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Commons Chamber

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 8 June 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 8 June 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Great British Railways

1. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Leader of the House on legislation to establish Great British Railways. (905158)

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will begin by sending my heartfelt condolences to the people of India, who, in the eastern state of Odisha on Friday, suffered the country’s deadliest rail crash in over two decades. The death toll stands at 288, with over 1,000 people injured. It was caused by the collision of two passenger trains and a stationary goods train. I have written to the Indian Rail Minister expressing our deepest sympathies, and I believe I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as with the emergency services as they continue to respond to the tragedy.

Turning to the question, the Government’s ambition is for a customer-focused, commercially-led industry, with the creation of Great British Railways as a new guiding mind for the sector. We are working closely with the GBR Transition Team, the wider rail sector and other Departments to move forward with reform, and I was pleased to recently announce Derby as the location of GBR’s headquarters.

On behalf of Opposition Members, may I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments in respect of the people of India?

In the north-west, we were hoping that the formation of GBR might have been on track by now to help us deal with the chronically underperforming Avanti West Coast, but we see no sign of the legislation. Parliament certainly has the time to deal with it—we finished after a couple of hours on Tuesday—and it is certainly not a question of money, as we know £50 million has already been spent on the project. What exactly is the problem with bringing the matter before the House? Is it a lack of political will, or is it a lack of competence?

The Government remain committed to GBR. As I have said, we have already announced that the HQ will be in Derby. Many of the benefits can be achieved without legislation, and we are getting on with them. It is worth noting, based on statistics published this morning by the Office of Rail and Road, that we still face a massive challenge with the rail industry: leisure is now much more important than commuting and business; and passenger revenue is still 28% down on the pre-pandemic level. A successful railway needs to change to reflect passenger demand, and that is exactly what this Government are going to deliver.

In the absence of legislation, will my right hon. Friend consider setting up GBR as a shadow authority. That could, for example, end the unsustainable practice of costs sitting with one part of the industry and revenue with another. The rail industry has a great appetite to move forward, so will he consider something like a shadow GBR?

My hon. Friend, who ably chairs the Select Committee, makes a good point. Joining up the profit and loss account, revenues, and costs can be done without legislation, and we are actively working to do that. I have tasked my officials to move at pace on this, and we are identifying where in Derby the GBR HQ will be. We will continue to deliver rail reform every day to ensure that we can respond to market conditions and have a successful, thriving railway, and I want everyone in the sector to join us in that endeavour.

It is hugely frustrating that we still do not have an integrated system. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and others about the importance of projects such as the Ely area capacity improvement? When are we going to get some progress on such projects?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have set out a significant amount of rail investment. We will be investing £40 billion overall across the transport portfolio over the next two years, and we do have to make choices about how to spend that money sensibly. The Labour party is making unfunded spending pledges, with £44 billion on rail and, interestingly, nothing on buses or on roads.

We now come to a person who will have done 40 years tomorrow, I understand. I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Under the old British Rail, we used to have a direct train to London from Grimsby and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) through Market Rasen. I have been campaigning for that train to be reinstated for 40 years—ever since I was elected as a Member of Parliament. Sometimes I wander down from my home in the wolds and wait forlornly on the platform at Market Rasen, but the train never comes. Will the Secretary of State oblige an old campaigner and give us our train back, please?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his service in the House. This campaign may be coming to a successful conclusion. He has been working closely with the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and we hope to be able to implement the change in the next timetable update. My hon. Friend is working carefully to ensure that none of the things that have hitherto stopped it will prevent it from happening this time. I hope that there will be a successful conclusion.

I associate the Opposition with the Secretary of State’s comments. We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims of the terrible tragedy in India.

Over the past year, passengers have faced total chaos on our railways. Cancellations rose to their highest ever levels. Strikes have disrupted countless journeys, while the Transport Secretary still refuses to sit down with the unions. The fourth franchise in five years has just been brought into public ownership. And now we hear that the lucky few who actually manage to get a train will not have the luxury of using wi-fi. The Prime Minister might not be aware of this, given his preference for private jets, but will the Secretary of State at least admit that our railways are fundamentally broken?

They really are not broken. If the hon. Lady looks at the numbers from the Office of Rail and Road this morning, she will see that leisure travel has rebounded very strongly, but there has been a real change in passenger demand for the railways post pandemic, which is why we need to deliver change.

As far as industrial action is concerned, there is an offer on the table that the trade union leaders need to put to their members in the democratic way in which they should operate. That is what the hon. Lady should be pushing for. She has been part of Labour Front Benchers’ efforts to make unfunded commitments, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will drive up taxes and inflation. Interestingly, I note that Labour has massive unfunded pledges on rail but nothing on buses and roads, the modes of transport used by the vast majority of people living in this country.

The Secretary of State has some nerve accusing Labour of tax rises and interest rate rises after his party crashed the economy last year, presided over funding cuts to buses and pushed most of the road-building projects promised in his manifesto to later down the line.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), admitted that our rail system is broken when he first announced Great British Railways more than two years ago. The bare minimum the Secretary of State could do is bring forward the legislation his Government promised, and that industry and investors have made clear is required. It is a simple question: will he bring forward legislation to establish Great British Railways before the end of this Parliament—yes or no?

It is interesting to note that the hon. Lady is interested in what investors think. I thought her policy was to nationalise the rail industry and take it away from investors. People will have noted that with great interest.

We remain committed, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), to moving forward on delivering Great British Railways. Much of it can be delivered without legislation. Legislation plans will be set out in the King’s Speech in the autumn, in the usual way. We are getting on with making sure that we have a rail system that reflects the needs of passengers, post pandemic, as we deliver the transport system across the country, delivering economic growth.

Access for All

2. When he plans to make a decision on which projects will receive funding from the Access for All programme. (905159)

We are currently working with Network Rail to assess over 300 stations nominated for Access for All, and we aim to make a determination later in 2023 for funding beyond 2024. I hope to be in a position to announce the list of successful projects later this year, in anticipation of securing further funding in the following year.

I, too, associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about the rail crash in India.

The response from the Department for Transport has always been “later”, “soon” or “in due course”, so I ask the same simple question I have asked every rail Minister since 2017: will the hon. Gentleman come to Manchester to meet Levenshulme station users to talk about access and accessibility?

I have recently come back from a very positive trip to Manchester, where I met stakeholders. I have no doubt that I will be there again soon, and I would be very happy to call in on the hon. Gentleman and his campaign. We have delivered step-free access to more than 200 stations through Access for All, and we have made improvements at 1,500 other stations. I look forward to working with him and his project, which I will visit next time I am up.

Rail Usage

3. What contractual incentives his Department has agreed with train operating companies to encourage more people to use rail services. (905160)

Under the current national rail contracts, train operators earn a fee linked to their performance on addressing key passenger priorities, including punctuality, reliability, service quality and customer satisfaction, as well as revenue growth. While the new passenger service contract is developed, my Department is looking to introduce a stronger incentive for operators to grow rail patronage and revenue.

My hon. Friend knows my enthusiasm for open access services and the way they bring competition and innovation. That benefits customers by raising standards and therefore encourages more people to use our railways. Does he share my enthusiasm? If so, how will he be promoting open access services? May I gently remind him that I have written to him on this subject with some ideas to promote this way of driving more usage of our rail system?

I thank my hon. Friend for his letter, for the number of times we have met to discuss this issue and for his enthusiasm, which is shared not only by me, but by the Secretary of State. We saw the authorisation at the end of last year of Grand Union Trains to run services between London and Carmarthen, and we are committed to getting more open access operators, in order to encourage more operators to come to the market. My hon. Friend will know that during the recent rail strikes, open access operators such as Lumo were able to continue to operate. I am meeting the Office of Rail and Road, which is ultimately responsible for the rules in this area, to encourage it to grow open access.

I thank the Minister very much for his response. Encouraging more people to use rail services is about accessibility, the availability of trains, and park and ride schemes, so that people can park their cars and use the trains. Like him, I am a great believer in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we should always share our thoughts, discussions and ideas. Has he had any opportunity to share how he can do those things here in the UK with Translink and the Northern Ireland Assembly back home?

I am conscious that these matters are devolved in Northern Ireland but, as I have said before to all Members of the House, I am keen to learn from best practice and to ensure that all parts of the UK can learn from each other. It would be ideal if I could meet the hon. Gentleman so we can discuss these things and I can get his ideas, and if I could come over to visit the operators in Northern Ireland that he references and join him in that endeavour.

Active Travel

22. What assessment he has made of the impact of changes to funding for active travel on levels of uptake of that travel. (905181)

As the House will know, active travel is at the heart of the Government’s agenda and we are investing about £3 billion to support it—that is more than any previous Government. The Government report regularly to Parliament on progress towards meeting their active travel goals, and the next report will be published alongside the third statutory cycling and walking investment strategy in due course.

I am delighted that active travel funding has reached North Devon and that part of the missing link of the Tarka trail will be completed. However, the time constraints on when the funding needs to be spent mean that Devon County Council is not yet able to complete the whole stretch. Will my right hon. Friend confirm when further funding rounds will be available to enable this much-needed and long overdue missing link to be completed?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic campaigner for active travel. She rightly says that it is great that North Devon has been able to benefit, along with the rest of Devon, from £1.8 million through active travel fund 4. Active Travel England plans to run a further capital funding round later this year and will work with local authorities, including those in rural areas, to encourage bids for schemes that have high potential to increase walking, wheeling and cycling trips.

People walking, wheeling and cycling saved 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and avoided more than 29,000 early deaths in 2021. However, only a fifth of total active travel spending comes from dedicated funding, with the rest coming from various funding pots that are not guaranteed. With such a low proportion of ringfenced funding, how can the Government guarantee that this money is really spent on active travel, which is good for our health, economy and environment?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that active travel—cycling, walking and wheeling—is probably the single biggest health intervention a human being can make in their lives as a choice of habit. She is right to highlight the importance of supporting it, as the Government have—more so than any previous Government. There are a range of pots, including city region sustainable transport settlements, the road investment strategy 2 and levelling-up fund moneys, into which authorities can bid. Many have done so and will continue to do so highly successfully. That provides a continuing opportunity for them to benefit from these levels of increased funding.

May I associate myself with the condolences that have been sent to those in India?

In 2021, Ministers set themselves four targets to measure progress in active travel uptake. Three years on, how many of these targets are they confident of meeting? I can tell Members that it is not a single one, according to the Government’s own assessment revealed by the National Audit Office yesterday. The NAO report also uncovered a staggering cut to active travel funding of £166 million, which, by the Government’s own workings, would cost the taxpayer more than £700 million in the long run. Will the Minister finally come clean and confirm whether he will be slashing this vital funding by 60% next year, too—yes or no?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have had to make efficiency savings across the board as a result of the illegal war being waged by Putin in Ukraine. The report she mentions reflects the fact that the Government set highly ambitious targets, which have always been known and understood to be testing. One great advantage of the installation of Active Travel England—a sensational organisation—is precisely that we can drive better value for money as well as better quality of schemes across the whole of our infra- structure.

HS2: Monitoring and Oversight

Comprehensive monitoring arrangements are in place for HS2, which all provide an up-to-date view of the status, challenges and opportunities facing the programme. We produce a range of public-facing updates, including the six-monthly update report to Parliament, the next iteration of which is due for publication shortly.

A few weeks ago, my constituents woke to find a large sinkhole in a field directly above where the HS2 tunnel boring machines had been. This was predicted years ago by my constituents in evidence to this House. The Environment Agency’s response to the sinkhole appears to be little more than allowing HS2 contractors to mark their own homework, and it is the latest example of the Environment Agency’s inadequate response to questions that have been raised about HS2. It is vital that we can have faith in the organisation to undertake its statutory responsibilities. Will the Minister meet me and my constituents to hear directly about their concerns about the oversight of HS2?

It is certainly the case that the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act 2017 and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Act 2021 specify the circumstances in which HS2 must seek the consent of the Environment Agency for construction. I know that, on this particular matter, the Environment Agency has been working with HS2 Ltd since that ground movement was discovered. I have also asked for it to be looked into. I will ensure that I get a separate report from the Environment Agency so that we have that independence, and when I have that, I will happily sit down with the hon. Lady and her constituents to take them through what has been found. She is absolutely right: we need to have independent scrutiny. I am absolutely fixed on that myself.

Two weeks ago, my constituents, the Hodges of Elm Tree farm in Steeple Claydon, discovered by accident while walking their dogs that HS2 Ltd was about to chainsaw an area of woodland on the farm that it had not paid for. There was no consultation. HS2 fenced off land that it does not own and then there were suspicious works in the middle of the night. When will my hon. Friend clamp down on this appalling, bullying behaviour from HS2 Ltd and its contractors?

I was very pleased to sit down very recently with my hon. Friend, people from HS2 Ltd and Buckinghamshire Council to go through some of the matters that were on his agenda. I know that this is the latest case that he has written to me about. I will look into the detail to ensure that we both have the correct facts, and the next time I am up near Steeple Claydon, which, as he knows, happens on a regular basis, we can perhaps take a look ourselves.

I, too, convey my condolences to the families of the victims of the harrowing rail disaster in India.

The Government’s management of HS2 could hardly be worse: the budget has ballooned out of all proportion; we are already years behind on the launch of services; the merry-go-round of Ministers has created chaos; and the project at Euston station may never see the light of day. The six-monthly update to Parliament is already months late. We are none the wiser about the promised excellent alternative to the cancelled Golborne link, and we have been waiting years for the review into the best way to run HS2 to Leeds after this Government betrayed the north by scrapping the eastern leg. It appears that trickle-down economics has been replaced by trickle-down incompetence. Rather than the usual woolly ministerial responses of “coming soon to a station near you” and rather than responding to all of these failures, can the Minister answer just one simple question: when will the Leeds area study finally be published?

The ministerial merry-go-round goes round to a Merriman to listen to yet another long-winded effort from the hon. Gentleman, which eventually turns into a question. The reality is that we remain committed to HS2 and to line of route from London all the way up to Manchester. He talks about ballooning costs, but we have tried to look at the cost estimate and rephase HS2 as a result. He cannot have it both ways. I am committed to ensuring that the study comes out very soon; I met with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to work on the matter and we work closely together. Our aim is to ensure that when that study comes out, it has the imagination in it to deliver properly all the ideas that we had always intended, and we will do so. We are committed to HS2 and to the investment and decarbonisation it will bring. I am sorry there has been a change of Ministers, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there will not be any changes any time soon.

Bus Services

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905164)

12. What assessment he has made of the impact of the £2 fare cap on the number of bus journeys since that cap was introduced. (905170)

20. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905179)

The Government have invested more than £3.5 billion in buses since March 2020, including our recently announced package of up to £300 million to protect and improve services long term, and up to £200 million to continue capping bus fares on thousands of routes in England outside London until November next year. That funding is helping to ensure that those who use the bus every day to live, work and travel can continue to do so for less.

The Government recently announced huge investment to improve and protect bus services, but in my part of the world Arriva has chosen to cherry-pick the most profitable routes, ditching others such as the 17 and leaving youngsters unable to get to school, adults unable get to work and pensioners cut off from health services. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to prevent bus operators from putting profit before people and to see what can be done to protect services in Stockton South?

I am confident that my hon. Friend will campaign in his area to protect those bus services. The additional £300 million includes £1.5 million for the Tees Valley, which will help local transport authorities and bus operators to protect and improve their services. We expect them to work together to deliver sustainable networks. I know he will campaign strongly to ensure that a share of that extra money from Government goes to protect services to his constituents.

In January, I was glad to hear that Transport North East’s decarbonisation bid for our bus services had been successful. I now understand that subsidy control procedures mean that none of the electric buses have yet been ordered, let alone delivered, and I fear we may run out of time under the terms of the grant or get fewer buses for our money because of inflation. We need those electric buses in the north-east, so will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure we get them on the road as soon as possible?

I am glad that the hon. Lady gives me an opportunity to remind the House that Transport North East has been awarded £19.5 million as part of round 2 of the levelling up fund, which delivers those buses. There are some appropriate checks that must take place, and I hope she will also welcome the fact that the North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities got £117.8 million for their bus service improvement plans to deliver better bus services for her constituents.

Rural bus services such as the 84, 85 and 622 services in south Gloucestershire are vital for residents to commute to work, get to school and attend health appointments, but they are under real pressure. South Gloucestershire Council has stepped in to provide a temporary fix for the 84 and 85 services, but will the Secretary of State urge the council and the West of England Mayor to work together to find a permanent solution for those services, using the improvement plan subsidies provided to them, so that residents in villages such as Charfield, Wickwar, Hawkesbury Upton, Rangeworthy and Tytherington are not cut off from having any bus services at all?

As the Environment Secretary set out earlier this week, the Government are committed to unlocking opportunities in rural areas in particular, and local transport connectivity is crucial to that. The extra money we set out will help to protect services, and I can confirm that I would expect local councils and the West of England Mayor to work together to deliver those. I forgot to say in my previous answer to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) that I will of course make sure that the roads Minister meets her to talk about her specific question about her buses.

Recently, Arriva gave up its subsidised 57A route, which goes through my constituency. The council has struggled to find an alternative operator because the Government have banned it from creating its own bus company—one that could serve the local community, which is left struggling to access key local services and even to get to work. Does the Minister agree that it is long overdue and common sense to end the ideological ban on municipal bus companies?

The hon. Lady should recognise that, as I said in answer to the previous question, the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Combined Authority were awarded £117.8 million to deliver their ambitious bus service improvement plan. That is the mechanism that we have set up for local authorities to have ambitious plans to work with bus operators to deliver better services for constituents, properly funded from central Government. I hope that they use that revenue and those powers to deliver the improved bus services that she wants.

I am pleased that the Government’s latest bus deal lasts longer than the usual three months, but as ever, there are winners and losers. Last year, both Southampton and Swindon applied for zero-emission bus funding. They got nothing. They applied for BSIP funding, and how much did they get, Secretary of State? Nothing. Last month, every council finally received something, but Southampton and Swindon got barely £1 million between them, amounting to a pathetic £2 per person. Can he explain why areas such as Southampton and Swindon have got so little to fix their broken bus systems?

I am pleased that, in his question, the hon. Gentleman sort of welcomed the £500 million that we made available for buses in our announcement last month, which was welcome and provides money to every local authority and to bus companies. There is a formula by which that money is awarded—it is not awarded on a whim; it is based on mileage and usage, and is done in a sensible way—and the money was awarded fairly under that process. As I said in answer to the previous question, it is all very well criticising us, but we set out clear plans to support bus services in our announcement last month. Labour Members have made no pledges on buses; it is all on rail. Is that because ASLEF pays their wages and they are not interested in buses, which twice as many people use compared with rail services?

Electric Vehicles

8. What steps he is taking to help improve the (a) market share and (b) availability of electric vehicles. (905165)

The Government are committed to accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles. To support this transition, we will introduce a world-leading zero-emission vehicle mandate. That will support the future supply of zero emission vehicles by setting a minimum percentage of manufacturers’ new car and van sales to be zero emission each year from 2024.

It is great news that Jaguar Land Rover will manufacture its first UK-made electric car in the west midlands, continuing our long history of attracting manufacturing investment from across the world. Will the Minister join me in welcoming JLR’s £15 billion investment, and does he agree that it shows that we are emerging, thanks to this Government, as a world leader in clean technology, which is good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment?

Of course, I was delighted to see JLR’s commitment to investing in UK manufacturing and confirming its plans to bring electric vehicle production to the west midlands. Through our policies and investments, the Government are accelerating electrification and unlocking industry investment to meet our net zero ambitions. The automotive industry is a vital part of that process. This is a vote of confidence from the UK’s largest carmaker.

May I say how pleased I am that, thanks to the wonderful people at Guy’s and St Thomas’s, I am back in operation?

May I ask the Minister not to get totally fixated on electric vehicles? There are a few companies establishing hydrogen-powered service stations for trucks up and down the country. With less impact on the environment, hydrogen has real possibility in this country.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his seat. He will be aware that the Government are very interested in the potential of hydrogen, not just in heavier vehicles but also in maritime and, through hydrogen fuel cells, in aerospace. We take a technology-neutral approach, so I have been looking at all those things. I had the great pleasure of visiting JCB, which has pioneered a hydrogen-based off-road digger, and what a splendid machine that is.

Although electric cars are important, the EU, under pressure from the German car industry, has put back the date when petrol combustion engines will be banned. What discussions have we had with our industry about whether it might be appropriate to do that here, given that that may give some of our industry difficulty in continuing to manufacture in the future?

The third round of consultations on the zero-emission vehicle mandate has just closed. We work closely with all the relevant parties, in particular the car manufacturers. My hon. Friend should be aware that not deflecting from our path, as has been done elsewhere, will not just put the UK further ahead in this area but will trigger a substantial amount of private sector investment in charging infrastructure. ChargeUK has announced that some £6 billion will be invested by private means in the charging network over the next few years, which is to be welcomed.

The different application of VAT between domestic and public charging points is clearly a disincentive to those who are considering adopting electric vehicles. Some 38% of households do not have access to private parking and would rely on public charge points. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that the Chancellor takes account of that in the next Budget and ensures that this unfair VAT charge is scrapped?

It is worth saying that the tax system does support the take-up of electric vehicles already. As a former Financial Secretary, I can tell the hon. Lady that I would be skinned if I made Treasury policy from the Dispatch Box. I am not going to do that, but I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Treasury will have noted her concern.

Rail Services

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on delivering rail service improvements. (905167)

The Secretary of State and the Chancellor regularly meet to discuss rail services, and between them they are delivering unprecedented investment in rail infrastructure and reform of the industry. That includes delivering High Speed 2, core Northern Powerhouse Rail and East West Rail, as confirmed by the Chancellor at the autumn statement, while investing in the existing network across the country.

According to reports, Great British Railways is dead in the water thanks to a Treasury that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. We have seen the Yorkshire leg of HS2 dumped, Northern Powerhouse Rail stripped to the bone and HS2 terminating at Old Oak Common. Does the Minister agree that his colleagues in the Treasury are the biggest threat to the rail network and public transport across these islands?

I do not agree at all. The Secretary of State was quite clear in his Bradshaw talk that Great British Railways would be put forward. It is being put forward, and that Bradshaw address was endorsed by the Treasury and all parts of Government. We are absolutely committed. Later today I will have a discussion with all the team involved in rail reform, as I do on a weekly basis, as we look to transition this project from the Department to Great British Railways. Legislation delivers certain parts of it, but it does not deliver the project. We are delivering the project, and we will look to deliver the legislation when time allows it.

I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be delighted if rail companies, some of which take a rather lax approach to ticket inspection, ensured that passengers had a valid ticket. I can give an example. I, along with seven other members of the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill Select Committee, went to Manchester on Tuesday. We paid an extortionate amount for our tickets. On the outward journey, no one inspected the tickets, nor did we pass through any barriers. If the Chancellor had more money, he could use it to improve rail services.

I thought my hon. Friend was about to tell us about an even more unfortunate incident, but I am glad that did not occur. We have increased the fine for those who are not using valid tickets to £100, which is reduced to £50 if it is paid on time. That increase demonstrates that we take this matter very seriously. Like him, I find it frustrating when I encounter journeys where the ticket is not checked either on the train or at barriers. I am determined to do more on that front; he is aware of that, and I encourage him to work with me as we do that.

Speeding on Roads

As I am sure the House will widely agree, speeding is a very serious road safety issue that has a direct link with the risk of collisions, serious injury and fatality. Traffic law enforcement is an operational matter for the police, and operational decisions are for police and crime commissioners and chief constables. That includes policy and procedures for using police powers and resources.

Speeding continues to be one of the biggest issues in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. Will the Minister agree to visit my constituency to meet with community groups and road safety campaigners and discuss how best we can tackle this problem?

The Government are committed to ensuring that roads are safe for drivers. I have no doubt that the roads Minister would be absolutely delighted to visit my hon. Friend in his constituency, and to talk to those community groups and other interested parties about this important issue.

Since 2010, the rate of road deaths has plateaued. Is the Minister proud of that record, and when will he finally publish the long-awaited road safety strategic framework?

As the hon. Lady knows, when I was roads Minister, we did a lot of work on safety reviews for walking and cycling. I do not think anyone who looks at the statistics, which of course are not controlled by Government or any single force, will be proud of where they are. One reason why I am excited about the potential for new automated, driver-assistive and other technologies is that in principle, they have the capacity to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries very significantly. That is something we should all welcome.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Outside London

11. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure outside of London. [R] (905169)

18. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure outside of London. (905177)

There are currently over 42,000 public electric vehicle charge points in the UK, alongside hundreds of thousands more in homes and workplaces. The Government have allocated a share of £381 million to every local area in England under the local EV infrastructure fund, and are also supporting rapid chargers along the strategic road network. The Government also provide grants to support the provision of charge points in flats, rental properties, residential car parks and workplaces.

According to The Times, the gulf between the number of electric vehicles on our roads and the number of public charge points has doubled in the past year. Logistics UK reports that many of its operators with commercial vehicles cannot access those points, so it seems that the Government need to do more on planning and encouraging investment. Could the Minister update us?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—I thought he was going to mention the £3.29 million of capital funding that Warwickshire County Council has received in this area, but I take the general point he raises. When EV purchases are growing rapidly, as they are in this country, there will be moments of disconnect between the amount of infrastructure and the number of vehicles. We have certainly seen a bit of that recently, and we will perhaps continue to see it for a number of months or more, but what is interesting is that the new zero-emission vehicle mandate allows us to trigger billions of pounds of potential private investment, as I have mentioned. That is a world-leading intervention by Government, and I think it will pay long-term dividends in supporting the expansion of the electric car fleet.

EV charging in the north-east is falling behind the rest of the country. Most of the stock are older, much slower charging points that often do not work, and the ones that do are often at capacity. Will the Minister commit to working with Transport North East and our councils to ensure that owning and charging an electric vehicle continues to be a possibility in our region?

The point of the LEVI fund is precisely to create an equitable spread of public charge points around the country. The north-east is not badly served in the overall numbers per head of population, but we can always do better. I would be happy to meet any local organisations that are committed to that agenda, as the hon. Lady has suggested. She will know—if she has not done so, she can check in the transparency records—that we have been very active in dealing with local authorities, motorway service operators, charge point operators and others with an interest in this area.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if local authorities were to look at their byelaws, that would enable EV charging gullies to be facilitated for those who do not have off- street parking? That would have a huge impact on the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure.

I associate those on the SNP Benches with the Secretary of State’s comments on the horrendous rail incident in India.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and I visited the Cromarty Firth, Aberdeen and Orkney to see the real progress in Scotland’s renewables and transport decarbonisation sectors, including the public charger roll-out, where Orkney has the highest number per capita in the UK—four times the English rate outside of London—and Scotland has twice as many rapid chargers per head. Surely that shows the fundamental role of Government in driving transport decarbonisation. The low numbers in England outside of London highlight the danger of leaving it to the market.

I do not accept the premise of that argument. We have discussed it in the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) was right, because he highlighted the different technologies that can be used rapidly to extend charge points, including gullies and pop-up charge points. We are in the process of rapid expansion and change, and the House would expect that to continue. The amount of private sector investment that we have already triggered or will be triggering through the mandate once it is on the statute book will drive that process still faster.

What the Minister says ignores the reality that the gap between Scotland and England on chargers is widening, rather than narrowing. What we have seen in Scotland is a party that believes in the power of Government to benefit transport. We have EV infrastructure outstripping England, a publicly owned rail service scrapping peak-time fares, many times more zero-emission buses ordered and on the road, and active travel spending increasing to more than £300 million while budgets here are butchered. Is it not time that the Government admitted that the Thatcherite deregulation model has failed completely and instead got to work helping the state to build a transport network fit for the 21st century?

I do not accept that at all. It is inevitable with a change of this magnitude that it will be essential for state interventions to trigger private investment. That will go in the first instance where it can trigger additional growth in the market. We use the LEVI fund and other mechanisms to ensure equity across the country.


13. What comparative assessment he has made of the service delivered by Avanti’s rail timetable (a) now and (b) at the launch of that franchise. (905171)

Avanti began operating in December 2019 and within 16 weeks had transitioned on to an emergency measures agreement due to the covid-19 pandemic. Since then, the service provision has adjusted to align with demand and to balance taxpayer and passenger needs. I welcome recent performance improvements, with Avanti-caused cancellations down from 13.2% in January 2023 to 1.4% for the month of April.

Order. I was shouting to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) not to come past the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) when he was in the middle of a question. Try again, Mr Fabricant.

Take 2. Mr Speaker, you might disagree with the Minister’s answer and say that the reliability of Avanti is still not that good. Nevertheless, my question is about services from Lichfield Trent Valley station. I wonder when services can be restored whereby we have a decent service on Sundays, particularly early Sunday evenings, both down to Euston and to the north. That used to exist before covid, but those services are no longer on the timetable.

Normal service resumed after a passenger crossed the line of sight in front of my hon. Friend. Anything that deprives my hon. Friend, and indeed his constituents, of the ability to get down from Lichfield is something that I will have to look at and help. I am meeting the managing director of Avanti today, as it turns out. I will raise my hon. Friend’s point and happily write back to him and do my best.

ScotRail, the Caledonian Sleeper, LNER and now TransPennine Express have all been nationalised. Increasingly, that is clearly the model that will deliver the reliable train services that customers need. What steps is the Minister taking to monitor the impact of nationalisation and whether it ought to be rolled out to the other franchises?

The steps I am taking on monitoring are looking at being able to put those operations back to the private sector. That is our preferred model. On TransPennine trains, I had a very good meeting with the interim chief executive, and I thank him for the work he is doing to stabilise. A plan is being looked at that will be delivered by next month, I believe. We currently have a situation where 50% of drivers are not trained up. What that tells us is that we need a lot more co-operation with the unions to get our drivers trained so that they can drive trains across all routes.

Topical Questions

We know that buses are a social and economic lifeline for millions across the country. That is why we are keeping fares down and keeping vital bus routes open. We have extended our popular £2 bus fare cap until the end of October, followed by a £2.50 cap until November next year. On top of the £2 billion in support we have provided to the sector since the pandemic, we are investing £300 million to support essential services and routes for the next two years. This is giving the sector certainty, helping people with the cost of living and delivering against our priority to halve inflation, as well as protecting the vital role that buses play in growing our economy.

Overcrowding on Chiltern services from stations such as Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough has become beyond unacceptable. That will only get worse if Chiltern is forced to discontinue the Class 68 loco-hauled trains, as expected. Will my right hon. Friend agree to enable the continued use of these trains until Chiltern can complete its full planned fleet renewal?

I am able to tell my hon. Friend that officials in the Department are already working with Chiltern on looking at how we deal with those issues. I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), will be delighted to meet him to give him more detail of the work already under way so that we can deliver a better service for his constituents.

Due to the UK’s out-of-date and inefficient airspace, designed in the 1960s, the average flight from Luton to Jersey emits 24% more carbon than necessary. Modernising UK airspace is the quickest and most effective way to save carbon in the UK aviation sector. The process is so slow and bureaucratic that it is going to be the 2060s before this is sorted. Is it not time the Secretary of State stepped up to the plate?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of airspace modernisation, which is exactly why we are getting on with it. I have had recent discussions with National Air Traffic Services on the work it is doing and discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority. That work is under way, and we are looking at it in the UK, but also working with our international partners to make sure this plays a part in decarbonisation. It was something I discussed in the US when I co-chaired a summit with the US Transportation Secretary, and we talked about these issues with important players in the aviation sector globally.

T2. As railway ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels, we need an efficient approach to railway finance. Can my hon. Friend say when he intends to reunite cost and revenue, so that that continues to drive up demand and provides an efficient method? (905183)

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we currently view costs as sitting with the DFT and revenue as sitting with the Treasury. This can make it harder to increase services, even when extra revenue can be assured, because costs at the DFT cannot increase. He can be assured that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I spoke yesterday about how we can grow services and revenues with one profit and loss statement. I am also working with the train operators to amend their contracts, so they can be the parties that take the risk and get a greater share of the reward.

T5. Current regulations on hydrogen transport and storage are preventing world-leading renewables innovators such as the European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland from using surplus energy from tidal turbines to produce green hydrogen and export it off-island? Will the Department work with the Competition and Markets Authority to review these regulations and ensure that Scotland’s green industrial revolution is not hampered by Westminster’s regulatory dead hand? (905187)

As the hon. Lady will know, I have already outlined the support that we have been giving and the warm interest we take in hydrogen, so I am very interested to hear what she says. If she could bear to send me the details, I will make sure that I or the relevant Minister responds to her.

T3. The cut to air passenger duty was a welcome boost for domestic aviation and for facilitating the growth of regional airports, such as Blackpool. Following this success, will the Government consider introducing public service obligation routes from destinations such as Blackpool to support tourism and economic growth? (905184)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We had a Westminster Hall debate on this a few months ago. As he will know, the UK policy on public service obligations is to protect existing routes in danger of being lost, and the DFT jointly funds routes into London from Newquay, Dundee and Derry/Londonderry. Lord Hendy’s independent Union connectivity review has now been lodged. We have welcomed it, and we will continue to consider the ways in which PSOs can help the Government to achieve regional connectivity needs.

British Transport Police highlighted that instances of sexual harassment and sexual offences on public transport have soared by a shocking 175% between 2019 and 2020. We need our women and girls to feel safe to use public transport, and to use it so that we can tackle the climate emergency. Labour is committed to halving violence against women and girls. When will the Government match that commitment and make sure that our women and girls feel safe to use public transport?

The hon. Lady is right to focus on this. That is why the Government published our cross-Government “Tackling violence against women and girls strategy”, which the Department for Transport is fundamentally involved with. Since 2019 the BTP, which the hon. Lady mentioned specifically, has enhanced its approach to combating violence against women and girls, complemented by the BTP chief constable’s personal commitment and drive on this subject.

T4. North Devon’s pothole group recently made national news and, while much work is being done, our roads are still more pothole or patch than road in far too many places. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that local councils are spending their pothole funding effectively and, in particular, that rural road surfaces are improving? (905185)

My hon. Friend might know that I visited Devon in a previous incarnation as roads Minister precisely to look at its innovative work on potholes. She will also be aware that the Government are investing £5 billion in local highways maintenance outside London, with the mayoral combined authorities already receiving CRSTS—city regional sustainable transport settlement—money. It is up to each local highway authority to decide how best to spend that money, but of course we do expect them to be able to account locally and we also think about how roads are surveyed and assessed and how well they are being treated as assets by those authorities.

With Luton Town being promoted to the premier league last week, many fans will be travelling by train, including from London clubs such as Arsenal. However, as the Minister knows, Luton station is sadly not accessible for many people with mobility issues, and while he has confirmed Access for All money is forthcoming to put lifts in the station by next year, what recent conversations has he had with the Sport Minister, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), regarding accessibility of the rail network for travelling sports fans?

I congratulate Luton Town. As the hon. Lady knows, my family are big supporters; they have been there through the bad times and they will be there in the good ones as well. I also thank her for showing me around Luton station. I am committed to ensuring that Access for All is delivered at that station on time; any attempts to push back will not get signed off by me. On her campaign on the leaky roof on platforms 1 and 2, which she showed me, the work will start in August and complete in early 2024—I thank her for that.

T6. I have heard concerns from many constituents who are business users of Heathrow airport that it is now by some margin the most expensive airport in the world. Will my right hon. Friend consider looking at the regulatory model, bringing it more into line with other airports in the United Kingdom to ensure that its charges become much more competitive in future? (905188)

Recognising Heathrow’s significant market power, it is economically regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, including capping Heathrow’s charges. The CAA published its 2022 to 2026 settlement decision in March. The Competition and Markets Authority is considering appeals against that decision and I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that I cannot comment on that ongoing process. Separately, the Department aims to publish the independent review of the CAA by the summer and will consider any economic regulation-related recommendations at that time.

My constituent Vance applied for a medical driving licence in April 2022; 14 months later, after delays, he has been told he needs to reapply. This is having a direct impact on his job. Why is any constituent experiencing such delays, and can the Minister explain what is being done to address them?

Obviously that specific case should not have happened. If the hon. Lady sends through the details, I will make sure that the roads Minister looks at it in detail. Generally, medical cases are taking longer to get sorted out than general cases following both the pandemic and industrial action, but we are well on our way to getting that on track. I will, however, make sure the roads Minister looks at that specific case.

T7. Junction 11 of the M65 currently only allows traffic to join going eastwards towards Colne, where the motorway ends, and not westwards towards the M6, opening up the whole country. The result is a majorly congested Burnley town centre and a limit to economic opportunity. Could my right hon. Friend set out what funding opportunities are available for a viability study into a westwards slip road? (905189)

In 2021, we asked National Highways to undertake a study looking at possible interventions on or around the M65 at Colne. That study focused on localised congestion pinch points on that road, which is owned and managed by Lancashire County Council. It concluded in 2022, and the findings were handed over to the council and Transport for the North. It is for them to decide what further action they may wish to take as a result, but I know they will, and they certainly should, attend closely to what my hon. Friend said.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There is real frustration because the Secretary of State and the rail Minister will not talk and settle the dispute between the trade unions and the operators. No talks have been held since the beginning of the year. When I speak to the rail companies, they say they want to do a deal and they believe that there is a pathway to end the dispute. When I speak to the trade unions—ASLEF and RMT—they say the same. So why will he not get round the table and end the dispute?

As I said, the table, which the hon. Lady refers to, has an offer on it. All it requires is for the RMT—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) on the Front Bench says that they have not accepted it. The members of those unions—the members—have not been given the opportunity to vote on it. The deal is on the table. The union leaders should put it to their members and ask them what they think.

T8. I thank the Minister for coming to Sheringham and seeing the A148-Holway road junction for himself, the congestion at that important junction into Sheringham, which is a key tourist destination in my constituency, and the rat-running in the neighbouring towns and villages. May I ask the Secretary of State to squeeze the Transport Department’s coffers just one last time to find some important money to try to improve that junction? (905190)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I am sure that the roads Minister will be happy to meet him to discuss that further. I understand that Norfolk County Council has completed the feasibility study into the improvements at that junction and has committed funds to continue the development of the scheme. That puts Norfolk in a strong position to submit a bid, should funding opportunities arise. I know that he will press that case strongly.

A simple question for the Transport Secretary: are the Government committed to building a third runway at Heathrow—yes or no?

As the hon. Lady knows, the decision about whether to build a third runway is one for Heathrow. The funding has to come from Heathrow. She knows that if, at some point in the future, it wants to proceed with that, a significant process has to get under way. She would not expect me to express an opinion on it because there is obviously a clear judicial process to follow, but it is up to Heathrow to make the first move and we wait with interest to see whether it does so.

T9. National Highways has already done a lot of research into a safety package on the A38 from Carkeel to Trerulefoot in my constituency. I thank it for that. I saw the aftermath of one of the frequent accidents just one month ago. We need this urgently. Please can the Secretary of State look again at this? (905191)

I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. She knows, and I have already said, how important the safety of all road users is to the Government. This part of the A38 has a high collision rate and we want to address that with local authorities. A package of safety measures between Carkeel and Trerulefoot was announced as a pipeline scheme in the second road investment strategy for delivery in the future RIS. National Highways consulted on proposed safety improvements and continues to develop its plans in the light of feedback received. We will encourage it to accelerate that work.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the anecdotally large number of learner drivers who deliver pizzas and that sort of stuff? They have learner plates. They have had no training. Is he worried? We have all heard anecdotally that there are lots of casualties and deaths. Has he any hard facts on that?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and it is very good to see him back in his place. It is difficult to make policy based on anecdote. If he has specific examples and evidence, I would be delighted if he wrote to me or the roads Minister, and we will of course look into the serious matters he raises in the House.

Roadworks that continually reappear on the same stretch of road at multiple locations are a major cause of congestion across the towns and villages in Erewash, particularly in Long Eaton and Sawley. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking, in conjunction with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to ensure that utility companies better co-ordinate their work schedules to minimise disruption to road users?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that can be a complete pest. Over the last few years, the Government have taken some action to address that. Utility companies have a right of access to highways to install and repair apparatus, and we rely on them to do so in many ways. The Government introduced a number of initiatives, including the development of Street Manager and regulatory changes, which are all designed to improve the efficiency of how such works are carried out and co-ordinated.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, I often hear from stakeholders, both business and civil society, about their frustration over the lack of direct flights between the UK and Malawi. I appreciate that that is largely a commercial decision for operators, but what role can the Department for Transport play in bringing together interested parties to discuss what options might be available?

The hon. Gentleman put his finger on it: it is largely a commercial decision. If regulatory issues or other issues are preventing that from happening, I would be delighted to look into those. If he raises them on behalf of the APPG, I would be delighted to hear from him, but those are largely commercial decisions for airlines and airports to take.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that road congestion is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for the mental health of motorists? To that extent, why are the Government pursuing policies that are making road congestion worse rather than better?

There are a range of independent estimates of the impact of road congestion financially. They range between hundreds of millions of pounds and billions of pounds; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are not taking any action to increase congestion. Many schemes, for example active travel schemes, which are regarded by some—by some—as schemes that increase congestion, actually reduce it. He will notice, however, that some schemes put in place under the emergency active travel fund two or three years ago during the pandemic have been revised. I think local authorities are coming to realise that those were somewhat inexpeditiously put in place and we hope they will continue to do so.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 12 June will include:

Monday 12 June—Consideration of Lords message to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion to approve the draft Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023, followed by a general debate on the risk-based exclusion of Members of Parliament.

Tuesday 13 June—Remaining stages of the Procurement Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 14 June—Opposition day (10th allocated day, second part). Debate in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on defence policy. Hon. Members have been asking for a debate in Government time on both Ukraine and NATO. Both issues will be in scope of this debate.

Thursday 15 June—General debate on Pride Month, followed by a general debate on Government policies on migration. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 June includes:

Monday 19 June—Remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

It was incredibly frustrating to see this worn-out Tory Government shut up shop and clear out of here before 2 o’clock on Tuesday. The House has regularly risen early for months because of thin Government business, at least down this end—in the other place, they seem to be clogged up. How are Tory Ministers spending their time? Clearly not delivering in their Departments. Are they racing home to watch daytime TV instead? Has the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) been watching too much “Escape to the Country”? I hear he is planning a chicken run to a rural so-called “safe” seat in Oxfordshire. Does the Leader of the House fancy her chances against the “Eggheads”? Perhaps she can try to raise some money to cover the extortionate cost to the taxpayer of the former Prime Minister’s legal fees.

The Government ought to be using the precious time they have in this House to pass laws that will make people’s lives better. They have the power, but why are they not using it? Have they just given up? Why did the Leader of the House not use Tuesday to bring forward the much-needed transport or schools Bills? Everyone in this House knows the damage that 13 years of Tory Government have done to our transport and education systems. Will they not at least try to fix them?

The Government could have also brought forward their long-promised Mental Health Bill. The Committee that studied a draft version published its final report way back in January—six months ago—and there is still no sign of a Bill. Has the Health Secretary even read that report? Do Ministers support calls for stronger measures, or not? Will the Health Secretary come to this House and answer MPs’ questions, or not? People are worried sick about the state that this Government have left mental health services in. Could the Leader of the House tell us whether she will announce a Mental Health Bill in this Session, or will the Tories really leave vulnerable people waiting even longer to receive the care they so desperately need?

Every week, it is left to Labour to bring forward a plan. This week, we called for the Government to introduce Labour’s plan to recruit thousands of mental health staff, to provide access to specialist mental health support in every school and to establish open access mental health hubs for children and young people, paid for by closing tax loopholes. What do Government Members have against any of that? Where is their plan? They had one, and they scrapped it.

As well as failing to bring froward new laws to help people with mental health problems, Ministers are failing to put into practice laws already passed. Let us take Seni’s law, set out in a private Member’s Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) five years ago and passed unanimously. It is intended to monitor the disproportionate use of force and to tackle dangerous restraint in mental health settings, but the Government still do not seem to have made it a reality on the ground.

The Government have promised progress for years. Why are they still failing to protect mentally ill people properly? Could the Leader of the House please tell us when she will announce that they will? Could she help the shadow mental health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), to get answers to questions she has put to Ministers about meetings that they have had with mental health trusts where there are reported abuse scandals? She has asked six times. I know the right hon. Lady takes the issue of answers very seriously, but Ministers have failed to give my hon. Friend a decent answer, so could she ask her Health colleagues to respond with an answer that those people who have suffered terrible abuse deserve?

The Government have scrapped their 10-year mental health plan and have talked about a Mental Health Bill that it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, waiting lists soar and people’s lives are damaged. Ministerial incompetence on mental health is a symbol of their approach in every Department and on every policy. We have a Prime Minister so out of touch, out of ideas and out of steam that he cannot even fill up a parliamentary day, breaking promises and letting people down. Meanwhile, Labour will work flat out on our plan to improve mental health care and to make the lives of people everywhere better.

First, on behalf of the House, I congratulate West Ham on their tremendous triumph yesterday. It is great to see so many happy fans.

The hon. Lady focused some of her remarks on mental health. She knows that this Government have vastly improved and raised the profile and status of mental health, and are delivering an extra £2.3 billion to the annual mental health budget. The Mental Health Bill is not nowhere to been seen; it has had scrutiny in the Joint Committee and that has just completed. She knows that I will announce business in the usual way, but the very serious issues that she raises about the treatment of particular people in inappropriate care settings will be addressed by some of the provisions in the Bill and I hope to update the House about that in the coming weeks.

I take issue with the hon. Lady’s assertion that in every Department we are not using our time well and we are not delivering for the public. On legislation, this week we passed the British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill, and next week we will be debating the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the Procurement Bill. We have introduced 40 Bills so far, including legislation to tackle illegal migration. We should all thank their cocoa-fuelled lordships for sitting very late last night to get that Bill to make progress.

Outside this Chamber, we are delivering and using our time well. On our mission to stop the boats, we have discovered this week that crossings are down by 20%, some 33,000 crossings have been prevented and Albanian small boat arrivals are down by 90%. We are a whole year ahead of meeting our manifesto commitment to recruit 26,000 more primary care staff, delivering on two of the priorities of the Prime Minister and the people. The hon. Lady mentions education. Statistics out today show that nearly 48,000 full-time equivalent teachers joined English schools in the academic year 2022-23, meaning there are 2,800 more teachers in class- rooms now than last year.

Labour Members are billing their party as some kind of dynamo, standing up for hard-working families, but they have consistently demonstrated their lack of support for hard-working families—not so much up the workers, as stuff the workers. There has been no condemnation of hard-left unions co-ordinating strikes that are bringing misery to millions of British citizens, and no condemnation of the extreme protest tactics of Extinction Rebellion or Just Stop Oil, who get in the way of hard-working people trying to get to work, collecting their kids from school or getting their loved ones to hospital. Labour Members have consistently voted to weaken the Public Order Act 2023 and voted against protecting the public. While we have been strengthening police powers to lock people up, Labour has been promoting the merits of people locking-on. Labour has always got in the way of people going about their business, and it has turned the nanny state into an art form.

Today, where Labour is in power, it is getting in the way again. In Wales, rather than helping people to get a GP appointment, the Labour Government are trying to stop people from buying a meal deal. In London, the Labour Mayor is frustrating businesses and hiking household taxes through the ill-thought out, unravelling ultra-low emission zone scheme. Labour is an obstacle and a blocker—a load of old bollards.

If Members of the shadow Cabinet really want to disprove that and, as the hon. Lady suggests, show they are on the side of hard-grafting people and their families, they should do three things: they should stand up and condemn the process of Just Stop Oil, hand back all Labour’s associated donations, and make their 34th policy U-turn of the year by reversing Labour’s illogical stance on North sea oil and gas that is a barrier to our national security, growth and investment, increasing household incomes and our ability to cut emissions. As I say Mr Speaker, a load of old bollards.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there are more than 16,500 new cases of skin cancer in the UK every year, largely because of unprotected exposure to the sun? Is she further aware that high-factor sun creams are subject to value added tax at the point of sale? Can we have a Government review, followed by a statement, into the desirability of exempting high-protection sun creams from VAT to encourage greater use?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that very good suggestion. One of the advantages of being outside the EU is that we now have complete control of our fiscal policy, and this is a great example of what we could do. I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Health and the Chancellor have heard his suggestion today, and I encourage him to raise it at the next health questions, which is on 11 July.

It was announced in the Scottish Parliament yesterday that Scotland’s deposit return scheme has had to be delayed until October 2025. That is the latest estimate of how long it will take England to finally catch up with the devolved Governments and introduce its own scheme. Some would call this dithering and delaying, and I know that that is what a great many environmental organisations think.

Keep Britain Tidy estimates that every day of delay leaves an extra 140,000 cans and bottles littering Scotland. This delay, forced on Scotland by the UK Government’s refusal to grant an exemption under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, means that tens of millions of those items will be littering Scotland’s lands and seas for many months to come. After several years of discussion with Scottish businesses and, indeed, nearly two years of discussion with the UK Government and officials under the common framework set-up, and with no justification offered for the refusal to agree to the exemption, the Secretary of State for Scotland swooped in at the last minute, like some sort of toff Tarzan, to squash the scheme—many examples of which can be seen across the world—and demanded that glass be removed from it, thus forcing Scotland to wait for England’s scheme to become operational. Given that no regulations outlining how England’s scheme will work have yet been laid, the estimated delivery date of 1 October 2025 in England looks optimistic, to put it kindly.

Once upon a time, we supposedly had the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Now we are not permitted to run a packaging recycling scheme. Will the Leader of the House perhaps permit a debate on devolution and its future, given that her Government apparently intend to continue to intervene and claw back to the centre powers that the people of Scotland wanted to be devolved to their Parliament? Can devolution now work only if the devolved and Westminster Governments are in complete agreement? Is that really what the people of Scotland voted for in 1997 in their devolution referendum? If the UK Government are prepared to intervene on a packaging recycling scheme, what confidence can we have that any of our Parliament’s policies will not be struck down in a similar way?

I have further questions. Why were so many MSPs and MPs in the right hon. Lady’s party enthusiastic about including glass in deposit return schemes previously —commitments to that were even included in the manifesto on which she stood—and what exactly has changed their minds? Acting on the advice of which bodies or individuals did the Secretary of State intervene, and with which environmental organisations did he discuss this before he intervened? Why has the inclusion of glass apparently been permitted for the scheme in Wales? I would be very grateful for some answers.

I shall be brief. The Secretary of State for Scotland is having these discussions with the Scottish Government first because he is standing up for the interests of Scottish business, which the SNP is not, and secondly because the scheme devised in Scotland will actually reduce recycling rates. As the hon. Lady will know, the delay in the scheme has been caused by the Scottish Government’s not engaging with the UK-wide scheme that would need to be devised because of the UK internal market. She need only go and listen to businesses in her constituency to understand their concerns about the Scottish scheme, and to hear their calls for compensation from the Scottish Government because this issue has been handled so poorly, and because of the investments they have had to make only to have the rug pulled from under their feet.

I also noted this week that the Auditor General for Scotland has revealed that the auditors are unable to account for billions of pounds’ worth of covid-19 business support grants that were handed to the Scottish Government, because of gaps in data. The SNP has made it impossible for the auditors to understand fully how £4.4 billion in grants and business reliefs were distributed between March 2020 and October 2021. I say thank heavens for the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he is standing up for the interests of the businesses and residents of Scotland.

As this is Child Safety Week, will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the Child Accident Prevention Trust for its outstanding work to protect children, and, in particular, the support it has given the Harper-Lee Foundation, which campaigns for button battery safety, by raising awareness of the danger of swallowing button batteries? Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Government to bring forward the product safety review and the vital legislation that is necessary to ensure greater product safety for all button battery-powered products, and will she make parliamentary time available for a debate on issues of product safety in the context of risk to children?

I thank my hon. Friend for her work on this incredibly important issue, and also thank the family of her constituent who was sadly lost because of an accident with button batteries. She will know that the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business is chairing a cross-discipline working group to bring together all the players who can raise awareness of the risks. The Office for Product Safety and Standards commissioned a fast-track business standard for button batteries that was published in 2021, but there is more to be done, and I shall certainly ensure that the Minister has heard my hon. Friend’s remarks.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and the Backbench business on 15 June. If the Committee is allocated the time, on 22 June we will have debates on the infected blood inquiry and on funding for the prevention of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP, which is a distressing ailment. On Thursday 29 June, if allocated the time, we will have debates on the UK fishing industry and on artificial intelligence.

The Backbench Business Committee understands that estimates debates are to take place in early July, and the deadline for submitting applications to the Committee will be Monday 19 June. Applications can be submitted online or on old-fashioned paper forms, and staff in the Table Office can provide advice. Applications for estimates debates can be submitted by individual Members, Select Committee Chairs or Select Committee members on topics relating to their Committee.

Through my work on the Education Committee, I have become aware that 92% of the 7,200 or so deaf children under the age of five are not gaining access to auditory verbal therapy, and that the UK has only 27 auditory verbal therapists. Can we have a statement about what the Government intend to do to recruit and train more auditory verbal therapists to rectify this injustice for our young deaf children?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful advert for the forthcoming business, which sounds very good indeed. I am sure many Members will be grateful for the chance to discuss the infected blood inquiry and progress against compensating all those affected and infected.

I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Education has heard his remarks about provision for deaf children. It is a subject close to my heart, and it is incredibly important that we provide opportunities for all sectors to ensure they have appropriately trained people in their workforce.

On Tuesday, a Dunstable GP practice was telling me about patients who missed hospital appointments because their letters did not arrive, but that situation pales into insignificance compared with what is happening in Leighton Buzzard, where some constituents have not had post for six weeks. Despite the excellent efforts of the postmen and women, with whom I have been out on their delivery rounds, the management of Royal Mail in Leighton Buzzard is failing utterly. What can the Government do to ensure that my constituents have a decent hospital service, can get to their medical appointments on time, receive cheques through the post and get a proper postal service?

I am sorry to hear about what has been happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I will ensure that both the relevant Ministers hear his worries about the poor service they are getting from Royal Mail. Given that situation, it is critical that healthcare is not relying on letters to notify people of appointments. There is of course the NHS app, which is good progress, but many people, particularly older people, will not have a smartphone, so picking up the good old-fashioned telephone is certainly an option they should consider. I shall make sure that both Ministers have heard his concerns.

Can we have a debate about legal aid for visa and asylum applications? I know that other hon. Members are finding it impossible for constituents to get a solicitor to assist them when they are entitled to that support. Perhaps Ministers could then explain how cutting off support and aid for people who need that advice reduces the backlog we are all struggling with, both in the Home Office and in our constituency offices.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very sensible point, and I would be happy to make sure the Home Secretary has heard his remarks.

May we have a full debate on the World Health Organisation? There are a number of issues about which many of us are concerned: the potential international treaty, the potential regulations and the discussion about international covid passports. The House ought to have an opportunity to express itself on some of these issues.

That is an excellent topic for debate. There are many aspects to this, and of course it plays into the Government’s programmes on patient records and other things. I will make sure the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard my hon. Friend’s suggestion, but he will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way—he has heard a fantastic advert from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee—and I am sure such a debate would be well attended.

The Government have excluded NHS contractors from the latest pay award given to NHS workers. NHS contractors in my Bath constituency will miss out on £2,000, on average. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on why healthcare contractors have been excluded from the pay uplift?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important point. Given that the next Health and Social Care questions are not until 11 July, I will happily write to the Secretary of State on her behalf.

New research shows that the UK’s birth rate is continuing to fall. At the same time, Fertility Network UK suggests that 3.5 million people are struggling with fertility, which is why I have launched my fertility workplace pledge to encourage employers to have a more progressive policy when it comes to fertility. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving Government time for a debate on fertility issues, particularly as we mark World Infertility Awareness Month this month?

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for the work she is doing for her constituents and, more widely, to raise awareness of this important matter. She makes an excellent suggestion for a debate. Of course, it is not just about healthcare; it is also about things like housing policy. One reason why people are delaying having children is because they are trying to get on the property ladder beforehand. I will make sure the relevant Minister has heard her remarks, and I congratulate her on the work she is doing.

Recent figures from the North East Child Poverty Commission show that, over the past nine years, more than 50,000 babies, children and young people have been pulled into poverty by successive Conservative Governments, yet the north-east has fantastic potential. We have great universities, fantastic start-ups, highly productive manufacturing and access to almost unlimited clean energy. Can we have a debate in Government time on an industrial strategy to realise the north-east’s economic potential, for the benefit of our young people and working families?

I will make sure the relevant Minister has heard the hon. Lady’s request. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be well attended. Indeed, I recently spoke from this Dispatch Box about the investment going into that part of the United Kingdom. She will know that we have the £94 billion cost of living package to alleviate the strains that households are under at the moment, but she will also know that, compared with 2010, we have 1 million fewer workless households, which is the best way to lift people out of poverty.

Tomorrow some of us will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of our first election to this place. Will my right hon. Friend give Government time for a debate on the comparison between the quality of public services in 1983 and the quality of public services today, and on the impact on those public services of the more than 20% increase in population since 1983?

I feel that those in the Press Gallery are now producing statistics for my hon. Friend’s 40 years —on the length of time he has spoken in private Members’ Bill debates and so forth. On behalf of us all, I say happy 40th anniversary to him for this week, as it is a tremendous landmark to have achieved. He makes an excellent suggestion for a debate. On the state of public services and their ability to cope with the population size, I can tell him that every time Labour has left office it has left the country in a worse state and every time a Conservative Government have left office they have left it in a better state.

Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council is moving early years practitioners down from grade 9 to grade 7. They have been given the option either to take a pay cut of up to 30% or move to another job within the council. Not only will that have a detrimental impact on children and families, but it will push many early years practitioners, who are predominantly women, into financial hardship. I have met constituents who are deeply worried about the future. Given those concerns, will the Leader of the House make Government time for a debate on this alarming situation, which is fire and rehire?

Let me say two things on this to the hon. Lady. She will know that local government financing and allocations, and the budgets for that, are a matter for the Scottish Government. But where the UK Government can assist is in having been clear that threats of dismissal and re-engagement should not be used as a negotiation tactic. Dismissal and re-engagement should not be considered in that light and the Government have taken action on it. We have published a code of practice, which is currently going through a consultation, and it sets out employers’ responsibilities when seeking to change contractual terms and conditions. Once it is in force, an employment tribunal will be able to increase an employee’s compensation by up to 25% if the employer has unreasonably failed to comply. Obviously there will be a debate in both Houses of Parliament on that in due course, and I hope she will take part in that. We plan to bring forward a negative statutory instrument to give people confidence that they can stand up to these kinds of tactics.

When will the Government bring forward the single-issue Bills they have promised to replace the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill with, so that we can see an end to live exports for slaughter and have a crackdown on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies?

My right hon. Friend speaks for many Members and many people around the country who care deeply about animal welfare. She will know that we are committed to bringing forward these measures. She knows that I will say that we will announce business in the usual way, but I hope that for some provisions in the Bill, for example those on primates, we will be able to do this more swiftly than would happen through the passage of the Bill.

This week is Carers Week, when we acknowledge and recognise the tremendous work done by unpaid carers, week in, week out. Unfortunately, I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are now unpaid carers, having previously been paid carers until the vaccine mandate. Given that we now know that the mandated medical treatment does not prevent the transmission or contraction of the virus, may we have an apology and a statement from the Government, not only to my constituents, but to the 40,000 other professional carers who have been forced from their jobs on what is obviously a false premise?

I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The care workforce is under tremendous pressure, with an enormous number of vacancies at the moment. He will know that the Secretary of State is looking not just at what we can do to bolster that workforce, but at the status of that job and the support people have in it.

Yesterday, no fewer than three 24-inch mains water pipes burst in my constituency, causing extensive flooding, traffic chaos and a widespread lack of clean water across my constituency. The good news is that two have been repaired today, but the third repair is still outstanding. That comes on top of the chaos that has been caused by Affinity Water replacing the water mains, supposedly as an improvement. So may we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the action being taken across the country to replace outdated water mains, so that the chaos that ensued in my constituency is not spread across the country?

I am extremely sorry to hear about this ongoing issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns about this, as the next departmental questions are not until 6 July. I just wish to put on record my thanks to all those who are working in his constituency to make sure that vulnerable people in particular are looked after at this time.

Can we have a debate, please, about the Crown Estate? It took ownership of a canopy by some shops in Little Sutton in my constituency, although it claims that it does not actually own it, because it does not want to repair it. However, it still owns it in the sense that it would charge the council £5,000 to take over responsibility for it. At the moment, no one is taking responsibility for it, and it is dangerous. We are in this silly legal lacuna where no one seems to want to deal with the problem. Given that the Crown Estate gives hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the Treasury, it seems ridiculous that we are in this state, so I wondered whether we could have a debate on how the Crown Estate actually operates.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We could have a debate about that, but I suggest another course of action, which is that I will write to ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to give him some advice on how this situation can be resolved. Whether it is the situation that he describes or dilapidated buildings that cannot be redeveloped or sold by the owner, we have to find ways around these tricky, knotty problems, and I would be happy to try to assist him to do that.

In the weeks since the BBC announced cuts to local radio, there have been many events and questions in this House and elsewhere. Sadly, however, that seems to have had little effect. If we are to retain the BBC as a national broadcaster, perhaps it is opportune now to have a debate about the role and the financing of the BBC. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on that in Government time?

I know that this is a matter of huge concern to many Members across the House and their constituents. As I have said previously, local radio is not just a lifeline in communities, but fundamental to scrutiny and therefore the functioning of our democracy, which matters to all of us in this place. I suggest that my hon. Friend raises this matter again at the next Culture, Media and Sport questions, which are on 15 June. Certainly, local radio is one thing that people really look to the BBC to provide for our country.

I commend the House of Commons Commission for the thorough consideration that it has given to the topic of risk-based exclusions and the report that it published this week with recommendations for how we can improve our internal procedures, including better alignment with the criminal process, to ensure that Parliament is a safe working environment, and that safeguarding measures can be put in place around those under investigation while serious allegations are considered. This is not a party political issue but a House issue, so can the Leader of the House explain why Monday’s debate will be a general debate on risk-based exclusions and not a motion on the adoption of these recommendations in her name, and can she tell us how much longer we can be expected to wait for long-overdue progress?

The hon. Lady is right: this is a matter for the House. I thank all members of the Commission and the staff of the House who have worked on the report, which included a consultation with Members, and brought forward these proposals. What is critical is that it is the House that decides. There have been requests, including from three Committees of the House, that we debate these proposals. Certainly, it is the intention of both the Commission and myself to bring forward a motion following that debate. There is time to do that before the summer recess. I am sure that all members of the House want to improve our practices, but it is important that Members of Parliament are allowed a say on that and that we arrive at a scheme that is not just the best it can be, but welcomed by all Members.

First, may I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for barging in earlier without being aware of who was speaking?

Belper leisure centre in my constituency is under financial pressure, mainly due to increased energy bills. The leisure centre also provides sports facilities and exam spaces for the local school and is a real community hub. May we have a statement about Government support for leisure centres and how the Government are working with local councils and energy companies to keep these crucial community hubs open?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and many activities are supported by buildings such as the one she describes. I would suggest that she raises the matter at the next Energy Security questions on 4 July, but she will know that we are providing the energy bills discount scheme, which provides a baseline discount on energy bills to non-domestic customers, until 31 March next year. We recognise the importance of leisure centres in communities, which is why we have announced more than £60 million of new funding for public pools in England. That will be very welcome to a lot of leisure centres.

You have been very generous to me this morning, Mr Speaker, and I am very thankful. Does the Leader of the House agree that, with the decline of print newspapers in regions and towns, it is vital that the BBC maintains good coverage of local and regional politics and news? Has she seen what has happened in my region around Leeds, with the decline of and cuts to Radio Leeds and television coverage? May we have an early debate on the importance of regional and local coverage to local communities?

The hon. Gentleman echoes the concerns raised by many Members of the House about the decisions the BBC is taking. If he applied for a debate, I am sure it would be well attended, but again I shall make sure that the relevant Secretary of State has heard his concerns.

I very much welcome the work the Department for Education has been doing to improve the situation on special educational needs and disability school places. I have heard a good deal from the headteachers of Sunshine House and the Eden Academy in my constituency, and I have heard the same from many other hon. Members: there is an acute short-term problem affecting the availability of special school places. Is it possible to have a statement from the Government so that Ministers can set out the measures being taken to address that short-term pressure and indicate when the measures consulted upon will feed through into a new system to ensure that every child with SEND has the school place they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is vital that every child is able to reach their full potential and the Government are committed to that. He will know that every local authority in England will see a minimum per-head increase of 9.8% to their total needs allocations for 2023-24 compared with the previous year. We are also investing £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 to create new places to improve existing provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities who require alternative provision. It is an incredibly important matter. On the issue of short-term costs, I shall make sure the Secretary of State for Education has heard my hon. Friend’s comments today.

Can we have a Government statement on the asylum backlog? My constituent is from a prominent Iranian family; one brother is an international referee and another is a former Iranian politician, and both brothers are in exile. My constituent had to flee for her life, literally with the clothes on her back. Her children are still in Iran. There has been no movement on her case and she is in the backlog of asylum seekers, but we urgently need a decision. Will Leader of the House raise the matter with her colleagues in the Home Office, and can we have a statement from Government on the matter?

I am sorry to hear about this case. Following business questions, I will certainly ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of such cases. If the hon. Lady passes me more details and reference numbers, I shall include those in the letter. I remind her and all Members of the House that the Home Office is running bespoke surgeries for such cases. If she has any difficulty in accessing them, please let me know and I will address that. I announced in the business a debate on 15 June in which she might also raise her issue.

I had the pleasure of attending a surprise party for Special Constable Brian Hewlett at the Sub Rooms last week. Brian has undertaken 50 years of public service as a special constable in Stroud—50 years of volunteering alongside his work and family commitments—and thankfully, he will continue. All six Gloucestershire MPs, the police and crime commissioner Chris Nelson, and Chief Constable Rod Hansen are huge champions for special constables. We know what they do locally and around the country. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether Parliament can hold an event or debate to show support for that vital part of our police force?

I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House when I say thank you, Brian, for a life- time of service to your community. What an achievement; what a service. It is an incredibly important role, not just for the knowledge that those individuals build up in their communities, but for the trust and rapport that they build. I think that that would be an excellent subject for a debate. I hope that Brian and all his colleagues will be having a good old knees-up this week.

On the last day before recess, the House was due to debate the important topic of tackling Islamophobia, which we have not had the chance to do in the Chamber since 2019. Unfortunately, following a raft of ministerial statements, including some that did not tell us anything new, the debate had to be cancelled owing to the lack of time. Will the Leader of the House urge her Government to demonstrate their commitment to tackling that insidious form of hate by bringing forward a debate in Government time on tackling Islamophobia?

I shall certainly ensure that the Home Secretary hears the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. We are committed to tackling that scourge. He will know the other options that he has to apply for a debate, including the advert from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and I encourage him to do so.

I have received a joint letter from the rail users associations of Merseyside, Cheshire, Shropshire, Wrexham and Flintshire confirming what my constituents and I already knew: Transport for Wales, which is owned by the Welsh Labour Government, operates a north-east cross-rail service that is

“overcrowded, using dirty old rolling stock, and fraught with severe delays, cancellations and poor passenger communication”.

The associations conclude that Transport for Wales has failed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Wrexham deserve better than cattle class?

I am very sorry to hear about this ongoing issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Her constituents deserve better. She will know that since 2010, we have spent on average over 25% more in real terms every year on support for the railways than the Labour Government did. I am very sorry to hear that the Labour Administration in Wales are letting people down, but I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), is planning to have a meeting with the Welsh Deputy Minister for Climate Change, under whose remit this comes, to see what can be done to improve the services. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) for her work to try to rectify this sorry situation.

I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Might we have a debate in Government time, to be answered by a Treasury Minister, on the budget available for future farming support payments? The current settlement runs only until 2024. The Leader of the House will know that agriculture, of all industries, needs long-term certainty, especially as we redesign the systems for delivering that mechanism. The Government talk a very good game about the importance of farmers and crofters in our food security, but we need to hear from the Treasury whether they will put their money where their mouth is.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that important matter. He will have heard the announcement that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made this week with regard to all aspects of rural life. Clearly, in arriving at that plan, she has been speaking frequently with the Treasury. I shall make sure that both she and the Treasury have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

In the light of the Prime Minister’s stated ambition that all pupils should study some form of mathematics until the age of 18, can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain the progress on that? May I suggest that the Department for Education looks at working with external providers such as the UK Mathematics Trust and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, which have demonstrable success in promoting mathematics to those at all levels?

This is very important and is clearly a priority for both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education. My hon. Friend will know that they have convened an expert advisory group, and I think that the examples he gave would be of great interest to them. I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard of his particular interest, and I encourage him to raise the matter with her on 12 June.

First, let me join the Leader of the House in congratulating my many friends and relations who are supporters of West Ham United, which I note is another successful team with a Scottish manager.

What happened on Tuesday was obscene. The House rose less than three hours after proceedings commenced because the Government could not table enough legislation, yet there are dozens of private Members’ Bills scheduled for debate on 24 November—to name two, the Food Poverty Strategy Bill and the Workers (Rights and Definition) Bill. Will the Leader of the House take it into consideration that if the Government do not have enough legislation to put to the House, there is enough legislation proposed by Members to be debated and discussed in this Chamber?

With regard to West Ham, there are many successful Scottish managers, but, alas, not in the Scottish Government. There are also many good private Members’ Bills and topics for them, and I know that people are looking at the fourth Session as well. As I said in my opening remarks, we have introduced 40 Bills in this Session, and we continue to make progress. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we have also made time for private Members’ Bills, and we have supported and backed many of them passing through this House.

I recently attended an event to celebrate the 80th anniversary of St John Ambulance in Halesowen, where I met young volunteer first aiders, as well as speaking to Judith Morris, who has been an inspiring and long-standing advocate for St John Ambulance in Halesowen. May we have a debate about the important role that St John Ambulance plays in many of our communities across the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that incredibly important point. I am sure that all of us across the House value the work that St John Ambulance does for the NHS and elsewhere in our communities. We should not forget its assistance during the vaccine roll-out and in placing volunteers in NHS hospitals to undertake a range of clinical and administrative tasks. It is an incredible organisation and one of the things we think about when we think of the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom. I thank my hon. Friend for enabling us all to say congratulations and thank you to St John Ambulance. I hope that the unit in his constituency will be having an appropriate celebration for its 80th year.

Crown post office branches provide a range of vital services to local communities, but sadly many are at risk of closure, with the House of Commons Library suggesting that nine branches were closed between 2020 and 2022 alone. Thankfully, in Stockport our Crown post office was saved from closure, but elsewhere, closing flagship branches, getting rid of experienced staff and putting counters in the back of other shops is not the plan for growth or innovation that the post office network so desperately needs. The Communication Workers Union’s “Save our Post Office” campaign has rightly called for a halt to the closures and a new strategy for the post office network as a matter of urgency. As such, will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the future of Crown post office branches and the impact that they have on high streets such as mine in Stockport?