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Commons Chamber

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

House of Commons

Thursday 24 June 2021

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Business before Questions

Queen’s Speech (Answer to Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 19th May, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer:

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

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Tactile Paving: Rail Network

If he will take steps to install full tactile paving installation across the entire rail network. (901782)

Network Rail is still working to a timetable of installing tactile paving at all train platforms by 2029, some eight years away. Given that 35% of platforms are seriously dangerous for blind and partially sighted people, will the Minister commit to ensuring that every station has the basic safety measure of tactile paving in place by 2025?

I very much hope so. I have asked Network Rail to develop a programme to install platform edge tactile strips on every platform in Great Britain as soon as possible; I have yet to receive that programme. I will make a further announcement in the very short term.

Cross-UK Transport Links

Following only two days’ notice, this week East Midlands Railway has halved the train services through Stoke-on-Trent on the Crewe-Derby-Newark line to a train only every two hours. The usual hourly service is barely acceptable, so to reduce it further is totally inadequate. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State to look urgently at what can be done to restore these vital rail services and further improve local rail in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South and all along this important cross-UK east-west rail link?

I thank my hon. Friend for supporting those vital rail links. I know that he is doing a fantastic job of ensuring connectivity to his constituency; I know that he spoke to the Rail Minister about it yesterday. East Midlands Railway has introduced a new timetable, but I understand that a number of challenges arose because of a different fleet, train crew issues and sickness. This has resulted in the need to swiftly implement timetable changes, but it now needs to provide passengers with a robust and reliable service.

Confidence within the aviation industry and among passengers is at an all-time low—it is shattered. The travel industry will take longer than most industries to get back to business and will need further support to survive. Will my hon. Friend speed up the review of air passenger duty and explore extending business rates relief to regional airports to help the industry weather this terrible storm?

I absolutely commend my hon. Friend for being a continued champion for Exeter airport in his constituency, which provides jobs and employment for many of his constituents. He will know that the airport and ground operations support scheme provides eligible commercial airports with support towards their fixed costs. In the March Budget, the Chancellor announced a six-month renewal of that scheme from April. Initial payments will be made towards the end of the summer.

My hon. Friend mentions aviation tax reform. The Treasury is currently reviewing responses and will update on timing in due course.

To follow on from the question asked by the hon. Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), regional airports play a critical role in connecting our regions and our Union. This month, Stobart Air collapsed, and easyJet is to close its bases at Newcastle International, London Stansted and London Southend airports; Teesside and Newquay have previously shut their doors. Without a sector-specific deal, our regional airports, the connectivity that they provide and the jobs and communities that they support are at risk. What assessment has the Department made of the long-term viability of this critical infrastructure to our nation?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we fully recognise and support the importance of the aviation industry to our country. That is why this Government have stood behind the sector and provided up to £7 billion, in the round, of support for jobs through the furlough scheme and support for airports and the airline industry. It is vital that we get the travel industry back on its feet, which is why we are taking a public health approach to restarting travel. The Transport Secretary will say more on that this evening.

North of England: Transport Connections

Building on the £29 billion invested in northern transport since 2010, this Government are delivering improved connectivity to level up the north.

Does the Minister agree that we need a fully integrated transport network across the north, with smart ticketing? It is not a question of either/or; we need regular affordable bus services as well as the HS2 eastern leg, as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail, as well as electrification of TransPennine rail and as well as, finally, upgrades to the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield line.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Better transport is central to the Government’s agenda to level up the north. The TransPennine route upgrade is already under way, our national bus strategy is being delivered and we will soon publish our integrated rail plan for the midlands and the north, ensuring that transformational rail improvements are delivered as quickly as possible.

The Penistone line in my constituency connects major Yorkshire towns and cities such as Sheffield, Barnsley and Huddersfield, as well as serving smaller communities such as Penistone and Dodworth, but with only one train per hour in each direction, it does not meet the needs of local people or businesses. I have just submitted a bid to the levelling-up fund, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), to upgrade the Penistone line and improve the service, but does the Minister agree that we must invest in these secondary commuter lines in the north if we are to see the same benefits in our city regions that other parts of the country already enjoy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must improve connectivity to all our communities in the north—especially Chorley—and I welcome her commitment to improving services on the Penistone line. Bids to the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund are being assessed, and we expect to announce the outcome of that competition in the autumn.

As the number of commuters travelling from Warrington gradually starts to increase again, does the Minister agree that east-west links from Warrington will really benefit from investment? Could I ask my hon. Friend to update the House on plans to extend Northern Powerhouse Rail from Manchester to Liverpool via Warrington Bank Quay, and does he agree with me that the £2 billion allocated for the Golborne spur could be better spent on helping local rail links across the north-west of England?

The Government remain absolutely committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail and, as ever, my hon. Friend makes a powerful case for Warrington. As he knows, decisions on the routes for NPR and consideration of the Golborne spur are matters for the integrated rail plan, so he will have to be patient just a little bit longer, but I can assure him that his representations have been heard.

Connectivity is key to levelling up northern communities, so I welcome the Government’s commitment to reversing Beeching cuts and restoring rail connections to towns across the region, including through the towns funding for a new railway station in Cheadle town centre. Delivering that connectivity is about timetabling and joined-up services, as well as the rail infrastructure itself. What is the Minister doing to work with Transport for Greater Manchester and other stakeholders to ensure that an integrated service is delivered and provides the regular connections that Cheadle and other communities in the region need?

Through the Manchester recovery taskforce, of which Transport for Greater Manchester is a member, we are working with organisations across the rail industry to develop the service and infrastructure options that will address the congestion and reliability issues across Greater Manchester and, I hope, improve the experience of all rail passengers across the region.

This Government have a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. We know that if the north had received the same investment as London over the last decade, it would have seen £66 billion more. For all their bluff and bluster about levelling up in the north, what do we see? Services between Newcastle and Manchester to be halved, the proposed increase in the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland and Newcastle scrapped, Transport for the North’s budget to be cut by 40%, and now Government sources saying that they plan to pull the plug on Northern Powerhouse Rail. Just to ensure that there is no further backtracking, will the Minister guarantee that Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered in full, on time and on budget?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman tempts me to prejudge the integrated rail plan, which I will not do, because no decisions have been taken yet. However, I am happy to confirm that we are getting on with investing in Transport for the North; we are not waiting for the integrated rail plan to be delivered. On top of the billions of pounds that we have already invested in transport across the north, just on 26 May we announced two new stations outside Leeds—White Rose and Thorpe Park—and we announced an additional £317 million for the TransPennine route upgrade. Of course, over 60% of the region is now covered with metro Mayors, with historic devolution settlements. We are getting on with investing in the north of England.

Active Travel Pilots: Accessibility to Disabled People

What steps he is taking to ensure that all active travel pilots are fully accessible to disabled people. (901729)

Local authorities are responsible for ensuring active travel schemes are accessible to all. Government guidance, which includes the “Cycle Infrastructure Design” publication, reflects best practice in safety and inclusivity for disabled pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair and Motability scooter users.

The Government are rolling out a number of pilots for e-scooters and also supporting with funding a number of schemes to expand active travel, yet those schemes do not need to have accessible formats of travel for disabled people and older people, further excluding them from the benefits of active travel and moving around in car-free environments. Will the Minister ensure that every pilot scheme is expanded so that it is fully accessible? Will he also challenge the sector to provide Motability scooters and other forms of e-travel that are fully accessible for everyone in our communities?

It is very important that local authorities consider the impacts of e-scooters on people with disabilities and allow them to access the trials as well. E-scooters have the potential to offer additional means of transport, and we allowed seated e-scooters within the scope of the trials to enable people with certain mobility issues to use them. Our guidance told local authorities to encourage groups representing the interests of disabled people in their areas to advise people with accessibility issues on how they can best use the schemes.

Rail Passenger Numbers

We are working with the rail industry to develop a number of recovery initiatives focused on restoring passenger confidence in rail travel.

Given the importance of improving train passenger numbers once the nation has fully reopened, marketing rail travel will be crucial if only to keep the Treasury happy. What support will the Secretary of State give to community rail partnerships up and down the country, which do so much to enhance the quality of local services, not just in planting out flowerbeds and making stations more attractive but in attracting the leisure passengers that we will need to travel on all our railway lines in ever greater numbers?

As a distinguished former Rail Minister, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that community rail is very much at the heart of the recent White Paper on rail reform. He can expect to see our commitment to rail community partnerships grow in the years to come, which will, I hope, fulfil the ambitions he set out during his time as Rail Minister.

Condition of Roads: England

In addition to investing £1.7 billion in ’21-22 into local roads, the Department is working towards the creation of a common data standard for the monitoring of the road condition. That will aim to drive innovation and flexibility in monitoring local roads, which will enable local authorities to target defects in their networks more quickly.

First, I thank my hon. Friend for her support and that of the Department in securing the Lytham St Annes M55 link road. After years of fighting for this project I was delighted to see work get under way on Monday. I have, however, been inundated by complaints from constituents regarding the poor quality of many of Fylde’s road surfaces, so can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government are taking the resurfacing of roads seriously and not simply filling in the cracks and covering over potholes?

May I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend for his determined campaigning over a number of years to secure the start of work on this vital road? I am sure that his constituents will be reaping the benefits in the years to come, but he is right to say that they must be able to drive on roads that are pothole-free. That is why the Government have committed £2.5 billion through the potholes fund. The Department believes that local highway authorities should develop a risk-based approach to asset management plans; that means they need to have a long-term inspection regime and be proactively maintaining those roads to ensure that they are in good condition in the years to come.

The very light rail site in Dudley—of course, Chorley could have one as well, Mr Speaker—will be a world-class innovation centre, developing and testing prototypes, and very light rail is installed on roads with minimal disruption. Does the Minister agree that it could be a game changer for public transport for the UK, and will she join me in congratulating the team on pioneering it in the west midlands?

I am delighted to hear about more pioneering innovations in the west midlands. That does not surprise me at all; I visited the west midlands just last week to see some of its groundbreaking work across a number of travel innovations. Of course, Mr Speaker, the west midlands leads the world—I am afraid it even leads Chorley—in these matters. I strongly congratulate all those involved in the project in Coventry and Dudley. We are always interested in building on these successes and seeing them benefit more areas in the future.

HS2 Compensation Payments

May I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on her recognition in the birthday honours list? My HS2 land and property review, published in November 2020, set out a number of measures to speed up the payment of compensation, and we are making rapid progress in implementing the recommendations of that review.

My hon. Friend has done a great job since taking over as HS2 Minister, but I am sure he will agree that there is so much evidence of appalling behaviour from HS2 in the way that it is treating individual households and businesses and its slowness to compensate even the outgoing legal costs of those who are simply trying to protect their own homes and businesses. What can he do to improve the compassion, quite frankly, as well as the efficiency of HS2?

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful case. HS2 Ltd can and must treat those affected by HS2 with consideration and respect. To that end, I am pleased to say that the root-and-branch review of land and property cases that I commissioned is now starting to bear fruit. I hold HS2 Ltd to direct account in a fortnightly review of the most complex cases, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for drawing my attention to several pressing constituency cases in her area.

Zero Emission Vehicles

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on incentivising the purchase of zero emission vehicles ahead of the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. (901733)

Alongside the phase-out dates, we have pledged a £2.8 billion package of measures to support the industry and consumers to make the switch to cleaner vehicles. Discussions with my colleagues are ongoing.

The 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles is a necessary step to reach our net zero targets, but to enable mass adoption of electric vehicles, we need to fix the issues around charging points. Currently, many in service do not work—or they charge inefficiently—and they are under-provided and excessively priced in some areas. Because they are run by independent providers, there is no joined-up national infrastructure. Given that we need to roll out widespread charging points across the UK and tackle these issues, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government need to invest much more and properly regulate the sector so that it is better joined-up, more reliable and more accessible?

As a driver of an electric vehicle, I have experienced the exact issues that the hon. Lady talks about. There are too many different membership cards, and people have to use too many different forms of payment and sign up to too many sites before they can even pay for the miles that they charge. We have a plan in place, which has included taking secondary legislation action that will require all chargers providing rapid charge to allow contactless payment, which I know the hon. Lady will appreciate.

As a fellow electric car driver, I cannot wait for those regulations to come forward.

As the Climate Change Committee made clear this morning, the Government are not delivering on the policies needed to meet their climate targets. As well as incentivising EV purchases and improving EV charging infrastructure, we need EVs to be built in Britain. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Business Secretary about Government support for EV manufacturing at the Ford Halewood plant, which is crucial if we are to secure the future viability of the site, and about saving jobs making vehicle components at the GKN plant in Birmingham?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have pledged half a billion pounds towards creating factories to produce batteries, which is a very important part of the development of electric cars. I often hear people say that we are somehow falling behind. In fact, we had the second highest sales of electric vehicles in Europe in the first quarter of this year; one in seven cars sold now has plug-in. I cannot comment directly on the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has had about those specific plants, but I can tell the hon. Lady that discussions are ongoing in order to achieve the infrastructure delivery in this country, including the manufacturing base, which will continue to ensure that we lead Europe when it comes to electric car provision.

East West Rail Consultation

What recent discussions he has had with transport authorities on the progress of the East West Rail consultation. (901735)

The East West Railway Company will consider the 2021 consultation responses. The 2019 consultation met open and fair consultation standards.

The 2019 East West Rail consultation and the 2020 route announcement made no mention that six tracks would be needed at Bedford Midland station or of the consequential demolition in the Poets area of my constituency. I urge the Minister to please consider the many representations on this matter from members of the public, rail groups and local councillors, and Bedford Borough Council’s SLC Rail report showing a credible four-track option that would avoid the loss of homes.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a non-statutory consultation. It is a consultation where we really do want to listen to the opinions of people affected across the route of East West Rail, and we will most certainly take into account his representations here today.

Many of my constituents are appalled at the environmental damage that the East West Rail route will cause across Bedfordshire, and baffled that this 21st-century project will use a 19th-century fuel. Will my hon. Friend please look again at the environmental considerations that East West Rail has undertaken and bring them up to scratch?

I thank my hon. Friend for the pragmatic and dedicated campaign that he is running on behalf of his constituents and others on this issue. I know that he has encouraged his constituents to have their say in the recent consultation, and I thank him for that too. We are committed to decarbonising our railways, and East West Rail will continue to assess the potential environmental effects as part of the route alignment development work. An environmental impact assessment will be undertaken and an environmental statement submitted when the development consent order application is made to the Planning Inspectorate.

Transport Decarbonisation

What recent steps his Department has taken to help facilitate transport decarbonisation in line with the Government’s commitments (a) to the Paris agreement and (b) for COP26. (901736)

The transport decarbonisation plan will set out a pathway to achieving net zero. We are delivering ambitious international COP26 campaigns, including a zero emission vehicles campaign that aims to at least double the pace of the global transition to zero emission vehicles so that all new cars and vans are zero emission by 2040 or sooner; an aviation campaign that will galvanise industry, state and civil society support for international action to reduce the climate impacts of aviation; and a maritime campaign, where we will deliver important cross-sectoral opportunities for significant emissions reductions nationally and internationally.

The Scottish Government have committed to cutting car use by 20% by 2030 and to providing an interest-free loan for first-time buyers of new and used electric vehicles. In contrast, the British Government are cutting the grant for electric vehicle purchases by 50%. Will the Minister explain how that 50% cut in support will help to facilitate the decarbonisation of transport?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that his constituents in Scotland, like those across the UK, have benefited from up to £1.3 billion of support to help them transition to electric vehicles. Shall we look at the facts, Mr Speaker? The plug-in car grant, the home charge grant, the on-street chargers and the workplace chargers are all funded by the UK Government for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those across the United Kingdom.

I do apologise for the noise. There is a helicopter somewhere overhead. I know it is Transport questions, but it is getting a bit much.

As someone who is regularly stuck in traffic on the A13, I think no one wants to return to the levels of pollution we saw before the pandemic began, particularly as emerging evidence indicates that exposure to air pollution increases the severity of coronavirus symptoms and other respiratory conditions. That is why I am so glad to see the work done by brilliant, publicly run light rail systems such as Tyne and Wear metro and Tramlink, led by fantastic local Labour administrations. Light rail networks are an effective means of reducing congestion and pollution given that they produce next to no pollution at the point of use. What assurances will the Minister give, therefore, to support projects that incorporate light rail, tram trains, and electric and hydrogen buses such as the mass transit system proposed by the new West Yorkshire Combined Authority Mayor?

I hope the hon. Gentleman was listening earlier when I spoke at the Dispatch Box about the support that the Government have provided for the West Midlands Combined Authority, led by the Conservative Mayor Andy Street, for light rail and a number of other transport innovations. The point is, the Government are investing in zero-carbon green transport across the whole country. We intend to build back better and greener from the pandemic, and we will create hundreds of thousands of skilled green jobs across the country as we do so.

The consensus at the Transport Committee yesterday—I include the Minister in this—was that the EV market is immature. Quite why the Government would therefore reduce support when EVs are still a lot more expensive is beyond me. The fact is, they have cut the grant by 50%. In addition to what my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said about interest-free loans, in Scotland we have doubled the home charge grant as well. On the decarbonisation plan, last week the Minister said:

“We have done a huge amount of work on the plan…I am not satisfied with the draft because it does not meet the ambition we need in order to reach those incredibly challenging targets.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2021; Vol. 697, c. 117WH.]

Quite how the DFT has done extensive work on it and yet still lacks ambition is beyond me. Will we see the plan before the summer recess—yes or no?

A27 Worthing to Shoreham: Congestion

What recent progress his Department has made on researching alternatives for alleviating traffic congestion on the A27 between Worthing and Shoreham. (901738)

We have committed to improvements on the A27, including the sections around Worthing and Lancing. Highways England is working to identify options to go to consultation next year.

As anyone setting out for Chorley from the south coast will know, Mr Speaker, the Worthing to Lancing section of the A27 is one of the most congested roads in the whole of the south-east. In 2014, we were allocated £70 million as part of road investment strategy 1. Seven years on, with several thousand additional houses nearby and with a new IKEA attracting 2 million customer journeys a year about to open, nothing has happened. Now, apparently we have just been allocated £20 million in the Budget for delivery of something between 2025 and 2030. Could we please have a bit of levelling up for infrastructure in Sussex urgently?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this vital issue. It is of course right and critical to get the right solution for the right place. Highways England is actively working on the project and, in particular, working closely with stakeholders, because this is a very sensitive area. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that Highways England is engaging and working closely with stakeholders on detailed options for the A27. There will be a consultation on all those next year.

Eurostar: Long-term Viability

The Department fully expects that Eurostar will continue to be a highly successful, profitable company carrying record numbers of passengers once international travel recovers.

But the Minister knows that there has been a real threat to Eurostar’s survival, and British business leaders and the Chair of the Transport Committee have all called for our Government to be part of the solution. Eurostar is not just a vital service; it contributes to our net zero agenda. When we are in a climate crisis as well as a covid crisis, does the Minister think it is right that the Government should be giving billions in loans and guarantees to air travel and risk Eurostar going under?

The Government welcome the recent announcements from the company and its shareholders and lenders regarding a new financing package. We will continue to engage with Eurostar fully to understand the company’s position, but we would expect shareholders, including the majority shareholder SNCF—the French state-owned railway—to exhaust all options fully and play their full part.

River Tyne: Transport Links

I would like to thank the Minister for that response, but it is not really one, is it? As well as being a great icon of north-east people, culture and engineering, the Tyne bridge is an essential part of our transport infrastructure and it is in a dire state. Hon. Members from across the region, together with local authority leaders, the North of Tyne Mayor and the police and crime commissioner, have written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Transport in support of an £18.5 million bid to the levelling-up fund. Does the Minister agree that the Tyne bridge must be levelled up if it is going to be in a fit state to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2028 as a beautiful and functional symbol of the north?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am aware of the bid that has gone in as part of the levelling-up fund. Obviously, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will assess the bids submitted to that fund and we expect to announce the outcome of the competition in the autumn, but the Department for Transport is also aware of a proposal for the bridge including the bid for £36 million from the major road network funding developed by Transport for the North on behalf of north-east partners. DFT officials continue to work with Newcastle City Council on the business case for that proposal.

Flexible Rail Season Tickets

I am pleased to say that flexible season tickets went on sale on Monday and they will be available for use from next Monday.

Back in 2018, South Western Railway undertook to conduct a review to ensure that we have earlier and later trains on the network. With many of my constituents working in the care sector, often with antisocial hours, and dependent on public transport, will my right hon. Friend agree to work with me and SWR to make the change?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of flexibility with train travel, particularly as we return post covid, which is why the flexible season tickets are very important. I would be delighted to arrange for him to meet up with the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), to discuss the specific issue that concerns him on SWR.

Rural Areas: Transport Connections

Through schemes such as the restoring your railway fund and the national bus strategy, we are determined to ensure that rural areas have the transport links they need to grow and prosper.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Next month, I will launch a bus survey across the Bolsover constituency, because many of my villages—particularly the rural villages—have either lost services or are completely isolated, such as Hilcote. Will he commit to coming to meet some of the residents who have been most eloquent in their arguments about what this loss of services has done to their communities?

I am sure that my hon. Friend’s survey outputs will assist his local authority in the development of the bus service improvement plan over the coming months and help to ensure that we bus back better from covid-19. My noble Friend Baroness Vere, the Minister for roads, would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and his residents to coincide with the launch of his survey.

Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

What steps his Department is taking to implement the policies set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail. (901745)

What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Williams-Shapps plan for rail proposals on levels of investment in the rail network and infrastructure. (901752)

The transformation of our railways has now started and passengers are already benefiting as we are investing billions in rail across the UK, including with the flexible tickets just announced.

Given York’s historic connections and its strategic location, does my right hon. Friend think that it would make the perfect location for a new headquarters for our Great British Railways?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is a stunning location. I launched the Williams-Shapps rail review at the York National Railway Museum. I commend it to everybody in this House and I think he is right that York could provide a very attractive location for Great British Railways, although that matter is some way down the line yet.

The world’s first passenger railway station is located on Liverpool Road in Manchester. As the Secretary of State knows, Greater Manchester has an objective to integrate rail stations and commuter rail services into a single joined-up public transport network alongside bus, Metrolink, walking and cycling. The best way to do that is to devolve the necessary funding and powers for rail, so can the Secretary of State reassure me that Great British Railways, in partnership with places such as Greater Manchester, will not shut down the route to securing this?

Yesterday I was at what will become Great Britain’s biggest ever railway station built in one go—Old Oak Common—so it is fantastic to hear about the railway station in the hon. Member’s constituency, which was the first ever railway station. I think it is now a museum, if I am correct. I know that he has read and studied the Williams-Shapps rail reform and will have taken particular note of page 41, which contains information about that devolution plan. I do not think it will disappoint him when it comes to bringing together those services—a matter that I was speaking to the Greater Manchester Mayor about just this week.

Suburban Rail Services: London

Transport for London submitted a strategic outline business case for the devolution of these services in late 2019, and the Department considered the potential benefits and risks associated with the proposal to be finely balanced. We were doing further work with TfL when the pandemic struck. I have to admit that not much work has been going on since that time.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that I am firmly of the view that the transfer of Southeastern services to TfL is the best long-term means of guaranteeing passengers in my constituency the fast, frequent and high-quality metro-style rail services that they desire. As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, what plans does his Department have to pick up and take forward the conversations that took place with TfL about the matter early last year? Will he meet me in due course to discuss the future of the Southeastern franchise in more detail?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I know his passion in this area. As I say, since the pandemic struck, the Department has had to be very much focused on keeping services running while developing our passenger-focused reform. As the Secretary of State just said, Great British Railways will be organised around regional divisions so that decisions are made closer to the places that the railways serve. The White Paper also includes a commitment for strategic partnership with TfL and other local authorities to ensure that the rail sector is working best for passengers in London. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss these matters further.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

What recent assessment he has made of the strength of industrial relations at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. (901755)

What steps he has taken to help protect workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency Swansea site from covid-19. (901765)

Two weeks ago, representatives from the Public and Commercial Services Union and senior management, including the permanent secretary of the Department for Transport, had reached a deal to bring an end to the ongoing industrial dispute over covid safety, but in a development unprecedented in 20 years of civil service negotiations, the Department subsequently reneged on a deal, much of which it had written, with no word of explanation. Is PCS right in believing that the deal was scuppered at the last minute after direct intervention from the Secretary of State? Will he apologise to those members of the public who now face further backlogs as a result of this unnecessary, ideological refusal to find the resolution to this dispute?

With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, the only thing that is unnecessary is for the PCS union to be continuing a strike that is purported to be about safety when, in fact, £4.2 million has been invested at the DVLA to make it covid- safe. An additional building has been rented. Air conditioning has been changed so that the air comes directly in from outside. Perspex screens have been put in place. Zones and bubbles have been created, and there is a very substantive clean regime. If this dispute is indeed about making sure that the building is covid-secure, then that has been achieved. What we need to know is why the demands then switched to demands about pay and demands about holiday, which have nothing to do with being covid-secure.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State would therefore be willing to accompany me and other colleagues who have constituents working at the DVLA to the site so that he can show us just how safe it is, because our constituents are telling us a completely different story.

It is probably important that we allow those who are experts in these things to follow through. Public Health Wales has signed this off. Swansea Council’s environmental health team has signed this off. The Health and Safety Executive has signed this off. I think we should be listening to all those health experts as they decide what should happen in a site like this and are looking at the data and facts. We can then make the decision from there. I do not think there is any further excuse for preventing vulnerable people from being able to pick up the documentation that they require from the DVLA, which is the only thing this ongoing strike is now achieving.

Bus Services: Isolated Communities

What recent steps the Government have taken to increase local authority powers to deliver regular bus services to isolated communities. (901761)

The national bus strategy, which draws on £3 billion of transformational funding, sets out the Government’s vision for bus services across England, including in isolated communities, and we believe that those bus service improvement plans, delivered through enhanced partnerships and franchising arrangements, will deliver what is needed. Alongside this, we have announced 17 successful rural mobility fund bids, each receiving a share of £20 million funding to trial innovative bookable minibuses where demand is more dispersed.

Since 2010, 134 million miles of bus routes have been lost and bus coverage in Britain is the lowest it has been in 30 years. In villages such as Pittington and Waterhouses in my constituency, bus services are virtually non-existent. Can the Minister confirm whether the national bus strategy’s bus service improvement plan will give local authorities enough power and resources to deliver regular bus services to communities on routes that may not be commercially viable?

The hon. Lady has put her finger on the entire purpose of the Bus Back Better strategy, which is about ensuring better, cleaner, safer and more reliable buses with simpler fares and ticketing. It is absolutely what communities such as hers and others all over the country want. The Government are supporting local authorities through funding and we have set aside £25 million to help to build the capacity and capabilities of local authorities. Every local transport authority has received £100,000 in capacity support to enable them to submit bids for the funding and get those bus services back.

Topical Questions

Following up on the conversations earlier, I am delighted to inform the House that in the next few weeks we expect a milestone in the number of rapid chargers being available, with 3,000 different locations and 25,000 public charging points. That means more charging point locations than petrol stations in this country. As mentioned, that is on top of £2.8 billion of Government support for the transition to zero emissions, with companies such as Gridserve, BP Pulse and Shell committing to significant investment in charging infrastructure and working together to back up the fact that in this country we now have more rapid chargers per 100 miles of major road network than any other location in Europe.

Last week, Oxfordshire County Council, the Vale of White Horse District Council and I applied to the levelling-up fund for the snappily titled B4044 strategic cycle link between Botley and Eynsham. This project would significantly boost sustainable travel between Oxford city centre and the new housing planned around Eynsham, linking through more deprived communities. Does the Minister agree that this is exactly the kind of active travel initiative that we need more of in areas of high housing and economic growth, especially given our desire to achieve a zero-carbon Oxfordshire by 2050?

I have not seen that particular application yet, but we do know that the Government have put in a record amount of more than £2 billion of active travel funding for walking and cycling. I know that the hon. Lady will be delighted that Oxfordshire investment has now reached £355 million in different transport environments, and that is on top of the £760 million for East West Rail, so when it comes to investing in her constituency in Oxfordshire, this Conservative Government are really going for it.

Is the Secretary of State hearing, as I am, that our airports and Border Force are getting people through arrivals more quickly and therefore more safely? Is he confident that we will be in a position to get more people who have been double-jabbed through arrivals with digitisation and the NHS app delivering proof of a double jab?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last few weeks have seen a remarkable digital transformation in the background, which means that people coming in from green-list countries have been going to e-gates that have been updated, both physically and with software, or going to see a Border Force officer and having their passports scanned in one way or the other. That has been automatically linked back to the passenger locator form that they filled out before they left their country of departure, which tells Border Force whether they have had a pre-departure test and whether they have future tests booked. This links the whole machinery together, so yes, the automation is really starting to get into place now.

Yesterday, hundreds of workers in the aviation and tourism industry held a demonstration outside Parliament urging the Government to protect their jobs and those of 1.5 million people employed in aviation and the wider supply chain. On behalf of the countless staff and trade unions I spoke to, will the Secretary of State finally deliver on the sectoral deal that his Government promised but have so far failed to deliver? When he makes an announcement later on the traffic light system, which, it should be noted, is not being made to this House, will he publish the criteria, the country-by-country assessment and the direction of travel for each country, to give travellers confidence to plan for this summer?

I find the hon. Gentleman’s policy confusing, only because, as I understand it, he has previously called for all countries to be put into the red category, meaning that there would be no travel at all. In addition, the former shadow Chancellor has said that Labour would never provide financial support to these companies, yet Labour is now saying that it wants more support to be provided and the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not want to follow his own policy. Having a red, amber and green list enables people to see which countries are in which category, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is publishing the data on the website to show why particular countries are in each category.

I can give you an assurance, Mr Speaker, that I have tried my hardest to get the Transport Secretary to fully understand our sectoral deal and the way we have laid it out, but I cannot help the confusion that continues to reign with this Transport Secretary.

Let us now move closer to home. We have had two questions today on the DVLA in Swansea, and the Transport Secretary did not give a convincing answer to either. It was reported last week that a deal had been reached with staff, trade unions and the Government to finally resolve the industrial dispute over health and safety failings at the DVLA in Swansea, but that it was pulled at the last minute by a Minister. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he or senior members of the Department pulled the deal, and, if so, why? He and his Department are now squarely against the loyal workforce at DVLA Swansea. What will he now do to restore trust and confidence in those fantastic workers?

The Public and Commercial Services Union continues to take industrial action, which is targeting the services and having a negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society. The fact of the matter is that the safety concerns have been signed off by Public Health Wales, the Health and Safety Executive, the Welsh Government and the UK Government, yet this strike continues and now is apparently not about healthcare, but about demands over money instead. Will the hon. Gentleman actually ask people to go back to their work in order to help vulnerable people in this country? That is the question and this House needs to know.

Next question, Andrew Griffith. He is not here, so let us go to Scottish National party spokesperson, Gavin Newlands.

I have lost count of the number of times I have asked this Government about their long-abandoned commitment to specific support for the aviation sector. Despite the Secretary of State’s tinkering with the traffic light system, it looks increasingly unlikely that there will be any summer season. It is clear to the dogs on the street that an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package and a targeted extension of furlough is now an imperative, so how does he plan to better support the sector and its workers, such as those who were at the travel day of action protest yesterday on College Green, as has been mentioned?

The Department does recognise the severe impact that the covid-19 pandemic has had on regional air travel. We have supported critical routes through policies such as public service obligations and the airport and ground operations support scheme. The Government are working on a strategic framework for the sector, which will focus on building back better and ensuring a successful aviation sector for the future. What the sector will certainly be glad of is that it is this Government who are looking after its interests, not the Scottish Government, who have been accused of sacrificing the industry by the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association.

I welcome the new flexible season ticket that was introduced this week. It will save someone travelling from Stanford-le-Hope into London three days a week more than £120, and someone travelling from Basildon more than £100. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as more and more people move to hybrid working, it is important that we have flexibility in our public transport systems? (901698)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw some coverage of the flexible season tickets, and it is true to say that ticketing is complex across the network, but, compared with somebody who would otherwise buy a regular ticket, somebody travelling two or three days a week will always be at least 20% better off with a flexible season ticket.[Official Report, 29 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 6MC.]

A constituent of mine who was blind tragically died last year when he fell in front of a train owing to a lack of safety measures, a lack of audio announcements and a lack of tactile paving on the platform. I know that the Government have plans for tactile paving, although they are unclear at the moment, but while we are waiting for this to happen, will the Minister commit to introducing audio announcements, which provide safety information at railway stations, as a matter of urgency to keep people safe and to prevent another person from losing their life? (901696)

I am familiar with that absolutely tragic case. Indeed, I know that my hon. Friend the Rail Minister met the partner of the deceased last week and discussed all of these matters, including the integration of audible announcements, which we consider to be very important indeed. We are speeding up the introduction of tactile pavements on railway stations and, in particular, close to the rail tracks.

Improving our air quality is a major priority for my constituents. Both they and I remain very concerned about the ongoing number of drivers who continue to idle their vehicles when parked at the kerbside. A single minute of idling an engine of a car creates 9 litres of CO2. Unfortunately, regulation 98 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 does not adequately equip local authorities with the power they need to deter repeat engine idlers, only with an £80 fine. With that in mind, does my hon. Friend agree that we should now be considering increasing fines for drivers who continue to idle their engines, making it a genuine effective deterrent? (901699)

I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner on this issue and I completely agree that it is vital that we take action. Ultimately, it will be better technology, such as stop-start and zero-emission vehicles that will solve the issue. The UK is a global leader in the development and the manufacture of electric vehicles and we will continue to work to foster that position.

Experts have warned that the carbon impact of the Government’s £27 billion roadbuilding programme could be around 100 times greater than the official Government estimates. Why will the Government not reassure us by committing to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the plans? (901709)

In the same session, we have managed to hear the hon. Gentleman be, first, anti-air, and now anti-road. I have just explained to the House how we will ensure that this country stays well connected, that we serve the people we represent, and that we foster technology, because it will be technology that will give us the answer to the zero-carbon emissions challenge.

Ending financial support before demand has returned could leave bus and light rail operators facing a cliff edge. What plans do the Government have to ensure a smooth recovery for operators, such as Blackpool Transport, so that they can expand their timetables on routes such as the 2C, which runs through to Knott End-on-Sea via many other villages? (901710)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that bus transport has required a huge amount of support. We have put in hundreds of millions during this pandemic. We have also launched the Bus Back Better strategy, which puts a lot of money into buses—some £3 billion. In the meantime, I will ensure that we return to this House to talk about further ways that we can support our bus sector and ensure that those essential local links that she describes are maintained.

The Calder Valley line is a major strategic passenger and freight line, which was placed as the top priority in the 2015 Northern Sparks report, which highlights that the Calder Valley line is long overdue in playing its part in decarbonising the local transport network. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on when we may expect the publication of the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan? (901701)

Yes, the transport decarbonisation plan is central to our lead-in to COP26 and it is absolutely essential that we get this right and that it is ambitious enough to match the scale of the problem that we face. My hon. Friend will not have to wait long, and I think he will be impressed by the ambition.

I was recently contacted by the McKenna family in my constituency in regard to the availability of driving tests. Ross had to travel to Blackpool to sit his theory test, and is unable to sit his practical test in a timely manner because there is a backlog of tests. This issue is impacting many of my constituents, so will the Department speak to the relevant agencies to obtain additional funding in order to make available more localised testing? (901711)

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the House and to her first question at Transport questions. Secondly, may I say that in my household I have two teenagers who literally ask me the same questions every day of the week. There is a very large backlog—about 440,000—due to the pandemic. The agency has a recovery plan to increase the number of tests carried out every day. I will personally be seeing that it keeps on track with that recovery plan because, as she says, young people need to be able to take their tests and pass

Lorry drivers such as my constituent Stewart have kept the country going through the pandemic, but they face the threat of robbery and assault on a regular basis. He tells me that there are not enough facilities where drivers can take their legally required breaks, forcing many to park in lay-bys, and that even the facilities that exist can be inadequate and insecure. Will the Minister look at that issue and work with the industry to increase the number of secure truck stops for these drivers, who are a critical part of our economy? (901702)

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to hauliers such as Stewart, who have literally kept the country moving over the past 18 months. My Department will continue the work started last year to engage with stakeholders, including the freight associations, to encourage the development of more safe, secure and high-quality lorry parking.

Improving our railway stations and improving connectivity across east Lancashire is key to levelling up and making sure that we spread opportunity, but we still have accessibility issues at some of our stations, such as Oswaldtwistle. Can the Minister outline whether there will be further support to improve accessibility across areas such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden? (901703)

All the funding currently available to Access for All has been allocated to projects, including nearby Accrington station, with works due to be completed by 2024 at the latest. When further funding is available, any station without an accessible route into the station and to all platforms will be a potential candidate.

Ministers are aware that E10 fuel, due to be introduced from September 2021, is not compatible with all motor vehicles, and that older vehicles in particular can suffer serious damage if they use it. What extra measures do the Government intend to take, therefore, to ensure that motorists are fully aware of these dangers, so that they do not in error fill their vehicles with the wrong fuel? Can the Minister also assure me that the information on the gov.uk website on whether a vehicle can run on E10 fuel or not is completely up to date, comprehensive and correct?

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that that website is already up to date and will be accurate. It is the case that some older vehicles and historic vehicles—the type of cars which I know he is very keen on—cannot run on E10 fuel. It will be clearly marked, and he will be pleased to hear that E5 will continue to be available, so that historic cars can continue to travel on our roads.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 28 June will include:

Monday 28 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of lay members to the Committee on Standards, followed by motion relating to the membership of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body.

Tuesday 29 June—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education; and on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Wednesday 30 June—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on an estimate relating to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 1 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by general debate on Windrush Day, followed by general debate on Pride Month. The subjects for these debates were recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 July will include:

Monday 5 July—Remaining stages of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Tuesday 6 July—Second Reading of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill.

Wednesday 7 July—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 July—General debate on fuel poverty, followed by debate on a motion relating to the implementation of the recommendations of the independent medicines and medical devices safety review. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 July—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

It is stretching the bounds of my football knowledge to know to send Scotland commiserations and to wish Wales and England good luck, but it is heartfelt. Meanwhile, in my own game of choice and on my own patch, Gloucestershire county cricket ground welcomed the Indian and English cricket teams last week, and the women really showed just how exciting the beautiful game can be.

I thank the Leader of the House for working constructively with me on repairing the inconsistency between the independent complaints and grievance process and the parliamentary Committee on Standards for triggering recall for MPs. I hope that the Member currently suspended recognises that these changes would have applied to him. Given that his constituents cannot currently remove him, he should do the decent thing by staff, Members and the public and resign.

The Government are letting people down. They use covid as an excuse for problems that they promised to fix years ago. They cannot blame all this on the past 18 months. They have had four years since Grenfell to fix the cladding and fire safety crisis affecting millions of innocent residents, many with Tory MPs. Why are the Government letting them down? It is nearly two years since the Government announced their review on support for terminally ill people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) said last week, thousands have died since then waiting for a decision. Why are the Government letting them down?

It is nearly two years since the Prime Minister said that he already had a plan to fix social care. Since then, thousands of people have had to sell their homes to pay for care, and millions have been turned down for support. Why are the Government letting them down? It is three years since the Windrush scandal broke; yet victims still wait for compensation and some have died waiting. Why are the Government letting them down? Then there is the harm facing the world’s poorest people, with cuts to aid commitments made before the pandemic. Lives will be lost. Why are the Government letting them down?

The Government have blamed waiting times in the NHS on covid, but before the pandemic more than one in six patients were already waiting more than 18 weeks for a routine treatment. Why are the Government letting them down? Climate change has been around for a while; yet the Government are all mouth and no delivery. The Committee on Climate Change is sounding alarm bells. Why are the Government letting us all down?

The Government are letting down rape victims, with conviction rates plummeting for years before the pandemic. At Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Prime Minister appeared not to understand the anger of rape victims such as those who have told me of appalling delays from before the pandemic, and the anger of those of us who represent them. Ministers mention £4 million for advocates for sexual violence victims, but that is just £15 per reported rape victim per year. They refer to police officers being recruited, but they have cut more than 20,000 experienced skilled officers over the past decade.

Recruiting new police now does not help rape victims who have already waited years, unable to move on with their lives. In the final insult, the Prime Minister flipped away from the subject and back to his scripted-for-clipping punchline, referring to the Opposition as jabbering while the Government jabs—after my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) had asked about rape. Why are the Government letting rape survivors down?

Here is a list of questions for the Leader of the House. Will the Government sort out the cladding crisis once and for all, and bring that plan to estimates day next Tuesday? Will the Leader ask the Prime Minister to find his plan for social care, wherever he has mislaid it? Will the Leader ask the Home Secretary to apologise to victims of the Windrush scandal who have still not received compensation?

Will the Leader ask the Health Secretary to come to the House with a plan to give the NHS the resources that it needs? Will he ask the Chancellor to present a funded plan for the essential measures to tackle climate change? Will the Government give us a vote on aid cuts? Will the Leader ask the Cabinet to do the right thing by rape victims and support Labour’s Bill on violence against women? Will the Government stop letting people down?

Finally, Ministers are fond of pivoting to “But the vaccine!” to divert attention. I have news for them: British people are not stupid. They know when the Government are pulling a fast one. They know that it was scientists who researched the vaccine, and it is the NHS that vaccinates. British people deserve better. They deserve the best. The Government, who should be getting on with learning the lessons of the covid crisis by launching an inquiry urgently, are instead shamefully using it as cover for all the ways that they are letting the British people down.

I am, as always, very grateful to the hon. Lady for her list of questions, which she was kind enough to give to the House twice—once in her long list and then in a shorter list of much the same questions.

The hon. Lady mentioned the football. I am very sorry that Scotland is no longer in. As I said last week, I had a vested interest in that, but I wish England and Wales well. Let us hope that we have a final, if this is possible—I do not know how the draw will work—between England and Wales. Then we will all be on the edge of our seat, some of us not knowing which part of our heritage to back. There was a very interesting cricket match between New Zealand and India and I congratulate New Zealand on winning the first multinational Test series to make them world Test champions.

I agree with the hon. Lady about the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), who is currently suspended. As I have said before, I think that a Member in such a situation should resign. I would not criticise his constituents for feeling that someone who had been found guilty of something so serious was not an ideal representative.

The hon. Lady accused the Government of pulling a fast one with the vaccine. I agree—it was remarkably fast: an incredibly fast delivery and service of a vaccine that means that millions of people have now received both doses. I think that that applies to over 60% of the country and all the highest risk categories have had the opportunity to get both jabs. That is a success of the NHS—indeed, the NHS that has been properly funded by the Conservatives since we have been in office, effectively since 2010. It is a great achievement, for which the British people, in their wisdom—as the hon. Lady rightly said—will thank Her Majesty’s Government, under the inspired leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

We come to the variety of issues that the hon. Lady raised. I think she is trying to show up the Leader of the Opposition for not asking such a range of questions and sticking rigorously to one subject on Wednesdays. On building safety and cladding, £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money has been provided to fund the cost of remediating unsafe cladding for leaseholders. The remediation works are either completed or under way on 96% of the high-risk residential buildings that were identified at the start of last year. That is important and continues to be rolled out. It is right that that is being done, and the Building Safety Bill will provide further details on how we deal with the remaining problem. A great deal of work has already been done, and not all forms of cladding and not all high-rise buildings are dangerous.

The hon. Lady referred to climate change. The Government have a most remarkable and successful record on climate change. From 1990 to 2020, there has been a 43% cut in emissions with 75% economic growth. This is the key. We are not going to be Adullamites; we are not going to be cave dwellers. We are not going to make constituents have miserable lives. We are going to improve the standard of living of the people of this country, and make the country greener, too. That is why Her Majesty’s Government is the first major economy to commit in law to net zero by 2050, with the target of cutting emissions by 2035 by 78% on their 1990 levels.

The Committee on Climate Change does not want us to eat meat. I disagree with them. I like eating meat and my constituents like eating meat, and I will not be told by fanatics not to eat meat. Let us be meat eaters. Let us support our agriculture. The Opposition always go on about the need to protect our farmers, then they join forces with the anti-meat brigade. There is a discontinuity in that approach.

As regards Windrush, 13,000 documents have been provided so far and £20 million out of £30 million of compensation has been paid. The Prime Minister apologised yesterday for the terrible situation that was created, but I thought what he said was inspiring: that we should think of Windrush as the Mayflower; as an occasion when something great happened to our nation—something really important when people came—that we should celebrate and rejoice, rather than its being something that is thought about in terms of failure.

On aid, the hon. Lady asks and I give. I do my best as Leader of the House, and on the second allotted estimates day:

“There will be a debate on an estimate relating to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.”

A vote will take place if people shout, “No.” There are votes on estimates if people want them. It is a matter for the hon. Lady and the Opposition Whips to decide whether they wish to divide the House.

The Government introduced the end-to-end rape review because of the failures that had become apparent and the need to make things better. It is worth pointing out that the Leader of the Opposition was Director of Public Prosecutions for quite a time, so one would hope that the fact that there are problems in the Crown Prosecution Service does not come as news to him. It is clear that too many victims of rape and sexual violence have been denied the justice they deserve as a result of systemic failings. That is why an action plan has been set out with clear measures for police, prosecutors and courts in order to return the volume of rape cases going through the courts to at least 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament, with steps to improve the quality of investigations, improve the culture of joint working and, for the first time, make sure that each part of the criminal justice system will be held to account through performance scorecards.

This is what the Government are doing—it is real and genuine action—and then we get the cheap point about gibbering and jabbering and drooling Opposition. That is what the Opposition do: they gibber and jabber and drool, and they do this the whole time on all sorts of subjects. The Prime Minister gave full and comprehensive answers on rape yesterday—I heard him; I was listening to him—but then he made the general point about the vacuity of Opposition. The hon. Lady sometimes manages to prove my right hon. Friend’s points.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that the town of Marlborough in my constituency has the widest high street of any town in England. This proved very helpful on Monday, when I boarded a coach at one end of the high street, which drove me down to the other end and then performed a, frankly hardly necessary, three-point turn before coming back and depositing me outside the iconic Polly Tea Rooms, where I presented the mayor with a certificate confirming Marlborough’s status as a coach-friendly town. Will he join me in congratulating the town on this and particularly Belinda Richardson, the brilliant tourism officer for the area, and join me in urging the Government to support not just international tourism, which badly needs more help and sector-specific support, but our domestic tourism industry?

Very much so. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Belinda Richardson on the work she does for tourism in Wiltshire. Dare I say it, but my general view of Wiltshire is that it is a very nice place to pass through before one gets to Somerset, but I would recommend that people take the opportunity to ask their charabancs to stop, and get out and use the tea rooms in Marlborough. It is of course on the old A4—the old coaching route through to Bath—and they can then go on to Bath, passing through my constituency into the constituency of the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who I can see is in her usual place. The city she represents is one of the most beautiful in the world.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Free at last, and it is good to be back. Can I thank the Leader of the House for his support and understanding during my long confinement, and my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for standing in for me so stoutly, as he always does? Now I am back, I have of course one simple task: to secure something for the Scottish press by gently encouraging the Leader of the House to say something provocative and inflammatory about Scotland. Knowing the Leader of the House as I do, I know that he will oblige me in giving me the headline I seek.

Can I sincerely congratulate the England team on progressing to their historic place and getting beat by Germany on penalties? I also congratulate the Welsh team. It is of course a fantastic feat to get through to the last 16 again. I know the tartan army’s most unlikely new recruit will be gutted at Scotland’s departure. Apparently, he is to go to the Caledonia bar in Leicester Square, where he has left a “See You Jimmy” wig. It is known to be his because it is attached to a top hat, so I hope he will be dispatched soon to reclaim it.

Will the Leader of the House now bring forward the necessary changes to Standing Orders to rid this place once and for all of the total disaster and absolute waste of time that is English votes for English laws? This piece of uselessness has been in abeyance for over a year, and such is the impact that the quasi-English Parliament has made on this House that nobody even knows it is not in operation any more. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that EVEL is a hindrance to the Union, so what better incentive than that to get rid of it once and for all.

Lastly—and this is where I hope the Leader of the House helps me out and obliges me—we need a debate about strengthening the Union, because the Government are simply all over the place and seemingly doing everything possible to help our cause. In one week—this week—they tried to gerrymander the franchise before ruling out once again a vote in which they seek to cheat their way to victory, while the strains of “Strong Britain, great nation” bellow out from the children of England in a gesture that is not in the least bit creepy, ominous or embarrassing, so can I thank him for all his efforts in the course of the past week? As the red wall languishes in ruins and the blue wall is breached, the SNP tartan wall stands strong, impregnable and reinforced by the right hon. Gentleman.

It is a pleasure to have the hon. Gentleman back, as he has shown with his stylish question. I am all in favour of strengthening the Union and I am glad he is too. I used to think there should be a special seat preserved invariably, as it is in law, for the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), as he is such an ornament to the Union Parliament. I am beginning to think that something similar should be done for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), because we have missed him and his style is very welcome in this House.

The Union has been fundamental to the success of the roll-out of the vaccine and, indeed, in dealing with the pandemic, as we have benefited from the furlough payments. It has shown that as one country we are genuinely better together. I think the hon. Gentleman is a little mean, uncharacteristically, about a children’s song. He and I are both old enough to remember “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”, which was No. 1 on the hit parade in 1980, when I was an 11-year-old. These charming, sweet-natured songs are a feature of public life which pop up every so often, and I think it should be welcomed and one should suffer the little children to come unto us, rather than being a bit miserable about it.

As regards EVEL, evil is to be opposed in favour of good as a general rule, but if we are to take the alternative spelling, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it has been suspended for the past year and nobody has noticed. There is a fundamental principle, where I share his view, of the absolute equality of every Member of this House, be they Front Bench, Back Bench, Minister, non-Minister or even the Speaker. One of the great advantages of our system of not having a special Speaker’s seat is that the Speaker is one of us, even though primus inter pares. That principle is of the greatest importance. I will be appearing before the Procedure Committee on Monday and I imagine this will be an important part of the discussion. I want to hear its views, but what was reported about my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s views is not a million miles from my own.

May I, too, wish the Welsh team good luck on Saturday? I have a Welsh grandfather and a Welsh father, and my family will be cheering loudly. Does the Leader of the House agree that Wales desperately needs a freeport to boost jobs and investment, and that the Welsh Labour Government continue to stall, dither and delay, while opportunities to bring an economic renaissance to Wales and, I hope, to my constituency of Anglesey are squandered?

I agree with my hon. Friend that freeports are very important; the programme will be of great value to the whole UK. I am sorry that the Welsh Government, of course a socialist Government, are dragging their feet on the issue. One would have thought that they would want to encourage innovation, free trade, competition and the prosperity of the whole nation. As highlighted in our “Plan for Wales”, published in May, the Government remain committed to establishing at least one freeport in Wales as soon as possible, to attract new businesses and investment, and create jobs and opportunity in areas that need them the most. I recall that she has raised this matter with me before and I will take up her concerns with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I am very grateful to you, as always, Mr Speaker.

May I welcome the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) back to his place? He is truly, in so many different ways, top of the Scots’ pops.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, and I hope he will use his best endeavours to give the Backbench Business Committee as much time as he can before the summer recess. We have a range of applications and they are still coming in. Subjects we would like to try to get debates on include: giving babies the best start in life; the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on personal and household debt; the Timpson review and the effect of school exclusions; the failures in the criminal justice system highlighted by the collapse of the trial regarding the Hillsborough disaster; COP26; and progress towards the national ambition to reduce baby loss. And there are many, many more.

May I also let the Leader of the House know that I am, among other things, chair of the all-party group on parental participation in education—Parentkind. I wonder whether he will join me in welcoming this week as the first National Parent Teacher Association Week, which seeks to promote and celebrate the hugely positive impact parents can make in assisting schools in the education of their community’s children?

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s request for time before the recess. I always try to do my best to facilitate Backbench Business and, indeed, Opposition days, but there is a lot of Government business as well. I note that it will be Parent Teacher Associations Week. The work done between parents and teachers to improve schools is important, and I thank him for his work on that.

I join other colleagues in saluting the work of children’s hospices, such as Little Havens in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the full resumption of face-to-face consultations with general practitioners? They have done magnificent work in challenging times. It is good that more than half of face-to-face consultations have been resumed but, judging by my constituents’ emails and letters, they really miss seeing their GP in person.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the fact that it is Children’s Hospice Week. The work that people do in children’s hospices is truly remarkable. It must be such hard work for the carers to do.

To come to my hon. Friend’s question, NHS England and NHS Improvement have regularly issued guidance on the importance of continuing to offer face-to-face appointments. All practices should offer face-to-face consultations where appropriate—I reiterate, all practices. There will be a role for telephone calls and virtual consultations, but face to face, if needed, must happen. The figures are more encouraging. In March 2021, an estimated 28.6 million appointments were booked in general practice in England, of which 15.8 million were face to face, so 55.7% of all appointments.

I will just put on the record Derian House Children’s Hospice in Chorley, which provides a high-quality service to support families.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the continued internment, persecution and torture of Chinese Muslims at the hands of the state in that country. This is not a criticism of the Foreign Secretary, because he has come to this House and made a number of statements on the situation there, but not for quite a while, and on the basis that the situation in China is not only not getting any better but certainly getting worse, from everything that we can gather, may we have a statement or even a debate before the summer recess?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, as I think it is one of the greatest seriousness. The Government have announced measures to ensure that no British organisations are complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang, including through supply chains. Alongside 44 countries, on 22 June the UK issued a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Human Rights Council expressing deep concern at the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Unfortunately, the Chinese Government are behaving badly in all those areas.

The raid on Apple Daily, the independent newspaper in Hong Kong, is something we should be very concerned about, because of the guarantees that were given in the joint declaration to the people of Hong Kong. I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I cannot promise a statement, but the hon. Gentleman is right to keep the pressure up on this Government about our relations with China, which are of fundamental importance.

My right hon. Friend is among the most forthright defenders of the rights of this House and an eloquent supporter—perhaps the most eloquent supporter in this House—of the democratic principle, so when will he respond positively to the statement that you, Mr Speaker, made from your Chair at 3.30 pm on 14 June, when you instructed the Government to bring forward a vote on the breaking of our promise on the 0.7% commitment?

My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the estimates are not the right route—the estimates have never been voted down—and, in that connection, I refer him to a speech made from that Dispatch Box on 24 July 1905 by the then Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, which set out the position on estimates very clearly. In forthright defence of this House, will my right hon. Friend ensure that before the summer there is a vote on this terrible decision that was made by the Government, which has done such damage to our international reputation and which is leading to the avoidable death of more than 100,000 people?

The estimates are voteable. There will be a full day’s debate on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which will be an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to raise any issues that he wishes to on that occasion. There can be votes on estimates, and there have been votes on estimates. It is a perfectly reasonable parliamentary procedure to use. So the Government are facilitating the debate that my right hon. Friend asks for, but we are also following the law that he will be aware of that was passed in relation to the 0.7% commitment, which requires that a statement be laid before this House if that target is not met in a particular calendar year. The Government are following and will follow—have every intention of following—the law that was passed by Parliament; that is what Her Majesty’s Government do.

But in these financial circumstances it is absolutely right that we are reducing our overseas aid commitments. We have seen a significant decline in our national income. We have faced £407 billion being needed within this country to maintain the economy during the pandemic. We remain one of the most generous donors in the world, with a level of overseas aid higher than that which any socialist Government in this country’s history have achieved—something that they carp about now but when in office did nothing about.

So we are delivering; we have delivered, we are right to do so, and there will be a debate, because it is always the right of this House to debate the subjects that it sees fit to debate. If the Opposition want other debates they can have them on Opposition days; there have been no such Opposition day debates, so clearly the Opposition do not want to be saying to the people in Batley and Spen that they want to spend their money abroad, do they? So they are running away from it, and the Backbench Business Committee has not had a debate either, but the Government are providing one in due course.

May I add to the shadow Leader of the House’s list of ways in which this Government are letting people down by saying that health and care workers in Wales were given a very well-deserved bonus by the Welsh Labour Government in recognition of their service and sacrifice during the pandemic, but this Government have chosen to take most of it away from those on the lowest incomes by reducing their universal credit? So may we have an opportunity to convey to Department for Work and Pensions Ministers just what a disgrace this is?

The pay rise in the NHS and the public sector generally is more generous for the lowest-paid workers, and that is obviously right, but as I was saying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), there are limited resources and we have to be realistic about this. Our national debt has been growing at a very rapid rate because of the funding needed to pay for the pandemic, and this country—this nation—has to live within its means. I am afraid the socialists always forget that they eventually run out of other people’s money.

In January the Foreign Secretary said that the Government intend to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015; can the Leader of the House update the House as to when we might get the opportunity to debate that, and does he agree that one way in which we could strengthen the Act is by tackling inadvertent exposure to modern slavery in investment portfolios?

The Government are committed to introducing financial penalties for organisations that fail to meet their legal obligations under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act; that will require changes to primary legislation, which will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. In March 2021 the Government launched an online modern slavery statement registry, and we are now encouraging all organisations in the scope of the legislation to submit their statement to the registry, but in future we will mandate organisations in scope of section 54 of the Act to submit their statement to the registry as part of the planned changes to strengthen the legislation. I will of course pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to the Home Secretary.

The Leader of the House has accused the Opposition of moaning and complaining. Let us just call that opposition—and clearly he is not suggesting that a one-party state is a better system, although I sometimes wonder.

Because the Government have changed the pre-covid target for patient care volumes, many of my constituents have found it very hard to get NHS dentist treatments; they can get a check-up but they cannot get the treatment. What was a difficult situation has been made worse and lots of people go untreated. These changes have meant that many dentists are only able to offer treatment privately, which is simply unaffordable for many of my constituents. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on what the Government are doing to support dental practices that offer NHS services?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The job of the Opposition to oppose, but that does not always mean that such opposition is well informed or particularly enlightening. I think it is fair for the Government to point that out. For the record, no, I would not want a one-party state; I happen to think that good opposition leads to better government. If only we actually—no, I will not go into that. I would like to come to the hon. Lady’s question, because it is of fundamental importance.

I think all of us, as constituency MPs, have been in touch with our local dentistry services, which have been finding things difficult. The Government are continuing to work closely with the NHS to increase access to dental services while protecting staff and patients from covid-19 infection.

The latest published annual figures show an increase in the number of dentists delivering NHS services. Nearly 7,000 NHS dental providers in England have received over 400 million free personal protective equipment items via a dedicated PPE portal, which is helping to ensure safe treatment. We are maintaining exemptions from NHS dental charges for the most vulnerable and nearly half of all dental treatments—over 17 million—were provided free of charge in the latest year. There is obviously more to be done, but, in these very difficult circumstances, headway is being made. I will however pass the hon. Lady’s comments on to my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Canons Drive in my constituency is part of a conservation area with 300-year-old trees. There are unique examples of wellingtonia, redwood and cedar trees. Harrow Council is considering an application to remove the tree preservation orders on the trees, which would eventually lead to them being felled because insurance companies are claiming that they are causing damage to the neighbouring housing. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on protecting tree preservation orders and preventing the felling of these unique specimens that were part of the Duke of Chandos’s historical estate?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Is it not right for me to comment on individual cases, but as a general principle, trees are objects of great beauty and their antiquity tells us something. It reminds us of our nation’s history and our island’s story. It is obviously for councils to make such decisions, but damage being caused by a protected tree is not in itself a justification for felling that tree. In the first instance, my hon. Friend might want to apply for an Adjournment debate on these three particular trees.

The Trussell Trust’s “State of Hunger” report has found that the pandemic has plunged people into even deeper forms of debt, with almost 95% of those referred to food banks experiencing destitution and unable to afford the essentials. May we have a statement or even a debate in Government time to consider what plan we have to prioritise and tackle this scandalous need for food in the 21st century rather than talking about more royal yachts?

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for continuing to come to business questions even when he is not formally representing his party? It was a great pleasure to cross swords with him in the last few weeks.

The Government are making great efforts and have made great efforts over the last decade to help families in poverty. Since 2010, a full-time living wage employee is now £5,400 better off. Just before the pandemic in 2019-20, household income saw its strongest annual growth for nearly 20 years. Inevitably, it has been set back by the pandemic, but the uplift in universal credit has been a help. The figures on total people in poverty, children in poverty and pensioners in poverty are all very significantly improved on 2010. I accept that there is more work to be done, but the picture is not all doom and gloom.

Last Saturday morning, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), I attended an event organised by the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Water Rats, who, along with other things, run a junior relay team who at this very moment—if all has gone to plan—are involved in a cross-channel swim. We were joined by Brenda Fisher BEM, one of Grimsby’s famous daughters, who swam the channel in 1951. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate in Government time in which we can consider the work of such voluntary organisations that organise structured, disciplined routines for our young people and provide so much for our local communities?

First, I congratulate the Grimsby and Cleethorpes water rats on their brave and bold endeavour and Brenda Fisher on what she did 70 years ago. Of course, my hon. Friend will not be taking part personally, I believe, because it is widely known in Cleethorpes that he walks on water and therefore does not need to swim the channel. He is absolutely right to highlight the good work done by voluntary organisations and I am grateful to him for doing so at business questions.

My constituent Alex recently received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions with a personal independence payment review form requesting supporting evidence that is difficult to acquire under pandemic conditions due to a lack of regular GP appointments. This is not long after he received a PIP extension. According to the benefits advice service Benefits and Work, this has been a persistent issue in recent months, with many PIP claimants reporting similar problems across the UK. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate or a statement in Government time on the execution of PIP reviews during the pandemic?

I am always happy to facilitate right hon. and hon. Members’ inquiries about individual constituents, so if the hon. Lady wants to send me the details of Alex, I will ensure that they go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The answer that I gave earlier about GP appointments applied to England, because this is obviously a devolved matter, but I reiterate that face-to-face appointments are available if needed and appointments more generally are available, so I do not think that that should be, at this stage in the pandemic, an obstacle to getting any information that is necessary. On the hon. Lady’s general point on PIP reviews, I think that DWP has worked extraordinarily well during the pandemic to make sure that people who need money have got it in a timely fashion.

The Climate Change Committee’s annual report published today is stark. It mentions serious gaps in policy and strategy, lack of detail around key areas such as planning, decarbonisation of homes, oil and gas and even failing to produce a net zero strategy in the year that we host COP. This is a Government who are quick to promise but fail at every turn to deliver, and the longer that they delay, the more severe and irreversible the damage becomes and the more likely it is that we suffer serious drought, heatwaves and floods, with the immense impact that has on people and livelihoods. To ensure that climate action is at the heart of all policies and all Departments, will the Leader of the House agree to allowing for far more time for this Parliament to debate the report and to scrutinise and properly hold this failing Government to account?

As I said earlier, I am not interested in eating less meat; I want to eat more meat and I want my constituents to be able to as well. The Government’s record since 2010 is formidable. They have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 26% between 2010 and 2019. Renewable electricity generation has more than quadrupled since 2010. The year 2019 was the cleanest on record with more than half of UK electricity coming from low-carbon technologies. As I said earlier, we have cut emissions by 43% since 1990, with 75% economic growth. We are targeting a reduction in emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. We are on the right path to net zero by 2050, but we have to do this with economic growth. We are not fanatics; we are sensible and proportionate in what we are trying to do and we have been doing it with considerable success since 2010.

Some us have noticed that the English votes for English laws provisions have been suspended and we regret that they still are, but will the Leader of the House at least commit to keeping his promise that the changes introduced to respond to the pandemic will be temporary and will be reversed, and, if he wishes to change the EVEL rules, that there will be a vote in this Parliament to do so?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any change to EVEL Standing Orders—and it is worth bearing in mind that the EVEL Standing Orders take up slightly over 10% of all our Standing Orders. They are particularly impenetrable. The learned Clerks never struggle, but if it were not for the fact that the learned Clerks never struggle, even they might struggle with the intricacies of EVEL. But my hon. Friend is absolutely spot on: these changes could not take place without the support of the House.

Yesterday, I met my constituent Anthony at the travel day of action. His business, like many others in the sector, has been extremely hard hit by the Government’s failure to stand up for the travel sector. He told me that we urgently need greater clarity on how countries can be added to the green list, more information on the transatlantic taskforce and a proper package of financial support. Can we have a debate in Government time on what the Government will do to save the travel industry?

As I have said before, if the hon. Lady wishes to raise specific points about Anthony, her constituent, I will always try to facilitate those being taken up with the right Government Minister. The Opposition are slightly inconsistent on this, because on the one hand they complained bitterly that the border was not closed fast enough, and on the other hand, they want the travel industry to be supported. Those are two conflicting objectives. I point out that there has been very significant support for all industry, including £407 billion of taxpayers’ money. We have protected 14 million jobs and people through the furlough and self-employment schemes at a cost of £88.5 billion, and the travel industry is obviously eligible for those. Everyone wants to get back to normal—to normal travel and normal routines—but the pandemic is still raging in many parts of the world, and it has to be done in a proportionate way.

Current covid policy dictates that if a single child tests positive for coronavirus at school, the entire class is sent home and forced to isolate for 10 days. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is risk aversion gone mad and that we owe it to our children to get back to normal? Will he please raise this as a matter of urgency with No. 10 and the Department of Health and Social Care?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he was kind enough to warn me of his question and therefore I have had the opportunity to find out what the precise policy is and put it on the record. While in some cases a whole class might be required to isolate, we know that many settings are using seating plans and other means to identify close contacts and minimise the number of individuals who need to isolate, so it is not an absolute rule, but a matter of judgment. I hope people will use their judgment wisely.

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), no one is taken in by the Leader of the House’s sophistry on this subject. Everybody knows that he is seeking to avoid giving the House a meaningful vote on whether it agrees with the Government’s decision temporarily to reduce the amount of aid being sent to the poorest countries in the world. There is no need for him to dilate widely on this; he used to occupy a semi-recumbent position over there and regularly criticised the Executive for exactly this kind of jiggery-pokery. Why does he not come clean with his own side and allow a proper vote—not one rolled up with all such other expenditure in the estimates, but one that would truly meet the test set for him by Mr Speaker?

I object to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Trivialising the estimates does not understand their importance. One of the fundamental things that this House does is approve the expenditure proposed by the Government. It is lost in the mists of constitutional time. It is a debate on the whole of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s budget, and it is possible to vote against it. It is a full day’s debate, but I challenge the Opposition again: if they want to debate this so much, we have given them lots of Opposition days, so why have they not used one on it? It is because they do not really want to get this message across to their voters, because it is a policy that has enormous support with the electorate. Our ultimate bosses like this policy. They back this policy and they think it is proportionate under the economic circumstances. The law set out very clearly what the requirements were with the 0.7%: if the target is not met, a statement must be laid before this House. If the hon. Gentleman does not like the law, he should have put down an amendment when the Bill was passed.

I had expected that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would by now have come to the House to set out the balance of arguments over covid status certification and the ethics, practicality or necessity of such a project. Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House share my view that if terminus day is to live up to its name, there will be no need for this scheme to go ahead?

As I said last week, the terminus is Paddington, not Crewe. It is the end of the line, not an interchange, and that must be the key part of terminus day. Lots of evidence has been gathered in relation to covid status certificates. Final decisions have not been made, but the Government will update the House on the road map as it continues. My hon. Friend’s point on terminus is right; it is an end point, and so it should be.

Yesterday in the news, we found out that this Government used taxpayers’ money that should have been spent on covid recovery on polling on independence. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) had a two-year battle with the Government and they are now having to release information on secret polling. This Government are also attempting to change the franchise on who can vote in an independence referendum. Then, on Friday, we had the song, “One Britain One Nation” that young people across the country are supposed to be going to sing, but in fact many Scottish schoolkids will not even be at school. I request that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) does not remove the Whip from me, but it is actually quite a catchy song, I must admit. I am sorry, but I do not actually have a question, only a request—that the Leader of the House comes to Scotland to visit my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. I extend that invite to all Government Members, because it turns out that they are fantastic advocates for Scottish independence.

Can I just say it is business questions and it might be helpful to have a question? I think you did have one asking the Leader of the House to come and visit, so I am sure that will do fine.

It is an offer too good to refuse, Mr Speaker. I very much hope that I shall be able to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency. The work undertaken on attitudes to the Union was a reasonable thing to poll on. It is really important when developing a communication strategy to work out how it will land most effectively. There was a great deal of work to be done to communicate the messages about staying at home, working from home, wearing facemasks, and so on and so forth. I think this was completely proper and justifiable and I imagine that other Governments in similar circumstances would have done much the same.

A couple of weeks ago, at my new constituency office in the heart of Bolsover town centre, I was delighted to launch the Bolsover high street taskforce. Along with local stakeholders, I look forward to helping to unleash Bolsover’s tourism potential and delivering a town centre that all residents can be proud of for many decades to come. With that in mind, can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of supporting businesses in our high streets and making sure that we have sustainable high streets for many decades to come?

I think the knowledge that my hon. Friend will be in Bolsover high street will have the crowds flocking there for selfies and autographs, and to deliver some election literature in due course. The high streets taskforce has meant that 70 local authorities will receive targeted, in-person support as they battle against changing consumer habits, and I am delighted that Bolsover is benefiting from this. In addition, 57 local areas have been confirmed as recipients of our £830 million future high streets fund, which will support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres. Generally speaking, if MPs are in their high streets, that does encourage people to visit them, and they can do little constituency surgeries there, Mr Speaker—I am sure that happens in Chorley all the time.

Schools spend the pupil premium on things like extra teaching staff, breakfast clubs, laptops, and tailoring support to their most disadvantaged pupils. However, due to the Government’s inexplicable decision to base pupil premium funding for the next financial year on data from October rather than using the up-to-date January figures as usual, north-east schools could lose out on up to £7.6 million for the 5,700 north-east pupils who became eligible for free school meals between October and January. The Education Secretary has ignored pleas from the North East Child Poverty Commission and others to put this right. May I urge the Leader of the House to make time for a debate in Government time on ensuring that schools in regions such as the north-east that have experienced some of worst learning loss do not lose out on even more funding?

The hon. Lady missed a chance to question the Secretary of State for Education, who was here on Monday. Obviously there always have to be cut-off dates to allow for figures to be run and for decisions to be made, and after those cut-off dates there will then be the next year’s figures to work on for future years. All government depends on data on particular dates, and this is not unreasonable.

At half-past 3 last Sunday morning, police officers responded to a call about a man vandalising a bus stop in Kettering town centre. Officers were surrounded by a gang as they arrived at the scene, and an unruly mob turned on them. A 22-year-old man was arrested for attempting to kick one of the officers; a 21-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion of assault. That sort of violence against police officers going about their duty in difficult circumstances to protect the public is completely unacceptable, but sadly it is a growing problem. I know that the Government have recently increased the penalties for assaults on emergency workers, but may we have a statement from the Government that the courts will not shy away from applying those stiffer sentences when perpetrators are brought before them?

My hon. Friend raises a very serious and troubling matter. It is disgraceful that these attacks on the police should take place. As he knows, clause 2 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will increase the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months’ to two years’ imprisonment. The aim is to ensure that the law provides emergency workers with sufficient protection to enable them to carry out their duties and that the options available to the courts to sentence offenders who assault emergency workers are proportionate, reflect the seriousness of the offences committed and provide the victims with a sense that justice has been done.

Naturally, the courts are independent, but it is right that my hon. Friend raises the matter in the House so that the general public concern is taken on board across the nation. He may want to raise the issue again at Justice questions on Monday, but I will certainly pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

There is a crisis in the haulage industry, with a chronic driver shortage that the Government have been warned about time and again. Martin Reid, the Scottish director of the Road Haulage Association, has said:

“For a long time, we have been running short of the numbers required for haulage drivers, so throwing Covid-19, Brexit and recent tax procedures into the mix has created a perfect storm.”

There is a very real concern that the sector will be unable to maintain integrated supply chains this summer and beyond, so can we have a debate on promoting careers in driving and on what contingency plans may be required in the short term?

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman has just missed Transport questions, where he might have got a more comprehensive answer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. [Interruption.] He was there, so he could have asked the Secretary of State.

Obviously it is important that we have the right training in place and that we have efficiency in driving tests. There is a backlog with driving tests for all motorists, and it is important that that is made up as soon as is practical.

When my constituent Bas Breeze visited the National Memorial Arboretum, he was very disappointed that among the many monuments there was none to the territorial soldier. He rightly makes the point that these volunteers have made a huge contribution to the British Army’s efforts, particularly in the world wars. Will my right hon. Friend please secure a statement on whether that might be rectified so that their contribution can be recognised?