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Westminster Hall

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2022

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 27 April 2022

[Clive Efford in the Chair]

Great British Railways Headquarters: Derby’s Bid

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Derby’s bid to host the headquarters of Great British Railways.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, I think, the first time, Mr Efford. I also warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to her place. The beauty of being a Back Bencher, with no ministerial responsibility—I have to add that I have never wanted that responsibility—is that we can do anything that we want to do. We can campaign for things that matter to us and we can be successful—sometimes—in those campaigns. Yesterday I was delighted to hear the Third Reading in the House of Lords of my Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, and we should get Royal Assent today or tomorrow, so that is a tremendous success for a Back Bencher. I have been passionate about that issue for many years, so it was a great delight to do that. Another of my passions was to get Derby designated the city of culture. Sadly, I failed miserably on that. As a team in Derby, we campaigned together, but we did not make it.

My other campaign is to get the Great British Railways headquarters to Derby. I have been talking about that for some time in Parliament and I am passionate that Derby is the right place for it to be situated. Sadly, we do not have many right hon. and hon. Members with us today to take part in this debate—probably because the House sat so late last night and 9.30 on a Wednesday morning is not people’s favourite time to come in—but I am passionate about the headquarters coming to Derby. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State established the competition, which he announced last year, to find the place that will host the headquarters of Great British Railways. Derby has submitted its bid and is eagerly waiting to find out whether it will succeed in making it through to the second round. Then there will be even more lobbying, but with a much-anticipated public vote.

I firmly believe, as you would expect, Mr Efford, that Derby is the right location for the headquarters. There are many reasons why it is an important place for Great British Railways and why the Minister and the Secretary of State should choose Derby for its headquarters. First, Derby is at the centre of the UK’s rail network. It has great connections north and south, from Scotland to London and beyond, and, crucially, east and west, offering a key path from the east midlands to the west midlands and Wales, as well as to the east coast.

Secondly, Derby has so much rail history. Derby station first opened in 1839, as one of the largest in the United Kingdom, when Derby was home to the world’s first factory and the Midland Railway. As soon as the railway arrived in Derby, the rail industry set up shop there, too. Derby locomotive works was constructed in 1840 and, in the years that followed, nearly 3,000 steam engines were built. The first ever roundhouse, for turning engines, was built by Robert Stephenson in Derby. It is part of what is now Derby College. [Interruption.] I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler). From 1934, Derby produced diesels, and then in 1947 it built Britain’s first main-line diesel locomotives. Now, we are at the forefront of developing alternative train-based power sources that complement the progressive roll-out of electrification. HydroFLEX, Britain’s first train converted to hydrogen operation, was designed in Derby by Porterbrook.

I commend the hon. Lady for her dedication to all the subject matter on which she has delivered the legislation coming through on marriage. I support that and was very pleased to see it. I also commend her for her work in this area. Connectivity is critical but does she agree that that is also true of the private sector, of which I believe Derby has a large proportion? Connectivity is part of the pursuit of the headquarters of Great British Railways, but the partnership with the private sector is crucial to advancing it.

The hon. Lady mentioned hydrogen. We in Northern Ireland have some connections with hydrogen and we are pleased that she is promoting it. All I know about Derby is that it has a football team that is in trouble, but I am pleased to come here and support the hon. Lady.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It never fails to amaze me how the hon. Gentleman from Northern Ireland can have an interest in what is happening in Derby. It is very important that we include the whole of the United Kingdom and work with all of it when and if we get the Great British Railways in Derby. It is important that Northern Ireland, Scotland and all the other regions are included, so I thank him for that intervention.

Alstom, which has had various names and iterations, is the current train building company in Derby, and it plans to build the first brand-new fleet of hydrogen trains in conjunction with Eversholt Rail. Similarly, Porterbrook and Rolls-Royce recently launched the first 100 mph hybrid battery-diesel train on Chiltern Railways, which links London with Oxford and Birmingham. It is very important that we look to our history, but that we also look to the future of the Great British Railways and rail innovation.

Derby is at the heart of rail innovation. It is home to the largest cluster of rail engineering companies anywhere in Europe, with an international reputation for rail excellence and innovation.

The hon. Member is making a compelling case for Derby very effectively. Does she agree with me that Great British Railways would benefit from that innovation that she was starting to talk about? Derby’s rail industry is famous for the revolutionary tilting trains that have gone on to be hugely successful. They were first developed in Derby as a result of the technological know-how of the British Rail research team, and that expertise continues in our universities in both Derby and Nottingham. I believe that, at one point in the 1970s, the team also developed plans for a flying saucer. Is that not precisely the kind of innovative, radical thinking that Great British Railways needs?

We have the expertise in Derby and it is important that we spread it around. If the Great British Railways comes to Derby, it will benefit Nottingham and other counties, including Staffordshire and Leicestershire, because we are quite a tight-knit community. There are so many innovative companies based in and around Derby that it will have a knock-on benefit for so many people and the local economy. It is really important, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, that we have thriving private businesses working with Government organisations. Working together, they can achieve so much more. I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.

We continue to be the home of rail research, as has been said. In 1935, the LMS Scientific Research Laboratory was established in Derby, which evolved into British Rail’s globally recognised Railway Technical Centre that opened in 1964, and that tradition of innovation continues today through special rail consultancies, dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises, and the University of Derby’s rail research and innovation centre, so there is a host of reasons why the Minister must choose Derby.

Derby is home to the largest cluster of rail engineering companies anywhere in Europe, with an international reputation for rail excellence and innovation. There are more than 11,000 rail sector employees in Derbyshire, spanning operations, design, manufacture, testing, safety, data and finance. Nowhere else in the whole country can we design, test and manufacture a train all on the same site. Not only that, but alongside the University of Derby, our rail industry is leading the way on rail decarbonisation—a huge part of our country’s efforts to achieve net zero by 2050. In addition to these practical reasons why Derby is the best choice, I would like to talk about the longer-term impact of such a decision, and how it fits in with the Government’s policy aims. First, for GBR, choosing Derby brings the opportunity to engage more closely than ever with the private sector. Last year, the Williams-Shapps plan for rail laid out clearly the Government’s intention for GBR to work ever more closely with the private sector, learning lessons and fostering innovation.

As I have explained, there is no better place for interaction with the private sector than Derbyshire, whether seeking to collaborate with the largest rail companies in the land, or to learn from and help to develop the most innovative engineering or railway technology businesses. I know I need not repeat, for the Minister has heard me make the point many times, that Derby is home to the largest private sector rail industry cluster in Europe, and the associated benefits that that would bring to our public sector rail body.

The east midlands is the rail capital of the UK, with a global reputation for excellence. I would like to quote the Government’s rail sector deal:

“The east midlands is one of the largest rail clusters in Europe…The success of UK rail will owe much to the successful nurturing of these clusters.”

In the recently published levelling-up White Paper, the midlands rail cluster is referred to as one of the largest in the world, incorporating rail operations, research and innovation, digital applications, manufacturing, technical services and finance.

Derby and Derbyshire, along with the whole of the east midlands, are often left behind when it comes to public funding. Levelling up is a phrase we have heard a lot recently, and it is really important for Derby. We have heard Ministers and the Prime Minister talking about it, but I would like to see it delivered for Derby. We must be clear that levelling up is about taking advantage of the talents and skills all around the country, not just about giving a handout. That is why bringing GBR to Derby really is levelling up. Placing the headquarters of Great British Railways at the heart of the largest railway cluster in Europe is an example of the Government taking advantage of the amazing skillset and industry knowledge that we have in abundance in the east midlands, which for so long have been overlooked.

The hon. Lady has been wide-reaching in the debate for Derby, but we can all take advantage. The Government and the Minister have given their commitment to levelling up across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady referred to that, which I fully support. Within that levelling up, there may be opportunities for businesses in Northern Ireland to buy into the levelling up that Derby can take advantage of. Does the hon. Lady feel that, when it comes to securing the Union, which we can do as we are all committed to that, levelling up is part of that process?

It is important that levelling up works for the whole country, and that we genuinely level up. We need a lot of levelling up in our region, and it is important for the Government to do what they say.

Alongside that, we will have the opportunity for many apprentices and to improve skills we already have. It is amazing that at Alstom, which builds the trains, there are some fantastic female apprentices. They are not straight from school; they have worked outside and come in as apprentices. They are so passionate about building trains and making it right. We have the workforce who want to do the job. With Great British Railways, and all the other businesses in Derby, we could provide an apprenticeship for everybody, because there are so many opportunities with so many different businesses in the area. It is incredibly important—

The hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way. People may think it is slightly strange that someone from Nottingham is supporting Derby, but it is important to take a view of the whole of our region. Does she agree that if Great British Railways were based in Derby, which of course is a key city of the east midlands, its employees travelling there would see that it is on a north-south line that is not fully electrified, and that, at the moment, we have very poor east-west connections to Birmingham and the west midlands? That might remind them every single day of the importance of the levelling up that she is talking about and the need for more investment in our transport network.

That is absolutely right. The people who come to work for Great British Railways will see the benefits of what we do in Derby and across the region, and that we need better links. We have links, but we need better ones. It is no good looking at places such as Birmingham, which has huge innovation and lots of other businesses, and does not specialise in rail. Derby specialises in rail, so locating Great British Railways there would have a huge impact on the economy and the area. That will add to the levelling up agenda, and Nottingham will benefit from that. Cities need to play to their strengths. Nottingham has different strengths, and Derby’s greatest strength is the rail industry, as well as Rolls-Royce aero-engines, the nuclear sector and Toyota. We have planes, trains and automobiles in our area, and huge skills in engineering, which are very important. Lots of people from Nottingham work in Derby, and vice versa, because there are opportunities for different industries to employ people.

I should not allow the impression to be given that there are not fantastic rail engineering companies in Nottingham. LB Foster in my constituency produces rail technologies, rail lubrication and friction modification. It has worked on Crossrail, and produced the original boards at St Pancras station. That technology is spread across the midlands, although Derby is very much at the heart of the industry.

Of course, that is true. The hon. Lady talks about local companies being involved in St Pancras station, and the bricks that were used there came from Butterley in Derbyshire, so we are steeped in the rail industry—from the construction of buildings, right through to the construction of trains and all the engineering in between.

The Minister may not be aware that Derby was home to Britain’s first railway staff training college, which opened in 1938. It is now known as the Derby Conference Centre. That amazing, beautiful building has been repurposed, but it was the heart of the railway staff training college, which is very important to Derby.

Derby’s bid is supported not just by Derby’s MPs, or even Derbyshire MPs. I am delighted by the support that colleagues from across the region have given to our bid. They not only recognise that Derby is the best location for the Great British Railways headquarters, but know that it will benefit GBR, Derby and the wider region in the long term. Some of those colleagues are here today. I would have liked to have said many, but the late night means that not many are here.

I remind the Minister of all the right hon. and hon. Members who have already publicly pledged their support for the bid, demonstrating their support for Derby and levelling up in the east midlands. First, there are the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and my hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and for South Derbyshire. Then there are all the other Derbyshire MPs from across parties. Several are Ministers so cannot speak in this debate, but I know that they have expressed their support to the Minister through other channels. We have also received support from outside Derbyshire. There have been key contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Kate Griffiths) and for Bosworth (Dr Evans), and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is a former Chair of the Transport Committee and was shadow Transport Secretary for a long time, so understands the industry in the area. Also supporting us are my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley)—who is also leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, which is important because it is fully behind us—and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). That is a formidable amount of parliamentary support. It is not just Derby Members who want it. The support stretches across four counties and at least six upper-tier authorities representing the entire east midlands region.

We have over 11,000 highly skilled people in rail-related employment across the east midlands, with around 45,000 jobs connected to the rail industry delivering train building and refurbishment, infrastructure maintenance and renewals, operations, digital technology, safety management, specialist finance and other key roles.

The thing about Derby is that, compared with other cities in the region, we do not have many civil servants based in our city or indeed in the county. There is one very small rail industry body, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, but apart from that we have very few. If we are talking seriously about levelling up, it means bringing in Great British Railways to take part in this wider rail industry in Derby, Derbyshire and across to Nottinghamshire.

It is very important that GBR comes to Derby, because it would cement the whole of the rail industry. It would benefit from working with the private sector and learning about all the different private businesses there, as well as our huge innovation. A lot of apprentices go from Derby College into the rail industry. The university also works very hard with the rail industry. It is such a key place, and not just for history. History is important, but it is about the future.

The first railway cottages in the world are in Derby. They were saved by the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust many years ago. They were going to be bulldozed to make way for a four-lane motorway through the centre of Derby, which would have been crazy. These beautiful railway cottages are genuinely the oldest in the world. We have history, but we also have the innovation. We have the will of the people in Derby. I hope that the public vote will show that they really care about the railway industry in Derby. Another part of the jigsaw is to bring Great British Railways to Derby.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. My colleague from Derbyshire, the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), has done a brilliantly comprehensive job of making the case for Derby to be the home of the headquarters. She has left very little for anyone else to say, but I will pick up on one or two points.

The hon. Lady covered this ably in her remarks, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), but I particularly want to stress that there is much to be said about the tremendous history of rail in Derby. It is something in which the whole community takes great pride. However, we are not just about the history of rail. The present and the future of rail also have a very strong base in Derby. That is the key point that I would like to leave with the Minister. There are other places with much past connection to rail, but I do not think there is anywhere else that has the unique combination of history, strength, community understanding, skills and families who have all lived with rail right across the city and its environs.

As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said, Alstom has the only facility in the United Kingdom—it has been the only facility for some time—that goes all the way from design to production of new rolling stock. As the Minister will know, Alstom, in partnership with Hitachi, is providing the rolling stock for Crossrail and for HS2, so Derby is both looking to the future and to delivering now.

The word “partnership” is very familiar to Derby, as it is in partnership with other places across the country—Hitachi is also in partnership in the north-east—and within our city and community. There is tremendous community spirit and co-operation in the whole business sector in the locality of Derby.

As the hon. Lady has pointed out, we are very much a transport hub; we are not just a rail hub. Toyota is based in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), Rolls-Royce is based in my constituency, and a collection of people are working constructively together all the time. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire touched on the rail forum, which now has some 300 companies from across the UK. I am sure that the Minister will find herself invited, if she has not been already, to various functions in the rail industry, and she will find that a concentration of people are in or have come to Derby and that the spirit of partnership that we all need is very much present.

Reference has been made to the importance and strength of our geographical location, which makes it is easy to travel to places such as Cardiff. As well as the north-south connections, and although there is weakness in the east-west links to Birmingham and so on, people rarely highlight the impressive fact that CrossCountry trains, which run between Inverness and Penzance, run through Derby. In the near future, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy will visit the Met Office in Exeter, and I shall come home on the train, from Exeter straight through to Derby. Geographically, therefore, Derby is an extraordinarily convenient place. It deals with both the present and the future of rail.

As has already been highlighted, there is a great concentration of skills, knowledge and experience in the community, among the existing and the potential workforce, but more than that there is opportunity. There is training and a rail-specific educational engagement programme, run in partnership with Rail Forum Midlands. Those developments can all be of benefit to Great British Railways.

On the issue of whether enough, or any, civil servants are being brought out from the centre into our locality, it is a constant source of astonishment to me that Derby is not recognised more readily as an attractive environment for those who would come to work in the headquarters. We have an extremely competitive housing market—that may not please everybody, but it is certainly true—particularly for people who might be coming out from the centre. We have excellent facilities and, of course, we have on our doorstep one of the most beautiful national parks in England.

Derby has a great deal to offer and has an immensely strong sense of community. It is a community that looks outwards and is welcoming. I have experienced—perhaps the Minister has, too—places with a strong sense of community, but it is directed inward: “If you haven’t lived here for 60 years, you don’t really belong.” Derby is not like that. Even if people have been there only five minutes, we will treat them as if they and their grandparents before them had been there all their life. It is a very warm and welcoming place, where such new employment would be welcomed and could thrive.

As has been touched on, there is the whole question of research and development for the future. The plethora of companies that operate in and around Derby makes it a home of real innovation. For my part, I have a great attachment to the manufacturing industry and, within that, a particular attachment to innovation. We do not devote nearly enough attention to innovation, but it is where Britain has a great track record. It has been said that, under successive Governments, far too often we innovate but do not follow through—other people exploit our innovation. We certainly have the innovation and we should, I hope, focus more on how it can be exploited in future.

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire also commented on support from across the local business community—not just rail-related business, but the whole business community in Derby and Derbyshire, which works well together on all kinds of projects. As I recall, we have support from Tarmac, which has quarries up in Derbyshire, serviced by rail, where it produces aggregate needed for the housing programme. Its efficient operation is dependent on the facility of rail. Right across the piece, therefore, we see an opportunity. The support should be there to develop rail to the maximum advantage, with a real interest in and pressure for research and future development.

No one understands Derby and its history as well as my right hon. Friend. Does she agree that one thing about Derby and the east midlands is the importance of freight? Derby brings not only that knowledge of rail infrastructure and rolling stock, but interaction with freight customers, which is important because they can sometimes be forgotten in the focus on passengers. Freight is important in our region, historically because of quarrying, and increasingly with the rail freight hub and proximity to the East Midlands airport, which is a huge freight airport. That brings a thinking that is unique in the country.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is slightly unfortunate that there is no better link at present, because, as she says, East Midlands airport is the freight airport, in particular for freight from the United States. It is very much an airport linked to freight. That gives us an opportunity to develop strengths and partnerships that might not have been fully developed so far. Again, that is an opportunity to innovate and develop support for the future.

I do not want to take too long or to simply repeat everything said by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire. However, I hope that we will convince the Minister and those organising the programme for Great British Railways that nowhere in the UK is better suited to house its headquarters—to everyone’s advantage—than the city of Derby. The massive support that the city and its environment can provide for the establishment of the headquarters will very much play in our favour.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Efford.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) on securing this important debate and on the passion she shows for Derby and its proud industrial and railway heritage. In fact, I congratulate all Derbyshire Members on working cross-party for their area to win this prestigious prize.

We heard, eloquently, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). I know that many other Derbyshire MPs could not be here because of the late sitting last night, but they too have shown their support. Derby is proud and privileged to have the support of the former Chair of the Transport Committee and former shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). Amazingly, it has also managed to get support from Northern Ireland, with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). The Minister, and everybody at the Department for Transport, will be left in no doubt that Derby has a very strong bid.

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South have rightly placed Derby at the centre of the history of the railway, as a place where trains have been built since 1839. It is a centre of British engineering excellence to this day. I was privileged to visit Derby recently to see some of that engineering excellence, meet some of the workers and executives and see their impressive work, thanks to Rail Forum Midlands and its amazing chief executive officer Elaine. I even got to drive a train, which was a first for me. Subsequently I had the pleasure of having a meeting with Councillor Baggy Shanker and the Derby group of Labour councillors, where I heard about their strong support for the bid, with intricate details provided by the senior council officers. As we have heard, it is a bid that is supported by Alstom, which I also visited, the local enterprise partnership and the East Midlands chamber of commerce, among many others.

I am left in no doubt that Derby has made the strongest possible case and put together a very strong bid. However, as the shadow Rail Minister, I must stop short of making my own preferences known or endorsing one particular bid—even a bid as strong as Derby’s. I would get lynched by other Members who have also been on my case. It is a very crowded and impressive field. I think this is the sixth debate secured by a Member advocating their town or city. I understand that 42 places had submitted a bid by the time the deadline passed. There are so many places that speak to the rich heritage of the railway across the country, including Doncaster, York, Crewe, Darlington, Edinburgh, Swindon, and Wakefield, as well as many other wonderful places with a strong claim. However, despite its amazing connectivity, for some reason Slough, incredible as it is, did not quite make the cut. I noticed that Carnforth made the list; it will forever be associated with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson and their “Brief Encounter”.

The quality of the bids tells us that there is a lot of love for rail, and a vibrant railway manufacturing sector in our country that is still going, despite every challenge and obstacle. There is an enthusiasm to design, manufacture, build, create and produce. Embedded deep in our history are Stephenson, Trevithick, James Watt and the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built the famous Great Western Railway that runs through my Slough constituency. However, we need to look to the future, too. I believe that Great Britain can have a great industrial future as well as a proud past, but it requires vision, investment and political will.

The current Government’s industrial strategy is inadequate to the task and is still ideologically enamoured with free markets rather than long-term planning. If recent events—whether that is Brexit, the pandemic, energy prices, war in Europe or the climate crisis—prove anything, it is the need for Government to work in partnership with industry to provide investment where markets fail, as well as strategic direction, planning and leadership. On the climate emergency in particular, we need to harness our engineering genius to meet the fierce urgency of tackling global warming with carbon capture, renewable energy and green manufacturing.

The railway is central to this green new deal. We need high-speed links across the UK, including the east midlands to Leeds leg, which the Government have unfortunately scrapped—so much for levelling up—and electrification, which should be rolled out further and faster. We need hydrogen-power trains, such as those pioneered and built in Derby. As has been eloquently pointed by hon. Members today, with more railway freight, we will have fewer lorries on our roads. More passengers on trains across the timetable will reflect the new changed realities of the world of work.

I welcome recent announcements of cheaper fares for the next few weeks, which will hopefully remind people that trains can be a viable means of transport. However, I cannot shake the view that it is simply a gimmick. Would it not be better if rail fares were affordable all the time, as they are in many of our European neighbours? As the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, pointed out, a return train ticket from Manchester to London bought on a Monday morning is £369. That is more than a return flight, booked in advance, to India, Jamaica or Brazil. That is absolutely ludicrous. Could the Minister update us on the long-promised plans for reforms of ticketing and ticket prices, and whether Government plans will truly make rail travel a viable option for people on middle and low incomes?

That brings me to my central point. We are discussing the headquarters for the new Great British Railways, as established by the Williams-Shapps rail review, but that body is merely the guiding mind of a railway system still dominated by private sector companies running those franchises. The new passenger service contracts will replace the emergency agreements agreed during the pandemic, but those contracts are with private companies and their shareholders and investors. As long as the profit motive is central to running the railways, there will be pressure for higher fares and more profits derived from the pockets of the long-despairing travelling public. Could the Minister offer her assessment of how much cash those franchise deals will cost the public purse for the first five years of the plan?

The great missed opportunity from the shock to the system provoked by the pandemic was the nationalisation of the railway in its totality, which would end the franchises and put people before profits. By bringing our railways back into public ownership, we could have a democratically driven railway that was owned by the people and accountable to Government—a people’s railway for all the people. That model, which is commonplace across the world, would guarantee recovery of our UK railways.

We need to keep down fares, speed up investment, boost green manufacturing and secure our railways for another 200 years. I wish the great manufacturing centre of Derby all the very best and hope to have the pleasure of visiting again very soon. I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire and wish the other shortlisted towns and cities the best of luck, too. I hope we have a decision as soon as possible from the Department, before we have further such debates, which will no doubt be called by right hon. and hon. Members for their towns and cities. Most of all, I wish for a clean, green, safe, reliable and affordable railway that is accessible for all.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford. Before I respond to the points made by the hon. Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing the debate. She has made clear her passion for the city of Derby and the area she represents and she has highlighted some of the things that Members can do as Back Benchers. I hope that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, her private Member’s Bill, makes progress—fingers crossed it will receive Royal Assent. I know she has been working on it for a long time. As a Back Bencher, I was successful in taking two private Member’s Bills through this place and that is real proof that we can deliver things that we have a passion or enthusiasm for or an interest in.

Just last month, I was in the Chamber debating the merits of Crewe as a potential Great British Railways headquarters location. This is the fifth debate on the subject—the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and I may differ on whether it is the fifth or sixth overall. Others have been for Darlington, York, and Carnforth, and, yesterday, we were in Westminster Hall—so this is a little bit of déjà vu—for a broader debate on the merits of the York bid.

It has been absolutely heartening to see hon. Members from up and down the country engaging in the important conversation about the future of our railways and doing outstanding work to support the bids for their towns and cities. As Rail Minister, the other real advantage of the debates has been the opportunity not for just me, but, more broadly, for all of us to learn so much more about the history and heritage of our railways, and about our rail industry—about the manufacturing, the communities, and the families that are all part of our railways.

At the risk of repeating myself, as I said this yesterday, railways are close to my heart. Both of my paternal great-grandfathers worked on the railways, one in Wensleydale and the other in County Durham. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned railway cottages and I discovered that my dad was actually born in one. There is perhaps a sense that I have some railway heritage, or railway stock, myself, and I absolutely understand the importance of the industry and the amazing rail heritage of this country.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire set out, Derby has a very proud rail heritage. When the Midland Railway was formed in 1844, Derby became its headquarters, and Derby rail station is a major railway hub. As we have heard today, Derby became an important manufacturing centre for the railways through the famous Derby Works and the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works.

The first mainline diesel locomotives built in Great Britain were built at the Derby Works, which closed as a locomotive works in 1990. The Derby Carriage and Wagon Works continues to operate as a railway rolling stock factory today, run by Alstom. From the earliest days of the railways to the modern day, Derby has played, and will continue to play, an important role. My mailbox shows great evidence of the fact that many other towns and cities across the country have, of course, played an important part in our proud railway heritage, which hon. Members are proud to represent. The response to the competition has been positive and I am pleased that by the time it closed on 16 March we had received an outstanding 42 applications from up and down the country.

Hon. Members will be well aware that the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, published in May 2021, set out the path towards a truly passenger-focused railway underpinned by new contracts that prioritise punctual and reliable services, the rapid delivery of a ticketing revolution with new flexible and convenient tickets and long-term proposals to build a modern, greener and accessible network. Central to the Williams-Shapps plan for rail is the establishment of a new rail body—Great British Railways—that will provide a single familiar brand and strong, unified leadership across the rail network.

Great British Railways will be responsible for delivering better value and flexible fares and the punctual, reliable services passengers deserve. By bringing ownership of the infrastructure, fares, timetables and planning of the network under one roof, it will bring today’s fragmented railways under a single point of operational accountability, ensuring that the focus is delivering for passengers and freight customers. Great British Railways will be a new organisation with a commercial mindset and strong customer focus. It will have a different culture to the current infrastructure owner, Network Rail, and very different incentives from the beginning.

GBR will have responsibility for the whole railway system, and a modest national headquarters as well as several regional divisions. The national headquarters will be based outside London and will bring the railway closer to the people and communities it serves, ensuring that skilled jobs and economic benefits are focused beyond the capital in line with the Government’s commitment to levelling up. Hon. Members have spoken this morning about the importance of the levelling-up agenda.

The competition for the headquarters was launched by the Secretary of State on 5 February 2022 and closed for applications on 16 March 2022. The GBR transition team is now evaluating the 42 submissions for the national headquarters, which we received from towns and cities across Great Britain, against a set of six criteria. The criteria are: alignment to levelling-up objectives; connected and easy to get to; opportunities for Great British Railways; rail heritage and links to the network; value for money; and public support. The GBR transition team will recommend a shortlist of the most suitable locations that will go forward to a consultative public vote. Ministers will make a final decision on the location based on all information gathered. As I mentioned before, I am incredibly pleased by the number of high-quality bids we have received. I am sure that, wherever we choose, the future headquarters will go to somewhere truly deserving.

Alongside a new national headquarters, GBR will have regional divisions that are responsible and accountable for the railway in local areas, ensuring that decisions about the railway are brought closer to the passengers and communities they serve. GBR regional divisions will be organised in line with the regions established in Network Rail’s putting passengers first programme, which reflects how passengers and freight move across the network today. Cities and regions in England will have greater influence over local ticketing, services and stations through new partnerships between regional divisions and local and regional government. Initial conversations are starting with local stakeholders on how those partnerships can best work together.

I was pleased to hear the contributions from the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). I was also pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) in the debate. One of the challenges of being a Minister is being unable to speak in such debates, but it was good to see her.

We have heard contributions about innovation. As a Minister, I have learned a lot recently about innovation in the sector, including the First of a Kind scheme. The importance of freight has also been highlighted; it is really important in building a cleaner, greener future for our country. The hon. Member for Strangford spoke, quite rightly, about levelling up. The right hon. Member for Derby South highlighted the importance of our rail heritage and its future. That goes for the country as a whole. The focus of this morning’s debate was Derby, but we should be proud of our heritage and look positively to our future.

There were contributions about the importance of partnerships, the rail community, rolling stock and ticketing. We recently launched our Great British rail ticket sale. As of yesterday, we have sold more than 700,000 tickets—an excellent example of how the Government are helping people to access rail and with the cost of living.

The reforms proposed under the Williams-Shapps plan for rail will transform the railways for the better, strengthening and securing them for the next generation. The reforms will make the sector more accountable to taxpayers and the Government and will provide a bold new offer to passengers and freight customers of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern, green and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation.

Although transformation on such a scale cannot happen overnight, the Government and the sector are committed to ensuring the benefits for passengers and freight customers are brought forward as quickly as possible. We have already sold over 200,000 of our new national flexi-season tickets, which offer commuters savings as they return to the railways. As I have explained, to help passengers facing the rising cost of living we also recently launched the Great British rail sale, which offers up to 50% off more than a million tickets on journeys across Britain. And the transition from the emergency recovery measures agreements to the new national rail contract is under way, providing more flexible contracts that incentivise operators to deliver for passengers.

GBR will work alongside the local communities that it will serve. Integrated local teams within GBR’s regional divisions will push forward design and delivery for their partners supported by new incentives that encourage innovation, partnership and collaboration. GBR will be designed and have the structure to become yet another example of this Government’s historic commitment to levelling up the regions across the nation. Both the Government and the GBR transition team welcome the interest and advocacy from different cities and towns, and also welcome the participation in the competition for GBR’s headquarters so that together we can really deliver the change that is required.

To conclude, we look forward to creating this new vision for Britain’s railways, in collaboration with the sector and local communities, and deciding on GBR’s HQ is just one of many steps we are taking to achieve that.

Today’s debate was about quality rather than quantity, probably because of the late night in the main Chamber last night.

The Minister will be aware that we have worked cross-party to provide the information for the bid. In Derby, we work cross-party a lot for the benefit of the city and the surrounding area. It is important on such matters, which are not party political, and we do it for the benefit of all our citizens.

The Minister will not be aware that some years ago, when Bombardier—now called Alstom—was threatened with closure, 10,000 people marched from Derby to show the strength of feeling in the city. That is how much rail is embedded in Derby. As the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) said, different generations of families in Derby have worked in the rail industry, so it is in the city’s DNA and in people’s veins in Derby to work in this absolutely amazing industry on all fronts; every single front is covered.

I do not want to detain Members, but when the hon. Lady mentioned that march it struck me that—this is quite true—there are not many occasions when I have found myself marching, in a crowd of people all chanting to bring pressure to bear for the right outcome, alongside the Conservative leader of the council and Conservative MPs.

That absolutely shows our cross-party work in Derby when it matters to the city, and this question really matters to Derby. People will see the passion in Derby when we get through to the second round of the competition, and when my hon. Friend the Minister comes to visit the different bidding cities she will come across the passion for the rail industry in Derby. That is why it is another piece of the jigsaw for the city to embed Great British Railways in Derby, because the people working in that industry and that HQ will learn from those people in the city who are steeped in the history of the railways. Having said that, I know that this is about the future, not history. We have the history, as the Minister knows, but this is a question of the future. She talked about the six pillars that the bidding cities will be judged on and we have every one of them. Indeed, that could be our bid.

I am sure that the Minister will look forward to coming to Derby in the second round of the competition so that she can see for herself how passionate people in Derby are about getting GBR to the city. It is also about levelling up and Derby ticks every box when it comes to that.

I thank the Minister for her response to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered Derby’s bid to host the headquarters of Great British Railways.

Sitting suspended.

UK City of Culture 2025: County Durham’s Bid

I beg to move,

That this House has considered County Durham’s bid to become the UK’s City of Culture 2025.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. It is a delight to see colleagues from across the political parties, and from Durham and further afield, in the Chamber.

After much work from Durham County Council and many other organisations, I know that I am not alone in feeling thrilled that our bid has placed us among the four finalists, although I never doubted we would be. Having watched the debates on city of culture bids from two of the other finalists, I admit that we face stiff competition, but Durham is no ordinary county and is the most worthy of being the 2025 city of culture. I am confident that we can demonstrate that.

Our case can best be summarised by the historical motto of the Durham Miners’ Association:

“Into the Light: The past we inherit, the future we build”.

Let me begin by discussing that history, because from Bede to Beveridge, we have quite a lot of it.

If there is one landmark associated with Durham, the land of the prince bishops, it is undoubtedly Durham cathedral. Construction began in 1090; it is well over 1,000 years old and has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1986. In addition to its stunning architectural beauty, it holds the remains of the Venerable Bede and St Cuthbert’s relics. It forms part of the Camino Inglés—the English way—which is a walk that includes Finchale abbey, Durham cathedral and the seventh-century Saxon Escomb church, south of Bishop Auckland. Before I came to this place, I had the opportunity with the rotary club to visit that ancient church on several occasions. That is the route traditionally taken by northern European pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

A comparatively more recent religious site in Durham is Ushaw college, which was founded in the 19th century by Catholic scholars who fled the French revolution. For a mere 200 years, it served as the primary seminary in the north for training Roman Catholic priests. It closed in 2011, but the site remains important to the area, as it now houses the Durham University Business School and the Ushaw college library. Its buildings and gardens provide an excellent day out for tourists and locals alike.

In this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, culture, tradition and history are so important, so I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s bid. Does he agree that the rich history and heritage of the City of Durham, coupled with the community mindset, as outlined by the wonderful Tree of Hope in its bid, shows the strength of the proposal? That needs to be recognised at every level, and part of that is clearly to be the UK city of culture.

I could not agree more. We must recognise at every level how important city of culture status is and the value it can bring to Durham.

Alongside the cathedral is Durham castle. We have lots of castles, including Brancepeth, Lumley, Lambton, Walworth, Witton, and, of course, Barnard Castle.

Aside from its religious significance, Durham has been a place of technological and social innovation. I will come on to the history of the railways in a moment, but first I want to discuss the town of Newton Aycliffe in my patch. It was the very first of the post-war new towns. It was founded in 1947 under the New Towns Act 1946, and William Beveridge, the architect of the modern welfare state, chose it as a flagship new town to demonstrate how the new welfare state of council housing, free education and full employment would work. Beveridge became the chairman of Aycliffe Development Corporation, which, he said, aimed at

“making a town better than anything in the past, a town that will be an example for the future. We shall do our utmost to make the town both happy for its inhabitants and famous as an example to Britain and the world.”

Although the country and the welfare system both look considerably different today from when Beveridge set out his plans, the pandemic has demonstrated what an important role the Government play in our lives.

Any debate about Durham county of course must mention its mining heritage. Durham County Council has taken the city of culture bid’s motto from the miners’ association. The last of the mines closed a generation ago and we are looking to the bright future ahead, but we cannot forget the role that mining played in developing and sustaining the area for so long. My grandfather went down the Dean and Chapter mine in Ferryhill, and we remain proud of our mining heritage even if it no longer supports our economy. A visit to Redhills, the Pitman’s Parliament, is an absolute must for anybody who visits the area.

I know my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) would likely have raised Killhope, but since he cannot, I will do it for him. Otherwise known as the north of England lead mining museum, it opened in 1984 after decades of neglect and is located in the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty. Naturally, it has won a number of awards. It has one of only two surviving William Armstrong waterwheels and is a highly educational experience for anyone interested in learning about the area’s lead mining history. I am sure my hon. Friend would also mention cultural landmarks such as the Empire theatre in Consett, the Roxy project in Leadgate, the Weardale Museum and Jack Drum Arts.

In addition to the cathedral and mining, rail travel is a crucial aspect of Durham’s history. The Stockton and Darlington railway first opened in 1825, meaning that the city of culture year will coincide with the bicentenary of the celebrations of that historic line. I hope that combining the Stockton and Darlington bicentenary with the city of culture celebrations will also give the necessary impetus to restoring Locomotion No. 1—not the engine, but the pub that used to be Heighington station on the Aycliffe levels, which is where Locomotion No. 1 was first assembled and put on the line. It is currently up for auction for a second time, and I hope the new owners will renovate it sensitively to demonstrate our rail heritage at its best in time for 2025.

As far as political history goes, one of my predecessors, a Prime Minister, brought world leaders such as George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac to the Dun Cow in Sedgefield and the County in Aycliffe village respectively. Both of those have rooms and excellent food offers for visitors as they come for the event.

Military history also abounds owing to the many battles we had with the Scots and the Picts, as we are so close to Hadrian’s Wall. Our more modern military history is founded on Newton Aycliffe, where the Aycliffe angels made millions of munitions for world war two, many of which were dispatched through Ferryhill station. Hoped-for improvements to the station and the Weardale railway from the railway restoration fund will, I hope, enhance transport to Durham when the celebrations are on.

Durham already has some excellent transport links, which is a clear benefit for any city of culture as it allows people from across the country to visit. Indeed, Durham is almost exactly in the centre of the country, equidistant from the north coast of Scotland and the south coast of England. Since we are on the east coast main line, it takes less than three hours to get to us from London and about the same from Glasgow. For international travellers we are accessible via Teesside and Newcastle airports. Drivers can of course reach us on the A1. Lastly, travellers who want to travel under their own steam can take advantage of the sea-to-sea cycle route. It crosses Durham from the amazing countryside of Weardale in the west to the enchanting heritage coast, which is internationally recognised for its rare plants and wildlife.

If some of those watching the debate prefer nature to city-based activities, we have an abundance of offerings in that regard too. From the upper dales to the coast, there is something for everyone, with plenty of museums in between such as the chateau-style Bowes Museum—a purpose-built public art gallery near Barnard Castle that houses the amazing Silver Swan, which is particularly notable. Of course, one of the biggest attractions in the area is Beamish, an open-air museum that tells the story of life in the north-east of England during the 1820s, 1900s, 1940s and 1950s over almost 350 acres.

Although being the 2025 city of culture would help Durham develop its enormous potential, I must mention some of the cultural activities that we already have. First and foremost is the Lumiere festival that is put on by Durham County Council every other year. Last year’s celebration saw over 40 art installations throughout the county, and it is completely free to attend. It just so happens that that is on in 2025.

I have spent most of this speech discussing the qualities of Durham that are difficult to quantify, such as our rich heritage, but I want to turn for a moment to what city of culture status would mean for us in economic terms: more than £40 million in direct spending, with at least half of the contracts going to local suppliers; more than 1,000 jobs created or kept; and more than 900usb businesses and organisations benefiting. Durham County Council estimates that by 2029, city of culture status would see an additional 200 creative enterprises, and over 2,500 more creative industry jobs.

In terms of the tourism Durham would receive, the council expects that we would see almost 16 million more visitors, including 4 million more overnight visitors and 3.5 million international visitors. That would result in £700 million more in visitor spending, and up to 1,800 more tourism jobs. Cities across the UK have suffered from the loss of tourism in the past couple of years, but by 2025 we will hopefully be a few years out of the pandemic. I know that being city of culture would give Durham’s tourism industry the boost it needs now more than ever, giving clear support to the Government’s work on levelling up.

Returning to the bicentenary of the Stockton and Darlington railway, this event is already of global significance—there are so many people on this planet who like trains. I am sure that the Minister, with his culture hat on, will have already begun scheduling his visit to the 2025 railway celebrations. That is the central point: we can compare our offer of cultural events, coastline, countryside and UNESCO world heritage sites, but it is only Durham that specifically in 2025 offers a globally significant anniversary that will already be attracting visitors from all over the world. Declaring Durham as the city of culture will hopefully mean that all of those visitors will bring their friends, families and everybody else with them to see everything else that can be offered by the county. That multiplier opportunity is why, for 2025 in particular, there can be only one place to award city of culture status—the county of Durham.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) both for securing this important debate and for allowing me to make a short contribution. It is vital that MPs in County Durham temporarily set aside our political differences and work together in support of a bid that would bring enormous economic and cultural benefits to the county we all represent. I am also grateful to Culture Durham, Durham County Council and Durham University, as well as all the businesses, organisations, creative industries and local residents who have worked so hard to deliver such as strong bid for Durham.

I will start by talking about Durham’s heritage, and in particular our mining industry. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Redhills, a building I was fortunate enough to have my office in, will have sat in the incredible Pitman’s Parliament and admired the lodge banners as they walked through the beautiful corridors. Becoming immersed in the building, its history and the history of the surrounding area cannot be helped. It reminds visitors of our industrial past, and how our history of trade unionism has left behind a culture of resilience, community and solidarity in Durham. While everyone at Redhills is justifiably proud of their past, rather than dwelling needlessly on former glories, they use them as an inspiration. That attitude is underpinned by their moto, which I am delighted has been adopted by Durham 2025:

“The past we inherit, the future we build”.

That saying is relevant to the aims of the bid, because today County Durham faces many challenges, such as a loss of industry, high street decline and growing levels of deprivation in our communities, to name just a few. However, alongside those challenges, our county has so much to offer culturally, economically and socially. We have the world-class university, emerging creative industries, a growing green economy and a growing independent business sector. If we look at just the city itself, there is the internationally important UNESCO world heritage site, the River Wear winding its way through the centre of the city—with boats available for budding rowers—the historic town hall and the wonderful news that Crook hall and gardens will be reopening in July. There is also Durham cathedral, which is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the country, at the heart of the world heritage site. It was featured in two Harry Potter films, as well as several of the “Avenger” movies.

Durham is also home to the miners’ gala—known locally as the big meeting—where every year hundreds and thousands of people gather to celebrate trade unionism and working class solidarity. This annual event has been running since 1871 and has only ever been interrupted by war or a pandemic. It is not just a celebration of past history in the region; it is a show of pride in our roots, a coming together of different communities from across the whole country and indeed the world, a recognition of what we have in common with others, and a really fun day out.

Durham is a creative place. A visitor to the villages across my constituency or throughout the county will be met with people just quietly celebrating culture and history in the region, or those creating new art and culture, such as the Bearpark Artists, or those providing space for budding musical artists and producers, such as Rocking Horse Rehearsal Rooms right in the heart of the city.

Although the Durham 2025 bid will not be a magic wand for the challenges faced by the county, it is a unique opportunity to utilise our area’s strengths, kick-start investment and help our county realise its enormous potential. That is why the words of the Durham miners resonate so strongly with this bid. What is a city of culture if not an opportunity to build on Durham’s future? It is impossible to read about the bid without being excited about what it could mean for our county.

As well as an exciting calendar of events, the bid promises genuine investment with a pledge of more than £40 million of direct spending for Durham 2025, with at least 50% of contracts going to local suppliers, which will create and protect more than 1,000 jobs in an area that is in desperate need of support. Becoming the city of culture will have a transformative impact on our region’s creative industries, with 15.7 million more visitors coming to Durham, and the creation of 1,800 more jobs. This is the time for our region to shine again and for the people of County Durham to believe that we have something here. I truly believe that the process begins with the city of culture.

Under instruction, I will keep my contribution as brief as I can.

Over the weekend, I had the immense pleasure of attending one of the cultural events of the year in Bishop Auckland, the Bishop Auckland Food Festival. The reason I am struggling a bit today is that my stomach is still full from Yorkshire pudding wraps and amazing sausage sandwiches and Scotch eggs—only a snippet of the incredible food culture we have in our county.

I have to go only slightly into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) to get to the incredible Raby Hunt Michelin-starred restaurant, which is not only nationally renowned but world renowned. I look forward to eventually being able to afford a meal there—it is a wonderful place and I cannot wait to go. At the other end of the scale, we have some incredible local cafés, such as Café Cheesedale in my constituency, which set up just before the pandemic and has had an incredible pandemic, offering a real outdoors escape for people to go and enjoy a meal with their family, see the pigs and the cows and enjoy some locally produced cheese.

It is not just food—we have some cracking breweries as well. In my constituency, we are fortunate to have McColl’s and the Barnard Castle Brewing Company. If people are not for beer but fancy gin later on—perhaps when we are here for late votes—they can always pick up some Durham gin, a wonderful tipple.

Of course, it is not just about food and drink, although that plays a vital part in all our lives, but about heritage. In County Durham, we are fortunate to have some really incredible heritage. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) have already spoken about the Durham miners’ gala, which I hope to be able to attend this year for the very first time. That mining heritage shines right throughout our county. In my constituency, we have a mining museum that features some incredible art created by miners when they were sitting in the pits; we also have the wonderful Norman Cornish gallery in Spennymoor, where some of the incredible work of that absolute world legend can be seen. I encourage everyone to visit.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said, heritage also comes in the form of military heritage. I am delighted to say that the joint administration in Durham is finally bringing back the long-awaited Durham Light Infantry Museum after years of campaigning by local residents.

We also have some brilliant built heritage. Escomb church has already been mentioned. It is a centuries-old Saxon church that is on the international radar. Again, I would encourage anyone to pay a visit. However, if people really want to learn about the history of County Durham and the prince bishops, they have to go to Bishop Auckland and Kynren. It tells an incredible, spectacular tale in the outdoors about the history of our county. Kynren by the Auckland Project really sums up the incredible cultural assets we have in our county.

For people into art, there is good news. Not only do we now have the new Spanish Gallery, a faith museum that is due to open very soon, and the incredible Bowes Museum, we have great community artists as well in the form of the Pineapple Gallery, House of Smudge, and some brilliant street artists who are revolutionising the street scene in Bishop Auckland. We know that some of our high streets are struggling, but why should we look at grotty, rusty shutters when we could have brilliant street artists going out and showing the best of what they can offer?

If people like music and fancy a boogie, I would recommend a trip down to The Witham in Barnard Castle. Last time I went there was for Bootleg Blondie, which was, I must say, one of the best gigs I have ever been to. During the election campaign, my campaign manager told me that I could not have a night off. I ignored him and had a great time. I would recommend it to anyone.

There is also an incredible statue in Bishop Auckland commemorating Stan Laurel, which shows that the culture from Bishop Auckland can be seen all over the world. For a breath of fresh air, I would recommend going down to High Force, a beautiful waterfall right in the heart of Teesdale. It is a wonderful place to visit—and is also a great spot for selfies. I can see the Minister nodding away; we will have to get him up for a visit. People interested in the stars and figuring out our place in the universe should get themselves over to Grassholme Observatory, which runs an incredible educational programme, where one can learn all about the universe.

It would be remiss of me not to mention one final place—a place that in the spring of 2020 gained international renown. That place is Barnard Castle. It is an incredible town, where, a few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to see some of the best of the culture that was on offer when Mayor Rima Chatterjee held a Holi colour festival. I took part in the colour run and got covered in coloured powders. It was an incredible day, and lots of families got involved.

What I have said today just goes to show the breadth of culture that is available to everyone in our county. I am very fortunate to call County Durham my home. I want to extend an invitation to everyone to come and visit—not just in Parliament and the country, but all over the world. Come and see us. Come and see the best of what we have to offer. The best way to do that, Minister, is by making us the city of culture.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, although it is very rare for us to be in the same room without talking football—though I suppose that I just have.

I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) for securing this debate. He is a great advocate for his constituency. More broadly, he is an able champion for County Durham and the north-east. He is understandably delighted that Durham was recently shortlisted in what has proved to be a very competitive field for the sought-after title of UK city of culture 2025. I also thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for their contributions today. We have many great advocates here, including my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden). He is unable to speak, because he is my Parliamentary Private Secretary, but I am sure that he agrees with everything that has been said today.

I would briefly like to talk about the UK city of culture programme before turning to Durham’s bid. Delivered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in collaboration with the devolved Administrations, the UK city of culture is a quadrennial competition that supports culture-led regeneration to drive economic growth and attract investment. It is a key part of the Department’s broader offer to level up. The UK city of culture competition promotes culture as a catalyst for change. Enhancing culture’s role in the heart of our communities, the competition seeks to strengthen relationships and creative partnerships, ultimately making places more attractive to visit, live and work in, which we have heard about today.

It is worth reflecting on some of the benefits brought to previous winners of the competition. Coventry, the current UK city of culture, has delivered an ambitious year-long programme that is already transforming the city and supporting its citizens. With a community-led approach, Coventry City of Culture Trust has secured remarkable investment in local arts and community organisations. For example, despite having to delay its programme by six months due to the pandemic, Coventry has seen more than £172 million invested in the likes of concerts, public art displays and new children’s play areas in the city. There have been so many benefits.

Of course, previous cities of culture have also seen huge benefits. Before Coventry took the title, the 2017 winner, Hull, saw 5.3 million people visiting more than 2,800 events, and the 2013 winner, Derry/Londonderry, benefited from more than £150 million of public and private sector investment, so there is a huge upside to being selected. The benefits speak for themselves and explain why there is such interest, with a record 20 initial applicants expressing interest in the 2025 competition. After a long-list stage, Durham, along with three other locations—Bradford, Southampton, and Wrexham—was approved by the Secretary of State to make the shortlist for 2025. The panel chaired by Sir Phil Redmond, which is the next stage of the competition, will be visiting the four shortlisted places. We hope that the winner will be announced in Coventry at the end of May, and further assessment is going on at the moment.

I absolutely recognise that Durham’s bid is being delivered by Durham County Council, with Durham University acting as the principal partner on behalf of Culture Durham. Durham is home to world-famous heritage attractions, many of which we have heard about today. It is a very broad definition of heritage, involving music, arts, culture, historic sites and, indeed, food—my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland made me very hungry with her speech. Of course, Durham is also surrounded by beautiful landscapes, and many of its communities are built on proud industrial foundations. This culture and heritage is at the heart of its bid, and rightly so.

Talking about being at the heart of things, the comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield was very telling. He said that, to the surprise of many, Durham is at the centre of Great Britain, although I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) claims that his constituency is absolutely at the centre. That always surprises people who do not wander north of Watford Gap too often.

As stated on its website, Durham’s bid aims to bring people and communities together, providing the opportunity to have a significant and sustained impact on the region’s economy. As hon. Members have outlined, there are significant plans for investment, a great upside and a considerable multiplier effect in the bid that is being proposed. Durham’s 2025 designation as UK city of culture would create an estimated 2,500 additional jobs in the creative industries alone, and would aim to attract more than 16 million visitors to the region. I have spoken on many occasions to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield about the importance of tourism in the region and, in my other role as tourism Minister, that is something that is close to my heart. We have seen in previous competitions that being chosen as the UK city of culture really does deliver.

Importantly, even bids that have failed have nevertheless ended up getting considerable success from going through the process, because they then have a shovel-ready project, with business plans and business cases being built that can be used to apply for other funds, including heritage funds, Arts Council England funds and so on. I am absolutely confident that, having got as far as it has at the moment, Durham will see more value being delivered,

DCMS wants all bidders to take advantage of the bidding process. This was the first time that the eight long-listed places received a £40,000 grant to help support their applications. I know that the money is being used very intelligently and will therefore help, regardless of whether the bids win or lose—I hear the arguments about winning—and I hope that it will have helped with strengthening some of them.

I want to respond positively to the invitation to visit Durham that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has given me previously, and which I have heard again today from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland. I absolutely commit to doing so, and we will sort that out in the diary, because there is so much in the region to see and do across the DCMS portfolios. I would like to finish by applauding the Durham bid team’s dedication and expressing my sincere appreciation for all their hard work so far. I wish Durham, and of course all the shortlisted places, the very best of luck in the final stages of the competition.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Affordable Housing (Devon and Cornwall)

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the availability of affordable housing in Devon and Cornwall.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I hate the word “crisis”, but there is no doubt in my mind that we have a housing crisis across Devon and Cornwall, which is particularly acute in my constituency of North Devon. It means that there is virtually no housing available for local people, affordable or otherwise. This weekend, the Chamber engagement team secured over 200 responses, the strength of feeling is so high. It is my constituents’ experience of this issue that drove me to apply for today’s debate.

Carol, one of my constituents, says:

“For me personally I am a single woman two years off retirement, I will not be able to retire completely because private rents are too high for one person on a pension. I am at risk of being homeless because of this. I’m not eligible for help if I lose my house because I cannot afford to live here anymore.”

Rachel says:

“We’ve been given notice to move out after 10 years so our landlord can use the house for family holidays. But we cannot find another family home in Braunton—there’s simply nothing available, likely due to the increased number of holiday lets.”

Kathryn says:

“We were saving to buy a house 3 years ago, unfortunately having reached our savings target 18 months ago, we have been unable to buy due to the huge increase in house prices in North Devon during the last 2 years. We now require more than double our original savings target for a deposit so are stuck renting until something changes.”

Stephanie says:

“Despite working, two of our children who live in Devon with children of their own are now suffering poverty due to high and increasing rent and no possible chance of either social housing or owning a home. They are likely to need deposits of approximately £150,000 as their wages would only cover a mortgage to approximately £90,000. It’s no good claiming there are schemes where only 5% deposit is needed when house prices far exceed earnings.”

So what exactly is going on? Figures from the Land Registry show that house prices in North Devon have risen by 22.5% against a UK average of 8%, the second highest increase in England, with neighbouring Torridge coming in fifth at 19.9%. At the same time, we have seen a complete collapse of the private rental sector as landlords take advantage of the surge in domestic tourism during the pandemic. Currently, Barnstaple, with a population of over 35,000, has just three private rentals available on Rightmove and 234 holiday lets on Airbnb.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation at the moment allows landlords to buy up good residences in towns such as Barnstaple and Bideford, register themselves as businesses, apply for small business interest rate relief, pay nothing to the community, either in council tax or business rates, and provide very little by way of employment, and that that racket has to be stopped?

As always, my right hon. and learned Friend and neighbour makes an excellent point. There is so much that needs to be done in Devon and Cornwall.

Building on the point I was making about the availability of property, today Ilfracombe has just one private rental and over 300 holiday lets. Apparently there has been a 67% reduction in rented housing between 2019 and August 2021, making North Devon the worst affected area in the south-west and the fourth worst nationally. Despite an improvement in the management of the list, the council reports a 32% increase in applications, with local affordable housing providers advising that there has been an increase of four to five times in the number of applicants for each new affordable rental property. From the data available, our district council reports that we have lost 467 houses from the permanent occupied market to second homes and short-term holiday lets, at a time when the rate of new developments has dropped right off due to the pandemic.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to consider a bold policy intervention to tackle the impact of second home ownership? One such policy could be to allow councils to reserve a percentage of new builds for people with a local family or economic connection to an area.

I agree with my hon. Friend. In my constituency many of these homes are reserved for local people, and I will explain some of the further issues later in my speech. I know that the Secretary of State has conceded that we have not built enough affordable homes, and he is right.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate. In Cullompton in Mid Devon, we are putting up Zed Pods, which are very good modular homes that are zero carbon and equipped with triple glazing. They are also going on to garage sites and the like, and can be put up quite quickly. If we want to push to get more housing done, that is one way in which we could produce affordable, good-quality housing that is good for the environment and help reduce waiting list numbers.

That highlights another important point, which is that a large number of small district councils in Devon are all tackling the same issue and coming up with different solutions. In fairness, building rates in North Devon have been good historically. However, we are currently averaging only 18% affordables on each development. As the Affordable Housing Commission concluded in 2020, many of these products are

“clearly unaffordable to those on mid to lower incomes.”

With some of the lowest productivity figures in the country and an abundance of part-time and seasonal work, we clearly have a lot of residents in that category.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about affordability. Does she agree that it is important to ensure that our county council statistics on average earnings are reflective of what in-county people earn? All across Devon, average earnings per year do not relate to the people who want to be able to afford houses and who work in the same area.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is particularly the case in the south of our enormous county, where people can go out to other places, whereas we up in the north are very much—unless we work in London—in North Devon. Many new builds there are being snapped up as holiday lets or second homes. Many never even make it to market; they are purchased off plan before local residents see the light of day.

Building right down the Devon and Cornwall peninsula is difficult. We have higher land prices, particularly on the north coast, and fewer resources to build and materials to build with, making viability so challenging that the percentage of affordables drops right off. Many of the issues impacting on the housing market at present are particularly extreme on the coast, and we have an abundance of beautiful coast in Devon and Cornwall.

North Devon has an abundance of tiny communities looking to community land trusts, but products that should work well there repeatedly find that the high-unit grant rates required on often challenging sites with high abnormals still have a funding gap of £30,000 per unit, and that is despite the generous registered providers and grant rates from Homes England’s affordable homes programme.

I hope that I have detailed the magnitude and complexity of the problem. I have been walking this road for over 18 months and am grateful to the ministerial team for hearing from me quite so often on this topic. However, what I am struggling to convey is the urgency of the need for a solution.

With summer approaching, we are expecting and, indeed, seeing another surge in section 21 notices, as landlords find ways to evict tenants to enable them to convert these homes into holiday lets. With no registration scheme in place, there is no formal record of how many people are renting properties out on a short-term basis. We desperately need the consultation on the registration of short-term holiday lets to conclude, but it has not even started, despite having been announced last June. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport assures me that it is imminent, and even Airbnb is calling for one.

Having spent much time with housing providers, I know that they believe that the only solution is to devise another class of planning for short-term rentals, so that councils can differentiate between C3 housing and what would be, in essence, a commercial venture in short-term holiday lets. Local councils could then require licences to run that type of business in a property that was initially built for full-time residency, and limits could be placed in a community if there is deemed to be an imbalance.

We have always welcomed holidaymakers and second-home owners to our beautiful coast, but we have got out of balance, leaving the fabulous pubs, restaurants and hotels that people come to visit—and even our surf schools—unable to recruit enough staff. The situation has extended to our public services, with transferring personnel, however senior, struggling to find housing. With vast distances between so many communities, the increase in the cost of fuel and the absence of public transport, if there are not enough people living close to jobs that are paid a living wage, it is simply not worth travelling to get there in North Devon. We have already seen teaching assistants move out of jobs they love, simply so they can work closer to home. If there are no homes near someone’s job, it leads to jobs being returned, as people simply cannot move into the area.

I believe that we also need to go beyond just tackling business rates on short-term holiday lets; we need to tackle the inequalities between mortgage relief on long-term and short-term rentals, which are viewed as capital assets. Their profits are taxed differently, as returns on capital. Both types of property were built as homes, and they should be taxed comparably. Without a register of short-term holiday lets, I imagine that many are paying no tax at all, which is another opportunity for the Treasury. This is a step that could be taken rapidly to make the private rental sector more appealing to landlords, which is ultimately a step that we need to take quickly in order to begin to provide more housing in the south-west.

Other steps that could be taken rapidly include recognising that Devon has a large number of small planning authorities that all tackle the same challenges, with most having under-resourced planning departments, as detailed in previous recruitment challenges. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister commit to assist our planning departments to reverse building where appropriate, to stop building properties solely for holiday lets or second homes, and to have a clause that exempts people from living there full time? It is one thing for holiday parks, which are designed that way, but actual housing is being built with this restriction in place along the North Devon coast. Clearly that is needed on occasion, but as we have such a shortage of long-term housing, can we not focus on this, given that we are short of the other necessary resources—land, builders and materials?

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister also commit to work with the Treasury to look at taxation reforms and how to tackle the issue of empty properties? We have an abundance of them in North Devon, but it is simply not viable for the council to spend its time and resource on tackling this issue. If we could breathe life into empty buildings, we could take steps to regenerate additional housing, without building all over the beautiful fields of North Devon. I keep being told that the councils have it in their remit to convert space above empty shops into homes. Will someone please come to Barnstaple and make that happen? We have so many empty units with huge storage areas, rather than flats, above them, and tackling this issue could transform our town centre as well as provide vital accommodation.

Finally, please can steps be taken to tackle the issue of viability and barriers to councils being able to build developments with more than an 18% social housing component? I know that we English believe that our home is our castle, but far too many of the residents of North Devon worry about not having a home at all. That causes mental health issues, which are exacerbated further by having so many shortages in mental health services, as we cannot recruit to fill the vacancies.

We get really big storms in North Devon, and we are stuck in a really big housing storm right now. Without urgent intervention, we will have literal ghost towns and villages along our coast next winter, as locals have their homes and opportunities to live and work in their community ripped away from them by something like the Kansas twister. I hope that we can say goodbye to the yellow brick road and that some affordable housing wizardry will be expedited this afternoon.

The hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) has admirably outlined the problems that many of our constituencies face. Mine are slightly different from hers, but they carry a lot of similarities. If anything, house prices in Exeter are further inflated by the presence of a very successful university that has grown considerably in recent years due to the fact that the city is an attractive place to live. It is two hours from London on the train, and it is possible to cycle or walk to schools, so Exeter has all sorts of quality-of-life benefits.

My local authority has a very good record at doing what it can to ensure the good provision of local social housing and affordable housing to rent, but it really is working against Government policy all the time, and I have to give the Minister a number of practical proposals from my local authority that would make people’s lives much easier. For example, we are one of the few local authorities in the region that always insists on the maximum legal requirement for social housing in private developments in Exeter. That has made a huge difference, but it is like pushing a boulder up a hill repeatedly—not least given the impact of the covid pandemic. In recent weeks I have been knocking on doors for the local elections—as I am sure we all have—and have been completely dumbstruck by how many people have arrived in Exeter in the last year or so. They have moved out of London and the south-east for a better quality of life and cheaper housing, as far as they are concerned—they can now all work from home—and that is making the problem more acute.

There is a useful thing that the Government could do, according to my local authority. Through the right-to-buy scheme we are losing 40 council homes a year in Exeter. We are building 100 a year, but obviously we would provide a lot more local council houses if the local council was allowed to keep some of its receipts a bit longer. I know that the Government extended the number of years that local councils could keep those receipts to invest in local housing provision. However, because of the current shortage of construction workers and labour, and the difficulty in getting stuff built—I am experiencing that myself as I am currently renovating a house—it would be really helpful for local authorities if the Government had another look and considered extending to 10 years the period in which local authorities can reinvest that money. I do not see what the argument against that would be, as it would make the lives of local authorities a lot easier.

I know that this is a controversial suggestion, but given the seriousness of the situation outlined by the hon. Member for North Devon—this is a serious crisis—will the Government consider suspending the right-to-buy scheme for a limited period? That would protect our stock and enable local authorities to add to it in net terms. Even if private sector rental accommodation is available, in many cases the rents are simply out of the reach of many people, given the incomes they can command in the south-west.

The Minister could also change the way in which “affordable” is calculated. At present, the term “affordable” is applied to a calculation of 80% of the local market value. In Exeter, as in most places in the south-west, that 20% reduction of already hugely inflated prices makes absolutely no difference to the majority of potential homebuyers. The cost price is still way out of the reach of most local people. A resetting of the calculation of “affordable”, using, for example, a percentage of the value above building costs, could really make a difference. It would go a long way towards making “affordable” actually affordable in reality—for most people, that is currently not the case.

The hon. Member for North Devon has touched on the issue of second homes and Airbnbs. That is also really serious and has got much worse in the last year or so. It is unlikely to get better given the continuing demand from people across the UK for domestic holidays. We need an area-based cap, based on the local housing need. A cap on the percentage of housing used for short-term holiday lets needs to be put in place, even if it is a temporary measure for a couple of years in order to redress the imbalance of permanent versus temporary housing.

Planning regulations and houses in multiple occupation regulations need to be changed. Local authorities need greater powers—this is a massive issue in Exeter—so that they can determine the percentage of housing that is permitted for short-term HMO lets based on the housing need in their area. Local authorities need to have the ability to refuse planning permission for flipping family homes into HMOs once that cap is reached. That would make a significant difference in Exeter and, I am sure, in some of the constituencies my colleagues represent.

The final thing that my local authority said would really help to address this crisis in the short term is a two-year freeze on private sector rents, and a fair rent endorsement backed by Government incentives, such as a deposit underwriting scheme, so that local people can afford private sector housing. Many of them cannot at the moment. Those are just five or six practical suggestions that I hope the Minister will take away. I am sure that colleagues present will make other suggestions.

This is the most serious housing crisis I have experienced in my 25 years as a Member of Parliament. The combination of the cost of living crisis, inflation and the extraordinary inflation in house prices, which is more acute in beautiful regions such as the south-west, is creating an unprecedentedly difficult situation for families. I worry that we will see a big increase in homelessness in the months to come unless the Government do something about it very quickly.

I can only echo all that has been said so far about the challenging situation in Devon and Cornwall. This acute problem particularly affects Devon and Cornwall, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing an extremely timely debate.

The lack of good-quality, affordable housing for local people is not new, but it is not helped by significant population growth. In the past couple of years, Cornwall has had the highest net internal migration of any local authority area in England and Wales. I do not want to say this, but I know it is a fact as I do a lot of work on empty homes in my constituency: the problem is not helped by the fact that the Church of England, the Methodist Church, Cornwall Housing, an arm’s length company of Cornwall Council, and LiveWest, which we all know in Devon and Cornwall, have a lot of empty homes across Cornwall. The Methodist and Anglican Churches have empty homes in my constituency, and I am trying to get them used to address the significant need that hon. Members have set out clearly. Nor is it helped by the fact that long-let homes are being flipped to holiday lets at an alarming rate.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and to my housing debate in December, when I had more time to set out the difficulties and potential solutions. During the debate, I called—more ambitiously than has been done so far—for devolved powers to local authorities such as Cornwall Council through the levelling up and regeneration Bill. I believe I have the support of Cornish colleagues in suggesting that all new homes be restricted for permanent residents only in perpetuity, and for a licence requirement if someone wants to use a home that is lived in as a holiday let, a bolthole or for any other business purpose.

Since December, the Government have not done a great deal to resolve the problem, although I appreciate that legislation is to be announced in the Queen’s Speech, but they have sought to address the exemption of second homes from business rates and council tax. From next year, as a consequence of lots of work that many have done—I have raised the issue twice in the Chamber over the years, and the Government ran two consultations—people will have to prove to the local authority that they have rented their house for 70 days before they qualify for the exemption. I still think council tax should be paid on all homes built to live in. That would be very good for our police and our town and parish councils, which at the moment are losing that income.

If the Government decide not to take up my hon. Friend’s suggestion, they should extend that 70 days to 140 and make it more rigorous.

And stop the opportunities for fraud. At the end of the day, it is fraud for someone to say they have a business that they do not have. I would happily welcome that.

Today, I want to explain why the pressure on housing has intensified in recent months and years. Regrettably, that is in part an unintended consequence of Government policies. I want to pick on two of them. Government policy is effectively driving landlords out of the market. We hear landlords saying—I could use some French, but I am not going to—“We’re not going to do this anymore. We are going to flip our homes into holiday let or do something else with our property,” and they are partly supported by Government policy, such as changes to long-let allowable tax benefits. Since April 2020 —not that long ago—landlords have no longer been able to deduct any of their mortgage expenses from their rental income to reduce their tax bill. The new system means higher or additional-rate taxpayers can no longer claim tax back on their mortgage repayments. Less obviously, the new rules could force some landlords’ total income into the higher or additional-rate tax bracket, depending on their pension or other income. I do not particularly object to that if it is fair across the board, but at the moment it favours holiday lets and does not help private landlords.

I very much welcome what my hon. Friend is saying. We need to set up a rental system that encourages people to have private, long-let properties. We have made a mistake by targeting them too much, taking away the interest rate and the ability to claim that back against the property. We want private landlords who let good quality properties on long-term rentals, so the Government should reverse some of that policy and look at ways to encourage the private sector to put up good properties for long-term lets.

I completely welcome and agree with that intervention. I do not believe the Treasury deliberately intended to force private landlords out of the market, but that is certainly what is happening.

Energy performance certificates are a pet subject of mine and a debate on their own. Rental properties now require an E rating, which does not sound particularly ambitious until we try it on a property that was built in the 1800s. Since April 2020, landlords can no longer let or continue to let properties covered by the MEES regulations if they have an EPC rating below E, unless they have an exemption, which is not easy to get and costs over £3,000. The landlord has to spend money on the house before they even apply for the exemption. If they are planning to let a property with an EPC rating of F or G, they need to improve the rating to stay within the law. Again, every landlord has to get an EPC rating of E.

The Government’s plan to make rented homes greener is not in itself a bad thing, although we can have a wider debate about whether an EPC is the right tool to deliver the desired outcome. It is a computer system that invariably says no, without the ability to understand or appreciate the diverse nature of the built environment. I do not object to improving homes, making them warmer and their upkeep cheaper, with less of an impact on the environment, but my concern is that landlords seem to be subject to the EPC requirements in a way that holiday lets are not, and the situation is expected to get much worse because the Government have consulted on a compulsory energy performance certificate rating of C on new tenancies by December 2025—three years from now if they pursue it—and on all rented properties by December 2028. If we think the problem is bad today, it will be disastrous for somewhere such as Cornwall, where buildings were constructed in a very different era compared with today, and I would not even say that our buildings today are that modern. We will not get properties up to EPC rating C, so they will be lost to the rental market.

Those are examples of legislation that applies to long lets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) has clearly demonstrated. We are losing valuable homes that people enjoy—we have heard about tenants of 10 years—because the legislation that applies to private landlords does not necessarily apply to people who own holiday lets. I largely agree with the requirements, but I do not believe there is a level playing field. Irrespective of Government policy, we must avoid a situation where we drive private landlords out of the market. There are people who do not wish to own their own home, and there are lots of people who, because of how we manage the term “affordable”, find it difficult to get on the ladder.

I hope the Minister understands the severity of the problem for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It is urgent. I have many constituents in a desperate situation, and we need rapid and effective intervention that provides a secure home for life, whether it is owned or rented.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I offer massive congratulations to the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing a really important debate. I apologise to colleagues, but I am a Member of Parliament for a western county—[Laughter.]

More seriously, I think we need to hunt as a pack because the issues that affect Devon and Cornwall affect Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Cumbria, Shropshire and other places as well. The hon. Member for North Devon was right to say that we should be sparing in our use of the word “crisis”, but she was right to use it in this case, because there is no doubt that rural communities like ours are under huge pressure. They were before the pandemic, but the pandemic has turbocharged a problem that already existed.

I want to echo something that the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said earlier. The word “affordable” has become almost meaningless in how it is applied. In Devon, Cornwall or Cumbria, a house for sale at £200,000 is not affordable. The reality is that when average household incomes are in the £20,000s and average house prices are at least £250,000, that is a broken system and a broken market. I believe in a free market but I would intervene and referee to try to make it fairer. We are all trying to encourage the Government to take that seriously.

We represent desirable and beautiful places, with great, welcoming communities. We must get the tone spot-on, as we are not saying to people who visit or make their homes in our communities, or even have second homes in our communities, that they are not welcome. We are welcoming, British people—that is what we are. Our communities and economies thrive because of the tourism that underpins them, but we cannot ignore the fact that excessive second home ownership and holiday lets, excessive house prices in general, and a lack of availability of affordable homes for families who are either local or want to become local, are serious problems. We have a broken market, and we have to intervene to fix that.

The impact of excessive second home ownership is the death of communities. When a village or a town lacks the number of permanent residents needed to allow it to support a school, a pub, a post office or a bus route, its community becomes sad and dies as it no longer has any functional existence. No one wants to come on holiday to a dead community. We want to protect those communities so that they are alive and living.

I talked about the pandemic turbocharging an existing problem, but during the pandemic estate agents in my patch reported that anything between 50% and 80% of all house sales in the lakes were in the second home sector, showing a steady attrition of the already reducing permanent housing stock.

Holiday lets are vital and underpin any tourism economy, but if there are too many, where do they come from? In one year during the pandemic, there was a 32% rise in the number of holiday lets in my district council area. They are not being magicked from nowhere, but, as the hon. Member for North Devon rightly pointed out, arise from long-term lets where the landlord has ejected tenants using a section 21 eviction, and they then typically end up on Airbnb and similar places.

In my area, and I imagine Devon and Cornwall are very similar, we have high levels of employment and low levels of unemployment. Typically, we see couples, both of whom have jobs, with children at local schools, having to leave those jobs and take the children out of their schools in order to move to somewhere urban that is just about affordable, perhaps 50 miles away. That kills local communities, is tragic for the individuals and families concerned, and is a massive blow to the life of that community.

That point is worth bearing in mind when we look at new-build homes, wherever we live. There is a danger that we have got into the mindset that fewer planning regulations are better for creating more homes; that is not true. Planning authorities, whether they be national parks or local authorities, have to have the power to direct what kind of homes are built, in order to make them more likely to happen. In this country, we are constantly building to meet demand, but not building to meet need, which is what creates opposition to new development.

In most communities like mine, the people are the opposite of nimbys. They are desperate for new homes, but for homes that people need. Of course, a nice new-build four or five-bedroom property in Cornwall, Devon or Cumbria will sell and someone will buy it, but it is not what that community needs. We need planning laws that make sure that the homes that are built are green, sustainable, affordable and underpin the local community and economy.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise what the Secretary of State is trying to do through his BIDEN acronym, which means build beautifully, make sure there is infrastructure, hold developers to account, take into account the environment and make sure neighbourhood plans are fully weighted?

Yes. That is massively important, because if a community supports a development, it is more likely to happen. I regret that we do not enforce zero carbon homes and that we still permit the inflation of the value of land through the massively outdated and hugely damaging Land Compensation Act 1961, which inflates the price of houses. Those issues could be tackled by giving local authorities and communities more power, and if better, more beautiful and greener houses are built.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, with which I wholeheartedly agree. When a planning Bill is introduced, will he support the measures set out in the Planning (Enforcement) Bill, the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) a few months ago? Those measures were specifically designed to ensure that plans presented to a community or a local council are not altered when the site is developed, driving down the affordability, greenness or environmentally friendly nature of the original proposal.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and risks my going off on one about viability assessments and so on, and the fact that when conditions are made, they should be applied. We need the Government to back national parks and local authorities, who impose conditions, get through the planning game and put affordability in there, and then developers say, “We have found some rocks in the field. It will cost too much money to do that now.” We need to ensure that communities get what they were promised and not otherwise. He makes an excellent point.

I will be quick in my final remarks. The impact on communities is huge and the impact on the economy is massive. We had a vote the other night on the amendment on health and social care workforces. In communities such as ours, as has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members, we have a serious problem. On the whole, these are older communities. My community is about 10 years above the national average age. That means smaller working-age populations. If those people are squeezed out even further, there is no one to run the health service. People will take jobs in the local hospital or care home, check the housing market and then give back word. That happens all the time, as has already been mentioned.

Cumbria Tourism carried out a survey of members a few months ago and discovered that last year 63% of Lake District hospitality businesses worked below capacity, despite demand being there. Why was that? Because they did not have the staff to meet that demand. That is in part due to the issues that we have raised today. What can we do? Change planning law to make first homes, second homes and holiday lets separate categories of planning use, so that planning authorities and councils can enforce affordability and availability, and ensure there is a limit on the number of second homes and holiday lets in a community. We could allow, as the Welsh Senedd has decided, local authorities to increase council tax above 100% on second homes. Councils would have the choice to do that; they would not have to. As the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned, quite rightly, we should ensure that council tax is paid on every property that is built as a residence.

The simple fact is that a wealthy person, with a second home on the Lizard peninsula or in the Lake District, is subsidised by somebody on the breadline and going to the food bank in the same community because they have let their second home for 70 days a year. That means they pay no council tax and, as a small business, pay no business rate. That is an outrage from the Exchequer’s point of view. It is also morally outrageous, that people barely getting by are subsidising wealthy people who can afford two, three, four or more homes.

We also need to ensure that section 21 evictions are abolished, as the Government promised in their manifesto. We need to decide the point at which a second home has become a holiday let, and raise the bar from 70 nights to more than 100 nights. It could be made consistent with the HMRC requirement of 105 nights a year to qualify as a holiday let.

My final point is this. I agree with pretty much everything everyone has said in the debate so far. We have been raising the matter for years. I remember raising it with the junior planning Minister a few years ago, a gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am concerned that we make these points, which are obviously an issue, showing the need to tackle the lack of affordable housing in rural communities, yet the Government still refuse to take the action needed to deliver for those communities.

I hope that in a spirit of solidarity and hunting as a pack, we might persuade the Minister to listen and take the action that rural communities need.

Thank you, Mr Hosie, for chairing the debate. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate and making her case so forcefully. It is about time that Government realised that one of the solutions to our energy problems in this country is to plug my hon. Friend into the national grid. Her energy could power many homes over the coming months.

I would like to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a non-executive director of Rentplus-UK Ltd, a company started in Plymouth that provides affordable rent-to-buy homes for local people, especially key workers.

The housing market is complex and challenging. Throughout my 30 years at Westminster, there has never been enough affordable housing to rent or buy to meet demand, and there probably never will be, especially in hotspots such as Devon and Cornwall. Because the area is such a delightful destination, as we have heard, many people seek to retire to our region, pushing prices high, often out of reach of local people. The recent spasm of people selling their homes in cities and moving to the countryside in the pandemic years has exacerbated the problem.

That has resulted in many local people being unable to save the necessary deposit and fulfil their aspiration of home ownership, as recognised in paragraph 43 of the recent House of Lords report, “Meeting housing demand”:

“Given that average deposits are £59,000, ‘saving for a deposit is impossible for many renters on lower incomes’, especially as research before the COVID-19 pandemic showed that 45% of private renters in England did not have enough savings to pay their rent for more than a month if they lost their job…Although it may be the case that preferences have shifted towards renting in the short term as a lifestyle choice, the main constraint on achieving home ownership remains an inability to save the required deposit, a goal that becomes increasingly out-of-reach if house prices rise faster than savings.”

That is exactly what we are seeing. The deposit barrier problem remains a significant challenge in the south-west.

I have maintained an interest in social rented housing ever since I was housing chairman on Plymouth City Council in the late 1980s. As I said, there has never been enough of it—not when councils were the main providers, not under 13 years even of a Labour Government, and not under the last 25 years or so when housing associations have been the main providers.

During those years, there was always a buoyant private sector rented market for those who could not afford to buy and could not access social rented housing. That is an insecure way to live—I would hate to live like that—because renters are at the whim of a landlord who might decide to sell the property and or for whatever reason evict them on just a few months’ notice. But at least there was plenty of it in our region. Many people had a second property that they let out as an additional or retirement income. It was a buoyant market until two years ago.

The impact of covid-inflated prices and the rise and rise of Airbnb have meant that in our region, landlords have been quitting the private rented sector in droves, either selling their property to catch the rising tide or turning their properties over to Airbnb where they can make three or four times the return. That has decimated the market, meaning that many key workers—as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, who led the debate so well—simply cannot find accommodation near their jobs or at all. This unprecedented shift in market conditions is putting enormous pressure on families desperate for a home in our region.

Naturally, the market has responded to scarcity as it always does: by rising prices. A two-bedroom property in Plympton in my constituency, which two years ago would have been £650 to £700 a month is now £850 to £900. When added to spiralling energy costs and council tax always creeping up, many are simply priced out of the market. The housing allowance of £550 has not kept pace.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the housing allowance. The average price in Cornwall of three-bedroom rental is £1,400 a month; does he agree that that is completely out of reach for most working families on an average Cornish income?

I do agree. People used the word “crisis” earlier—none of us likes to use it, but this is a crisis. Many constituents are struggling to find a suitable home.

I want to add some questions to the others posed to the Minister. Let us be honest: we know this Minister has the intellect and stamina to grapple with these complex problems. What is the Government going to do about this current gross distortion of the private rented market in regions such as Devon and Cornwall to ensure our constituents can access reasonably priced housing? Is he having discussions with the Treasury about taxation policy on Airbnb? Is his Department looking at new regulations to ensure that Airbnb standards and safety are at least as high as in the general rented market, to ensure a level playing field? Why has the consultation on these issues taken so long? We are Conservatives and we believe in the market, but where it moves so dramatically and quickly against our constituents, we have to find effective ways to intervene.

On the wider long-term affordability problems, the Government appear to be placing their trust in two main pillars: First Homes and shared ownership, with very little between. I wonder whether the First Homes policy, with an in-built discount to be handed on in perpetuity, will survive the test of time. I must confess that I foresee tremendous problems when owners of their first house have to pass on the discount when they sell it. How will they then make the jump to their second house, which will be priced in the open market? I have never understood how that is going to happen, so I question that policy.

Then there is the continued focus on shared ownership, which few people like and where few people ever end up owning the whole property. It has not delivered the scale of accessible homes that was originally envisaged.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, who is making a brilliant speech on this point. I thought I would remind the House and this gathering of MPs that we have the highest rate of second homes and Airbnb properties in Devon, at 8.2%. My hon. Friend is making a point about how we can help people get on to the housing ladder. Could I add a third suggestion? We should enable people to use their pensions as their deposits to get on the housing ladder, which are then ring-fenced in the value of their house and, if they ever sell it on, can be put back into their pension for the future.

My hon. Friend is full of interesting ideas. That is another one, which I am sure the Minister will look at carefully and be sympathetic to.

There is a significant gap in the middle between the two main policy pillars that the Government are currently pursuing, and many of our constituents are falling into that gap. As such, here is a thought for the Minister, with which I will conclude. Will he give some thought to calling a conference or roundtable in the south-west this summer to discuss our challenging housing needs? We could hear from key workers and employers about the frustrations and costs of accessing housing in our hotspot area, from housing providers and landlords about the current landscape, their frustrations, and the things that work and do not work, and from innovative providers of housing how, working together with Government, they might help meet the needs and aspirations of our constituents. Such a collective brainstorm could help find both short-term and long-term solutions to our housing crisis.

The housing market in Devon and Cornwall, whether to rent or to buy, has always been challenging for local people, but in my 30 years, it has never been as bad as it currently is. It is a crisis, and urgent remedial action is required.

I thank the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter)—my constituency neighbour—for those remarks. There is cross-party agreement on this issue that I have not seen from Devon and Cornwall for quite some time, and I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for her introduction, in which she summed up the problem very well. I am on the opposite side of Devon to her, but the challenges on the south coast are similar. They are all part of the same pattern.

This problem is a frustration for many of us in the west country, because it has been growing for years and years. I like this Minister—I think he is a good Minister—but I also know that Housing Ministers are ticking time bombs who will get replaced at the next inevitable reshuffle. We need to make sure that an impact is made early—not long consultations, not long discussion documents, but action delivered in the near term. That is what I hope the Minister will be able to achieve.

My starting point for this debate is a simple one: every family in the south-west should be able to afford a first home, be it to rent or to buy. However, we are fast becoming a region of second homes, Airbnbs and holiday lets. Our communities are being hollowed out, and that is proceeding at pace. The pandemic is turbocharging the housing crisis in the south-west, but the measures to react to it are not coming at the same pace, so we need to look at this issue again.

Far too many people are on housing waiting lists—nearly 10,000 in Plymouth. Those people are living in overcrowded accommodation, living in bed and breakfasts—not the Airbnbs we have spoken about, but accommodation that is not suitable for long-term occupancy. We need to do something about it that will mean everyone can have a first home.

Plymouth operates the Housing First model. I commend the council, be it red or blue, for adopting an approach that says the first thing we should do for any person who is in crisis or having difficulties is provide a safe and secure roof over their head. I wish all councils would follow suit, but it is a good approach. However, we are running out of roofs to put over people’s heads. We need to make sure that we are building at the right pace and making sure those homes are genuinely affordable. I agree with the remark about 80% affordable not being affordable—that is a simple spin to try to persuade the public that enough action is being taken, when it is not. Eighty per cent. affordable is not affordable, and we must not fall for that. Nor should we believe that the dream of home ownership is available for everyone—that is spin from decades ago. Home ownership is out of reach for the vast majority of young people in the south-west. It is something that is accentuating the brain drain in our region, at the very point when we have an opportunity to seize the potential of the south-west to have more people living there.

The average house price for a first-time buyer in Devon is £258,000, and people need a 10% deposit to get a mortgage. That is £25,000, which is too much for many people on low incomes in the west country, and we need to ensure that there are alternative routes. With more families struggling to pay bills, it makes saving up for a house deposit, be it for the private rented sector or for purchase, so much harder. We have seen a massive surge in houses being purchased to become second homes, which is contributing to the hollowing out of our communities. At the same time, we have also seen people renting a property on the private rented market and being removed under a section 21 no-fault eviction, with the property appearing on Airbnb on the same day as the eviction. It is a good way for landlords to make a lot of money, but it is a bad way to have a sustainable community, and the cost of the family now in crisis falls on the taxpayer. It is completely unsustainable.

The private rented sector in large parts of the south-west has collapsed, and we are experiencing market failure. There is a need for urgent intervention, which we have not seen in the past decade.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, and I totally agree with his point, but what we need to do—exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) said—is look at having covenants on properties that say “primary residence only”. That must be on new builds, but it can also be on buildings that are bought into housing associations or on houses that are sold on the market. We must look at how we can adopt that strategy.

I think there is a good route for covenants. As someone whose little sisters work in farming, I know that the agricultural ties on some properties are a really important way to ensure that some people are able to afford to live in a rural area and work in agriculture. However, we know that those agricultural ties are too often being severed from properties, which are then turned into holiday lets or empty homes.

I agree with the suggestion made by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Devon, about an urgent housing conference in the south-west. There is a special need for it, because the south-west is experiencing this problem ahead of many other regions, notwithstanding the constituency of our Lib Dem friend from Cumbria, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). We are hitting this problem first, because we have the highest number of second homes and Airbnb penetrations, but it will come to every other region of England and the rest of the country. Instead of receiving bright ideas from London, let the bright ideas come from the communities that are being affected the most. I think that is an excellent suggestion, which I am sure will enjoy full cross-party support to ensure it works, but there are other opportunities in this space.

As I have badgered the Minister and shadow Minister, they will know that the proposals for a First Homes not Second Homes campaign that I have worked up with colleagues from Cornwall and across Devon put the policy emphasis on ensuring that everyone can afford a first home. We need to have a principled moral stance on home occupancy, and I hope the Minister will look carefully at Devon and Cornwall’s devolution proposals on what additional powers over second homes and Airbnbs could be included in our devolution deal to ensure that we are better able to take that on board.

The personal stories are harrowing. Ellen from Plymouth told me that she and her seven-month-old daughter have had to flee domestic violence and be placed in a hotel, but there is building work outside from 8 am to 8 pm. It is simply unaffordable for her to move into the private rented sector, and there is no social housing available in her band. Colleagues from Cornwall have also shared stories of working people who are unable to afford the rent increases this year and who are now facing homelessness or the need to move out of our region.

There is one case that I have been working on for many years, which is about the lack of not just affordable housing but accessible housing for those with disabilities. The problem is especially acute in a city such as Plymouth, where our housing stock is already compressed. It might be possible to accommodate a person with a disability in a one-bedroom flat—we have a few of those—but if they have a family, as many of them do, they are not able to access accommodation, because it simply does not exist. There is no vehicle for their accommodation to be built and funded, so they sit in no man’s land in perpetuity, which is simply unacceptable.

I agree with nearly all the suggestions that have been made so far. The First Homes not Second Homes campaign has been picking up some of the suggestions that are not always in the public domain. I would like the Minister to consider allowing local councils to quadruple council tax not just on empty properties, but on second homes. The Welsh Labour Government introducing that 300% council tax on second homes is, I think, an interesting pioneer project here. I would encourage the Minister to look at it, notwithstanding the difference between party colours, because we must get this right.

Our communities are being hollowed out by second homes. That means looking at how they are getting hollowed out. I would like the Minister to look at the enforcement of covenants on right-to-buy properties. Councillors Jayne Kirkham and Kate Ewert, two Labour councillors in Cornwall, have been pressing Cornwall County Council to ensure that covenants on right-to-buy properties, which exclude those properties from being used as holiday lets, must be enforced, because far too many of them are being used as such. That, I think, is an opportunity for us to reconsider, and I commend the work that they have been doing.

The First Homes not Second Homes manifesto also deals with the fact that our communities have been hollowed out to the last shop in the village. It is about the bus routes going because there is not enough daily traffic and about the shop not being able to make enough money all year round, even though they might do well in the summer months. There is a real opportunity for that.

My final point is that we must build more homes, but must also retrofit the homes we have. Far too many of our homes—especially in places such as Plymouth—are frankly too poor in quality. Some 43% of the people I represent live in the private rented sector. There are some brilliant landlords in Plymouth but, sadly, a number have let their houses deteriorate, so we must ensure that there is an incentive to properly insulate and secure properties. That will lower the bills, which might make the end product more affordable.

However, we are in a state of housing crisis here. Our market is failing. That is why I look to the Minister for urgent action that can be delivered this year—not some time ahead. I commend the suggestions that have been made on a cross-party basis here today.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this debate, on the thoughtful way in which she opened it, and on her tenacity in returning to this issue time and again. I know that she has been highlighting it since she was elected. I also thank all Members who have participated this afternoon. We have had a series of excellent contributions, as well as a range of practical suggestions and questions, which I hope the Minister will respond to.

As many of the hon. Members present will be aware, having taken part in them, this is not the first debate this year to grapple with the issues of access and affordability relating to housing in rural and coastal communities. Indeed, there have been several Westminster Hall debates over recent months in which Members from across the House have raised serious concerns, particularly about the impact of second homes and short-term and holiday lets on the availability and affordability of homes for local people to buy and rent. That, in itself, speaks to the importance of this matter to a great many people across the country, as well as the pressing need for more to be done to address the problem so that we get the balance right between the benefits that second homes and short-term lets undoubtedly bring to local economies and their impact on local people.

It is clear from the strength of feeling expressed in this debate, and in those other recent debates, that there remains a clear view among a sizeable number of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, that as things stand the Government have not done enough, and have not got that balance right. That lack of action on the part of the Government has real consequences. I do not think it is hyperbole to use the word “crisis”, as many hon. Members have done. I think that this is a crisis, particularly as it applies to Devon and Cornwall—but also to other parts of England, as we have heard.

What does that crisis look like? As we have heard, as well as entailing the loss of a significant proportion of the permanent population—and the impact that loss has on local services, amenities and the sustainability and cohesion of communities—excessive and growing rates of second home ownership are, in a great many rural and coastal areas, directly impacting the affordability, and therefore the availability, of local homes, particularly for local first-time buyers. The staggering growth in short-term and holiday lets in many rural and coastal constituencies is having the same detrimental impact, albeit on not only the number of affordable homes for local people to buy, but access to private rentals—as we heard—for those who cannot buy and also cannot secure social housing.

Incidentally, when it comes to the shrinking private rental markets in many rural and coastal communities, the issue is not only of access but of security. Many renters in these parts of the country—particularly key workers—are finding that their landlord wishes to begin using their property exclusively as a short-term or holiday let, and they are evicted as a result. That is yet another reason for the Government—who I must say have failed to bring forward a renters’ reform Bill in this Session, despite promising to do so in the Queen’s Speech—to get on with it and finally introduce the legislation necessary to ban no-fault evictions, rather than delaying matters for another year or year and a half with a White Paper.

What, then, needs to happen to ensure that we make available more affordable housing in Devon, Cornwall and other rural and coastal communities across the country? First, as I have said on previous occasions, there is clearly more that could be done to mitigate the negative impact of excessive numbers of second homes and holiday lets.

When it comes to non-planning levers—primarily taxation—we accept that the Government have taken action over recent years by reforming stamp duty, allowing local authorities to increase council tax to 100% for second homes, and proposing that properties be required to have been let for 70 days in any given financial year to be liable for business rates, rather than council tax. However, there is a strong case for going further. We believe the Government should explore providing local authorities with powers to, for example, introduce licensing regimes for second homes and short-term lets, and giving them even greater discretion over their council tax regimes, perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) just mentioned, allowing local authorities, as Labour has done in government in Wales, to levy a premium or surcharge on second homes and long-term empty properties if they believe that is what is required in their locality.

I believe there remains a strong case for reviewing whether the current 3% rate of stamp duty surcharge on second homes and the 5% rate levied on non-UK buyers are set at the appropriate level in light of the boom that we have witnessed over the course of the pandemic. When it comes to planning levers, the system does now enable residents to put in place local neighbourhood plans that can go some way to managing second-home ownership rates, but again it is clear that further measures are required. We believe that the Government should explore further changes to planning restrictions and enforcement that might enable local authorities to bear down on excessive numbers of second homes and holiday lets in a way that, if designed well, would not exacerbate the problems of affordability and availability that have been touched on in today’s debate.

Secondly, as well as doing more to mitigate the negative impact of, in particular, second homes and holiday lets, Ministers really do need to start grappling with what reforms are required to deliver the right quantity of new housing in the right places, at prices that local people can actually afford. They need to do so because at present the Government are failing to deliver on this front, both in terms of sufficient numbers of new affordable homes to rent—where Ministers are presiding over a system that sees a net loss of thousands of genuinely affordable social rented homes each and every year—and new affordable homes to buy.

The hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) mentioned shared ownership and the first homes scheme. I could spend a long time speaking about the deficiencies of shared ownership as an intermediate model. I gently suggest to the Minister that, like its starter homes forerunner, the Government’s flagship first homes scheme, as a policy, looks to all intents and purposes like it is already an abject failure. Not only is it leading to a significant reduction in the number of social and affordable homes to rent by top-slicing funding secured through section 106 agreements, but since it was first introduced, rising house prices, coupled with a rising new build premium, have already eroded the value of the first homes discount, by my calculations, in almost three quarters of local authority areas.

The simple fact is that the policy does not address the underlying reasons why young people and key workers cannot get on to the housing ladder, particularly in areas with overheated housing markets, such as Devon and Cornwall. Labour is committed to giving first-time buyers first dibs on new homes in their local area, and to establishing a new definition of affordable, set at a rate of 30% of local incomes, rather than the present definition, which is linked to those overheated market rates that we have discussed.

I conclude by saying that this has been a worthwhile debate, and I have no doubt that we will return to this subject once again in the next Session unless the Government decide to heed the demands of hon. Members, including many on their own side, and act quickly on this issue. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister, both that the Government are minded to do so and precisely what that action will entail.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for championing this cause and bringing this debate before us today. I had literally been in the job for about four and a half minutes when she came hurtling up towards me and said, “I have two words for you.” Those two words were more polite than other words that people gave me—“Second homes,” she said. She has been relentless, as hon. Members have said, in ensuring that, in my head, this is high on the list of issues that need to be dealt with. Hon. Members across the south-west, in other parts of the country and across party have been presenting the real issues that their communities face. They are all incredibly important challenges in the housing sector. I thank my hon. Friend for being a torch bearer for the concerns of her constituents, in particular Carol, Rachel, Kathryn and Stephanie, whose responses she highlighted.

I will start my response with a statement of the obvious: people in communities up and down the country deserve access to good-quality and affordable housing. However, that is not the reality that many people in this country live with. To deliver on that ambition, we should keep a laser-like focus on the need to level up the country by increasing the supply of affordable homes in all regions. We as a Government are acutely aware of the unique set of circumstances that exists in our coastal communities around supply, second homes and the looming effects of climate change.

I believe that we are all in agreement that we need more affordable homes and that successive Governments —of all colours, frankly—have fallen short of that goal. We have made it a fundamental part of our levelling-up agenda so that we can start to rectify that, recognising that it is in our national interest for every community in the country to have a strong supply of high-quality, sustainable housing. Where people live should not limit their access to that supply.

We are making progress. Since 2010, we have delivered more than 574,000 new affordable homes across the country. In the south-west alone, we have delivered more than 63,000 of them. Ultimately, however, we know that we need to build more because, for a variety of reasons, supply has simply not kept up with demand in recent decades.

That acknowledgment underpins the affordable homes programme, which comprises £11 billion-worth of investment designed to tackle the twin issues of affordability and supply. It is the largest investment in a decade, and I am hopeful that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon is aware that the south-west receives one of the largest allocations from it, with £1 billion earmarked for the delivery of 17,500 new affordable homes across the region.

The programme fits with our determination to turn generation rent into a generation of homeowners. Through the programme, we have said that approximately half of the homes constructed will be for affordable home ownership, supporting aspiring homeowners to take the first step on the housing ladder. The programme will also deliver more than double the number of social rent homes than the current programme, with about 132,000 homes for social rent. I accept that that is an incredibly important element of what we have to do. I am keen, as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, that we also explore how we help councils start to build council housing again. The points he made are interesting ones, which I will take away and am happy to respond to in writing, if he is in agreement.

Our aim is to support thousands of hard-working people with funding to help them experience the unique sense of pride that comes with owning their own home. In turn, that will help us to level up parts of the country, such as the south-west, by creating new jobs for homebuilders, small and medium-sized enterprise developers, electricians and plumbers alike. The programme recognises the scale of the challenge in front of us, with major investments to tackle affordability, to re-energise the housing sector and, most importantly, to build back better from the pandemic.

As a Government we also recognise the need to address the impact that the large numbers of second homes and short-term holiday lets has, not just on the local housing market, but on the communities themselves, which all hon. Members have mentioned today. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon illuminated powerfully in her speech, that is particularly true in our rural and coastal communities, including her constituency.

I want to be clear: this Government wholeheartedly support responsible short-term letting. We absolutely recognise the economic benefits that that can have in our favourite holiday hotspots, but the benefits should not be to the detriment of local communities. Landlords who let out accommodation on a short-term basis must do so responsibly and in accordance with the law. We are taking action to address the fact that there is such a high concentration of second homes in these regions. I am of the view that it is only fair that owners of second homes pay their fair share towards the local services that they benefit from. It is important to re-emphasise the point about the introduction of stamp duty land tax for those purchasing additional properties, and tightening tax rules for second home owners. Large numbers of second homes should not block the path to home ownership for local people and the measures we have introduced will help mitigate their impact.

As I said at the start, I am aware of the seriousness of the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) suggested that I hold a roundtable in his region. He will be pleased to know that I have already suggested that to officials in my Department—I look forward to making those arrangements as soon as possible. I want to hear the suggestions that local partners may have. I want to fully understand the impact that the situation is having on local communities from those who are actually there. I now expect that there will be a million invitations for me to visit each constituency while I am there; I would very much look forward to that.

I want to move on to the planning issues mentioned by some hon. Members. Central to tackling the issues that have been raised is the need to deliver the right homes in the right places. Existing planning tools are already helping. Local plans such as those in the Yorkshire dales can protect a share of housing for local residents. Some communities, particularly in the south-west, have chosen to include policies in their neighbourhood plans to require new open-market housing to be occupied as a principal residence. In addition, section 106 agreements can apply a local connection test to protect a share of new housing for local people. Our first homes scheme enables local authorities to prioritise discounted homes for local people through section 106, with discounts at a minimum of 30%.

We have also made changes to the planning system to meet some of the numerous challenges that hon. Members have rightly drawn attention to. In August 2021, we introduced a new permitted development right that allows buildings in the new commercial, business and service use class to change to residential use. I was interested to hear of the challenges that are being faced; while I am not promising to bring my trowel and bucket, perhaps on my visit to the south-west I can see some of the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon alluded to. The new right means that a wider range of commercial buildings can make the change to residential use without the need for planning applications; for example, it can apply to the spaces above shops. We have also introduced new permitted development rights to allow two additional storeys to be added to existing buildings such as houses, flats and commercial buildings, to create new homes. Those rights will continue to deliver new homes that might not otherwise come forward through the planning system.

We recognise that there are currently capacity challenges, and we want to ensure that local authority planning departments are equipped and have the right skills to make creative decisions, enabling us to take forward ambitious proposals for levelling up. We are engaging with representatives from across local government, the private sector and professional bodies, to consider ways in which we can ensure that local authorities are equipped to deliver places that people can be proud of and have the skills needed to deliver an efficient planning service.

I want to mention levelling up. I think about levelling up as the tool that exists to prevent the Kansas-style twisters that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon described. I will not go as far as to say that levelling up is a miracle on the scale of “The Wizard of Oz”—and I cannot promise her that I have my ruby slippers on—but I appreciate the reference. Levelling up is a blueprint that has the potential to transform the fortunes of towns and cities all over the country. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon was right when she drew attention to regional disparities running through this country like faultlines. Those issues transcend every part of society; they are issues of lack of opportunity, lack of good quality jobs, and of life prospects being diminished by areas’ being overlooked and undervalued.

Across the country, places with proud histories such as North Devon have seen generation after generation leave the area with the promise of a better, brighter future that simply did not feel possible or affordable in the area in which they were living. We need only to look at some of the high streets in communities across the country to see that such places have been taken for granted for too long. Even places such as Devon and Cornwall—which draw millions of tourists and have rich cultural heritages—have, at times, been like a jet plane being powered by only one of its engines. We know it is not enough to simply identify the problem and say we are going to fix it. We need to walk the walk, and our levelling-up blueprint sets out exactly how we are going to do that.

Hon. and right hon. Members have raised a number of points today and I am looking at all those issues. I have heard loud and clear—literally—about such issues from colleagues not just in the south-west, but in the Lake district, Norfolk and other tourist hotspots. I appreciate the way that colleagues have conducted the debate today; it has been useful and interesting to hear all their suggestions. I will take them away and consider them very carefully so that we can try to address the problems that colleagues have raised with me beforehand, have spoken about today and, I am sure, will be causing them to keep knocking at my door in the days and weeks to come.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I am delighted to have welcomed colleagues to speak this afternoon and I thank them all for coming. I thank the Minister for his response; the roundtable will of course welcome him to North Devon as the first bid for that trip—[Interruption.] I had already texted.

This afternoon, I really would like to stress the urgency of this issue. We have been talking about it for a very long time, and although we recognise that the Minister is relatively new to his post, we have been here before and we need something to happen this summer. I hope that he will be able to nudge his colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to deliver the other bits of the jigsaw puzzle.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the availability of affordable housing in Devon and Cornwall.

Sitting suspended.

International Thalassaemia Day

I will call Bambos Charalambous to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention in 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered International Thalassaemia Day 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.

International Thalassaemia Day is on 8 May, and this year’s message is “Be Aware. Share. Care.” The first part of the message is about raising awareness, so what is thalassaemia? Thalassaemias are inherited blood disorders that lower, alter or stop the production of haemoglobin in the blood. That leads to anaemia, which might be severe or life-threatening if not managed appropriately. There are several types of thalassaemia, depending on the severity of the mutation inherited. The most severe type is beta thalassaemia major, or transfusion-dependent thalassaemia, followed by beta thalassaemia intermedia and haemoglobin H disease.

Those living with transfusion-dependent thalassaemia receive blood transfusions every three weeks for life and daily iron chelation therapy. All patients develop secondary conditions and complications due to thalassaemia and iron overload. Sadly, they develop conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, osteoporosis and liver failure. Patients therefore have to spend a lot of time in hospital, whether it is for blood transfusions for thalassemia, or for the treatment and monitoring of secondary conditions.

Thalassaemia is not transmitted by transfusion, infection, environmental conditions or other factors, but is recessively inherited. It is more prevalent in individuals with Caribbean, South American, African, Mediterranean, south Asian, south-east Asian and middle eastern ancestry. Due to migration over centuries, it is found throughout the world, and it is estimated that there are 100 million people worldwide with a thalassaemia trait who are asymptomatic.

The prevalence of thalassaemia varies across different regions in the UK. Data published in 2020 by the National Haemoglobinopathy Registry—the NHR—indicates that there were more than 900 people living with beta thalassaemia major in the UK, 238 living with beta thalassaemia intermedia, 280 with beta thalassaemia/Hb E disease, and 300 with haemoglobin H disease.

The majority of patients with thalassaemia in the UK come from a British Pakistani or British Asian community. Each year, around 20 to 30 couples in the UK are identified as being at high risk of having a baby with a form of thalassaemia. My constituency of Enfield, Southgate has the highest number of people with thalassaemia in the UK and is home to the UK Thalassaemia Society, which campaigns for greater awareness and better health outcomes for people with thalassaemia. It has also given me advice and shared its findings for this debate.

The second part of the message for International Thalassaemia Day is about sharing—sharing essential information and knowledge to support the best health and social care outcomes for people with thalassaemia. The Department of Health and Social Care published its UK rare diseases framework last year, which acknowledged a number of challenges and set out the Government’s four priorities, which include increasing awareness of rare diseases among healthcare professionals, better co-ordination of care, and improving access to specialist care treatments and drugs, all of which I and the thalassaemia community very much support.

I want to focus on the last point about improving access to specialist care treatments and drugs. Thalassaemia is a rare disease and there are very few treatments for the condition. Some gene therapies have been developed, but have often not been able to progress beyond the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s criteria because either the formula for quality-adjusted life years is loaded against people with rare diseases or there is a smaller sample of people upon whom the gene therapy trials have been conducted. That is primarily because people with rare diseases are often few in number, and that limits who the therapy can be trialled on.

I note that NICE has done its methods and processes review, but I ask the Minister to ensure that the highly specialised technology and standard technology appraisal pathways are both fit for purpose for people with rare diseases, and that the uncertainty of cost effectiveness due to small population sizes is a serious consideration for NICE in assessing the appraisal of new gene-therapy technologies. Gene therapy and other technologies for people with rare diseases are literally a matter of life and death, and much more work needs to be done by the Government to ensure that people with rare diseases are not disadvantaged by the bureaucratic processes that fail to take into account the unique nature and impact of rare diseases on those who have to live with them.

The final part of the message is about care. This is about the experience of people with thalassaemia when receiving healthcare. I have met a number of people with thalassaemia who have shared their experiences with me. They require regular blood transfusions, and they told me about their pain and suffering following transfusions and how debilitating that can be. I have also read testimonies of people with thalassaemia who have experienced differing levels of treatment by health professionals. Because the condition tends to be extremely specific to a particular ethnic group in the UK and there are very small numbers of patients, the UKTS has found a huge disparity in services throughout the country with regard to the accessibility of thalassaemia care.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the speech he is making. On care, I do not know if he has had a chance to read the report from the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group entitled, “No One’s Listening”. Sickle cell is not exactly the same thing as thalassaemia. There are differences, but there are similarities too in people’s experiences. Does he share my hope that that report will serve as a turning point to win a resolve for better treatment and greater understanding of these conditions, all the way from the Department of Health and Social Care through to the decision makers in the NHS?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am aware of the report and have read it. He is absolutely right that much more needs to be done to ensure that people with thalassaemia, sickle cell and other rare diseases get the treatment they need. It is also about better training for health professionals to identify the symptoms of thalassaemia, sickle cell and other such conditions, so that people with thalassaemia are not disadvantaged when they come into contact with health professionals for the first time.

According to the UK Thalassaemia Society, the experience of their members is that the UK’s thalassaemia services are under-resourced, underdeveloped and understaffed, even compared with the treatment received by those with other blood disorders. Part of the work that the UK Thalassaemia Society has been involved in over several years is to review sickle cell and thalassaemia units throughout the country and all aspects that make up the patient pathway, from emergency care to in-patient and out-patient services. There appears to be evidence of health inequalities between the treatment of patients with thalassaemia and patients with other conditions.

As we know, thalassaemia particularly impacts specific ethnic groups, such as the British Asian population in the UK, and patients have reported to the UK Thalassaemia Society that they often feel that their ethnicity is linked to below standard treatment, and they have on occasion reported distressing instances of overt racism in connection with their treatment. That has sometimes severely impacted patients’ mental health, with patients describing feeling defeated and, in the worst instances, not wanting to live any more.

The UKTS has found that patients and families in some cases are afraid to talk to the managers and nurses involved about the instances described as they are fearful that they will receive worse treatment and be stereotyped further. As a result, they have chosen to suffer in silence. That is obviously extremely concerning, and I will happily share more information about that with the Minister outside the debate. I am sure that, like me, the Minister will find it entirely unacceptable that the ethnicity of patients in any way affects treatment or, in the worst cases, leads to deeply offensive racism.

It is worth noting that thalassaemia affects many ethnicities, though predominantly those of Asian heritage, and the average life span is considerably lower in the Asian population than in the Mediterranean population. That may be for a variety of reasons; however, there is certainly worry among members of the UK Thalassaemia Society that the racial disparity they encounter may have an impact on their health outcomes. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister took that concern on board and raised it with health professionals.

I hope this debate will help raise awareness of thalassaemia and the particular difficulties that patients face. I hope the Minister will tell us how she will work to improve equal access to care and equal health outcomes for this community. How does she believe we can tackle the explicit and implicit discriminatory attitudes that still exist in healthcare settings? I thank the UK Thalassaemia Society, Genetic Alliance UK and the Royal College of Pathologists for providing me with information for the debate. I hope the Minister will take my points into consideration and re-evaluate the Government’s position on thalassaemia and rare diseases, to see what more can be done to improve health outcomes for people with thalassaemia and to raise awareness of the condition among health professionals and the wider public.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.

I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for securing today’s debate so efficiently ahead of International Thalassaemia Day on 8 May—we may well be prorogued by then, so it is a timely debate. Let me take the opportunity to thank him for all his work to champion the community as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for thalassaemia. I understand that the UK Thalassaemia Society is based in his constituency, and I am sure it is thankful for all his help and support.

Like sickle cell—I note the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) is here—thalassaemia is a blood disorder that affects ethnic minority communities in the UK. It is right that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate raises the inequalities and inconsistencies around services that people with thalassaemia face. We are determined to address some of the long-standing issues in many areas.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

To go back to where we were, the Government are determined to address long-standing health disparities, particularly for those with thalassaemia. The NHS Race and Health Observatory was established just over a year ago with a remit to tackle some of the issues that minority communities face, particularly in health inequalities. Last year, the Government launched the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, or OHID, which is doing huge amounts of work in these areas.

Health features quite heavily in the levelling-up White Paper. We want to reduce the gap in life expectancy between the areas with the highest and lowest, and by 2035 we want life expectancy to have risen by five years. Tackling the issues raised is key to that, particularly for the groups most at risk. I am mindful that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East raised the “No One’s Listening” report, which features issues that those with thalassaemia face—the lack of understanding of the condition among healthcare staff and the treatment that patients need to receive. Those receiving blood transfusions might look well compared with a typical patient receiving a blood transfusion, but a three-weekly blood transfusion for life is very difficult even if things go smoothly. I want to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are trying to improve the experience of those with thalassaemia in a number of areas.

In 2019, NHS England concluded the review of haemoglobinopathy services, which resulted in the development of the new model that we now have, based on haemoglobinopathy co-ordinating centres and the national panel. That brings specialist services together to improve the experience of those using the services, and addresses health inequalities and improves outcomes for those with haemoglobinopathies, which includes thalassaemia patients.

To touch on thalassaemia in particular, four specific centres, alongside 10 sickle cell centres, have been commissioned to provide clinical expertise. We hope that even if patients cannot access those, the experience and good practice will ripple out across the country and improve the service and experience for patients and improve standards of care.

One of the main treatments for thalassaemia is, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate touched on, regular blood transfusions. We need people to donate blood, and I want to use this afternoon’s debate as an opportunity to encourage people to come forward not only to give blood but to think about stem-cell donation as well, which can be used as a treatment. Anyone interested can go on the Anthony Nolan website, which can register people and give them information about what is involved.

We also need to touch on the issue of training for healthcare staff. I am encouraged that the training curriculum for haematology set by the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board has now included sickle cell and thalassaemia as core competencies, so we can make sure that healthcare professionals are informed. Even though these are rare diseases, they affect a significant proportion of people, particularly in certain communities.

In addition, Health Education England now provides two relevant e-learning healthcare programmes on the NHS screening programme, including sickle cell and thalassaemia and the maternity support work programme. That is important because of the breakthroughs we are making in screening everyone for both sickle cell and thalassaemia. All women should now be screened during pregnancy for thalassaemia, along with partners’ screening, and an affected pregnancy could be identified at the 12-week gestation period. That helps not just to prepare parents for their child, but to make sure that services are in place as soon as the child is born.

Nearly all sickle cell affected children born in England and the majority of thalassaemia babies will be identified by the NHS sickle cell and thalassemia screening programme, which will make a difference to the outcome for people. It will help us to co-ordinate and develop services to make sure that there is a better experience for patients going forward.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of treatment. I am keen to look at that because although blood transfusions are a treatment for some, ideally gene therapy is potentially curative for the affected population. I know there are ongoing issues with NICE approval for a number of drugs, and I am happy to meet him to discuss that further after this debate. I am really keen that, where we can make significant drug developments, which are available in other countries and not necessarily here, we make progress and discuss with NICE the issues that might be preventing approval or slowing down progress at the moment.

I want to also touch on some of the research being done, because that is the key to improving treatment outcomes for patients to make sure that their life chances and their experience in the health service are improved. There are a number of research studies going on. I am hopeful that we can improve their outcomes and make sure that access to research is available for patients, too.

The disease is rare; as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate pointed out, there is only a small group of patients. We are making sure we take part in international studies and speak to bodies such as NICE to say that, although there will only ever be a small number of patients, that should not deter approval for drugs because of the difference they may make overall.

I very much take the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Following on from the recent debate on sickle cell patients, which raised very similar issues, I suggest that I meet both him and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East to see whether we can pin down some of those issues, particularly as the health disparities White Paper is coming forward shortly. It presents a good opportunity for the communities affected by both diseases to try to iron out some of those problems.

I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate for tabling today’s debate, as well as all the Members who are interested in this issue. We had a big turnout in the sickle cell debate a few weeks ago, where very similar points were made. I reassure colleagues that progress is being made, whether that is in screening, which will be a game-changer for patients; the gene therapy treatments that will come through online; or the general experience of patients being treated with dignity, respect and knowledge of their condition. I place on the record my thanks to all those working hard behind the scenes in specialist units to improve care for thalassaemia patients, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to see if we can make a difference for those patients.

Question put and agreed to.

Public Transport Authority for South Yorkshire

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of a public transport authority for South Yorkshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your tutelage today, Mr Hosie. In this debate, I am calling for the creation of Transport for South Yorkshire: a local government body responsible for co-ordinating South Yorkshire’s transport network and delivering a clear, unified regional strategy.

Since my election, I have heard loud and clear the repeated calls for change to the dismal transport network in our region, both from my constituents in Rother Valley and residents across South Yorkshire. So pressing is the issue that I raised the sorry state of our buses at my first ever attendance at Prime Minister’s questions. I set up the Rother Valley Transport Task Force to work with constituents on improving our local transport facilities and have heavily canvassed local opinion. I have held many meetings with local bus executives and organised residents’ meetings with the managing director of First Bus, so that my constituents can pose questions directly to the decision makers at the operators. My engagement with constituents has informed my views on what residents want and why Transport for South Yorkshire is so necessary.

For too long, we have endured terrible provision, which is fragmented between operators, with unreliable and infrequent services.

I am with the hon. Gentleman on the arguments he has mounted so far. However, does he recognise that we had the sort of cheap, reliable, popular and well-used service that he aspires to in South Yorkshire until a Conservative Government took it apart in the 1980s?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. Unfortunately, as I was born in the late 1980s, I cannot recall such a service. When I look to London and Manchester—even when I look to West Yorkshire—I see what can be done. I will get to that later on in my argument.

At the moment, we have limited and slow routes and expensive fares, which results in poor social and economic outcomes for South Yorkshire. Our residents are unable to access employment opportunities and key public services in health and education, as well as social gatherings. The lack of connectivity cuts off our towns and villages from each other and large regional cities, reducing our ability to pool world-class services in our population clusters. Most worrying of all, the most vulnerable in our communities are left isolated and denied access to a key lever for poverty alleviation: reliable and affordable transport.

It is clear that enough is enough. My campaign to create Transport for South Yorkshire is a core part of my transport plan, and will utilise the devolved transport powers that lie with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and the Mayor of South Yorkshire. Transport for South Yorkshire must be in charge of a bold and ambitious regional transport strategy for the decades ahead. It must place capital transport investment and sustainable green technology at the heart of transport in South Yorkshire. Transport for South Yorkshire must integrate buses, the Sheffield super tram, local trains, principal road routes, taxis, waterway travel and cycling provision, into one comprehensive, holistic and unified network. Furthermore, Transport for South Yorkshire will ensure that the wants and needs of local communities are a crucial part of the decision-making process and are accounted for at all times. Our rural communities will also benefit from the investment in both the transport service and infrastructure.

I will first address the state of our bus network, and how Transport for South Yorkshire will transform bus travel. The creation of this body provides the opportunity for huge investment in our buses, with the benefits overseen by local residents rather than private company shareholders pocketing large revenues with little investment in return—as we currently see. Transport for South Yorkshire will ensure the integration of the bus network across the county, and will feed into the Bus Back Better national bus strategy. The proposals that I have mentioned have been supported by the managing director of First Bus, who, in a public meeting, noted that bus franchising based on the Greater Manchester model is good for business, good for operators and ultimately good for the public.

I am fascinated that the focus of the hon. Member’s speech on bus improvement is on structure. Would he not agree that investment is critical, and therefore that it was deeply regrettable that the Government turned down the £474 million bid for bus improvements that we made?

I thank the hon. Member for his point; it will be no surprise to him that I will address it later on in my speech—it makes up a good part of my speech. Unfortunately, those plans were not very ambitious. What I am outlining is a more ambitious programme. The subject of this debate is the public body, but, do not worry, I will address that failed and lacklustre bid later on in my speech. [Interruption.] There will be opportunities to intervene later if the hon. Member wishes to.

Transport for South Yorkshire must achieve the following vital objectives. First, it must preside over a fully integrated, high-capacity bus network for South Yorkshire. In order to do this, it must set standardised, affordable bus fares across the county to apply to all services and routes, regardless of the private operator. That means a ticket or pass can be used on any bus, anywhere in the county. Additionally, the transport body must subsidise more affordable fares for eligible pensioners, children and disabled people. Furthermore, it must centrally plan and control all routes, timetables and funding. All services must operate under Transport for South Yorkshire livery and branding, as is the case in London.

Secondly, Transport for South Yorkshire must deliver more frequent bus services and many more routes. There should be a mixture of routes that link up every town and village in our region, and superfast direct routes between large towns and cities. The transport body must pay for better services at times and in areas where no commercial bus services are provided, or should make the awarding of certain lucrative franchises contingent on the provision of universal service obligation routes by private companies.

Thirdly, there must be clear performance targets and benchmarks to guarantee reliable service, with the option to remove the franchise from an under-performing private company if necessary. In line with that, there must be an easily accessible central complaints procedure for passengers, with the right to official response.

Fourthly, Transport for South Yorkshire must invest in the region’s physical and digital bus infrastructure, making bus travel easier and smarter. The body must introduce a clear and consistent network map and a bus numbering system that can be easily understood and remembered. There may need to be a wholesale revamp of South Yorkshire’s bus stations, bus stops and bus shelters, with new modern transport interchanges where necessary. In terms of digital infrastructure, there should be a mobile app, allowing people to plan their route and track their bus; electronic bus boards at every stop that indicate the time until the next bus; and tap-in and tap-out contactless fare technology, as operates in Manchester and London.

I have laid out what Transport for South Yorkshire must achieve in the realm of buses. However, my ambitious vision lies in stark contrast to what has already been proposed by the combined authority. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is clearly keen for me to talk about the fact that the UK Government did not accept the combined authority’s bid for the bus service improvement plan, signed off by the Mayor. The plan purportedly aimed to bring in a fare cap, new bus shelters and an improved fleet. The Mayor claimed that central Government had “shafted” South Yorkshire by rejecting the bid. The truth, however, is that the bid failed because it was nowhere near ambitious enough. The people of South Yorkshire want a similar integrated transport system to the one in London. The lack of ambition is why the combined authority’s bid failed.

This is not a red or blue thing: the Government awarded transport funding to Labour-run Greater Manchester and Labour-run West Yorkshire because they were miles ahead of us in their thinking and ambition. Transport for Greater Manchester is a prime example of replicating the successes of Transport for London from the same base as ours in South Yorkshire. Put simply, all other mayoral combined authorities are far more advanced in this process than we are in South Yorkshire. South Yorkshire is no further ahead, and the combined authority has just said that it will look into franchising. It is not good enough; there can be no more excuses.

This is the truth about transport in South Yorkshire: the combined authority has the power to change transport and be truly ambitious and country-leading, but it always plumps for the minimum it can get away with and then blames the Westminster Government. South Yorkshire leaders should rush to embrace franchising powers and take back accountability, but too many would rather continue to blame the past or what happened many years ago in the ’80s, rather than their current inaction. That is why we need Transport for South Yorkshire with a clear mission statement, as well as effective, transparent leadership and governance structures, all held against discrete and ambitious targets.

However, buses are not all that Transport for South Yorkshire would oversee. Trains are an efficient and environmentally friendly model of transport, and Transport for South Yorkshire would make transport by train a priority.

It is also disappointing that the combined authority ignores the small communities, which badly need rail connections. My campaign to reopen the old South Yorkshire Joint Railway would regenerate those former mining towns and link them up. Despite the line being for the occasional freight train, and my plan securing provisional backing from the rail operator, the combined authority has not yet endorsed the project. Transport for South Yorkshire should look to reopen closed lines that connect our former mining towns and villages.

Furthermore, we need a new train station at the growing village of Waverley. There is no point having high-skilled industrial jobs at the manufacturing park there if residents from small towns across South Yorkshire cannot reach it by multiple modes of public transport, such as by train. My constituents tell me constantly that they need bus routes and active transport options that connect communities to where employment options are. There are few, if any, direct services in my part of South Yorkshire to the Advanced Manufacturing Park or Crystal Peaks, or to the big employers around Manvers and Doncaster. It is time to invest in South Yorkshire’s rail network to make it the envy of every other region and ensure residents have access to amenities and employment opportunities.

I will give way one more time to the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he will want to make his own speech at some point.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way one more time. He talks ambitiously and grandly about the need for investment, and he is absolutely right, but how does he think that sits alongside the practical experience of this Government, who have cut spending on public transport from £3.9 billion in 2009 to £2.4 billion in 2020? Where is the ambition there?

That is an interesting point, but once again I look at what happened in Manchester and West Yorkshire. They got Government funding because their plans were ambitious. There is no point putting money into a plan that will not work, or will provide only minimal benefits. We want a grand plan to get the funding and resources we need, and I hope Transport for South Yorkshire will be the body for that.

This is not just about buses and trains; active transport should be at the heart of operations. Currently, there is a chronic lack of cycle routes for rural communities, leaving cyclists at the mercy of dangerous stretches of road. The combined authority is in charge of active travel and has been given a pot of money to that end. However, its cycling plans exclude rural towns and villages, and are mainly focused on the big towns. The combined authority is spending money on poorly designed cycle lanes in Rotherham town centre, but the communities that need them are not on the radar. For instance, in one local to me there is a great appetite for a cycle lane between Harthill and Kiveton Park. Transport for South Yorkshire should focus on cycling for all communities in the county. After all, cycle lanes are good for the environment, health and connectivity, and they reduce the danger of cycling on the roads.

As with active transport, I believe that a good transport system is holistic and recognises the worth of modes of transport beyond road and rail. A good example is the Chesterfield canal, a beautiful and varied 46-mile stretch of waterway that links Nottingham, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Transport for South Yorkshire should make the nine-mile Rother Valley portion of the canal fully navigable from start to finish. It should also fund a new marina at Kiveton Park and make the Rother Valley link a reality, connecting the Chesterfield canal to the rest of the waterway system. Transport for South Yorkshire’s support for the regeneration of the canal would have benefits for transport connectivity, health, leisure and economic rejuvenation.

We must also consider the condition of our roads in South Yorkshire. The combined authority is in charge of pinch points, but it has not tackled them in areas such as Rother Valley. Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council admits that there is an issue, but it and the combined authority always seem to focus on pet projects in Sheffield city centre and Rotherham town centre, instead of addressing issues on our roads in South Yorkshire. [Interruption.] There is chortling on the Opposition Benches, but where is the solution for the A57 Todwick roundabout, which constantly has accidents and congestion? Where is the solution for the Whiston Worrygoose roundabout congestion? We do not have it.

Transport for South Yorkshire would ensure that residents could not be penalised for using their cars to get to work if viable, efficient and affordable alternatives are not provided. Currently, the combined authority is considering a workplace parking levy on companies that have a certain number of parking spaces for employees. That is altogether unreasonable, and it is essentially a tax on business and workers. It is completely irrational to impose that on residents of areas outside Yorkshire’s four conurbations because, unfortunately, driving a car is the only way to get to work in the light of the combined authority’s failure to institute a robust local transport system. We want to reduce reliance on cars, but it has to be in line with the quality of transport provision locally.

Other transport issues that must be addressed include the installation of electric vehicle charging points across South Yorkshire to encourage the transition away from fossil fuel-powered combustion engines, as well as the need to work with the Government to remove the safeguarding of local land for the now scrapped phase 2b of High Speed 2, which I welcome. All of this can be achieved with Transport for South Yorkshire. However, the power to create the body lies with the South Yorkshire Mayor. The authorities in Sheffield must realise that the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive is not sufficient to deal with the transport crisis and does not have the powers to revolutionise travel in our region. Any plans that have been put forward so far by the combined authority exclude rural communities in South Yorkshire, such as mine in Rother Valley, and do not correspond to residents’ wants and needs. I therefore call on the new Mayor, from whatever party they are, to work with me to establish Transport for South Yorkshire. I stand ready to begin discussions with them on this issue.

I have a couple of asks of the Minister before I wrap up. The first is that Transport Ministers should strongly encourage the combined authority to franchise transport by creating Transport for South Yorkshire, based on the London and Manchester models. Currently, the people of South Yorkshire are being left behind by proposals that are lacklustre and unambitious. The second is that once the combined authority finally submits a funding proposal to the Government to create Transport for South Yorkshire, with the full powers and remit that I have outlined, the Department should judge approval of funding for the plan based on the plan’s ambitions and whether it actually addresses the systematic inaction and underfunding in transport locally, which has failed residents for years. Only an ambitious proposal that is fit for purpose should be accepted. The people of Rother Valley and South Yorkshire deserve better than half-baked, half-thought-out schemes. We want the full gamut, and we want what Manchester and London have—we deserve that.

I look forward to the long-overdue creation of a transit system of which we can all be proud. I cannot wait to be an eager passenger on a wonderful Transport for South Yorkshire service in the very near future.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie. I should perhaps begin by declaring a very relevant interest as the Mayor of South Yorkshire—at least for another week or so.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing this important debate, but let us now inject some reality into it. In my four years as Mayor, I made transport a central priority. I knew just how important it was for productivity, access to opportunity and quality of life. By 2023, we will have invested £87 million in cycling and walking, with more to come. We are getting people fit, making it easier to get around and cutting car use. We are investing £100 million to put our trams on a solid footing and, I hope, to lay the foundation for expansion. We have put millions into bus concessions as well as into better infrastructure and services. We gave young people 80p fares so that they can afford to get about, get to work or to their studies, and we began the formal process of investigating bus franchising.

We have been working under huge pressure to protect and, where we can, improve our bus network across the whole region—in rural villages just as much as our urban centres. I am immensely proud of our record, but I am also deeply frustrated that we could not do more. More powers would have been invaluable. Of course, regional governments like South Yorkshire should play a role like Transport for London has in London, with a fully empowered public transport authority providing co-ordination and local control.

We already have a strategic role, but the truth is that powers are not enough without funding. For all the fine words, the reality is that from 2009 to 2020, Government spending on public transport in the UK declined by almost 40% from £3.9 billion to £2.4 billion. The Government spend almost three times per head more in London that in Yorkshire and the Humber. Meanwhile, amid all the talk of devolution, the Government’s default model is still forcing local government to endlessly compete for disparate, uncertain, centrally controlled and inadequate pots of money, sapping resources and hamstringing any attempts at strategic planning. South Yorkshire shows that especially well.

The national bus strategy expressed a grand aspiration, so we produced—let us be very clear about this—an ambitious, detailed £474-million bus service improvement plan, including free travel for under-18s, daily and weekly fare capping and a network of bus priority routes, but we were rejected along with 60% of other applicants. That was perhaps inevitable given that the available funding, which was originally promised to be in excess of £3 billion, ended up being just over £1 billion. Let me say that again: most areas will get nothing under the Government’s flagship bus improvement programme.

On that programme, will the hon. Member acknowledge that there was just over £1 billion available from the Government for the whole country, yet South Yorkshire put in a bid for £400 million? That is almost half the money for the entire country. Surely that shows unrealistic expectations from South Yorkshire. Surely we should be more realistic.

Oh dear, oh dear. I thought we would get through this in a reasonable way. The hon. Member for Rother Valley cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, he says we are not ambitious enough; on the other, he has just said that, actually, we are being too ambitious. The truth of the matter is—and the hon. Gentleman really needs to do his homework—that when we began the process of submitting the bus service improvement plan, the steer from national Government was that the money that would be available nationally from revenue funding would be well in excess of £3 billion. That is a statement of fact, and I am sure the Minister would not demur from it. The truth is that we have ended up with a pot of money that is just above £1 billion for the whole country. The hon. Gentleman has to do the maths and understand that, in conversation with the Government, we were given assurances that there would be in excess of £3 billion. That £3 billion was massively reduced to £1 billion. That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. I wish that were not the case—honestly, I do—but it is.

I would be grateful if the hon. Member outlined why West Yorkshire got the money whereas South Yorkshire did not. To me, that shows that the money was available and was on the table. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, our bid was not good enough to make the cut, whereas West Yorkshire’s bid was. Clearly they got it right and we got it wrong.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point in terms of getting detailed feedback from the Government. He may have received that; we have not. Let us be honest about it: it would be foolish and naive of anybody not to assert that this is a political decision taken by the Government. Where is the hon. Member for Rother Valley when it comes to lobbying the Government to ensure that we secure the resources we need to invest in our services? It is not the case that our bid lacked ambition. We will see what the Minister has to say, but I honestly do not believe that any Minister of this Government could look this House in the face and say that the bid lacked ambition, because it just did not.

So let us get detailed feedback from the Government as to why they did not want to put money into what was a detailed, ambitious proposal. A huge amount of time and investment was put into it; frankly, it is not the case that it was not ambitious. That is a ludicrous assessment of the work, and is actually pretty offensive to some very dedicated and professional officers who worked with local authorities and a range of stakeholders, including nationally and in the Department for Transport, with whom I think we have a good relationship. I have a lot of time for the Minister. He is good at his job, and I do not blame him or hold the Government entirely responsible for this decision. The answers to some of the questions that need to be responded to lie in No. 11 Downing Street. Why was it that the Treasury, having initially promised £3 billion, got us down to £1 billion?

The hon. Member for Rother Valley can seek to argue that our bid was not ambitious, but I will rebut that at every point, because it is not the case. A lot of good work went into it, based on the very good report that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) produced a while ago. A lot of time, energy and investment went into drawing that plan together. The decision taken by the Government was entirely political, and did not in any way reflect the quality of the bid.

I apologise for coming in late, Mr Hosie; I had a meeting that I could not avoid. My hon. Friend is right to mention the bus review, because an attack on these proposals is an attack on all the people who contributed to that review—the 6,000 people who told us what was wrong and what needed putting right. If the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) is going to make a serious contribution, does he not have to set out what, of the £400 million or more that was bid for by the combined authority, he thinks was excessive; which bits he would have taken out; and how much he thinks it would have been realistic to bid for? That is what we need to hear; not vague accusations that the bid was too much on the one hand, and that it was not ambitious enough on the other hand.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. For the remainder of my term—which, admittedly, is a pretty short period of time—I am very happy to sit down with the hon. Member for Rother Valley and go through the detail of the bid that we submitted. The hon. Member has chosen today to make these points; he has not come to me previously. I routinely brief local Members of Parliament, and I have not seen the hon. Member at any of those meetings. It is only today that he takes the opportunity to raise these points.

That is not true. I have been on numerous calls, and I have regular conversations with the South Yorkshire passenger transport authority and the hon. Gentleman’s offices and officers about a whole range of transport issues.

I hope the hon. Gentleman has clocked that the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive is being subsumed into the mayoral combined authority, and what we are waiting for is Government time so that the order can go through this place to complete that process. That is something I decided was in our interests as a region, to allow for more effective and more accountable decision making.

I am conscious of time, so I will move on. However, given that we are rightly focusing on the importance of investment, I will just make the point that our plight was not helped—to say the least—by the fact that the £50 million levelling-up fund that the MCA put forward, which would have drawn down vital resource to invest in our bus network, was rejected. Again, that was a good, detailed, ambitious proposal that we put forward to the Government as part of—

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I look forward to hearing his detailed critique of why that £50 million bid that was put forward to Government was rejected. I am happy to give way, if he wants to offer a critique of what was wrong with that bid—was that not ambitious enough?

I find the hon. Member’s argument quite astounding. On the one hand, the South Yorkshire mayoralty failed to get one pot of money; it has now failed to get another pot of money. Surely, this is just a failure of leadership. If it keeps getting things wrong, it is not a problem with the process but a problem with how the bid has been written. Surely, it undermines his argument completely—if it is not getting any of the bids right, it needs to review how they do bids.

Honestly, the hon. Gentleman’s approach is somewhat blinkered. Even if it is not today in this place and in this debate, he needs to have conversations with Ministers. If this Government seek to be serious about the levelling-up agenda and unlocking the potential of South Yorkshire, they will have to do much better than just saying that our bids were not ambitious enough. That is not the case. I give the House absolute assurance that the bids put forward would be independently assessed as very high quality. We have been here before with freeports, where the Government’s own analysis showed that our bid was better than some of the successful bids. Let’s keep this real.

Our concerns about investment in public transport extend way beyond buses. The Minister is an expert on Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, which I know is the favourite subject of the hon. Member for Rother Valley, so I will not get into all that detail. I have a lot of time for the Minister, so it would be remiss of me not to say—I am afraid this undermines the hon. Gentleman’s argument—that we have been successful in some areas. The same team of people who put forward the bid for the city region sustainable transport settlement, who worked with the same local authorities and closely with the Minister’s Department, successfully secured £570 million. Why was that bid successful and others were not? It is not clear to me. To be fair to the Minister, the same team of people put forward a successful bid for zero emission buses regional area funding for our electrical bus fleet.

The problem for the hon. Member for Rother Valley—whether he is prepared to admit to us or to himself is unclear—is that the resources made available by Government are inadequate for the transformation that the Government want. I support the levelling-up agenda, but the truth of the matter is that the potential of the north and places such as South Yorkshire will be unlocked only with serious long-term investment. The Government need to provide a step change in funding for revenue and not just of capital spending, to give it everywhere, not just where it is politically convenient and suits the Government, and to allocate the majority in a way that we can count on, plan for and control.

The hon. Member talks about a strategic approach; it is entirely impossible, as I believe the Secretary of State for Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities would acknowledge, to be strategic because we have no certainty whatsoever about our funding streams. The funding needs to be much more certain than it has been, genuinely transformative and genuinely devolved. I am sad to say that it is impossible for me to conclude that the Government are serious about the process, which is a terrible shame, because without it we will not unlock the huge potential of areas such as ours. People not just in South Yorkshire but right around the country deserve much better.

It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the chair, Mr Hosie.

Constituents have raised with me time and again the desperately poor standard of public transport links in South Yorkshire. For the majority of Rotherham constituents, public transport means buses. In early 2020 I conducted an extensive survey to gather a clear picture of bus services in Rotherham and the day-to-day frustrations that my constituents face just trying to get around. Suffice to say, the results were damning: 80% of respondents stated that their bus was usually late, 85% said the service did not offer value for money and a staggering 91% condemned services as unreliable.

The survey was conducted just prior to the pandemic, and in the subsequent two years the service has got remarkably worse. Getting to work, the shops or home in the evening should not be such a challenge, but for many in South Yorkshire, public transport is simply not a viable option. If we are serious about encouraging people out of their cars, sustained investment in a reliable, efficient and cost-effective bus network is vital. Instead, we are left with failing bus companies, poor reliability, a lack of interconnectivity, slow services and really high fares.

In South Yorkshire passenger transport executive, we have a body that has neither the funding nor the power to drive up standards. I agree that an alternative model for the delivery of public transport in our region is long overdue. Poor public transport links are holding us back, but the reality is that without the funding to drive up standards, I cannot see structural change alone delivering the improvements for people in Rotherham. That is why it is so bitterly disappointing to see the Conservative Government rejecting South Yorkshire’s detailed and ambitious bid for funding to transform our bus networks.

I would like to personally pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and, indeed, the four local authorities and their staff, for working tirelessly to put the bid forward. The outgoing Mayor of South Yorkshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, has worked relentlessly to make the case for investment to the Government. I share his profound disappointment that, instead of delivering for our constituents, South Yorkshire has, as he put it, “been shafted”.

Sadly, this was all too predictable. The Government talk about levelling up; they talk about investment, and the Prime Minister talks about “a bonanza for buses”, but that is it—just talk. When it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, delivering on promises and proving that levelling up is anything more than a buzzword, the result is always the same: zero. My constituents are not interested in arguments about regulators or transport authorities; they want a bus service that is fit for purpose. Instead, this Government have made it clear that, when it comes to the desperately needed funding to make that bus service a reality, South Yorkshire is, once again, back of the queue.

I will be very brief, Mr Hosie; I thank you for allowing me to contribute briefly.

I support what my hon. Friends have just said. First of all, in a cross-party way, I absolutely support franchising. I was critical of the Labour Government in the noughties, when I thought they should have moved faster on that. The Local Transport Act 2008 was not sufficient to give authorities the real powers they needed, and the current transport legislation is an improvement. It gives the powers to mayoral combined authorities—although I think it ought to also give powers to other transport authorities—but the problem is that it is no use giving authorities Transport for London powers without Transport for London money. It just will not work.

Franchising can help, and taking buses back into public control was clearly supported by the people we consulted as part of the bus review. However, it does not, of itself, improve the service. It can do a little bit, in moving the resources around into a more efficient and effective way—by moving some buses from oversubscribed routes to routes that do not exist at all, in some cases, because they have been removed completely. However, in the end, with companies such as First Bus in Sheffield, which loses money, there is no way to manoeuvre the routes to get better services from companies that are losing money without putting extra money in.

That is the fundamental issue. If we are to do anything more with franchising, other than having a different way of organising the buses, and to have a way of improving bus services, then it requires extra money from Government; and I do believe that if money is put in, it should be put under the transport authority’s control. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) to lobby his Ministers.

If we are to deliver the sort of bus services that we want, with a service where the public are in control of their own public services, through franchising, we need that extra resource from Government. It is as simple as that. Without it, there will be failure, and a lot of upset and discontent among our constituents.

It is a pleasure, yet again, to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Hosie. I thank the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for securing this important debate. Improving our local transport links is incredibly important to me, not only as shadow Transport Minister but as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in South Yorkshire.

I also thank other Members for their contributions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for his unique insight, given his role as Mayor of the region. In the face of lacklustre central Government support, he has delivered on local priorities, as he outlined in his speech. That includes an investment of £87 million in active travel by 2023, £100 million for our trams and millions for bus concessions to make affordable for young people.

Concerning governance, the mayoral combined authority already has a strategic role in transport policy. The reality is that more powers are not enough without the proper funding to back them up, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) made that point eloquently. Time and again, our critical public transport services have been left to wither way under this Government. The hon. Member for Rother Valley must recognise that this Government have been in power for 12 years now, and this is where we are.

Post-pandemic, our public transport links should be driving our economic recovery, but instead timetables are failing to return to their pre-pandemic levels and the Government have been asleep at the wheel. Bus coverage is at its lowest level in decades and our communities have been left behind.

At a regional level, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East recently conducted a review of bus services in South Yorkshire for the Mayor. His findings presented a series of challenges facing public transport services. He identified that bus miles in South Yorkshire fell by an average of 12% between 2010 and 2017 alone. He also highlighted issues of reliability, with over 60% of respondents saying that they were dissatisfied with services in the region. Passengers are therefore forced to take cars and taxis, modes of transport that are more expensive and worse for our planet.

The mayoral combined authority has taken bold steps to improve transport links. Its transport strategy sets out a comprehensive plan to connect our major urban and economic growth centres, and promotes our rural and visitor economies. Despite this Government’s rhetoric, they are failing to step up to these challenges. The national bus strategy is simply more hot air, and yet another missed opportunity to support our transport links.

Between 2009 and 2020, Government spending on public transport across the UK was cut by £1.5 billion. The Prime Minister said that £3 billion would be made available to

“level up buses…towards London standards.”

The funding has been slashed to less than half of that original figure for the next three years. Furthermore, Transport for the North is set to lose 40% of its core funding in the next financial year. This will undoubtedly have an impact on services and passenger experiences. This is not levelling up but holding back our communities at a time when we should be unleashing their full potential.

I once again thank all Members who have contributed to this debate. I hope it feeds into the wider discussion on the future of our transport networks in South Yorkshire. Labour in power is delivering for our public transport. The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority keeps investing in these vital links, but that is not being backed up by the funding they need from central Government. The reality is that while the Government are too mired in scandal to tackle these important issues, Labour offers a clear alternative.

Labour would invest in the infrastructure our communities depend on as part of our contract with the British people. I conclude by quoting my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who said that people out there just want a reliable bus service.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing this important debate, and I thank the hon. Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) for their contributions.

Efficient, integrated and sustainable local transport is a key priority for my Department, not just for South Yorkshire but for the entire north of England and, indeed, the whole of the country. The Government are wholeheartedly committed to delivering on their vision to level up all areas of the country, not least South Yorkshire, ensuring that we have a transport network that serves all communities. That is why my Department, led by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who is also the Cabinet Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, is at the forefront of making this vision a reality.

On the potential merits of a public transport authority for South Yorkshire, while that has been covered by a number of speakers, it might be helpful if I briefly outline the current state of affairs. Strategic responsibility and political accountability for local transport within South Yorkshire lies with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority. The MCA works in close partnership with the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive, which has operational responsibility for delivering against the MCA’s priorities.

In 2019, the Mayor of South Yorkshire, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, commissioned the South Yorkshire bus review, chaired by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). Published in 2020, a key recommendation of the report was to provide the Mayor of the MCA with greater control over the planning of bus timetables and to increase accountability with a single local leadership of bus service provision. The report therefore recommended the merger of the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive into the combined authority, an ambition that my Department supports fully. The Government have committed to exploring a practical timetable to bring forward the merger with appropriate legislation.

The decision to merge the combined authority and the passenger transport executive was made and adopted by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and its constituent local authorities. They are taking the practical steps to merge the two organisations, but that also requires legislation, which the Government will introduce. That will bring all the powers of the PTE, the combined authority and the Mayor together, which they can use to deliver transformative change for South Yorkshire.

In the meantime, my Department is working hard to ensure that all communities in South Yorkshire have access to first-rate transport infrastructure, whether in the larger conurbations of Sheffield and Rotherham, or in the smaller but no less important corners of Dinnington, Maltby and many other villages and hamlets. Since 2010, we have invested more than £33 billion in transport infrastructure in the north of England. We all accept, however, that we have much more to do and much further to go with investment. Levelling up all parts of the country is at the centre of the Government’s agenda, and our levelling-up White Paper committed us to improving public transport networks outside the capital closer to the standards of London by 2030.

We have already made significant progress. More than 60% of the north is now covered by mayoral combined authorities, offering a strong voice for communities and new opportunities for investment in those places. In addition, the Government announced the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. Projects from the first round of that fund are already under way to improve connectivity and to restore pride in our local areas. My Department is looking forward to receiving bids in the second round. I encourage all Members to engage with their local authorities on how they can provide priority support to those transformative schemes being bid for.

As a mayoral combined authority, South Yorkshire will receive £570 million from the city region sustainable transport settlements programme. The CRSTS represents an unprecedented investment in South Yorkshire’s local transport network. Among proposals such as the renewal of the Sheffield Supertram, CRSTS will deliver improved bus priority measures to create a seamless, integrated public transport experience for all passengers across the region.

The Government recognise the importance of buses to all communities across our country. From big cities to rural villages, buses are essential for many people to access jobs, leisure and essential services, and to see loved ones. That is why we supported vital bus services across Yorkshire and the Humber with the bus recovery grant throughout the pandemic—to the tune of £12 million—and we continue to support services with a pledge of a further £150 million nationally in the final tranche of funding to October 2022.

Last year, to strengthen our bus services in the long term, we published the landmark national bus strategy, an ambitious plan setting out how we can ensure that the market works effectively with the public sector to deliver transformational bus improvement across our country. To meet the requirements of the strategy, all local transport authorities must either implement a statutory enhanced partnership or pursue a franchising assessment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley for sharing his views on the importance of bus franchising, which I know he cares deeply about and has campaigned on extensively since his election. My understanding is that South Yorkshire is currently pursuing the enhanced partnership option, but all mayoral combined authorities, including South Yorkshire, have access to franchising powers that enable them to implement a bus franchise, following assessment and consultation, should they wish to pursue that approach.

Under the national bus strategy, every local transport authority in England outside London was asked to produce a bus service improvement plan; the BSIP has been the focus of several hon. Members’ contributions today. This month, we announced that 31 counties, city regions and unitary authorities had been chosen for indicative funding to implement their BSIPs and level up local bus services. As is often the case in any funding process, the ask for BSIP funding exceeded the funding available; I do not wish to comment on speculations about why certain bids were approved and certain bids were not. Although South Yorkshire was one of the areas that did not receive an indicative BSIP funding allocation on this occasion, the Department has written to the MCA to outline the practical support that we are making available. That will ensure that it has the right resources to help to deliver the critical bus priority measures that its CRSTS investment will fund.

We will continue to work with South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to support the delivery of its enhanced partnership. Other funding streams such as round 2 of the levelling-up fund, for which applications close on 6 July, can also support investment in the priorities that have been identified in the BSIP bids.

In addition to BSIP, my Department is supporting bus networks across the country through other funding avenues. As has been mentioned, we announced last month the outcome of the second round of the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme, which is part of the £525 million that is being invested in zero-emission buses over this Parliament. I was pleased to see that South Yorkshire received more than £8 million of ZEBRA funding, supporting the introduction of 27 zero-emission buses, supporting infrastructure and demonstrating our commitment to level up the local transport network in South Yorkshire while reducing our impact on the environment.

It is important to emphasise that our focus is not just on buses. The Government are making the largest investment in rail infrastructure in this country through the integrated rail plan, a £96 billion plan to transform the network in the north and the midlands—an issue on which my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley and I do not always see eye to eye. We will continue to invest in services across the country.

My fundamental point is that the Government are clear that our mission is to level up and deliver world-class local transport networks, and we want to work with local communities across the country to do so. My Department is working closely with partners in South Yorkshire to deliver that vital objective in the region. I can confirm that the Government will seek to bring forward appropriate legislation in due course to allow for the creation of a single public transport authority for South Yorkshire to help to realise that vision.

May I thank everyone for such a lively debate? We may not all agree about the solutions, but at least we all care about our region. Before I sum up the arguments, I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). We may disagree profoundly about a lot of things that go on in South Yorkshire, but I know that he cares passionately about the region. I thank him for his service over the past four years.

We have had some very interesting speeches. My neighbour, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), is right that services have got worse and that change is long overdue. We all agree on that; we may disagree on the funding models, the ambition or whatever, but at least we are all coming from the starting point that things need to get better. No one is sitting around arguing that the service is good. It is woeful.

I really enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). I am glad that he supports franchising, because I am a very big supporter. He raised an interesting point: I think he said that there is no point in giving powers without any additional money. Actually, I would argue the opposite, because we need to show what we would do with the powers before we get the money and put the plan in place—it is a chicken and egg situation. However, I think that overall the hon. Gentleman and I are looking from the same perspective.

The hon. Member for Barnsley Central made an impassioned speech about what he has done as Mayor in the past few years. Dare I say that perhaps there was a bit too much focus on the failed bids? It would be nice to see what the future holds as well. One point that I would like to pick up is that he called it a political decision of this Government not to give money in the last round. I say that it cannot have been a red/blue political decision: the Labour-controlled authorities of West Yorkshire and Manchester got funding, while blue areas such as North Somerset did not, so I just cannot accept that point. There has to be another solution.

The Minister made a very interesting point about funding. The Government have given £570 million for transport in our region, so we need to use the money wisely.

I hope that all hon. Members present will take forward the arguments, put aside our political differences and look towards what we all want: a bold, ambitious programme for South Yorkshire. We all agree that our transport, our buses and our connectivity need to get better. Whoever is Mayor in 10 days or so, I hope that they will take that point to heart when they listen to this debate or read it in Hansard, so that we can all get together and try to achieve that ambition. We in South Yorkshire deserve a system akin to Manchester’s or London’s. We should not be left behind, but our transport is woefully left behind.

Thank you, Mr Hosie, for your chairmanship today.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the potential merits of a public transport authority for South Yorkshire.

Sitting adjourned.