. May we have a Government statement to scrutinise the evidence behind the decision to close all open-air stadiums and what support can be given to rugby league clubs if the ban remains until April 2021?
As I have said before in the House, the Government are keen to look at ways of allowing spectators to go back in safely and will consider proposals as they are made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be here to answer oral questions shortly after we are back, on 5 November, and that will be a good opportunity to raise this with him.
We all need a little light diversion in these grim times, so may we have a statement in support of the annual world puddle jumping championships, which take place at the much-loved Wicksteed Park in Kettering? This year, due to the pandemic, the championships are going virtual and children across the land are being encouraged to send in video footage of their jumps, which will be judged on the basis of height of jump, enthusiasm, distance of splash, and the amount of mud covering the participant. Is this not just the sort of tonic we need in these difficult days?
This is a brilliant idea, and who cannot recall the episode of “Peppa Pig” where Peppa decides to go and jump in a muddy puddle, that being her favourite activity? She is joined by her brother, George, by her father and her mother, and I have a feeling even the grandparents join in, and they all get covered in mud. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that that will be what the Rees-Mogg household are doing on world puddle jumping day, but certainly a number of my children will enjoy doing it very much, and he is to be commended for ensuring that world puddle jumping day has a wider audience.
I have “follow me, follow, down to the hollow” ringing through my head now.
May I ask, I am afraid, about the Select Committee on Standards? As the Leader of the House knows, the Standards Committee is meant to have a majority of lay members who are able to vote. We have a lot of very important businesses; we have already done 11 reports in this Parliament and we have a major review of the code of conduct going on. We need a full quota of lay members. I am really grateful to the Leader of the House for tabling the single motion, which is down on the remaining orders, that would allow for Melanie Carter and Michael Maguire to be added to the Committee. I know that Standing Orders say we have to have a one-hour debate. Can I do a deal with the Leader of the House? If I promise that I will not speak in that debate and he promises that he will just move the motion very quickly, we could have a very short debate, and maybe we could get that done very quickly so that the Standards Committee can get on with its job.
When Standing Orders provide for a one-hour debate, it is only right that that time is properly provided, should Members wish to use it, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are concerns over the way the recruitment process was carried out. There is disquiet in certain quarters with regard to that, and that is why the motion has not at this stage been brought forward, though it is under discussion.
My right hon. Friend will recall the treaty of Wedmore in Somerset, by which, as he knows, the Vikings were finally kicked out of Wessex, and perhaps there are lessons there for us. Today, we have a counterfeit county council pretending to represent the whole of Somerset, and it wants to become yet another faceless unitary authority. It reminds me of the Viking army of Ivar the Boneless—all brawn and no legs. Thankfully, the Government have promised to look at every option, including the excellent ideas—and they are excellent—from Somerset district councils, which capture the true spirit of King Alfred. The districts want to bring our county together, not divide it still more, and I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has invited all Somerset councils, including our two existing unitaries, to submit ideas. Can we please have a debate on these matters soon because this county council, this narrow-minded Ivar the Boneless, wants to destroy our history? King Alfred must prevail.
Ivar the Boneless was given his marching orders actually from Nottingham by Alfred the Great with his brother Aethelred I—not to be confused with the unready one who comes a little bit later. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ivar the Boneless must be moved out of Wessex—he ended up disappearing from history, as it happens, and is thought to have died in either 872 or 873. I have so much sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying. Somerset is a great, single, individual county. It always seemed to me to be rubbing the salt in the wound of the 1974 local government reforms when Somerset County Council put up signs saying “Welcome to Somerset” when people were just going into its administrative area and not entering the great county.
Can we have a debate on the proposition that every child matters? I notice that this morning the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell), who was a Parliamentary Private Secretary, has resigned from the Government over yesterday’s debate and vote, no doubt because the tone of some of the speeches seemed to undermine that proposition and just wanted to attack the footballer Marcus Rashford who, following what happened said:
“Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality. A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.”
Every child matters—can we not all agree on that proposition?
Of course we can agree that every child matters. It is a fundamental view of all civilised people. It is not a party political issue. It is not a Government/Opposition matter. The debate yesterday was very clear: it is about how we look after people, not whether we look after people. I would point out that there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than there were in 2010. There are 780,000 fewer children growing up in a workless household. An additional £1 billion childcare fund giving parents the support and freedom that they need is being established, so the Government are taking great steps to support every child and ensure that every child has the best start in life.
I represent many fantastic communities in Redcar and Cleveland, but in Redcar town itself we have a specific problem with car crime. Every day we see images on social media of young lads in the middle of the night shining torches in car windows to look for valuables, and all too often the windows get smashed. I have raised this issue with my local chief constable, Cleveland’s acting police and crime commissioner, the Secretary of State for the Home Office and, now, the Leader of the House. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can best tackle this recent surge in car crime, and does my right hon. Friend agree that the police and the courts should consider using all the mechanisms at their disposal to root out the yobs who are terrorising my communities?