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Commons Chamber

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 30 June 2022

House of Commons

Thursday 30 June 2022

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Modernisation of the Railway

The Government are delivering on the reforms set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, making passengers’ journeys easier, more reliable and more affordable.

I am very passionate about this subject. Fylde is home to a number of world-class events, bringing thousands of people into our great county, but they need good rail connections. I am delighted that the project to double the number of services on the South Fylde line remains very much on the Government’s agenda, with a bid still under consideration. With similar projects progressing to the next stage of development, and some seeing shovels in the ground, what assurance can the Secretary of State give me that we will see similar progress on the South Fylde line?

I think the whole House recognises my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the South Fylde line. We received the strategic outline business case in November 2021, we continue to review that and the next steps will be outlined in the coming months.

It was game, set and match Eastbourne last week, at the conclusion of our pre-Wimbledon tournament. That international event puts us on the map as a visitor destination, with its global coverage, but our great potential is wrapped up with our transport links. In that light, what progress has been made with Network Rail’s proposals to extend high-speed services to Eastbourne to enhance those links to the continent, London and the north?

My hon. Friend serves her constituents incredibly well. Again, a strategic outline business plan for high-speed services from St Pancras to Eastbourne is in, and I can confirm that the status of the project will be updated very shortly, in the rail network enhancements pipeline—RNEP.

The census figures show the east of England to be one of the fastest growing areas of the country, and Cambridge is fast within that, but in recent months the Treasury appears to have been going cold on some of the important rail developments in the region, particularly Ely junction and the completion of the Bedford-Cambridge east-west line. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Treasury and what has the response been?

Or course we have a record investment in the railway—nobody can argue with that; I believe the figure is £34 billion for developments. We will be publishing the RNEP shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to see more in that—that is without even mentioning the £96 billion, not in his region, but for the midlands and north through the integrated rail plan. There have never been a Government more committed to rail, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to find out more.

The reality is that Wales has higher levels of rail track than it has received in investment from the UK Government. Also, commitments on electrification beyond Cardiff have been scrapped. Will the Secretary of State set out when he is going to start investing in the railway lines right across Wales? Or are the Tories simply going to keep underfunding Welsh railways?

I am passionate about rail, including in Wales. I will be announcing more in the RNEP, and the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait too long for that. I think he can see that, as I have already pointed out to the House, the Department for Transport has a lot of success in its discussions with the Treasury, which is how we have managed to invest record amounts in rail under this Government.

We love the passion, but do not forget Coppull railway station. I call the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.

Last week, our part-time Transport Secretary claimed it was a stunt to suggest that he could do anything to resolve the rail disputes. At the weekend, that claim was blown apart, as it was revealed that a policy he issued means that he has direct powers over train operators to get them to follow his directions on disputes. Can he explain to the British public why on the eve of last week’s strikes he found time to wine and dine Tory donors, but still cannot find a single second to resolve these disputes?

I think that I have actually just discovered the root of the hon. Lady’s accusation that I am a part-time Transport Secretary. Just to correct the record—and I will give her the opportunity to withdraw her remarks—I can tell her that I was not, in fact, at the event that she mentions. I am full-time on this job. It would be rather surprising, to get to the nub of her case, if the Transport Secretary were not setting the overall mandate for a negotiation that is extremely important for the future of rail in this country.

The railway is continually being modernised, and anybody who says differently is being disingenuous. I do wonder, though, whether the Government’s modernisation is just an excuse for cuts in a workforce reform programme, including compulsory redundancies. I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) for the response I received this week on the inordinately high track access charges that ScotRail has to pay. It was not that helpful, but I thank her none the less. Can the Secretary of State explain in detail why ScotRail, running broadly similar services by distance travelled, had to fork out £340 million versus Northern Rail’s £150 million?

The one thing I would say is that ScotRail has been run latterly by the Scottish Government. The amount of delays even before that was extremely high. The disputes that have taken place, despite ScotRail being taken into public hands by the SNP, have been particularly pronounced. On his detailed questions, I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State to write back to him.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Today, Newcastle-under-Lyme submits its business case for our £23.6 million town deal, which will be granted through the towns fund. Given his answer, I know that the Secretary of State will welcome the transport projects that we have in place, including the new circular bus route and most importantly, in light of what he has just said, the 40 electric vehicle charging points in the town centre, which will support 375 journeys to work each day by electric vehicles. Will the Secretary of State welcome those measures in our town deal, and will he come up to Newcastle to see the projects for himself?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done in winning that funding. He mentions the important work that will happen with 40 new electric chargers in his patch. It is worth pointing out that this country now has more rapid chargers per mile of road than any other European country.

The Government have recently cut the plug-in grant, and the UK is now the only major European country without any incentive in place to switch to electric vehicles. How will this help us end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and become net zero by 2050?

Just to correct the record: that is not true. We still have the grant for vans, for taxis and for other vehicles. The reality is that when the grant, which is a direct payment to people buying their cars, was first brought in, it was envisaged that, by 2020, about 5% of cars would be electric. In fact, we have reached 20% in roughly that time, so that is clearly working. It is better to put the £2.5 billion into the investment of the infrastructure—the rapid charging—particularly given the price of electric cars and the fact that second-hand cars have started to come on to the market. This country is doing very well with electric cars. It is time that the Opposition recognised that fact, with one in five cars now electric.

A reliable charging network is vital to give motorists the peace of mind that they will be able to charge their car wherever they are in the country. We will need up to 480,000 public charging points by 2030. However, the Government have set themselves no target on the roll-out. The electric vehicle infrastructure strategy simply contains an expectation of at least 300,000 charging points. The Government are pinning responsibility solely on local councils and providing no national co-ordination. Placing the entire burden on our already overstretched local authorities means that we will be woefully unprepared for 2030. When will the Transport Secretary finally do something useful and set a national charging points target and give motorists the confidence they need to make the transition to electric?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady has, like me, been driving an electric car for the past three years, but in that period of time I have noticed that the number of chargers available publicly has gone up a great deal. In fact, it has doubled since I have been Secretary of State. We have also said that by 2030, in just seven and a half years’ time, we will increase that 10 times to 300,000 public chargers. It is also the case that the majority of people charge their vehicles on driveways or off-street parking at home—about 70% of the total. Our entire emphasis, through the levy fund on local authorities, is to enable people without off-street parking to park on the street. That fund is delivering great work. She underestimates how much progress this country is making.

Rural Bus Services

3. What steps he is taking to ensure the provision of bus services to rural areas that have not been successful in securing funding following the submission of a bus service improvement plan. (900809)

We have contacted all local authorities not receiving immediate BSIP funding and are working with them to help improve their local bus services.

The Dorset BSIP has returned no investment to rural Dorset. In the light of that, will the Minister consider giving Dorset Council the power to run its own services? Will she also consider enabling journeys using concessionary bus passes to attract the full commercial value of that journey to the operator?

I thank my hon. Friend for his determination to secure better bus services in West Dorset. In our national bus strategy, we committed to reviewing the annual concession reimbursement guidance and calculator that he refers to. I reassure him that we will continue to fund the practical support to develop enhanced partnerships. I know he has frequent meetings with my noble Friend in the other place, Baroness Vere, in which he will be able to discuss his specific question further.

As the Prime Minister apparently contemplates a third term, we on Tyneside are left facing bus fare rises and reduced services. I will ask the question I have asked many times before but have still to receive an answer to: when can we on Tyneside expect to see our bus fares levelled down to those in London, at £1.65 to cross the entire metropolitan area?

I have written to the hon. Lady with specific information. At the October 2021 spending review, the Department announced £1.1 billion of dedicated funding for BSIPs, which is part of the £3 billion new spend on buses over the Parliament.

I apologise to the Secretary of State, but what he has said raises even bigger questions about what he has been doing with his time.

From near-record delays on railways, mile-long tailbacks at Dover, disruption at airports and the first national strike in three decades, everything this Transport Secretary is responsible for is falling apart, and now so is his promise on buses. From October, when the covid funding runs out, there will be four buses across the whole of South Yorkshire after 10 pm. That is four buses for more than 1.3 million people. That is not levelling up, is it? It is managed decline.

To date, the Government have made available more than £2 billion of support through emergency and recovery grants since March 2020 to mitigate the impact of the pandemic for bus and light rail services. Those measures are in addition to the £200 million provided annually directly to commercial operators to keep the fares down and to run an extensive network through the bus service operators grant.

Train Service Providers

4. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of proposals in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail on the choice of train service providers available to rail passengers. (900810)

Great British Railways will incentivise improved services for rail users through new passenger service contracts, and there will be opportunities for new and innovative open access services where spare capacity exists.

I share the Minister’s attractive vision for more choice and variety on our railways; the trouble is that that is not what the Government’s plans will introduce. They weaken competition, reduce choice and extend state central planning and control enormously. Anyone using Hull Trains, Lumo or Grand Central Rail can kiss them goodbye, because they will be the last of their kind. I could understand it if these proposals were being introduced by a Labour Government, but they are not. It is we Conservatives who are doing this, not them. I urge Ministers to take a long, hard look in the mirror before introducing any legislation based on these plans.

I am conscious of my hon. Friend’s strong interest in open-access services. Where there is spare capacity on the network, we will support applications from open-access providers who promise new and innovative services that benefit passengers without leading to significant costs for taxpayers. To be clear, I assure him that as part of the Government’s reform proposals the Office of Rail and Road will maintain its role as the independent regulator for access, ensuring that applications are treated fairly, and it will be able to direct GBR to grant access should it think it appropriate.

We have been waiting for Chorley railway station for four years, but there we are; I hope it is better elsewhere. I call shadow Minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

This Government are presiding over complete transport chaos. We have had backlogs at the ports and backlogs at airports, even though people cannot get passports, and our railways came to a grinding halt thanks to Tory-induced rail strikes. While millions of Brits are suffering from Tory tax hikes, inflation and stagnant wages, rather than doing his job the Transport Secretary has been busy touring media studios to union-bash, pitting rail workers against the British public and washing his hands of all responsibility. Now Ministers are proposing to use agency staff to cover absences, which is both unsafe and reckless. If I can organise and attend meetings with both the Network Rail chief executive and the RMT union general secretary, why are Ministers finding it so difficult? Is it because the Tory Government are prioritising stripping workers of their rights—[Interruption.]

Order. When I stand up and ask the shadow Minister to sit down, I expect him to sit down, not just carry on ranting. I do not think that is acceptable. I worked with him to get him in at this point, because he would not have got in otherwise. Please do not take advantage of the Chair or the Chamber. We expect your question to be shorter. Minister, I am sure you can answer briefly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to put on record that we had a very good meeting following your request for a meeting about stations in your own constituency. [Interruption.] He is nothing if not enthusiastic.

Going back to the matter of industrial action, let us be absolutely clear: we are incredibly disappointed that the unions took the step to go down the route of industrial action. It should be the last resort, not the first resort. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about meetings, he will know full well that it is the place of the employers to have the negotiations with the union, not for the Government. It seems a bit rich that the Opposition go on and on but the simple thing to prevent the strikes—[Interruption.]

Reopening Railway Lines and Stations

Through the £500 million Restoring Your Railway fund we have already reopened the Dartmoor line, and we are supporting more than 45 other promising schemes. This month we announced £15 million to further develop nine schemes to level up areas and grow the economy.

Last year the leader of Ashfield District Council announced in the local paper that the Maid Marian line was a goer and claimed full credit. This year he has announced to the local paper that it is not going ahead and blamed the Government. Will the Minister please confirm exactly where we are with the Maid Marian line just to avoid any more embarrassment for the council leader?

I am happy to give the clarity that my hon. Friend is seeking. I know he takes a keen interest in and is a passionate supporter of the Maid Marian line. Although the bid to reopen the Maid Marian line to passenger services was unsuccessful as part of the Restoring Your Railways programme, I want to be absolutely clear that the case will now be considered under the remit of the Toton study. This is the best opportunity to get the line reopened, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it further.

My hon. Friend will know that it was not just Beeching who cut stations serving Stoke-on-Trent; it was also the last Labour Government. Will she confirm that this Government are determined to deliver rail improvements to Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, and that reopening the line from Stoke to Leek via Milton, with services running on from Stoke to Longport and Kidsgrove, is a serious option for relieving transport deprivation and chronic road congestion for all?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the importance and the benefits of good rail connections to levelling up. He will know that the Stoke-Leek line has successfully secured initial development funding of up to £50,000, and we will be working with the scheme’s promoters to develop a full business case so that a decision can be made later this year.

The Minister will know that the railways have not only a large number of old stations but a lot of property. Will she take seriously making some property from the rail sector available in Huddersfield close to the George Hotel, where we desperately need the perfect site for the rugby league museum? Could she look into that, because there is a lot of property around the hotel? We desperately need her help. Will she intervene?

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific point in his constituency. I would be more than happy to look into it and respond to him.

I am pleased that the reopening of the Barrow Hill line to passenger services has reached the next stage of the review. The problem is that it will be a heavy rail service to a reopened Sheffield Victoria, which has very poor connectivity. Will she look again at the idea of a tram train, following the successful service between Sheffield and Rotherham, which would go into the centre of Sheffield and have real connectivity there? People could then use the newly reopened Beighton station to access it. I know the Minister has offered to meet me already, but will she have a look at that in advance of our meeting?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the step forward with the Barrow Hill line, and I will certainly look at the issue he raises in advance of our meeting.

Re-establishing a new railway station in St Athan has been a priority for me for some time. The Minister and I have met on several occasions, but we have also discovered that the Welsh Government failed to include it in the new stations fund programme. Will the Minister therefore agree to meet me again, so that we can consider how we can best take this project forward? It is a priority not only for me but for the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Secretary of State knows that he has promised twice to come to the Rhondda to be dangled down a hole into the Rhondda tunnel. We are happy to welcome him at any time. I have had a meeting with him and one with the Minister. They keep promising that they will get this sorted, and that there will be another meeting with all the different stakeholders. We chase and chase, and just like you have seen, Mr Speaker, nothing ever gets done. Can they please sort out the Rhondda tunnel so that we can open it up? It will be a great historic reinvention.

Mr Deputy Speaker—sorry, Mr Speaker. Three strikes and I will be out. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is a matter for the Welsh Government. I have had a meeting with him, and I am more than happy to have another meeting with him, but it is time that the Welsh Government put some money forward.

The Minister and I have met to discuss the notorious Tisbury loop arrangement before. Can she update the House on what she proposes to do about this, since for the expenditure of very little money, she could dramatically improve services between Waterloo and Exeter?

I know that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter before, and I will be happy to give him a written update on the Tisbury loop.

Legalisation of e-Scooters

Safety is our priority, and we continue to assess ongoing e-scooter trials, international experience and further research to inform forthcoming legislation.

Vehicle standards remain a reserved issue, so any changes legislated for by the UK Government will impact on Scotland. What data have the Government gathered through trials on the impact that changes would have on people with sight loss, and how will Ministers share trial data with the Scottish Government, as no trials have taken place there yet?

The hon. Member is absolutely correct. The 30 e-scooter trials have been hugely successful across England and will inform how we legislate, but let me assure her, and thank her for the opportunity to say, that we will share our data. We will publish it and the findings, and we will of course work with the Administrations across Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

A27: Shoreham to Worthing

7. What recent progress has been made on developing options for the upgrade of the A27 between Shoreham and Worthing. (900814)

National Highways is currently finalising option proposals for the A27 upgrade scheme. We expect that the proposals will be put to public consultation later this year.

The Minister will be aware that the A27 between Worthing and Shoreham is so congested that at times it resembles the biggest car park in the south-east of England. Last week, National Highways produced a summary of all the failed suggestions it has come up with. At the same time, Transport for the South East came up with much more imaginative proposals, including tunnelling options at some pinch point junctions, which many of us have been suggesting for the past 25 years. What do we need to do to get Transport for the South East’s proposals translated into action, after waiting decades for these improvements?

I thank my hon. Friend for the powerful points he has made. The Department is very aware of the draft report by Transport for the South East, and I thank it for that report. The proposals are being considered carefully and looked at closely by the Department, and I know that the Roads Minister will respond in detail in due course.

Road Maintenance

9. What support his Department is providing to local authorities for the repair of potholes and road maintenance. (900817)

The Department is investing more than £5 billion over this Parliament in local highways maintenance, which is helping to fix potholes and other road defects.

The roads in Buckinghamshire are a mess—they are some of the worst in the country—and Buckinghamshire Council blames a lack of funding from central Government when it says that it cannot invest in long-term repairs. What specifically are the Government doing to help the worst-affected parts of the country address the backlog of potholes and road repairs?

The Government are putting in approximately £950 million a year, and have committed to do so for over three years. That enables local authorities to plan over the longer term to manage their highways assets and to tackle potholes and other defects. I note that Buckinghamshire Council is putting £100 million into a four-year highway improvement programme, which is a clear sign of a Conservative council working with Conservative MPs to achieve results.

Inter-city Rail Links

10. What steps he is taking to expand inter-city rail links between London and the nations and regions of the UK. (900818)

The Department is levelling up rail links and growing the economy through near-term investment in additional inter-city services and longer-term investments such as High Speed 2 and the integrated rail plan.

In December, we welcomed the first direct rail connection from Middlesbrough to King’s Cross for 31 years, helping to boost connectivity between Teesside and London. Will the Minister consider asking his officials to help us build a business case for extending the service through to Redcar Central, which would further unlock the potential across Teesside and connect the UK’s largest freeport with our capital city?

Redcar is a fantastic part of the country, and my hon. Friend is a valued, consistent and doughty champion of his constituency. I understand that Redcar station is to receive a £6 million refurbishment, thanks to his hard work. As his hard work continues to prevail and Redcar continues to thrive, I am sure that LNER will consider extending its service to this vital northern town, which, as he says, is home to the UK’s largest freeport.

Rockets and Satellites

We have established the framework to enable the first launch to space from the UK, and we remain on track for it to happen later this year.

We have heard a lot about railways around the country this morning, but Cornwall is leading from the front when it comes to rockets and satellites. This year, we expect to see the first launch from UK soil, when lift-off takes place at Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. One hundred and fifty-seven businesses across Cornwall are now linked with the space industry. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Civil Aviation Authority makes progress as soon as possible with issuing the necessary licences to ensure that the launch can take place this summer.

I have seen for myself the beauty of Cornwall and the ingenuity at Spaceport Cornwall’s integration facility. It is thanks to the championing of my hon. Friend, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), that in partnership with Virgin Orbit, and with the CAA and the UK Space Agency firmly on board, we will see the first ever space launch from UK soil later this year.

Automatic Route Setting: Railways

12. What assessment he has made of the (a) management and (b) specifications of the use of automatic route setting on railways. (900820)

Automatic route setting is an existing system that Network Rail has used for more than 30 years to support the safe and efficient running of our railways. I am delighted to report that this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £1 billion investment in digital signalling on the east coast main line, which will mean faster, safer and more regular trains for millions of people.

My constituent Paul Day is a recently retired signaller for Network Rail. While in his role, he provided the Office of Rail and Road and Network Rail with nearly a decade’s-worth of information about the safety issues posed by poor data quality, data management and information security on the nation’s rail network. Despite the fact that he first raised his concerns in 2012, nothing has changed, with Network Rail’s 2018 report highlighting that the issues were the same as those identified in 2015. Does the Minister agree that the lack of accountability in the rush for further automation cannot be ignored any longer? Will he meet me and my constituent to look at the issues further?

We will never compromise on the safety of our railways and the UK railway network will remain one of the safest in Europe. It is important to emphasise, however, that ARS is not a safety system and would never be able to override one. Interlocking is a key safety part of the signalling system and would never permit ARS to set a train into a collision. The Department has invested in early design and testing work to enhance traffic management systems, and we will continue to invest record amounts to ensure that our railways remain some of the safest in Europe.

Active Travel

York should be the UK’s cycling capital—it is the home of Active Travel England and it is easy cycling terrain. It was seeing sustained growth, but the growth in car journeys is now exceeding the growth in cycling, and there are concerns about accidents, confidence and a lack of infrastructure. The active travel budget is woefully small compared with that for roads, and less than a third of what is needed to reach the 2025 target for cycling and walking, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that the funding is in place for the scale of modal shift that is needed?

The hon. Lady shares the Prime Minister’s ambition to ensure that half of all journeys are walked or cycled in towns and cities by 2030, as set out in “Gear Change”. We are investing more money than ever—£2 billion—and we have established Active Travel England in York. We have now appointed Chris Boardman MBE as England’s active travel commissioner and I will soon publish the second cycling and walking strategy. Mr Speaker, put simply, there has never been a better time to get on your bike.

The shift from cars to all modes of transport, which will benefit us in environmental and health terms, would undoubtedly be improved by a better ticketing offer for the railways. Does the Minister agree that it is the Government’s job to ensure a well-functioning ticketing system, as opposed to mandating Great British Railways? We have some of the world’s leading ticketing companies putting forward innovative new offers, and it would be better to ensure that shift by incentivising those companies.

That is a bit of a stretch from the question on active travel, but I agree that it is equally important to have modal continuity between active travel and public services. I suggest that my hon. Friend meets the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), about that specific question.

Although it is important for people to move from cars to more active travel, the reality for many of us in rural communities is that we cannot, because the bus services are not there and cars are our mode of transport. One way to do it would be through a park and ride—in other words, for people to make their journey from the countryside to the town, park, then ride on a Glider. Is the Minister looking at that?

I certainly am. We are looking at all ways to reduce congestion and enable people to be fitter and to get from A to B in the most cost-effective way. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member to talk in more detail about all the roles of active travel, lift sharing and park and ride, and the different ways people can now get around with the modern transport revolution.

UK Supply Chains

I thank the Minister for that very brief answer. I recently met Rick Bromley, who runs a road haulage business in my constituency, and he was very concerned about the impact of rising fuel prices on the industry and the uncertainty that such prices are creating. What assessment have the Minister and the Department made of the sustainability of the haulage sector given the current uncertainties?

I will reply at more length now, if that is what my hon. Friend would like. We recognise that the cost of fuel, driven by global factors, means that businesses are of course facing increased operating costs, and we are taking steps to mitigate that. My hon. Friend will be aware that we cut fuel duty by 5p in the spring, and we have recently instructed the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of competition in the fuel retail market to ensure that customers and businesses are not getting ripped off.

Mr Speaker, I apologise for my lack of a tie earlier this morning. You know that I usually take my sartorial choices incredibly seriously, given how much the media like to comment on them.

From fashion to transport chaos. We know that the Government have allowed supply chains to deteriorate to breaking point over the past few weeks. Countless businesses are on the verge of going bust, and the knock-on impact on families has been heartbreaking given the full force of the cost of living crisis. Throughout this, the Secretary of State has been and continues to be missing in action. Time and again, he has refused to meet the Mayor of London to agree a long-term funding deal for Transport for London, jeopardising UK-wide supply chains. He did nothing—nothing—to halt last week’s rail strikes, and instead just attacked the workers, who had legitimate grievances. It is clear that the Secretary of State does not care about fixing supply chains; instead, he spends his time making TikToks. So will the Minister get a grip on the transport chaos?

Let me enlighten the hon. Member. There is, for example, the action we have taken on HGV drivers. We have taken 33 measures, which have been praised by Logistics UK. That is what we are doing. This Department has a very firm grip of the transport network, and that is why we are seeing results.

Shrewsbury-Black Country-Birmingham Railway

15. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of updating and improving the Shrewsbury-Black Country-Birmingham railway line on employment, training and educational opportunities for people in local communities. (900826)

We are expecting to receive a strategic outline business case from Midlands Connect in July, which I hope will set out the potential impacts of this scheme on employment, training and education.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As she says, a business case is going in to her Department in July to increase the line speed between Shrewsbury and Birmingham, which could be done by 2025 if signed off quickly. Will she use her good offices to agree the funding for the outline business case, so that we can finally level up for Shropshire with connectivity and speed to our regional capital, Birmingham?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that rail projects such as this are a vital way of levelling up and growing the economy right across every part of the country. I look forward to receiving the business case next month, and I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and stakeholders to discuss the scheme further.

Industrial Action: Railways

17. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900828)

18. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900829)

The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated the cost of the RMT’s strike action to be at least £91 million due to workplace absences. However, Network Rail has estimated the direct cost of last week’s strike to the rail industry to be between £100 million and £150 million.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the rail industry has been well documented, as have been his and the Chancellor’s extensive efforts in providing support for our railways during that time. Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that, after two years of taxpayers’ money being spent subsidising the rail industry, the RMT chose to strike instead of accepting the pay rise it has been offered or continuing to negotiate?

My hon. Friend is right, but it is actually even worse than that. Not only was £16 billion of taxpayers’ money put in—£600 per family in this country, or £160,000 per individual railway employee—but the RMT balloted for strike action under the false pretence that there would not be a pay rise, when in fact the pay freeze had already ended. That is unjustified and unjustifiable action that the whole House should be condemning.

Given the significant cost of the strikes, what progress can we make towards the introduction of minimum service levels, like they have in many other European countries, albeit as a longer-term solution?

We are intending to progress with minimum service levels. That is in our manifesto, and we will be introducing legislation later this year. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, minimum service levels exist in civilised countries such as France, Italy and Spain, and it is about time we had them in the UK as well.

Will the Secretary of State explain why it is that when essential goods such as fuel are in short supply the price has to go up, but when essential workers are in short supply, their wages are expected to go down?

As I have explained to the House, a pay rise was already on the cards, and it is false to have called a strike on the basis that there would be a pay freeze. The pay freeze had ended. It is also untrue to say that there needed to be wide-scale compulsory redundancies. Indeed, we had a voluntary redundancy programme, where 5,500 members of staff came forward, and we only accepted 2,500 of them. This strike has been called on the false pretences that I have described. It is time to end the strike and ensure that people get back to work, and it is time for those on the Opposition Benches to condemn the strikes.

Topical Questions

I know the whole House will share our concerns about the potential for aviation disruption this summer. Millions of families are looking forward to getting away on holiday, which is perhaps the first one they have had since the pandemic. We appreciate that the airports are busy as they recover, but the last thing we want is a repeat of the scenes that we saw at Easter and half term. Let me stress that there is absolutely no excuse for further widespread disruption. It is more than 100 days since we announced the easing of travel restrictions; further to support the industry as it prepares for the summer, I am today announcing, with a written ministerial statement to the House, a 22-point plan to help recruit and retain staff, and improve resilience, so that disruption to passengers this summer is minimised, and if delays do unfortunately occur, so that travellers get properly compensated. Those measures are what we are doing, and we look to the aviation sector to do its part.

My constituents who work at the Alexander Dennis Limited factory in Camelon, along with many others throughout the industry, suspect that the Prime Minister’s green bus pledge will not be met. In the same timeframe, the Scottish Government have, per capita, ordered the equivalent of more than three times as many buses as the UK Government’s figure. Will the 4,000 buses be on the roads by the end of this parliamentary term?

T4. I thank the Minister of State for her recent response regarding the much needed upgrade of Haughley junction. I am sure that those on the Front Bench will be fed up with me banging on about this, but will the Secretary of State commit, right now, to upgrading Haughley and other important connectivity junctions in the east, such as Ely, so that we do not lose out on the levelling-up agenda? (900801)

I have spoken to my hon. Friend several times, including recently, about that scheme, and he is a keen campaigner for getting faster and more reliable trains from Clacton to London. We want to provide as much certainty as possible on rail enhancements, and we will set out our plans, including our proposals on Haughley junction, in the upcoming update to the rail network enhancement pipeline.

It is my great pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State to oral questions today, because he was absent without leave last time, and he is missing in action when it comes to aviation. He mentioned the chaos over Easter and the jubilee weekend, but he did not hold one meeting with aviation bosses during that time. Now EasyJet, among others, has announced that it could cancel 10,000 flights in the next three months. The Secretary of State needs to step up to the plate. He needs to go to the Prime Minister, knock on the door, and clean up the mess.

I am not sure what the question was. During the last oral questions, I was taking on the UK presidency of the International Transport Forum, which is the world’s most important international transport body. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that a Secretary of State should be doing that, he is very mistaken indeed.

T5. Leading on from my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), is my hon. Friend aware of the growing alarm across East Anglia about whether the Government’s long-term commitment to invest in Ely and Haughley junctions will be fulfilled? That improvement to the rail network will have significant levelling-up benefits across East Anglia and beyond, improve services for both freight and passengers, and help achieve our legally binding decarbonisation targets. Will she confirm that the rail network enhancements pipeline will prioritise this much needed investment? (900802)

My hon. Friend has previously raised the issue of Haughley and Ely junctions with me. We remain committed to publishing the RNEP update, which has been delayed by the need to take account of the impacts of the pandemic and the spending review. However, I want to be in a position where we can provide as much clarity and certainty as possible. We will set out our plans shortly.

The Secretary of State will doubtless be aware of the existence of proof that Inverness airport, having proactively asked about the private jet flight to Moscow two days after the Russian invasion, was told by NATS that it had no reason to intervene and that it should expect contact from the Department for Transport on anything specific. He sought to embarrass Inverness airport and blame it publicly. Would he like to correct the record and apologise to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd for his error?

As a pilot, I understand how NOTAMs—notices to aviation—work: they are the responsibility of either the pilot or the aviation operator, which in this case was the airport, to follow. There is simply no excuse for not following them.

With more strike days on the tube under this Mayor than his predecessor, his wanting to slash our bus services—in particular, the 24 and the 211 in my constituency—and with the Met now in special measures, does my right hon. Friend think it is time that the Department for Transport considers putting Transport for London in special measures?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Labour Members constantly call on me to enter into direct negotiations with the unions. They may be able to tell us whether the Mayor of London has done the same thing with the RMT strikes. If he has, it has not worked. If he has not, why are they not calling on him to do that?

To add to my hon. Friend’s lengthy list of problems, I got a letter yesterday from the monitoring officer at the Greater London Authority, who says that she will be referring to the formal complaints process guidance as a result of the Mayor’s releasing information about both the Elizabeth line and TfL in advance of the markets.

T2.   Transport remains the UK’s biggest generator of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide emissions. Road construction and the traffic that those roads support represents a large proportion of that. Does the Secretary of State agree, therefore, that rather than pursuing an outdated, destructive road project such as the Rimrose Valley Port of Liverpool access scheme in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), a complete rethink is needed and that imaginative, innovative and sustainable infrastructure is the only credible way forward in the face of a climate emergency? (900798)

The hon. Member makes a particularly important point, which is exactly why we are investing £577 million in research and development, more than half of which is on decarbonisation of transport, including programmes such as ADEPT live labs where we look specifically at how we can reduce carbon emissions from bituminous materials and road making provisions.

Many of the roads in north Buckinghamshire are in a perilous and dangerous state because of the thousands of heavy goods vehicle movements related to the construction of High Speed 2 and East West Rail. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a point of principle, that which those companies break, they should fix without question?

My hon. Friend remains a doughty champion of his constituency and the state of its roads. I continue to work with him to ensure that any damage done by HS2 or East West Rail is put right. The company has committed to that, and I will continue to work with him and his local councillors to ensure that that happens.

T3. We are back in another short-term extension of the Transport for London funding deal. The Government cancelled a series of meetings to discuss it, and business leaders are pleading with them to get on and provide a long-term spending deal. There is a very simple yes or no answer to this question: will the Secretary of State meet the Mayor to sort this out? (900800)

There have been numerous meetings with the Mayor, and they have included our officials as well as me from time to time. The Mayor has failed to bring forward his plan for the reform of pensions, missing the deadline and causing us to have to, in part, create an additional extension for that purpose. On Thursday or Friday of last week, he stood up and made a speech saying that he would dodge the difficult issues set up by his own independent review of the pensions and that there was not even a cause for having a pensions review, which has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds. The Mayor needs to start taking some responsibility for his own transport system in London.

I recently met the parents of Emily, a nine-year-old girl from the Vale of Belvoir who was killed in a tragic car accident. They want me to ask the Secretary of State what consideration he has given to graduated driving licences, which we know have saved lives around the world. Will he meet me to discuss the most dangerous roads in Rutland and Melton, particularly the A52 junction at Bottesford?

Reducing road deaths and injuries is something that I am very passionate about. We are working all the time with National Highways and the local highways authorities. I will certainly make sure that my hon. Friend gets an urgent meeting with the Roads Minister to discuss her specific issues.

T6.   During recent Transport questions, Ministers agreed to meet me and campaigners for Magor rail station, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), despite chasing them, we have heard nothing. Please could we have that meeting? It would allow us to urge the UK Government to work with the Welsh Government to deliver financial investment for cross-border rail, which the Burns review, the Union connectivity review and the western gateway partnership deem essential. (900803)

I assure the hon. Lady that my office has been endeavouring to set up that meeting. I will chase them and make sure that it happens.

The Mayor of London is consulting on cutting 18% of London’s bus routes. This will badly affect my constituency, with seven routes cut completely and seven severely affected, even though the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable are dependent on buses. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the Mayor needs to stop these plans?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have provided £5 billion to TfL. What the Mayor does with that money and how he spends it is his choice. As I mentioned a moment ago, rather than doing the difficult things—for example, tackling the pension fund that his own review says requires tackling—he is cutting buses for Londoners, and that cannot be right.

T7. The right hon. Gentleman used to be a pilot. He is now the Secretary of State for Transport and therefore responsible for making sure that air transport on these islands complies with the law. Does he accept as a fact that Inverness airport specifically asked the National Air Traffic Service if it was okay to let that flight go, and that it was told that, yes, it could? Does he also accept that his Department did nothing to intervene? And does he accept that it was a weakness in the sanctions regulations that led to any dubiety at all as to whether that flight should have been grounded? (900804)

No, no and no. For clarity, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and put a copy of the letter in the Library, explaining how a notice to airmen, as it used to be called—it is now called a notice to aviation—operates. As soon as it is issued, it is the job of the aviation organisation or pilot to obey it. There are no ifs and buts—a NOTAM is a NOTAM. It does not matter what anybody else says—that is what has to be followed. I will illustrate that in a letter to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope we can put this issue to bed.

The No. 7 bus, which connects Smallthorne, Chell, Packmoor and Kidsgrove, is sadly at risk, so could my right hon. Friend ask the Bus Minister to hold an urgent meeting with me, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and First Potteries, to make sure that this vital service is not lost?

T8. The measures that this Government are taking will not even touch the sides of the cost of living crisis, and transport policies are no exception. By contrast, Germany offers a pass for all regional and local public transport for just €9 a month, and the Irish Government have cut fares by 20%. Will the Transport Secretary consider such bold measures to ease the financial pressures on people and tackle the climate emergency? (900806)

I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about transport issues. I saw that she was on the picket line last week, although that, unfortunately, stopped hard-working people getting to their jobs to earn a living. I also know she will be a big fan of the recent great British rail sale, which saved the public £7 million, with lots of tickets up to half price. That was massively successful, with about 1.5 million tickets sold. I hope to repeat such exercises.

Will the Minister confirm that the DFT will use the upcoming Government response to the consultation on the renewable transport fuel obligation to fine-tune the regulations and stimulate the use of hydrogen in transport?

It is an absolute pleasure to respond to Mr Hydrogen on this issue, because we in the Department share his enthusiasm for hydrogen in the transport sector. We are looking at the RTFO to see how it could support hydrogen in transport more effectively while working with colleagues across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to do the same.

I thank the Rail Minister, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), for her announcement on 18 June about more funding for the development of the line between Poulton-le-Fylde and Fleetwood. Will she reassure my constituents, who are important stakeholders in that potential reopening, that they will be consulted by Network Rail as plans develop?

I was really pleased that we were able to make that announcement. I assure the hon. Member that, as we continue with that, we will keep in touch with her and stakeholders as appropriate.

There are media reports today that another 30 flights from Heathrow have been cancelled, with considerable disruption for many passengers. Many passengers have turned up to Heathrow not knowing that those flights were set to be cancelled, so it is disappointing that the Secretary of State has chosen not to initiate an oral statement on his response to the crisis. How many people does he think have been affected by the situation facing our airlines? And if he does not know, why not?

We have made it absolutely clear that the scenes we have seen at airports are unacceptable and that we do not want a repeat of them. It is important to remember that the responsibility for ensuring the safe, efficient operation of airlines rests with the aviation sector. We have announced a 22-point plan today to make it clear what the Government are doing in support.

On Saturday, I met RMT Scotland workers on the picket line at Glasgow central station and was incredibly proud to do so. One of the things they told me is that they are sick, tired and fed up of the Secretary of State vilifying them in public. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to RMT workers, our hard-working railway staff who keep the railways safe every day, and actually get around the table with them?

I am happy to clear this up: I think that railway workers are very hard-working people who have been sold a duffer by their union bosses, who are hard-line—in many cases—Marxists who want to bring this Government down and bring the country to a standstill. It is a great shame that the hon. Member is encouraging that, rather than condemning it. Fortunately, they are paid well above the average in the country—£44,000 for the average railway worker compared with only £31,000 for a nurse.

Speaker’s Statement

I wish to record my deep, deep disappointment at the fact that the Minister for Crime and Policing yesterday failed to follow the usual procedures and chose to share an incomplete advance version of the statement with the Chairs and others. My office has compared the two versions; around 150 words were added to a 900-word statement. I note that the Minister returned to the House last night to apologise in general terms, but I do not think that is quite good enough. It was also suggested that it was late and therefore he could not give advance notice to others, but it seemed funny that Government Back Benchers had been given briefings on the questions that were missing, so it is totally not acceptable. I have to tell the House that he has still not apologised directly or personally to me.

I also look to the Leader of the House to confirm now that all Departments will be reminded by him not to repeat such discourteous behaviour. Back Benchers are here to hold the Government to account and not just on what the Government choose to be held to account on. There was nothing wrong in what the Minister for Crime and Policing said, but everybody should know what was going to be said.

Business of the House

It will be a pleasure.

The business for the week commencing 4 July will include:

Monday 4 July—Conclusion of consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

Tuesday 5 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department for Work and Pensions in so far as it relates to the spending of the Department for Work and Pensions on the cost of living measures, on the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales in so far as it relates to the spending of the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales on measures to support the Welsh economy and its consequences for funding the devolved institutions, and on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in so far as it relates to the spending of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on action on climate change and decarbonisation, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the energy (oil and gas) profits levy.

Wednesday 6 July—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department for Education, and on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in so far as it relates to the spending of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the strategy for international development. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 7 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on economic crime law enforcement resourcing, followed by a general debate on the Government’s alcohol taxation considerations and alcohol duty review. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 July will include:

Monday 11 July—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill.

Tuesday 12 July—Remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill (day 1), followed by debate on a motion on restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

Wednesday 13 July—Consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (day 1).

Thursday 14 July—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 July—The House will consider private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I have to ask him: what is it about Tuesday afternoons and Tory MPs finding themselves anywhere but the voting Lobby to defend their own Government? For the fourth week in a row, Labour has successfully passed Opposition day motions in this House. From cracking down on Tory sleaze and scandal to tackling the cost of living crisis and getting a grip on backlog Britain, Labour has a plan and Tories do not even bother turning up. Picking and choosing which votes they will respect and which they will ignore is no way to run a parliamentary democracy. It is disrespectful to this House, to which I remind him his Government are accountable. How will the Government honour Labour’s successful motions?

Whether it is passports, driving licences, GP and hospital appointments, queues at airports or even waiting times to start cancer treatment, backlog Britain is having a serious impact on people’s lives. Where is the plan? While I am on it, the Government have no plan that I can see to end the 12 years of slow growth and high taxation that we have suffered under successive Tory Governments. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come to this House and deliver the emergency Budget that the country so badly needs?

Last week, the Leader of the House did not answer my question about when we can expect a new Government ethics adviser in post. I know that it is a tough job, given this Government’s record, but it is an important one and we need urgency. I ask the Leader of the House again: when will the vacancy be filled? Can he guarantee that investigations that were ongoing prior to Lord Geidt’s resignation will be completed?

The Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will allow people who are thought to be in the final year of their life to get fast-tracked access to various benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) has long campaigned for it. We all agree with it. There really is no excuse for the hold-up of this Bill. Terminally ill people deserve the reassurance that they will have the financial support that they need. It is a short Bill and has passed all stages in the Lords. Will the Leader of the House bring forward this incredibly important yet uncontroversial legislation for Second Reading as soon as possible?

I understand that the Youth Parliament has not yet received a date for when its members will be allowed to come to the House again. Is that because the Government have nothing to say about the many important issues affecting young people, and we do? Could the Leader of the House give the Youth Parliament a date for when its members will be welcomed back to the Chamber?

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to go through the courts to try to hold an illegal referendum in Scotland. However, the First Minister gave the game away in her statement to the Scottish Parliament. It seems that it was not about a referendum; it was about the next general election. Nicola Sturgeon seems to be happy for the 700,000 people on NHS waiting lists in Scotland to take a back seat while constitutional debates take precedence for the Scottish National party. I note the striking similarities with the Conservative Westminster Government, who want to make the next election all about cultural wedge issues. The best way to protect and strengthen the UK is clearly to elect a Labour Government who will deliver for every nation and region of our country. The SNP has no greater asset in its attempt to break up the UK than the Prime Minister. Does the Leader of the House really think that propping up this failed Prime Minister is helping the Union?

Yesterday, the International Trade Secretary pulled out of her scheduled evidence session with the International Trade Committee on the UK-Australia trade deal, following a damning report the night before on—ironically—the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the deal. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) said yesterday, when a Secretary of State runs away from scrutiny of her own trade deal, it is worrying and, frankly, embarrassing. Will the Leader of the House remind his colleague of the importance of simply turning up for Select Committee sessions?

This Tory sense of entitlement is symbolic of a Government who have dragged their feet for more than a decade; a Government who are out of touch and out of ideas; a Government who are unable to govern, unwilling to govern, and indeed incapable of governing. As the voters said last Thursday, the Prime Minister’s game is up. It is time for a Labour Government with a plan to back working families.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Let me begin by saying that we do have a plan for the NHS: we have a plan to invest in our health service. We introduced the health and social care levy in order to invest billions in it. She complained about the backlogs that covid has caused and the challenges that it has presented to the UK. Our plan is to invest in our health service, but she chose to vote against that investment rather than supporting it.

The hon. Lady talked about a Labour Government delivering for the UK. Let us just look at the facts. Let us, for instance, compare cancer outcomes in England with those in Wales. In England, 65% of cancer patients start treatment within six weeks; in Wales, the figure is only 55%. It is because Labour runs the NHS in Wales, and does not run it as efficiently as England, that the outcomes in Wales are not as positive as those in England, and that is a great shame.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Youth Parliament. I think Mr Speaker has plans to allow it to return, but that is a matter for him.

Order. May I qualify that? It is actually for the Leader of the House to lay a motion. We have been through this. Every Youth Parliament sitting here has been arranged in that way. Rather than passing this round, let us be clear about the fact that a motion must be laid.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. When I receive a letter requesting that a motion be laid, we will of course lay that motion. I am happy to take this offline, Mr Speaker, but I do not think we have had that letter. I am fairly confident about this.

I am not going to battle with you at the Dispatch Box, Mr Speaker, but should you write to me, of course we will lay that motion.

The hon. Lady talked about the International Trade Committee. I understand that the Secretary of State has agreed a new date on which to go back to the Committee. It has had that report to scrutinise for more than six months. By the time we finish the CRaG process, we will have had seven months of scrutiny on that matter and I think that is right.

The hon. Lady can spend her time here complaining and claiming that Labour has a plan, but the simple fact is that the Labour party does not have a plan for the United Kingdom. The Government are getting on with meeting the challenges and solving the problems that we face. We said that we would recruit over 20,000 more police officers, and we have already recruited 13,500. We are investing a huge amount of cash—£39 billion—in helping people with the challenges of the cost of living.[Official Report, 4 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 7MC.] We are leading internationally on Ukraine and making sure that we are seen to be leading. Only the US is beating us in the amount invested in supporting Ukraine. We are fighting with a global inflation spike and succeeding in helping people through this crisis, and the hon. Lady should support the Government in what we are trying to achieve, rather than just complain from the sidelines.

In two weeks’ time I will be hosting my first in-person event since the pandemic, which is a pensioners fair to bring together those organisations and agencies that help to support and provide opportunities for the more mature constituents of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on those community groups that help to provide such great support to more mature people, particularly in the light of the loneliness and social isolation that many of them suffer?

Of course I would be delighted to support my right hon. Friend in that, and I pay tribute to her and the work she does in her constituency to support pensioners and give them help and advice on how to engage with the Government. I also pay tribute to members across the House who hold such events, which are a great asset to our communities.

We need a debate about democracy across the UK. We need to properly consider why this Government think it is okay to try to legally imprison a nation in what is supposed to be a voluntary Union of equals. We need to figure out why this Government seem to believe that democracy can somehow be put into some sort of Tory deep-freeze where people are not allowed to change their minds and their parliamentary majorities do not seem to matter. We need to debate why a nation should continually endure Governments that it did not vote for, and why these Tories think that our country is better being governed by them, rather than by the people who live and work in Scotland. We need to consider what Scotland has done to whatever Almighty is out there to end up being governed by this particular Prime Minister.

We need to debate all the broken promises that were made to Scotland last time: the untruth that only by voting to stay in the Union would we remain in the EU; and the daily attacks on our Parliament when we were promised near-federalism. We have to ask: is this broken Brexit Britain the best that Scotland can ever be and ever aspire to? In that debate, we have to look at the examples of similar-sized countries to Scotland that are powering ahead of Scotland, unshackled as they are from that bunch over on the Government Benches. We need to challenge the Government’s assumption that, with all our resources, skills and history of invention and creation, Scotland would somehow uniquely fail in the world. We need to ask them why they still believe that we are somehow too wee, poor and stupid to run our own affairs. More than that, we need to leave, and most importantly, we need to debate why any self-respecting country would want to remain in a Union that is prepared to do this to Scotland.

I think the direct answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question as to why other countries of a similar size are bouncing forward quicker than Scotland is that they do not have the anchor of the SNP running their Government and holding them back. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman: he is the master of smoke and mirrors. He wants to talk about this issue because he does not want people to focus on the disastrous education system in Scotland or the debacle of the Scottish ferries. He wants to put ideology ahead of the needs of the Scottish people. He talked about broken promises. What about the broken promises of the SNP Government, who said they would protect their children’s education and futures? They have not delivered on that; they have made it far worse. And when we look at the economic performance in Scotland, we can see that it is being held back by the SNP Government. The sooner Scotland has a Conservative-controlled Administration, the better off it will be.

I strongly commend the Government’s exemplary support for Ukraine, but when the head of the British Army compares today to 1937, we must listen and we must act. This is clearly not the time to be cutting our Army by 10,000 troops, because that sends a clear message to Putin that we are not in it for the long haul. We cannot sustain two battlegroups in Estonia and place pressure on the Army to conduct all its other duties to keep the nation safe. Can we have a debate, and indeed a vote, on reversing these cuts? If there were a free vote, I know how the House would act, and it would have the nation’s support.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we are increasing defence spending by more than £24 billion over the next four years. We have announced another £1 billion of military support to Ukraine, taking our total military support to £2.3 billion, which is more than any country other than the United States. Our military have a huge, proud record around the world and in the UK, and we will continue to support them.

I apologise to the House for missing the last two Thursdays due to the recurrence of a slipped disc. I managed to get a physiotherapy appointment last Thursday, which I am glad to say seems to be working.

I am glad the Leader of the House has announced Backbench Business time on 14 July, when we will debate the commemoration of Srebrenica, the memorial date for which is on 11 July.

I received a letter from Her Majesty’s Passport Office yesterday in response to 17 different inquiries about missing passports on behalf of my constituents. Some of these 17 answers date back to inquiries submitted in March. We are still getting inquiries, on an almost daily basis, from constituents who are worried about their missing passports. The situation does not seem to have improved since I first raised it in the House back in late February or early March. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on what is being done to improve the situation? Whatever has been done already is not working.

I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place, and I hope his slipped disc is now better. I know how heavy those RMT banners can be, so he should be careful when carrying them.

On the challenges for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in getting their passports, I hope he will recognise that the Home Office has recruited another 550 staff, with another 600 to come very soon.[Official Report, 4 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 7MC.] We are trying to meet the challenge, and 91% of people now get their passport within six weeks. If he wants to write to me with specific cases, I will, of course, raise them directly with the Home Secretary on his behalf.

Can we have an urgent debate about the Secretary of State for Education’s mobile telephone? I have been lobbying him on behalf of Haileybury Turnford School for the past six months, as the sixth form needs a new roof. I have sent videos of water flooding into buckets through the leaking roof.

The Secretary of State says, “Send me a text, and I will see what I can do.” So I sent him a text, but it cannot have arrived because nothing happened. I say that because he may have a smartphone and I have this wonderful little Nokia, and maybe the two are not compatible. May I make a serious point? I think it is not fair on him not to be receiving my texts, and we need to find a fix to make sure action happens in future.

I do not underestimate my hon. Friend’s effort in typing texts on that phone. I will make sure his comments are passed to the Secretary of State for Education. The Government are investing huge amounts in our schools to make sure they are fit to educate the next generation, and I am sure the Secretary of State will continue to do that. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments.

Each morning, Royal Mail delivery offices around the country are having to decide which streets to rotate and not get their letters. This is because of the wholesale restructuring in Royal Mail, by agreement, involving about 1,400 managers, but a further 900 delivery office managers are now being made redundant and the strain is showing in service delivery. Can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the failure of Royal Mail senior management to implement a restructuring that actually delivers a service for the people of this country?

Of course, I will pass the hon. Gentleman’s comments directly to the Secretary of State. Royal Mail is an organisation that delivers, literally, for our constituents up and down the country, and people deserve to have their mail arrive on time. Lots of businesses and individuals rely on that service, and I will make sure the Secretary of State is aware of his comments directly.

I have raised the issue of Belper mill with my right hon. Friend on previous occasions, as well as directly with the heritage Minister. The Derwent Valley mills world heritage site brings huge benefits to Derbyshire, both economically and culturally. Unfortunately, Belper mill, in the middle of the world heritage site, is in terrible disrepair, under the management of an absent, dreadful owner. Please may we have a debate in this House about the importance of cultural heritage assets to local communities, particularly the country’s globally renowned UNESCO world heritage sites, so that this does not continue to happen in other places, as well as in Belper?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and I pay tribute to her and the work she has done on this matter. It is important that we protect our nation’s cultural heritage for everyone to enjoy for many years to come. Our 38 designated world heritage sites across the UK are some of the finest examples that are recognised at a global level by UNESCO, and I will ensure that the heritage Minister is made aware of her concerns and will write directly.

In 2020, the Government finally admitted that the four-year freeze on local housing allowance was completely unsustainable and raised rates to the 30th percentile of local rents, but since then the freeze has been reimposed. Last year alone, rents across the UK rose by an average of 11% and in Nottingham they rose by 13%. There are simply no homes available right now in our city at LHA rates, and families, who are already facing huge energy bills, rising food prices and higher taxes, cannot fill the gap. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities on whether he intends to do his job and take action to protect my constituents from, at best, severe hardship and, at worst, homelessness?

I hope the hon. Lady would recognise the huge contribution that the Exchequer is making to support people with the challenges on the cost of living and what the Secretary of State is doing to help people in the circumstances that she describes. This is why we are introducing the renters reform Bill. It was announced in the Queen’s Speech and is coming in this Session. That will be a huge step forward to help people in those circumstances, and I hope she will be in her place to support that Bill as it progresses through the House.

This week, I have had the honour of hosting the delegation from Mozambique for Mozambique in the UK Week. Yesterday, we were in the City to see agricultural investment opportunities in both our countries. I am fortunate to be serving on the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill Committee, where we heard evidence from the National Farmers Union this week about how it wants us to press on with this legislation to give opportunities for increased crop yields and trade, and reduced environmental impact. Does the Leader of the House agree that Britain is a world-class agricultural leader and it is a shame that the SNP Administration in Scotland and Welsh Labour are not allowing this opportunity for us to show our scientific endeavour, on the basis of historical and unscientific fears?

I thank my hon. Friend for her timely question. Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where I learnt at first hand about how world-leading genetic research is being conducted in Scotland. I met Professor Bruce Whitelaw, who explained how the fascinating research can help us to reduce the terrible impact of disease in our agricultural sector. This will bring huge opportunities to UK agriculture and promises fantastic opportunities for the whole of the UK. I sincerely hope that her prediction is wrong and that the Scottish and Welsh Governments will reconsider and give and Scottish and Welsh farmers access to that brilliant technology, so that they can work alongside English farmers together.

Since 1975, Scotland has had six referendums: in ’75 on the EEC; in ’79 on home rule in Scotland; in ’97 on the Scottish Parliament; in 2011 on the additional vote; in 2014 on independence; and in 2016 on Brexit.

It is nice to see how Labour and the Conservatives ally on this issue.

Those referendums took place over 47 years. That means that a referendum happens in Scotland every 7.8 years. Our referendum on Indyref2, which will take place next year, will be comfortably within that margin. Why are the Government using time as a measure of why this is not appropriate at this time? The Leader of the House cannot say what the people of Scotland want, because we have been rejecting his party since 1955.

It is a question not of time, but of priority. The priority of the UK Government is supporting our constituents with the challenges of the cost of living, with improving our education service, and with investing in police officers. I understand why the SNP wants to distract people from its terrible record in Scotland. It wants to put ideology ahead of the needs of the Scottish people. It should be concentrating on making sure that the Scottish people get the level of service from their Government that they deserve.

As we look forward to the UK’s largest sporting event, the British Grand Prix, this weekend, by your kind permission, Mr Speaker, Parliament came alive this week to the technologies that the motor sport sector has offered us over the years—from the examples of the Formula 1 turbo-hybrid era, to all-electric Extreme E, Formula E and the bambino karts and to a classic Jaguar E-Type that ran solely on sustainable fuels at Goodwood last weekend.

Where motorsport technology leads, other sectors follow. Can we have a debate to explore the full panoply of technologies being developed by the motorsport sector to ensure that, in terms of their future use, cars, aviation, shipping, agricultural machinery and beyond have a wide eclectic future, and not just a monotype battery electric future?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because I think he is the chair of the all-party group on motorsport, and to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the use of Speaker’s Court for some of that amazing technology and for those amazing cars. It was a true privilege to be able to see those motor vehicles.

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the industry, which brings forward amazing technology here in the United Kingdom that is driving world investment and benefiting the UK economy. I do not know whether he had the opportunity to raise this in Transport questions this morning, but I will make sure that his comments are passed on to the Secretary of State.

Later today, the all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform, of which I am proud to be a co-chair, will be hosting a reception. Among other things, it will be marking the life of the late Louis Burns, who did so much to campaign on leasehold reform. We will also be marking the introduction of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022. However, the big question that we will all still be asking is: when will ground rents be banned for existing leaseholders? We have had promises now for nearly five years from successive Government Ministers. Can we have a statement, please, with a date when leasehold ground rents will be banned on all homes?

As I said to the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), a moment ago, the lease reform Bill is coming forward, which is a huge step forward. It will be an opportunity for the House to debate those matters, but the Government are committed to help and support people across all constituencies to get access to housing. We want to see people own their own home, and also to be able to get on to the housing ladder and to access a home to build a future for themselves.

Unscrupulous private parking companies are a blight to my constituents in Wrexham. Following a survey that I undertook, I highlighted concerns to Ministers, and, last February, they introduced a code of practice for parking firms. However, all has gone quiet. Can the Leader of the House please explain what is happening and how we can ensure that the Government hold these unjust private companies to task?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question; it is a very important one. I know that the Department has temporarily withdrawn the code in response to legal proceedings issued by some members of the private parking industry. We are disappointed by that setback, but we are committed to reintroducing a code that provides the best possible protection for motorists, and we will continue to work with the industry and consumer groups to introduce a new code as quickly as possible.

Can we have a debate on the teaching of geography, especially to Ministers and civil servants? Anyone passing through a UK airport at the moment will see adverts—doubtless quite expensive adverts—for the GREAT campaign, which features a map of most of the country. I say “most” of the country, because that map does not include Orkney or Shetland. It does include the Isle of Man—which, last time I looked, was not part of this country. It is a bit insulting to the many businesses in Orkney and Shetland, which are at the forefront of leading technology exports, to see ourselves excluded by our own Government in this way. Will the Leader of the House fix it?

I understand the point the right hon. Gentleman makes. He is a huge advocate for Orkney and Shetland, and I know he will continue to ensure their voice is heard in this House. I will make sure that those Ministers responsible for the advertising campaign are aware of their faux pas.

I sympathise with the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, as I am suffering from the same condition; perhaps he will grant a debate on the use of NHS chiropractors for the relief of pain.

My constituents Max and Janet are the parents of Adam, who was born last year with a rare neurological condition that will require full-time care. They are just two of many parents who will be full-time carers to a disabled child. As the Leader of the House will know, disability living allowance and carer’s allowance for children are there to assist with the extra costs of caring for a child, but not necessarily as a supplement for lost income. Can the Government make time for a debate on how we can better support parents who are full-time carers for disabled children and therefore unable to work full time?

Of course the Government want to do all we can to support parents such as Max and Janet. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s question to the appropriate Minister. Carers on low incomes can claim income-related benefits such as universal credit and pensions credit, and millions of the most vulnerable households, including carers, will receive at least £1,200 in one-off support later this year to help with the cost of living challenges they face. The household support fund is worth, I think, £1.5 billion; that is a huge investment to try to help people such as Max and Janet.

On 26 September 2018, in a letter to Hannah Deacon, the mum of Alfie Dingley—one of only three children in the United Kingdom with an NHS prescription for medicinal cannabis for severe epilepsy—the then Home Secretary said he was determined to do all he could to help in this area. Yesterday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency informed parents of children who do not have an NHS prescription that it will no longer continue to allow compassionate imports from Israel of Celixir 20. Will the Leader of the House call on the then Home Secretary, now Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to come to this House and make a statement on the urgent import of medicinal cannabis for these desperate children?

The hon. Lady will have an opportunity directly to question the Secretary of State for Health on 19 July at health questions. I know she is tenacious in her pursuit of the challenge those families face, but I am sure the Secretary of State will have heard her comments and that she will be in her place on 19 July to challenge him directly.

My constituent was asleep in his bed with his pregnant wife and a small child when a drunken neighbour started kicking in his door. He went to answer the door and was attacked. He needed 10 stitches to his face and mouth. The custody sergeant in this case decided that a caution was the appropriate sanction. We believe the punishment must fit the crime. May we have a debate on the issue of cautions where there is assault occasioning actual bodily harm?

My hon. Friend raises a very concerning case and I will pass on her question directly to the Home Secretary. The Government have made clear our determination to cut crime and make our streets safer; that is why this financial year we will invest £130 million in tackling serious violent crime, including £64 million for violence reduction units and our commitment to recruiting 20,000 more police officers before the next general election.

With the cost of living crisis hitting, I have been contacted by many constituents who live on houseboats, in flats or in park homes who are not eligible for the £400 discount on energy bills. Can we have a debate in Government time on ways in which we can support people who do not pay their energy bills direct?

The Government are very much aware of this issue, which was raised a number of times at Treasury questions this week. That is why the Treasury is looking at the way in which these things are calculated. It is also why we are investing £39 billion to support people with the cost of living challenge that we face.[Official Report, 4 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 8MC.] We recognise that challenge and that is why we are helping and supporting people through it.

Howard Provis from Barry recently completed his 1,000th donation of blood and blood platelets. He is an example to us all. His first donation was made at the age of 18 and he has continued to donate for almost 50 years. Can we have a debate on the importance of giving blood? That would be an opportunity to recognise people such as Howard Provis for their commitment to the NHS and to NHS patients and as a great example of how people can give back in support of their community.

Wow! Howard has clearly been a huge servant to the NHS, and thousands and thousands of people will have benefited from his donations. I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to him. Giving blood saves lives and donations are vital to our NHS. It would be a suitable topic for a Westminster Hall debate, and I encourage him to seek such a debate so that he can once again pay tribute to Howard.

Earlier this month, I met Magic Breakfast, a fantastic charity that supports young people with a nutritious, healthy breakfast. It supports five schools across my constituency. But the cost of living crisis is hitting families so hard, with 33% of London parents saying that they have skipped a meal to save money so that their children can eat, and this is only going to get worse as we see the cost of living increasing into the autumn and winter. Children will be going to school hungry. Will the Leader of the House find time to have an urgent debate on how we can all work together to make sure that no child is going to school hungry?

I pay tribute to the work that Magic Breakfast is doing, but the Government do understand this challenge. That is why we are bringing forward £37 billion in support this year alone. We are providing new one-off cost of living payments of £650 to more than 8 million low-income households, separate one-off payments of £300 to 8 million pensioner households, and £150 to individuals receiving disability benefits. That is a huge amount of cash that is going to go to those people who are the most vulnerable in society, and it is a recognition of the challenge we face and the level of support we want to offer them.

Does the Leader of the House agree that after years of neglect our mining towns need more than words to really level up? With that in mind, will he ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to look favourably at Don Valley’s bid in round 2 of the levelling-up funding when submitted, as evidently my constituency has been forgotten for far too long?

I declare my interest as someone who represents former mining communities that have also put in levelling-up bids to try to improve the outcomes in those communities. I wish my hon. Friend well with his bid. I know that Members across the House are putting bids forward. This is a huge investment that we are about to make in those communities, and I wish him well with his pursuit of it.

The Government and the rail industry are failing Hull and the Humber—and this has nothing to do with strikes. The Government left Hull and the Humber out of the 30-year integrated rail plan. TransPennine is cancelling services every day because it cannot provide drivers for the trains, and Network Rail seems to have a problem with signalling on a number of occasions each week. Can we have a debate on why this Government are not levelling up transport for Hull and the Humber?

Obviously we had Transport questions this morning. I think the right hon. Lady is a little disingenuous in what she says. The Government are investing billions of pounds in rail, with £35 billion of rail investment from 2022 to 2025, £96 billion through the integrated rail plan and £16 billion during the pandemic to keep the railways running, as well as over £24 billion of strategic road investment. We are investing in our infrastructure systems, and especially in rail. We are investing in our infrastructure systems, and especially in rail. That is because of our commitment to those rail industries. She said this has nothing to do with strikes, but I would gently to say to her that those strikes are having a huge impact on people’s ability to get around the country, and I hope she would encourage her union friends to get back to the table and to talk to Network Rail.

This week I handed in a petition to Parliament to raise awareness of the campaign to save PRYZM nightclub in Watford. Not only is PRYZM the only town-based nightclub in Hertfordshire, but it has played a role in Watford’s night-time economy for more than 40 years under various names, including Paradise Lost, Baileys and Oceana, bringing thousands of people to the high street every weekend. Will my right hon. Friend confirm how I could hold a debate on protecting PRYZM and other similar venues across the country, which play such an important role in our night-time economy and in communities, where their loss could have a devastating impact on local businesses and the taxi trade?