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Commons Chamber

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 14 December 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—

Rail Infrastructure: East of England

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that new rail infrastructure meets the needs of communities in the east of England. (900647)

Mr Speaker, may I start by thanking you very much for bringing us all together at the carol concert yesterday, as you always do? I trust that this next hour will also be in keeping with the season of good will.

We are delivering record rail investment in the east of England, including upgrading the midland main line, a new station at Cambridge South, improvements at Ely and Horley junctions to increase passenger and freight capacity, and a new railway connecting eastern towns and cities to Oxford, which will deliver transformational growth across the region.

Wixams new town in my constituency was built in the perfect location for rail connectivity, but over a decade after moving into their homes, residents are still waiting for a start date to be confirmed, let alone for a station to open. Will the Minister work with local stakeholders and Network Rail to get sign-off for that line and ensure that my residents can finally enjoy the rail connectivity that they were promised?

I am happy to give that commitment to work with the residents. Indeed, I recently spoke to the Mayor of Bedford on that exact point. We are working at pace to get the station delivered. There are also funding requirements that involve the local region, which have been agreed to previously, and we are keen to make progress.

My hon. Friend has referred to the Horley junction and Ely junction developments, which came as very welcome news in October. The Horley junction development, in particular, is a very small project. It would be excellent to get a starting date agreed for next year, with the business case sorted out, recognising how that could improve resilience not only for passengers, but for freight and the port of Felixstowe.

My right hon. Friend has been an absolute champion for that project, as have other hon. Friends present. We are keen to make progress. The Secretary of State and I were very keen to see the project brought in, which was possible only because of the Prime Minister’s decisions on Network North in October. We are looking to make rapid progress on it, and I have heard my right hon. Friend’s call and will work to that speed.

Rail Services

The Government are committed to reforming the railways and ensuring that they are customer focused and commercially led, with the creation of Great British Railways to bring together infrastructure, operations and oversight of whole-industry finance. In the interim, the Department continues to hold the rail industry to account to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers deserve.

In November last year, services on the west of England line out of London terminated at Axminster because of a land slip near Honiton. The same line has been closed for nine days this month, and passengers at Feniton are unable to travel to Exeter or London. Will the Minister ease the delays and cancellations for passengers in Honiton by dualling the track from Chard Junction to Axminster and adding a passing loop?

With the Prime Minister’s Network North commitment, £36 billion-worth of transport projects will be going ahead in other parts. I am happy to look at the project to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I should also mention that I am aware that there have been problems on the western and Wales routes, particularly those coming out of Paddington. The chief executive of Network Rail is also well aware of those problems and is taking action to ensure that we remedy the situation.

So many families in Pembrokeshire have sons and daughters working away or studying all over the country who will want to get home this Christmas. With such poor rail services into Wales, what assurances has the Minister had from companies such as Great Western Railway that they will stop putting on five-carriage trains when they should be running 10 carriages; that they will have a full roster of drivers available in the days ahead, so that we can have a full complement of services running; and that services will not be cut short in places such as Swansea and Carmarthen, leaving my constituents stranded late at night?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. With Christmas eve and new year’s eve falling on Sundays this year, the team at GWR had to approach the Department because drivers were requesting additional payments for driving trains on those Sundays, as Sunday is still not part of a working seven-day week on the railway. We have delivered on that commitment, but the fundamental reform point remains: we need ASLEF and other trade unions to ensure that we have a modern railway that works seven days a week. I can give him an assurance that everything is being done, but a lot more could be done if we could reform with the unions’ co-operation.

Being straight, transparent and open, I will write to the hon. Member and give him that detail, rather than attempt to make it up at Christmas time.

Until fairly recently, Northern Trains provided a Saturdays-only service between Sheffield and Cleethorpes via Brigg. That has now changed to one train a day, five days a week, allowing people only an hour and a half to enjoy the shopping in Grimsby or the excellent resort of Cleethorpes. Could my hon. Friend look into this matter and contact me after speaking with Northern Trains?

Yes, I will do so. We have discussed that service before and are looking at a timetable alteration for the future. I will ensure that is looked at with my hon. Friend’s point very much in mind.

The Transport Committee, with which the Minister is fairly familiar, heard evidence last week that, thanks to the cancellation of HS2 phase 2 to Manchester and the inability of high-speed rolling stock to tilt on the remaining west coast main line track, journey times to and from Glasgow could actually increase by up to 24 minutes, even with the £50 billion Birmingham to London branch line complete. Does the Minister think that passengers in Scotland will see that as yet another Union connectivity dividend?

No, I do not agree. In fact, when that matter came up at the Public Accounts Committee, the official who works on HS2 was able to explain that, where trains tilt, they can do so at certain speeds on the west coast main line. However, that does not actually require a tilting train: any train can go at that speed, provided the speed is on the train. HS2 trains will also have faster acceleration, so I dispute the hon. Member’s point.

Road Resurfacing

Mr Speaker, before responding, given that these are the last Transport questions of the year, may I put on record my gratitude to the staff of the House, and also to those across the transport sector who will be working tirelessly across the Christmas period to ensure that families can get together and goods can keep moving?

As part of the Prime Minister’s Network North plan, the Government are providing a record funding increase of £8.3 billion for local highways maintenance over the next decade, which will enable local highway authorities to resurface roads up and down the country.

Potholes are a scourge everywhere, so I am not only very grateful for the additional Government funding, but very impressed by the responsiveness and the quality of work by Dudley Council’s highways department. Will the Secretary of State agree to visit Dudley, and would he support tighter contracting frameworks by local authorities so that utility companies and others are made to pay for all the consequences of their substandard work?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, including for telling us about the good work that his local authority is doing to improve the quality of local roads. Utility companies already have legal duties to ensure that their works and reinstatements are to required standards. Earlier this year, we introduced a new performance-based street works regime to crack down on the worst performing companies leaving behind poor road surface repairs that can lead to more potholes. Those with higher failure rates are now inspected more often and are charged for it, so companies are incentivised to carry out good-quality reinstatements first time and to repair existing defects.

As a civil engineer, I am always excited to hear about more money being spent on the highways, but is the Secretary of State aware of the Pothole Pro? This is a machine, developed by Staffordshire-based JCB, that can allegedly repair a pothole in as little as eight minutes. Should that sort of technology be rolled out across the country so that we do not just spend more money, but spend it more effectively?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of tools to deliver increased productivity so that we get more for what we spend. I was lucky enough to visit JCB myself and see the Pothole Pro in action, as well as the innovative work it is doing, as a fantastic world leader in innovation, on some of its hydrogen engines for its mobile off-road machinery. I am sure that local councils will look carefully at the Pothole Pro and other technologies that can help us make the best use of that record investment in road improvements.

The Secretary of State will know that we all want good roads, but we also want safe roads. Can I draw his attention to the dreadful road accidents killing young people recently? Is he aware that over the last 13 years, from being one of the safest places in the world in terms of road safety and deaths on the roads, we are steadily becoming very bad indeed? Will he do something about that, if he can?

I of course share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the deaths of anyone on the roads, but particularly of young people. I do not recognise the characterisation he has set out. Our road safety record remains one of the best in the world. [Interruption.] Well, it does. The Department spends a great deal of resource on campaigns to get people to drive more safely, and we do that when we are engineering and delivering new roads. Safety is one of the very important things that we think about as we design and roll out new road infrastructure.

Furness Line Electrification

Northern is developing a final business case for a new fleet that will bring new trains to my hon. Friend’s route, and include options for greener technology such as batteries. We are also working with the Great British Railways transition team to assess options to decarbonise the whole network.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be delighted to know that, for once, I am going to ask not about the quality of service on the Furness line, but rather about capacity. The Government recently announced, through the Network North deal, the electrification of the energy coast line. That will take 150 million tonnes of freight off that line every year and is hugely welcome. Through the SSN-AUKUS programme and the Dreadnought programme, and the doubling of the size of the shipyard in Barrow, a similar amount of freight will be needed going the other way. Will the Minister meet me and the wider Team Barrow board to discuss the merits of electrifying the Furness line?

As my hon. Friend knows, my officials are active members of Team Barrow, alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and local partners, recognising the national significance of the submarine programme. Work is ongoing, looking at improvements to the A590, and at options for the rail industry to improve the local rail network. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that work.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

After four years in Parliament, this is my maiden voyage at the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] Indeed, it is Christmas come early, and it is a gift that the first question I am asked comes from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

The UK sustainable aviation fuel mandate is on track to start on 1 January 2025, with preparatory work on secondary legislation progressing well. We recognise that final decisions on the parameters of the mandate must be taken in a timely way to provide certainty for investment decisions, and we will publish those as soon as possible.

I welcome the Minister to his place and wish him well in his endeavours. It is always a pleasure to see some of the 2019 intake elevated to the Front Bench, so very well done. I thank him for his answer, as the issue of sustainable aviation fuel is important for my constituents. To ensure that we do not overshoot climate targets on the road to jet zero or net zero, will the Government consider introducing the SAF mandate under a greenhouse gas intensity scheme? That is quite a technical question, but I know it is one that the Minister is well up to answering.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I more normally get asked concerns about whether we are going to undershoot the target, rather than overshoot it, but it is a valid question. It is important for us that we are introducing the SAF mandate, and we must give certainty to the industry so that investment comes in. We have funded 13 different companies to set up SAF plants or do development, but we are looking at all the different options and nothing is off the table. We will consider all the different proposals and publish our response to the second consultation as soon as possible.

The Government’s plans to have five sustainable aviation fuel plants under construction by 2025 look doomed. We are falling behind competitors who have a head start on SAF infrastructure, and with hydrogen likely to be the dominant fuel source for aviation beyond SAFs, we also need hydrogen infrastructure. Grangemouth currently supplies Scottish airports with fuel, and has the right feedstocks and infrastructure to turn waste and renewable electricity into jet fuel. What are the Government doing to save Grangemouth as part of a just transition to net zero, and when will we see plans for a contract for difference-type scheme for SAFs?

As I outlined in my previous answer, with SAFs we are generating a whole new industry. It is happening across the world. I spoke at the International Civil Aviation Organisation conference in Dubai, and to aviation Ministers from around the world, and all are trying to promote this industry. We are probably more advanced here than anywhere else in the country, and as I mentioned, we are funding 13 different schemes to get the industry going. I will meet SAF producers in the next couple of days, and we want information from them about what is needed. What is needed is certainty, and there are benefits from across the country in both Scotland and England. There are huge economic benefits from this, and it could create many thousands of jobs.

Motor Traffic

This Government recognise that most journeys in this country are made by car, and that is why we are providing comprehensive support for motorists through our plan for drivers, which includes a package of measures to improve traffic flow, and also through the £8.3 billion investment in road resurfacing. That historic investment in road condition will benefit all road users, as we have set out in earlier answers.

Despite the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister saying that the war against the motorist is over, is he aware that many Labour local authorities have not got the message, with unwanted low-traffic neighbourhoods in place, unjustified 20 mph speed limits being proposed and traffic lights phased deliberately to delay traffic flows, causing added pollution? Will he consider giving advice to local authorities that they should do all they can to improve traffic flows and not disrupt them because of some misguided dogma against the motorist?

My right hon. Friend is right: we are pro-driver, but also pro- public transport and pro-active travel, and those things are about giving people better choices and making sure that councils do not deliver anti-driver traffic management measures. The network management duty requires local authorities to manage their roads as efficiently as possible for the benefit of all road users, including drivers, which some of them forget from time to time. We have also announced new funding totalling £40 million specifically for improvements to traffic lights to keep local roads moving, including deploying machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimise traffic flow to get cars moving.

The plan for drivers clearly shows that this Government are on the side of Britain’s motorists, but there is one missing link, which is rural roads. When a rural road is closed by a utility company or others, the diversion is not just a quick five minutes, but often half an hour or 40 minutes. Buckinghamshire Council tells me that the current fines system is just too low and the utility companies shrug it off. Can my right hon. Friend take real action to ensure that councils can properly fine utility companies when they disrupt rural communities?

My hon. Friend makes a good point that I am well aware of, representing a rural constituency myself. Some of the benefits of investment in infrastructure such as broadband do bring with them traffic disruption. One of the things we have put in place, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, is the change to make sure that good utility companies will have much less inspection and much less cost involved in delivery. Those utility companies that leave behind a mess, and therefore cause that disruption over and over again, will face more inspections and more costs, incentivising them to do a better job for his and my constituents.

I welcome my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) to his place on the Front Bench. For the past two years, part of the guided busway in Cambridge has been closed due to a complex legal wrangle with the Health and Safety Executive. It has meant that buses are snarled up and motorists and bus users have had thousands and thousands of hours of wasted time. Will the Minister meet me to try to find a way to resolve this issue speedily and get Cambridge moving?

I am not familiar with the specific situation that the hon. Gentleman raises about a dispute with the Health and Safety Executive. I will of course make sure that the relevant Minister meets him to deal with this issue. I have to say that my previous experience of Cambridge City Council was that it was tending to implement policies such as its congestion charging scheme, which it has now had to drop because it was so unpopular. It was not focused on getting traffic moving, but being against the interests of road users. I am glad that he welcomes that change.

Leeds is one of the most congested cities in the country, mainly because it is the largest city in Europe without a rail-based public transport system. Why do the Government have such contempt for the citizens of Leeds? When will we see a decent public transport system in our city?

That is an extraordinary question, given that the Government have, in the Network North announcement that the Prime Minister made, put aside £2.5 billion for a mass transit system in Leeds so that Leeds no longer remains one of the largest cities in Europe without one. I have to say that that investment in Leeds to benefit his constituents is possible only because of the choice that this Government made to cancel the second phase of HS2 and to spend the money on that mass transit system in Leeds. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not welcome that significant investment for his constituents.

High Speed 2

7. What estimate he has made of the net cost to the public purse of land purchased and planned for sale in connection with HS2 phase 2. (900654)

16. What estimate he has made of the net cost to the public purse of land purchased and planned for sale in connection with HS2 phase 2. (900663)

As of October 2023, a total of £573 million had been spent acquiring land and property assets on phase 2. That includes all property asset types, such as plots of land, farmland, farms, commercial property and domestic property. Any land and property asset that is no longer required will be sold, and a programme is being developed to do that.

Data from the High-Speed Rail Group suggests that the Government’s fire sale of land on the former Birmingham to Manchester stretch of HS2 will cost taxpayers a staggering £100 million. But they are not content with wasting taxpayers’ money and denying us the high-speed rail in the north that we deserve; Denton and Reddish is not even set to benefit from local rail improvements. That would not be hard—I have one train a week serving Denton and Reddish South stations. Why?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned that report, because it is completely wrong. For a start, it states that £205 million has been spent on land and property, which is wrong—it is a different figure.

I just stated exactly what it is, if the hon. Lady had listened to my answer. We have published exactly how much has been spent: on phase 2a it was £273 million, and on phase 2b it was £201 million. Property and land will be sold only when it is right to do so, ensuring good value for the taxpayer and the communities where the property is sold.

It is my understanding that HS2 trains are designed for new tracks rather than the current Victorian-era infrastructure. Surely, that incompatibility will result in HS2 trains running slower and in fewer trains per hour for my constituents. Can the Minister explain how decreased capacity across the network, slower trains and reduced services will be better for my constituents?

Again, that is not the case at all. HS2 trains will be built to run across the network that they will travel on. I made the point previously that on the parts of the west coast main line where tilting trains go faster, HS2 trains will also be able to go at that faster speed. As a result, the journey time to Manchester will come down from two hours and 12 minutes to one hour and 40 minutes, leading to a faster service for all, Mr Speaker.

As the Minister will know, I very much welcome the decision on phase 2 of HS2. However, there is still an impact on many land and property owners in Staffordshire. We heard in the Transport Committee that it could take up to two years to get land back to those owners. Will my hon. Friend look into this urgently to ensure that those property owners—particularly farmers, who need to know when they can sow their crops—get that land back as soon as possible?

In the words of Take That, I ask my hon. Friend for a little patience. It will take time to develop a programme to ensure that we deliver value for money for the taxpayer and do not disrupt local property markets. We will engage with the affected communities throughout the process. Where land can be rented back out and therefore put to use—farming is a good example —that is happening right now, and we will ensure that that happens even more so now that we have certainty about HS2.

Between July and September, Ministers admitted that tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money had been spent on HS2 land, at the same time that the Prime Minister was planning to cancel the project. Now, Ministers plan to flog that same land at a huge loss. Even the party that crashed the economy is still able to find unique ways to fleece the taxpayer. Will the Minister explain what safeguards he will put in place to protect the land and taxpayers’ money from this ill-judged and costly fire sale?

Despite what I said about this being the season of good will, quite frankly that is complete and utter nonsense. As I have stated, there will be a very careful analysis of the property that will be released. The Crichel Down rules require tests to be met, and only once they are will we return the property to the original owner at its market value. This will be done properly. We have delivered certainty: we have said that the route will not go ahead. What I am sure everyone along the line of the route would like to know is whether HS2 would go ahead under the Labour Transport team, or whether it would not, because of the Labour Treasury team. Give them some certainty.

UK Emissions Trading Scheme: Ferry Services

8. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the UK emissions trading scheme on domestic ferry services. (900655)

The UK ETS Authority will publish a second consultation on the implementation of the UK ETS in 2024. We welcome any evidence in response to the consultation. We will publish a full analysis of the policy’s impact in the Government’s response to the consultation. The Department has not yet conducted a full assessment of the implications for domestic ferries.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He may be aware that there are many in the shipping industry who are concerned that including lifeline ferry services, such as those that serve my constituency, in the emissions trading scheme could hinder rather than help the process of decarbonisation. The EU has already recognised that by giving its lifeline ferry services a derogation until 2030. Will the shipping Minister—I know it is not this Minister’s responsibility—engage with operators in Scotland and elsewhere to ensure that we are not hit by the law of unintended consequences?

I very much welcome that question. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is a doughty champion for ferries in those islands and I know how important ferry services are for residents there. We have been very careful, across our transport decarbonisation plan, not to damage industries or sectors. We have given many billions of pounds in support for the whole range of different transport sectors and domestic ferries are very much a part of that. I am very happy to engage with the sector and to meet him to ensure that the ferries can carry on transporting passengers throughout Orkney, Shetland and elsewhere in the British Isles.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I smile because I am welcoming the Minister to his place perhaps half a dozen Ministers since I first stood at the Dispatch Box—but the best of luck to him in the time ahead. [Laughter.]

Decarbonising maritime will require unprecedented investment in UK technologies, with visionary policy and regulatory frameworks that limit ships’ emissions and mandate the use of clean fuels. When will the Government follow the advice issued by the Transport Committee in June and streamline the muddle of 184 recommendations it set for itself in “Maritime 2050”? Speaking of which, we were promised a refreshed “Maritime 2050” in 2023 by one of the Secretary of State’s many predecessors. There are a handful of days left. Where is it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what I am going to call his warm words—it is Christmas, a time to forgive and forget. The clean maritime plan is being refreshed and we will publish it as soon as possible. We are taking in and analysing a very wide range of evidence from a wide range of different people. The Government are committed to the whole “Maritime 2050” plan, and we are investing over £200 million in the UK SHORE programme to help fund research and development to make shipping decarbonise.

Transport Connectivity: North of England

9. What steps he is taking to increase transport connectivity between cities in the north of England. (900656)

Aside from the £1 billion investment in Network North, my hon. Friend will be aware that the single biggest connectivity project in his community is the Northumberland line, a groundbreaking railway line that will connect Blyth and the surrounding cities to Newcastle.

I am delighted consultation has now taken place regarding a relief road for Blyth, which is badly needed. As a result of the proposed plans, which could see the closure of an existing road and the rerouting of residents along a new road, many residents of Cramlington could see their journey times increase. Keeping the existing road open would address that, as well as save money. Will my hon. Friend agree to look at that again and see whether it could be achieved?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and Northumberland County Council, post the consultation.

Ten years ago, David Higgins, the then chair of HS2, said that connectivity between Sheffield and Manchester was worse than between any other major cities in Europe. Since then, Sheffield’s connection with Manchester airport has been scrapped. We had a review of a tunnel under the Pennines. That tunnel got shorter and shorter until it finally disappeared altogether. Can the Minister say in what way—if any, because I do not think there have been any—transport links between Sheffield and Manchester have improved while this Government have been in power?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a substantial amount of electrification is taking place. He will also be aware of the city regional sustainable settlement, which will provide significant investment in the north.

Rail Manufacturing: Alstom

Margaret Beckett is not here. Will the Secretary of State answer the question as though she were, so that I can call the shadow Minister?

My officials and I have held regular meetings with senior management at Alstom. We have also convened, under my direction, a cross-Whitehall group to advise on ways to support continued production at Derby, and on how best to support the workers who could lose their jobs. This must be a commercial decision for Alstom, but the Government have been working with the company to explore every option to enable it to continue manufacturing at its Derby site, and local Members in Derby—including the fantastic colleague sitting beside me, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway)—have been raising these issues with me regularly, effectively representing their constituents.

Three years ago, the Government hailed the deal to manufacture HS2 trains in Britain as putting the country

“firmly at the forefront of the high speed rail revolution”.

Today, the jobs of the skilled people who work in that industry and build those trains in Derby and Newton Aycliffe are at risk. There are just days left to find a solution. Will the Secretary of State, specifically, meet Hitachi and Alstom as a matter of urgency? Does he accept that if Ministers fail to act in the coming days, the final legacy of this shambolic Government will be thousands of skilled jobs lost and HS2 trains built abroad?

I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman. He wrote to my hon. Friend the Rail Minister on 17 November, asking a series of, I am afraid, quite ill-informed questions. I sent him a comprehensive reply on 24 November, which I note he has not chosen to publicise. He tries to pretend that our decision on HS2 has something to do with this. I made it quite clear that Alstom’s contract with Hitachi—their joint venture to design, build and maintain HS2 trains—is for phase 1 only. Phase 1 of HS2 is continuing. That position was reiterated by Alstom group’s chief executive in his commentary on its recent results. I have met both Alstom and Hitachi regularly since the decision on Network North. I am afraid that Alstom’s problems predate our decision on HS2, and the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to play party politics on this incredibly serious matter, on which the Government are working very hard on a cross-party basis with the companies and the trade unions, is beneath him.

Transport Workforce: Migration

11. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of Government proposals to reduce net migration on the transport sector workforce. (900658)

I regularly engage with Cabinet colleagues on Government policy, including migration, and my Department works closely with organisations across the transport industry to understand the sector’s concerns about the transport labour market.

The driver shortage in the UK is far from over and, according to sector insiders, a “tipping point” is looming. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there were 6,000 fewer delivery and courier drivers in the UK in 2023 than in the previous year, and more than half the UK’s HGV drivers are due to retire in the next decade. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that this ticking time bomb does not blow up in our face as happened during the period following Brexit? Surely migration is part of the solution.

It is disappointing that the SNP’s first response to any tightness in the labour market is to want to import people from abroad. My colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, along with the fantastic officials in that Department and our jobcentre network, is ensuring that we provide skills training for those who are already in the United Kingdom so that we can deal with the skills shortages, as we did so effectively in the case of HGV drivers when, during and following the pandemic, we worked rapidly to get more of them into the industry.

Airport Security Scanners

12. What recent discussions he has had with airport operators on the introduction of new security scanners by June 2024. (900659)

The Secretary of State has visited many airports to discuss the upgrading of airport security, and has seen the new security equipment in operation. I know that my predecessor engaged regularly with airport representatives to seek reassurances on timescales for the next generation security checkpoint. Most recently, I met Heathrow’s chief executive for discussions. I can reassure the House that I will continue this good work, and will shortly meet representatives of the aviation sector to discuss the matter further. There are many visits already in the diary; indeed, I will be meeting the Airport Operators Association straight after this session. My Department—

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, and I welcome him to his new role.

This new technology will greatly improve passenger experience at airport security. For example, it will obviate the need for those little plastic bags we all love putting our liquids into. Airports are worried about potential delays if the passenger scanners are introduced in one go for every passenger, as people will need to get used to the new technology. May I urge the Minister to discuss with the airport operators the phased introduction of the new scanners, to remove the possibility of delays?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question, which he asked when I gave evidence to the Committee yesterday. I said he would have to wait until today for my answer.

This new technology will bring huge benefits for passengers, as my hon. Friend said—I think we will all be delighted to see the end of putting our little bottles into those little plastic bags—and it will improve safety. The screening of passengers with these security scanners is already being phased in. The Government have long been clear with airports about the requirement for next-generation security checkpoints, and the deadline for implementation has already been delayed several times, partly because of covid and other factors. Airports were consulted on the June 2024 deadline, and many have successfully trialled the scanners. They are already phasing them in, and June 2024 is the end deadline. My message to the airports is that they should start implementing them now; they should not wait for the deadline. I will discuss it with the Airport Operators Association in our meeting immediately after questions.

Transport Decarbonisation

Our transport decarbonisation plan is probably the most advanced of any country in the world, and we continue to implement it. Just yesterday, King Charles approved the zero-emission vehicle mandate, which requires 80% of new vehicles to have zero emissions by 2030. Petrol and diesel cars, vans and trucks weighing up to 26 tonnes will be banned by 2035. We have introduced the sustainable aviation fuel mandate, under which 10% of aviation fuel should be sustainable by 2030. Similarly, we are pushing ahead in all the different sectors.

I welcome the Minister to his place. This financial year, active travel spending is £1.91 per head in England and £30.10 per head in Scotland—a 1,400% difference between Scottish and UK Government priorities. Decarbonisation needs transformational investment in active travel, which particularly supports accessibility, and it simply is not happening for folk in England. Will he undertake to begin the long process of finally getting England on the road to matching Scotland’s ambition?

I thank the hon. Member for that question. We are actually spending more money on active travel than any other Government in history. As she says, active travel is an important part of decarbonisation and the route to net zero. Her figures do not take into account the regional spending within England, which should be added to the total. I would be happy to write to her with the actual figures for spending in the UK.

The Secretary of State told the Transport Committee that electric cars are cheaper to run than their petrol and diesel counterparts. He also knows that sales of new electric cars fell by 17% last month.

The Minister has just mentioned the ZEV mandate, and I remind him that it was passed only because Labour MPs voted for it. He also knows that it addresses manufacturers, not consumers—supply, not demand. How do the Government plan to reassure drivers that buying electric means cheaper motoring? How will he undo the damage that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says was done to consumer confidence by his Prime Minister’s comments on the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars?

My key focus in my decarbonisation of transport role is to ensure a smooth and successful roll-out of electric vehicles. The hon. Member quoted one month’s figures, but overall sales of electric vehicles are up 41% this year compared with last year. Indeed, a greater share of electric vehicles is being sold in the UK than in any of the five major countries in the EU—more than in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. It really is a record to be proud of. He is right that this is about supply and demand. We have stipulated in the ZEV mandate that 80% of sales should be zero/electric by 2030, but we also need to ensure that there are enough charge points for them. We have spent nearly £2 billion supporting electric vehicles, and we have a whole range of different schemes to deliver that.

Motoring Costs

15. What assessment he has made of the impact of trends in the level of motoring costs on drivers. (900662)

Nationally, we have substantially reduced fuel duty. Locally, I hope that the hon. Member will welcome the £33 million investment with his local council into the A34, which will help his local residents.

Labour has revealed that the Government’s delay to the phase-out date for the sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2035 is set to cost drivers £13 billion in higher fuel costs. On top of that, petrol prices have already soared and car insurance costs have gone up by an eye-watering 50% in just a year. Where is the Government’s plan to tackle the rip-off prices facing drivers?

I suggest that the hon. Member reads at speed the plan for drivers, and goes back into history and remembers Gordon Brown’s fuel duty escalator. Perhaps his constituents do not remember the 6% increase that was introduced by the Labour Government, but my constituents definitely do.

Topical Questions

As I said earlier, these are the last Transport oral questions before Christmas, and we are backing drivers with an easier Christmas getaway. From next Tuesday, National Highways is lifting over 1,000 miles of roadworks, which means that over 98% of motorways and major A roads will be roadwork-free until 2 January. We are also getting on with the job of resurfacing Britain’s roads, thanks to the record £8.3 billion uplift in funding. Earlier this month, highway authorities received the first tranche of that investment, which will mean smoother, safer journeys and save drivers hundreds of pounds in costly vehicle repairs. Local authorities also have new reporting requirements, so taxpayers will know how that money is being spent.

The Prime Minister made the right long-term decision to redirect money from HS2 towards the local journeys that matter most, ensuring that more people in more places will see benefits more quickly. That is what the British people want, it is what the country needs, and it is what we are delivering.

Will my right hon. Friend say when the strategic objectives behind Network North will be announced and published? Can he confirm that any projects announced so far are consistent with those objectives, and whether any of the HS2 funding will come to London and the south-east?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As I set out, the objective of the decision is to ensure that that £36 billion of transport spending, which we are reinvesting in transport projects, will benefit more people, in more places across the country, more quickly. We are investing £6.5 billion pounds of savings from HS2 outside the north and midlands, which will benefit his constituents as well. That includes additional funding for London—

Order. Come on boys, you’re going to have to help me. I call the shadow Secretary of State.

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House a very merry Christmas? Why have the Government wasted £95 million on technology to retrofit buses that does not work?

The hon. Lady will know that we have done a great deal of work to make sure that buses are compliant with the emissions rules. There are some technical issues being worked through at the moment, but I am not in a position to announce any decisions yet. We will announce to the House in due course when that work is completed.

Bus services are disappearing at record levels, yet the Secretary of State’s Department has wasted almost £100 million on retrofitting technology that does not work, because it was never tested outside a lab. Even for this Government, this is a shocking display of incompetence and waste. Will he now work with those cities left with useless technology and ensure that the next round of zero-emissions funding is targeted there, so that they can get on with the job of cleaning up our air and cleaning up his mess?

Once again, the hon. Lady simply does not recognise the significant investment that we have made in bus services. We have announced a significant amount of extra money for protecting bus routes, we have rolled out funding to deliver the £2 bus fare cap, and we have announced the money to deliver zero-emission buses and delivered the full 1,000 we said we would deliver. There has been a huge amount of investment in bus services, because we know it is the most popular form of public transport and we will always back it.

T2. My right hon. Friend’s Department has ensured that many bus passengers can benefit from the £2 cap on fares, but sadly Red Rose buses in my constituency is not offering it because the company says it is not compulsory. Will my right hon. Friend help me persuade all bus companies to do the right thing for Aylesbury’s residents, including by meeting bosses of the companies that refuse? (900673)

I am disappointed to hear that news from Aylesbury. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and to invite the bus company in to explain why it is not taking up the Government’s generous offer.

T4. Earlier this year, the UK Government pledged to fund a bridge repair in the constituency of the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). The Newburgh train station campaign is working to re-establish a train station that will provide a vital transport link. Assuming that strategic funding is not just available to Members of the Conservative party, who can I speak to in order to get that station re-established? (900675)

On her first point, we are working with the local authority to progress that scheme, which was announced earlier. On her specific point, I will arrange for the relevant Minister to meet her so that she can put forward the case for that scheme, and we will look at whether it is possible to do anything to help her.

T3. I know the Minister understands that open-access rail can provide better, cheaper, more varied and more resilient services for passengers. In the next few weeks or months, how much rail network capacity does he expect to make available for open-access services from currently unused track slots, potentially from unused slots freed up by timetable improvements and from services currently provided by the operator of last resort? (900674)

I thank my hon. Friend for joining me and others in the industry to discuss open-access rail on 27 October. I have today written to the Office of Rail and Road and the chief executive of Network Rail, asking them to review the unused access rights and agree a timeline, so that we can get decisions made more promptly. I hope to then give him more information.

T6. The Prime Minister announced the electrification of the rail line to Hull in October at the Conservative party conference, so will the Minister tell me what the start date for that work will be? (900678)

As part of the engagement exercise, which the Prime Minister promised, I have met leaders from across the north. Last week, it was a pleasure to meet those from the region around Hull to discuss their preferred route. They made the point that the route should be prioritised because electrification has been talked about before, and I think that is a very good idea.

T5. I emphasise to the Government the point made by my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), about pressing ahead with the Ely junction and Haughley junction schemes. Network Rail has done much of the preparatory work and is poised to get on with it as quickly as possible. (900676)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that scheme again. I know it is an important issue for colleagues in the east of England and I am delighted that we are able to make progress as a result of the decision on Network North. I have discussed it with Network Rail and the next steps involve the development of the full business case. Network Rail has what it needs to make progress, and I know my hon. Friend will be wishing it every speed.

T7. Over the past year, yet more people have been killed or seriously injured on our roads, and the UK’s record on that has plateaued. While we have accident investigation organisations for air, maritime and rail, we do not have one for roads. The Government promised to set up a road safety investigation branch last year. When will that become a reality? (900679)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the important issue of road safety. I notice that the statistics she set out are inconsistent with those set out by her hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). She recognises that our road safety record is not going backwards, as he suggested. When there is a fatality, road accidents are investigated by the relevant authorities, and that remains the position. We learn lessons from accidents, so that when we build new road infrastructure it has safety at its heart.

T8. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the potential return of the direct rail link from King’s Cross to Grimsby and Cleethorpes? (900680)

My hon. Friend follows my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) in raising that matter at Transport questions. They are without doubt the strongest lobbyists when it comes to train timetabling changes. She will have seen the test train that ran in June. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the last Transport questions that we hope to make an announcement shortly. It is something that we are working on.

Of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised in the national bus strategy, only 660 have been funded outside London and half of those have gone to overseas manufacturers. What are the Government doing to help UK manufacturers develop competitive zero-emission buses capable of longer distance journeys?

I was delighted to meet and engage with many of the different manufacturers from the UK only two weeks ago. I look forward to discussing the matter with them in more detail.

T9. What conversations is the Minister having with Southern and Thameslink about increasing rail capacity and running longer services from Carshalton and Wallington, addressing the dangerous gap at Hackbridge station, and installing step-free access at Carshalton Beeches station? (900681)

I have met my hon. Friend and I appreciate the work that he does campaigning for the stations in his constituency. I have regular conversations with people from Govia Thameslink Railway, and I know that they have recently increased capacity on some busy services through Carshalton and Hackbridge. On Hackbridge station, I offer to meet him with a team from Network Rail to see whether we can address the matter that he mentions.

Such was the excitement in Wales in 2012 when Conservative Ministers announced that they would be building the four-mile western rail link to Heathrow to open in 2020 that First Minister Rhodri Morgan described it as one of the “most important announcements” in the last 50 years, but it was yet another broken promise. After more than a decade, when does the Transport Secretary expect the first spade to be dug into the ground to build the No.1 infrastructure priority of the Thames Valley region?

When this proposal was first mooted, it was to be a 50:50 split with Heathrow airport and the new runway, but matters changed after the pandemic. We are determined to see private sector involvement in the railways continue. If there is a private sector proposal, we are very happy to support it, but these schemes must not come at the expense of taxpayers.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) saw for himself on Sunday night the scourge of pedicabs in the west end. With the Pedicabs (London) Bill having reached Report stage in the Lords, can he update the House on when we can expect it to be presented in this place?

One train per hour stops on the Durham coastline, usually with two carriages. This severely limits access to economic opportunities in Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Recently, Northern Rail confirmed a new two-hourly service, but my constituents will only be able to wave at it as it goes by, because the plan is that it will not stop at the stations at Seaham and Horden. Can the Rail Minister please use his influence with Northern to see whether he can get those trains to stop?

I am sure that everyone waves at the hon. Gentleman, great man that he is. It was great to meet him when he came to the Department. We talked about Durham coastal service and timetable changes. Today, Transport for the North is discussing timetable changes, so I hope that that proposal goes through and that I can therefore give Durham coastal service the improvement that he asks for.

May I encourage my right hon. Friend to cut the money given to the West of England Combined Authority, as it spends it extraordinarily badly on vanity schemes for the Mayor, on cutting bus services for my constituents and on pillorying motorists with this dreadful scheme, which is hated in Saltford, for a bus lane on the A4?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about regional Mayors, which is that we have devolved powers and resources to them, but they are ultimately accountable to their constituents. I hope very much that if they are punishing the motorist, the motorist will punish them back at the appropriate time at the ballot box.

Now that the blight of HS2 has been lifted from North West Leicestershire, can the Minister update the House on when work will commence on reopening the Ivanhoe line, which will offer rail access for the first time in many decades not only to my constituents, but to our neighbours in South Derbyshire?

The Prime Minister’s Network North announcement gave that commitment on the Ivanhoe line down to Leicester. We are fully committed to that. I know that I am due to be meeting the hon. Member on another matter, so I will give him more of an update then.

Like many, I welcomed what was going on with Network North, particularly the announcement of Ferryhill Station. When it comes to the final assessment and decisions, we need to ensure that the right question is asked, as the Green Book says. The right question is: what is the socioeconomic benefit to the towns and villages around the station, not to the GDP of the UK? May I ask for that assurance please?

That was another commitment that the Prime Minister made in the Network North announcement. My hon. Friend has campaigned for Ferryhill Station for so long, and I thank him for bringing it forward. The business case will look at the socioeconomic conditions that he mentions, and I am confident that we will be able to get spades in the ground for his station very shortly.

LNER is going to consult again on altering the timetable to increase the frequency of trains from Edinburgh and Newcastle to London, but that inherently means a reduction in services to West Yorkshire, Manchester and Merseyside. That is very sad, and it is bad for the northern economy. This is not a timetabling issue; it is a capacity issue on the east coast main line. Can we have some investment in the east coast main line, north of York, to remedy those problems?

As things stand, we are unable to operate that service because the trans-Pennine route upgrade, which is delivering the billions of pounds’ worth of investment to enhance the route that the hon. Member asks for, is currently being constructed. That will provide the bandwidth. As I mentioned, today we hope to get a decision from Transport for the North that will improve services and add an extra service north to south. Then, with the multi-billion pound investment in the trans-Pennine route upgrade, we will get east-west service improvements as well.

In Hyndburn and Haslingden, we are hoping to have a very happy new year, as we hope to hear the announcement that both Rishton Station and Church and Oswaldtwistle Station have been successful in the Government’s Access for All scheme. Can any indication be given of when we might hear the announcement, and will the Government look favourably on them?

It is worth noting that 75% of all rail journeys now take place from step-free stations, with 220 stations made step-free under Access for All. We have 300 in the list for the next batch, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that hers are in that long list. We will decide shortly which ones to take forward next year.

Will the ministerial team stop briefing against hydrogen combustion engines? The fact is that hydrogen is on its way, in trucks and JCBs. Cummins in my constituency is prepared for three years. [Interruption.] When will the Secretary of State stop?

Order. Hang on a minute. Do not take advantage, Barry, because I will not call you again otherwise.

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. Not only are we not briefing against hydrogen combustion engines; we are very supportive of them. I have been to Cummins. I have been to JCB. I have looked at the fantastic work that is being done developing hydrogen. We have some world-leading companies here. The Department is very supportive, and working closely with them.

I commend the work of my disabled young constituent, Nathaniel Yates from Reddish, who has assessed every single railway station in Greater Manchester. Too many of them are not step free. We have the money for Reddish North, but when can we get the money for Levenshulme?

I commend that work as well. In fact, the Great British Railways transition team has done a station accessibility study auditing every one of our 2,500 stations. That report is due out shortly. I hope that the team can work with the hon. Member’s constituency to come up with some good data and improve access for all.

The key element of Scarborough’s successful town bid is the station gateway project, but getting permission from Network Rail to knock a new entrance into the back of the station is proving slow and bureaucratic. Can the Secretary of State gently lean on Network Rail a bit, please?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. I am sure that Network Rail will have heard that. I will take it away, raise it with Network Rail, and get back to him to let him know whether we can make that go faster.

The latest of many improvements to Gloucester Station since 2010 includes vital work on the station underpass and forecourt; however, contractor costs have risen since the original station improvement fund award. Will the Rail Minister agree to meet me and Great Western Railways to resolve that potential issue?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for that question. I am very familiar with the investment and work that is currently being undertaken at Gloucester Station, as it is the one that I use on a regular basis when getting the train to London. The Rail Minister will be delighted to meet with him to see whether there is more that we can do to take those matters forward.

Inevitably, concerns about overcrowding will come up this afternoon at a Chiltern Railways drop-in at Marylebone with Buckinghamshire MPs, so can the Rail Minister assure me that the Government are doing everything possible to push Chiltern to improve?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Department is working closely with Chiltern as it looks to get more rolling stock to replace some of its ageing diesel stock. There are capacity issues, as he notes, because more people are using the railways, which is a great success, but we will work with the operator to ensure that it gets the rolling stock it needs.

Venezuela: Threat to Guyana

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office if he will make a statement on the urgent threat posed to Guyana by Venezuela and the Government’s response to it.

Mr Speaker, you of all people know the importance of the Commonwealth—[Interruption.] Sorry—late night.

I will not ask where either, Mr Speaker, but it is good to see my hon. Friend here right now.

We are deeply concerned about the recent steps taken by Venezuela with respect to the Essequibo region in Guyana. I know that will be a key concern to the shadow Foreign Secretary and Members across the House, and we share those concerns. We believe Venezuela’s actions are clearly unjustified and should cease. We are clear that the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration. The Foreign Secretary has made that clear in a recent meeting and calls with President Ali of Guyana.

The UK, countries in the region and the international community have been swift to respond. I have been in close contact with partners in the region to urge de-escalation, and earlier this week the Minister of State for Development and Africa, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), attended an emergency meeting of the Commonwealth ministerial group on Guyana, which issued a clear statement rejecting the use of threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Guyana.

Brazil and other countries in the region have expressed their deep concern at the situation and warned against unilateral actions that threaten the peace and stability of the region. The UN Security Council met in closed session last Friday, at Guyana’s request, to discuss the situation. We note that a meeting will take place later today between President Maduro and President Ali under the auspices of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, and hope that that will reaffirm the importance of a peaceful resolution to this important matter.

We will continue to work with allies and partners in the region and through international bodies such as the UN Security Council, the Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States to ensure that the territorial integrity of Guyana is respected. I plan to visit Guyana in the coming days to further show our support for the Guyanese people on this vital issue. It is imperative that regional partners and friends across the House, in the region and around the world continue to press the Maduro regime to respect Guyana’s integrity and to avoid escalation.

I will try again, Mr Speaker.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is going to Guyana, which is an important part of the family of the Commonwealth. I am also deeply pleased that the two Presidents are meeting today in St Vincent to try to hammer out the situation. It must be of worry to this Government and to this House that a Commonwealth country is being set upon by a failing state because it wants to grab land to do oil exploration and take oil. That is not an acceptable position to anybody in this House.

The other problem is that the Brazilians are moving troops to their border to ensure its integrity, and I am also told that American military advisers are going to Guyana to help with the situation. The Guyanese have armed forces of 4,000; the Venezuelans have 350,000. I urge this Government to stand solidly behind Guyana, not just as a Commonwealth country, but as a country in South America. I remember that the last time there was an issue in South America, in ’82, it did not end well, and we stood for the oppressed. I urge this Government not just to send the Minister to visit, but to make sure that there is tangible help for the people of Guyana to encourage them to stand up for their rights.

The Government completely agree that the current situation is not acceptable. We are deeply concerned by the unilateral move by Venezuela over this region. Our position is absolutely clear and has not changed: the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration. Venezuela must desist from its action. It has deliberately and unacceptably escalated the situation, and the people of Guyana deserve to be free from the threats to their country.

We work closely with our friends in the region. My hon. Friend mentioned Brazil. Of course, we have been in conversations with Brazil, which has taken a robust stance. I know that my Opposition counterpart with responsibility for Latin American affairs feels the same way. We are, across the House, completely opposed to this sort of action. We want peace and stability in Latin America to continue for decades to come.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) for securing the question on this important matter.

The actions of Venezuela over the past few weeks have been provocative and dangerous. President Maduro has shown a determination to stoke historical grievances, attack recognised international borders and seek aggressive confrontation instead of good neighbourly relations. All that sounds worryingly familiar, because it is the playbook of President Putin. We have challenged it in Ukraine, and we must do the same in Guyana. We often talk in abstract terms about the importance of a rules-based international order, but this is its essence: that disputes are settled peacefully through proper legal and diplomatic processes, not through threats or intimidation; that settled and recognised borders are not subject to change through threat or force; and that the big cannot bully the small. We must be resolute in standing up to those with imperialist ambitions.

I welcome that there will be talks between the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela in St Vincent. I put on record my thanks to Brazil for its leadership on this matter, including the deployment of troops along its border. Those talks should be a mechanism to reduce the tensions brought about by Venezuela’s actions, not a discussion about settled borders or a reward for threats. The Essequibo border was settled more than 100 years ago in 1899. Has the Minister spoken directly to Brazilian or American counterparts, or to key regional bodies such as CARICOM—the Caribbean Community—and the Organisation of American States, about responding to Maduro’s actions?

Guyana is a diverse, beautiful and proud country with close ties of history, friendship and family with the UK. As the child of parents who came from Guyana as part of the Windrush generation, I am living proof of our shared history. For my relatives, and for all the people of Guyana, this is a deeply troubling time. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated that he will go to Guyana shortly, and that the UK’s support for Guyana’s sovereignty is unwavering. What specific actions are the Government taking to ensure that, if the threat is followed through, Guyana’s sovereignty is protected?

It is good to see strong cross-party support on this vital issue. I certainly recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in this matter from his personal perspective and from a geopolitical perspective. He is absolutely right: this is from the playbook of Putin and other dictators around the world, and it needs to be called out and stopped. We are grateful for the work that Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is doing to facilitate those conversations. They need to be about de-escalation; the border is a settled issue as far as we are concerned.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what action we are taking. I can assure him that there have been multiple conversations. The Foreign Secretary is absolutely concerned about this. I have held conversations with interlocutors in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and many other places. I was in Argentina for the inauguration at the weekend, and I met many interlocutors there who all share the concern. We will work with CARICOM, the OAS, the UN, and, of course, the Commonwealth, which is vital, to call this out and take whatever steps are required.

I am glad to follow the Opposition foreign and Commonwealth affairs spokesman in reminding the House and the Minister that when the United States persuaded the United Kingdom to go to international arbitration, the determination in 1899 was to leave that region as part of what is now Guyana, which became independent in 1966. The dispute with Suriname was settled some time ago by agreement. This should be as well, and Venezuela should go back to solving its own problems and exploiting its own hydrocarbons, if it chooses to do so, as it moves towards a more eco-friendly economy and preferably a better kind of politics as well.

The Father of the House makes a very important point. This is a settled matter, and Venezuela needs to sort out its own issues. There have been steps taken by partners in the region to try to help open the door to Maduro, and he has responded in this way. It is unacceptable.

I thank the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) for securing this urgent question. It is indeed ironic that the day after the excitement of COP, here we are discussing the potential annexation of one country by its larger and more powerful neighbour because of the discovery of a huge oilfield containing 11 billion barrels of light crude. It matters not that the 1899 border issue remains controversial for Venezuela, because it has to respect international law.

I am pleased that the International Court of Justice has warned Maduro not to take any action that could alter the status quo, but can the Minister tell me what discussions the UK Government have had with representatives of the ICJ? Have discussions been had directly with the Venezuelans on behalf of the UK Government? To what extent does he share my concern that our previously weak response to states using dubious referendums, followed by the use of military force, to annex parts of a neighbouring country, as Russia did to Crimea in 2014, has emboldened people like Maduro to believe that should he take military action, the consequence for him would be extremely limited?

Again, it is good to see support for Guyana across the House. Whether this is because of Venezuela’s aspirations about oil or some other matter, whatever that might be, its actions are completely unjustified. As the hon. Member indicated, we need to call it out. The 1899 border issue is settled. We support Guyana in its efforts to resolve this matter in whichever way it wants to through the ICJ, but it needs to be done peacefully.

The hon. Gentleman also makes an important point about Russia. These actions are opportunistic. There are huge issues geopolitically, and dictators or other Heads of Government should not seek to exploit these moments when there are far bigger issues at stake elsewhere in the world, so we need to call it out. As I said earlier, we are keeping this under very close scrutiny and will take whatever actions we think are appropriate, along with our regional partners.

I thank the Minister for his response to the urgent question, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) for securing it. I also thank the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), for his response. I do not often find myself in agreement with him, but, on this, I could not fault him on a single word. Both have raised the key strategic role that Brazil plays in the region. We are about to sign a defence partnership agreement with Brazil—in the not too distant future—so it plays a key strategic role. What further can the Minister do, particularly when he visits Guyana, to have enhanced conversations with Brazil to see what role it can play in making sure that we keep peace in the region?

That is a very good question from my hon. Friend. He knows more about Brazil than most people in the House, and I respect him for that knowledge and for the points he has made. Of course, we are working closely with Brazil. It has expressed its concern and warned against unilateral action. It has said that there is no way that Venezuela’s military forces would be able to access Guyana through Brazil, and we will continue to work with it very closely. As he says, we have a strong relationship not just defence-wise, but as we look to its G20 presidency and its hosting of COP30.

What we are seeing is a shameful and cynical move by Venezuela’s President Maduro to threaten and bully a smaller neighbour. We in the UK must make it clear that we cannot allow such threatening behaviour to continue, so what steps is the Minister taking, along with international allies, to affirm the UK’s unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty?

As I said in my statement, we have worked with the Commonwealth ministerial group to call out this action in joint harmony with our other relevant Commonwealth partners. We continue to work with other international bodies to call it out, and obviously, we will be in a position to form a view—along with others in this House—later today, after the meeting that is taking place in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I thank the Minister for confirming that the UK Government are standing with Guyana against Venezuelan aggression, sham referendums and the threat of annexation. Can the Minister confirm whether he has had discussions with the Commonwealth secretary-general about this situation to establish how the whole of the Commonwealth family can support Guyana at this worrying time?

That is an excellent question. I can confirm to the House that I have had conversations with Baroness Scotland. As secretary-general, she has taken a very strong lead: she has issued two statements and called the emergency session of the council of Ministers, which as I said, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Development and Africa attended. We will continue to work with the Commonwealth, which is a vitally important organisation in this context.

Does the Minister agree that whenever a country’s borders are threatened, they must be secured, or it risks undermining that country’s sovereignty, social cohesion and national identity?

I could not agree more—that is absolutely vital, particularly in this case. Latin America has been a region of peace for many, many years, and it needs to stay that way.

It is great to see the House speak with one voice in support of our Commonwealth friend and partner, Guyana. The Minister is right: these borders were settled in 1899. They are the borders that were transferred to the independent Guyana in 1966, and they are the borders that are internationally recognised. As the Minister also knows, President Maduro has said that he will immediately issue licences for gas, oil and mineral exploitation, in direct contravention—as we heard from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara)—of the ICJ ruling. What more is the United Kingdom doing to take this case up on the international stage with Guyana to make sure that ICJ rulings are adhered to?

We have already highlighted the work we are doing with the Commonwealth. We have talked about the international engagement, and obviously, the situation was also discussed by the UN Security Council last Friday. We are taking it at every single level, and it helps if, in this place, we condemn with one voice the actions that have been taken by Venezuela. That will be noted in each of those forums, so I commend the hon. Member for his very important words.

I thank the Minister very much for his response, and I am pleased to know that he will be in Guyana shortly—his presence will send a message. Guyana has an army of some 4,000 and a population of 800,000; Venezuela has an army of 125,000, plus tanks and aircraft, so it is very much the aggressor and the stronger of the two countries. When it comes to the potential annexation of a democratic country by somebody who many of us feel is a demagogue, part of the axis of evil—that is North Korea, Iran and Russia, and now we can add Venezuela to that list—it is very important that we take a stand. As a country, as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, could we not send a Royal Navy ship to Guyana? That is the sort of strong action we need to see.

It is good to get the last word from the hon. Gentleman—that is often his role. We are working hard through diplomatic channels to urge partners in the region to use bilateral contacts and regional groups to advise and mediate, in order to de-escalate the situation. I also bring to the House’s attention the fact that HMS Trent is heading towards the region to support action against narcotics trafficking.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 18 December will include:

Monday 18 December—Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill.

Tuesday 19 December—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 19 December and return on Monday 8 January 2024.

The business for the week commencing 8 January will include:

Monday 8 January—Second Reading of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

Tuesday 9 January—Opposition day (2nd allotted day) debate on a motion in the name of the Leader of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 10 January—Committee of the Whole House on the Finance Bill, followed by Third Reading of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.

Thursday 11 January—Debate on a motion on SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—provision and funding, followed by a debate on a motion on Jewish communities and the potential merits of a Jewish history month. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 12 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 January includes:

Monday 15 January—Committee of the Whole House on the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill.

Colleagues will also wish to be aware that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the February recess on Thursday 8 February and return on Monday 19 February, rise for the Easter recess on Tuesday 26 March and return on Monday 15 April, rise for the May bank holiday on Thursday 2 May and return on Tuesday 7 May, rise for the Whitsun half-term on Thursday 23 May and return on Monday 3 June, and rise for the summer recess on Tuesday 23 July. Further recess dates and business will be announced in the usual way.

May I first put on record our gratitude to Mark Drakeford, a model of public service and public duty? Mr Speaker, I wish you, House staff, Members’ staff, colleagues, journalists, security staff and our public service workers a very merry and restful Christmas. I thank the Leader of the House for finally announcing the recess dates. One thing we do know about next year is that it will be a general election year. I say—bring it on.

This is our last business question of the year, and there is a number of outstanding commitments that were promised before we broke up. First, on the infected blood scandal, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Cabinet Office will update the House on the compensation scheme before the House rises, as promised? As we discussed last week, the Government got things badly wrong by voting against the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), and breaking another commitment to update us on progress would add insult to injury. Given her previous personal and ministerial commitments on this issue, can the Leader of the House ensure that that statement is made next week?

A new process of risk-based exclusions from the parliamentary estate of Members under investigation for serious violent or sexual offences has finally been published this morning. I thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for the sterling efforts in getting us to this stage. Given that we have now missed the original timetable of a motion on it before Christmas, when can we expect this to be scheduled?

Not only did the Prime Minister promise to stop the boats this year, which he has not done, he also promised to get his emergency legislation through in record time, yet there is no sign of the coming Committee stage in what the Leader of the House has announced today—some emergency. It is no surprise, however, because the Prime Minister is too weak to push it through. Yet again, the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart, with star chambers, the five families and so on, but they are not starring in a mafia saga. They are supposed to be running the country, but they are not fit to govern. While real families struggle to heat their homes, put food on the table and afford Christmas, this lot are just playing at politics. Can the Leader of the House even confirm that the Committee stage will come in January? In all their desperate attempts to persuade their colleagues this week, reports have emerged of enticements of Government funding to constituencies in exchange for votes, and not for the first time. Can she put on record that this is absolutely not the case?

The Prime Minister’s emergency reshuffle has left us with no disabilities Minister. Given the Women and Equalities Committee’s damning report on the Government’s disability strategy just last week, can the Leader of the House confirm that someone will be appointed to this position before Christmas?

It has now been a full month since we have had a statement from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, despite major global conflicts. That is unacceptable—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are saying that there is one today, but that was thanks to Mr Speaker granting yet another urgent question to bring Ministers to this place. The Leader of the House and I are both appearing before the Procedure Committee on Monday, so I will not raise the issue of the Foreign Secretary coming here now. Last time I raised the lack of accountability, she assured me that the Government would regularly update the House, and that the Foreign Secretary was “forward leaning.” Will she ensure that we get a proper update on the unfolding situation in Israel and Gaza before the House rises, and regularly thereafter, so that Ministers do not need to be dragged here via urgent questions?

Today also looks like “take out the trash day”, with a large number of written ministerial statements on important matters. Will the Leader of House ensure that there is proper scrutiny of those issues, with no sense that the Government are ducking accountability to this place?

Finally, would the Leader of the House like to take this opportunity to apologise to 11-year-old Liam Walker for the disdain and tone deaf response that the Prime Minister gave to his plight yesterday? The Prime Minister’s sneering, angry response made him look small, and disregarding of Liam’s plight. Liam’s family do the right thing, yet through no fault of their own, they are homeless. Their story is the story of thousands of other families this Christmas. Will the Leader of the House do what the Prime Minister failed to do, and show some empathy and humility, and apologise for how her Government have failed working families who are facing destitution and homelessness this winter?

May I also take the opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year, especially all the staff who work on and off the estate to help us do our jobs and keep us safe, and all those who will be working over the festive period to serve our nation and their communities? 2023 has been a hard year. The British people have faced many challenges, and I am proud of their stoicism and grit in getting through it. Thanks to them and their efforts, the economy is turning a corner and inflation is coming down. Despite the challenges, we have stood by our allies, in particular Ukraine. We have taken care of each other, and we have crowned our new monarch. I wish everyone a peaceful and restorative Christmas, with good wishes and hope for the new year.

Let me start with the hon. Lady’s final point about young Liam. I deeply regret her choosing to paint Conservative Members as uncaring and non-empathetic. She knows that is not the case. Indeed, I pay tribute to one of our colleagues, who I think is in The Telegraph this morning, who made heroic efforts to prevent harm from being done to a young man who was homeless on London’s streets.

I can give the hon. Lady that assurance on infected blood, and I am expecting the House to be updated on that important matter by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. She is right that the Minister with responsibility for disabilities is important, and I am sure that that reshuffle announcement will be made imminently. I also remind the House that every Department has a disability lead in place. I echo the hon. Lady’s thanks to all Commission members for the work done on risk-based exclusion. I think Mr Speaker has written to Members today, and we will of course bring a motion to the House early in the new year. I will also ensure that Members are kept up to date with the ongoing and tragic situation in Gaza over the festive period. I know, as I hope do all Members, that FCDO consular services are there 24 hours a day for any hon. Members who have constituents who need assistance.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of our further legislation to stop the boats. I always find it amusing that Labour Members are keen to see this legislation brought forward so that they can stop it. They say that they have changed, but they have not, and I am afraid their actions speak louder than words. They talk tough on borders, but they have voted every time against our measures to strengthen them. They talk about equality while not paying women a fair wage. They talk about a charter for workers while siding with strikers and eco-zealots who prevent them from getting to work. They talk of fiscal responsibility, but would borrow a further £28 billion more. They talk of opportunity, but would tax education and halve apprenticeships. The hon. Lady has talked empathetically on the cost of living, yet is very happy to clobber hard-working people who can least afford it with higher taxes, the ultra low emission zone and lower tax allowances. They talk of hope, but they would bring despair, as many in Wales are now having to endure. I put on record my thanks to Mark Drakeford for his service, but I remind people of Labour’s record in Wales.

It is a good job that the nativity did not take place in Labour-run Wales. Mary and Joseph would have been clobbered for an overnight stay levy. She would have had poor maternity services. The shepherds would not have been able to take the time off to bear witness due to cuts in the rural affairs budget, and the three wise men would have arrived post-Epiphany due to the blanket 20 mph speed limit and the poor condition of the road network. Do not fall for what Labour says; look at what it does when in power. Not all men who wear red and promise free gifts are to be trusted. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

My right hon. Friend has announced that there will be an Opposition day debate on Tuesday 9 January. Have the Opposition told her that they want to make it on the Leader of the Opposition’s claim that he will bulldoze through local objections to development?

May I draw her attention to the website of a man called Chris Dixon, who says he is in favour of building on the Goring gap in my constituency? He says that people who want to stop that development should vote for me, and those who want to have it built on should invite Angela Rayner to come down and see it. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Labour party is willing to expose its desire to build on green gaps to public debate in this Parliament?

Order. I am not sure that the Leader of the House is responsible for the Labour party. I know that the Father of the House must have told the Member who he has brought into question that he would name her today.

Mr Speaker is always right, and I am not responsible for the scheduling of topics for Opposition day debates. I know that my right hon. Friend will have sent a message today that if that is what Labour is minded to do, he will be there and spoiling for a fight.

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr a th’uile daoine—[Translation: “Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone.”]

Last week, the Leader of the House was unwilling or unable to answer my question about her Government’s latest immigration mess. Instead, she gave Scots another lecture from Westminster, this time about morality and her own global leadership. A lecture on morality from this Tory Government: pantomime season is truly upon us. Was she talking about the morality of her “pile the bodies high” Government, or perhaps recalling the time her Government said, “We are breaking the law, but only in a limited way”? Is it the morality that allows water companies to make a fortune in profits as children get sick swimming in raw sewage off the coast of England, or the morality that forces families of service personnel to live in quarters so riddled with damp and mould that they are judged too poor for human habitation? Perhaps that is the morality she had in mind. Could it be the morality of the return of near-Victorian levels of destitution across the UK? Perhaps she was thinking of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. Perhaps she could lecture them about morality and see what they have to say to her.

Before the Leader of the House launches into—mercifully—her last video nasty of the year, I hope she can answer my question today. It is the same question I asked last week, which remains unanswered and mired in confusion thanks to her Prime Minister. This morning’s statement on “Citizens’ rights” might well address it, but we should have debated such drastic changes before now in this place anyway. It is supposed to be the season of goodwill, but so many of our constituents are now deeply concerned and frightened by the announcement, so I will ask again on their behalf: if the spouse or partner of a British citizen is currently living in the UK on a leave to remain visa, can they be deported if their salary is less than £38,700? Yes or no?

Let me start by wishing the hon. Lady and her SNP colleagues a very happy Christmas. I point her to what the Prime Minister said yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions about further information coming forward in the new year. I said last week that I fully understand that people in particular professions, including the armed forces, will want answers. My office stands ready to facilitate any particular cases or requests in the meantime. Transition arrangements will be announced shortly, as the Prime Minister put on record loud and clear yesterday.

I do not know where to start with the hon. Lady’s lecture on morality. She mentioned vulnerable people, yet this week the SNP announced that Scotland’s national care service will be pushed back three years. She mentioned the armed forces, but her Government are insisting that they pay higher tax, and this Government are compensating them for that. If she wants to find Victorian levels of rats and rickets, she should go to SNP-run local authorities.

I think we should have a festive round-up on SNP morality: 12 hours of police questioning, 11 grand in roaming charges, 10 years without school inspections, nine sham embassies, eight years of poor child mental health, seven years without ferries, six years shirking welfare, five hundred million overspent on Edinburgh’s tram, four million to install a heat pump, three high-profile arrests, two overseas jollies, and a dodgy Jaguar EV. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I have succeeded in bringing a smile to the hon. Lady’s face. I must thank her for being the gift that keeps on giving at business questions. I hope that in 2024 better things are destined for the Scottish people: better education, health, transport and opportunities, and better value for the taxes they pay. I hope that all their MPs will come here, represent their interests and take responsibility for the authority that they are given. That is my Christmas wish.

In the new year, can we have a series of debates celebrating all the positive things happening in our constituencies? They include the £64 million of levelling-up cash for Marsden Mills and the Huddersfield-Penistone line in my area; a brand-new A&E unit; the west Yorkshire investment zone investing in Huddersfield university; the trans-Pennine upgrade; and wonderful community groups such as those in Milnsbridge Village Hall and the Friend To Friend group, where I will join pensioners tomorrow for a Christmas lunch. Can we please celebrate these positive things happening in our communities?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the considerable achievements that he and his constituents have secured over the past year. I am reminded of the, very sadly, late Benjamin Zephaniah, who as guest editor on the “Today” programme insisted that it be just about good news. We could all do with that occasionally. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business for the first week after the Christmas recess and for the extensive list of recess dates, which we will fill up our diaries with. I mentioned that last week, so it is welcome to get the dates in the bag.

I am afraid to say that I am of such an age that I have been a school governor for 40 years continuously. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I am the chair of governors at a primary school in Gateshead, where 52% of the youngsters are entitled to free school meals. Holiday hunger is not a concept confined to the summer recess. Can we have a statement from the children’s Minister on whether the Government have plans to tackle holiday hunger in the winter break, when cold exacerbates the problem and adds to the misery of hungry children?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for this work on the Backbench Business Committee and for his question. He will know that it was the topic that the Youth Parliament chose to debate when they visited the Chamber. There has been huge focus on provision in schools, particularly during holidays. If he has particular concerns, I will be happy to raise them with the Secretary of State for Education, as the next questions are not until 29 January.

Hannukah semeach, Mr Speaker. This evening, of course, is the last evening on which Jews will light their hannukiah. It is normally the time of year for joy, but for many Jews we are frightened to show our Jewishness on the streets of this country, not least because of the appalling examples of Jew hate we have seen on some of the marches. But it is Jewish students on our campuses who have it the worst. At a recent Jewish Society event at Warwick University, its WhatsApp chatgroup was infiltrated and freshers were called, “effing dirty Jewish…”—I will not say the last word. Visibly Jewish students at St Andrews were egged and an emeritus professor at Bristol called for her followers to blow up the Jewish Labour Movement. May we have a debate on antisemitism on campuses, so that Members can hold vice-chancellors, some of whom are doing a good job on this, to account for what is happening on our campuses?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important point. This was also raised last week in the wake of the appalling testimony that was given in the United States from three of its universities. His question is very balanced, because many universities are doing a very good job on this front. I will just put on record my thanks to the noble Lord Mann, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and my own fantastic Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards), for the work that they have done with others in producing a very good report on this subject. It is incredibly important that those universities that are not doing what they should do—we know there is no excuse, because the bulk of universities are doing a fantastic job—really get their act together. They owe it to this country and everyone in it, in particular the Jewish community, to get that right. I again pay tribute to the work of the Union of Jewish Students, who do so much work to combat the terrible antisemitism that is unfortunately lingering in some of our academic institutions.

This has been a very difficult week for Pontypridd and Taff Ely. Last night, a serious fire and explosion in Treforest occurred and sadly one person is still unaccounted for. On Monday evening, three young men tragically lost their lives in a car crash in my home village of Tonyrefail, and two people are still fighting for their lives in hospital. This awful news has hit our close-knit community very hard and all our thoughts are with Callum, Jesse and Morgan’s loved ones at this very difficult time, as well as all those still recovering. Our emergency services acted in an exemplary manner in both situations, and I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to everyone who ran towards the danger and tried to help.

Sadly, in the wake of these accidents distressing footage from both scenes and malicious, cruel posts about the victims have been uploaded to social media. Some platforms were quicker to act than others and did remove some of the offensive posts and footage. I know that the Leader of the House takes a personal interest in online safety, so will she be willing to meet me to discuss a way forward to close the gaps and tackle this issue?

I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say how sorry we are and how much our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by these appalling tragedies in the hon. Lady’s constituency. It is terrible when one terrible thing happens, and I know it rocks a whole community, but to have two such terrible events take place together is truly shocking. Of course, I will be very happy to meet her to discuss what more can be done. She knows I take a personal interest in ensuring that social media companies take their responsibilities very seriously. If there is anything we can do to assist her community, we stand ready to do so.

Abdul Wahid is the head of the UK arm of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He utters the most vile antisemitism possible and praised the attacks of 7 October as being a punch in the face for Israel. Not only is he uttering this vile abuse, but he is also an NHS GP in Harrow. There is a large Jewish community in Harrow and they will be fearful of going to their GP in case he is the one who sees them. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can root out extremists from public service? In my view, his right to be in this country should be cancelled and he should be deported. We must ensure that extremism is not allowed in our public services.

I know that many Members will be aware of this shocking case. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on specific details of what might be happening with regard to an individual, but I can say that the Community Security Trust has been recording an increased number of antisemitic incidents and hate crime, notably since the start of the current conflict. Of course, these attitudes and actions are utterly indefensible and should not be tolerated regardless of a person’s walk of life, but it is all the more shocking when that person has been charged with carrying out a public service, especially one that requires the trust and confidence of the local community. I am sure that this is not the last we will hear about the case that my hon. Friend has raised.

Liberal Democrats have long supported a community-led rather than a developer-led planning system, and my constituents are waiting eagerly to hear what changes the Government may make to the national planning policy framework. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has indicated, both on air and in print, that an announcement is due to be made this week. I presumed that means an oral statement to the House so that Members can scrutinise any changes that might be forthcoming, but I note that no such statement is to be made today and that, as yet, there has been no written statement either. Can the Leader of the House please tell me whether there will be an oral statement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the changes to the framework before we break up for Christmas?

As the hon. Lady will know, the next oral questions to the Secretary of State will be on 22 January, and I will ensure that he has heard of her interest in this matter. In respect of legislative business, I will make further announcements, and the House will be updated on statements in the usual way.

The Leader of the House will have seen the statements made in May by the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), about excessive rates of pay for Post Office executives. There is a real challenge in my constituency, in that residents are not receiving their mail on time, including medical notes and financial statements, which cannot be right.

I have written to those at Royal Mail asking them to address this problem as a matter of urgency. We are coming up to Christmas, and people, some of whom are elderly, cannot receive communications from their families. This is not only an issue for my constituency; it affects all of us over here. May we have an urgent statement on the Floor of the House about Royal Mail’s performance, and in the meantime will my right hon. Friend please ask the Under-Secretary of State to speak to Royal Mail, again as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the matter is addressed?

I am sorry to hear this issue being raised yet again. Many Members have already raised it, and I know that my hon. Friend is working very hard to secure a better service for his constituents. I will certainly make sure that the Under-Secretary of State has heard about his concerns, but I think that what we can all do locally is urge against actions that exacerbate such situations, such as industrial action.