House of Commons
Thursday 15 September 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On the front page of today’s Order Paper, it is noted:
On 15 September 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel The Honourable Guy Victor Baring, 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards, Member for Winchester, was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, France.
On 15 September 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles William Reginald Duncombe, Viscount Helmsley, 21st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Yeoman Rifles), Member for Thirsk and Malton from 1906 to 1915, was killed in action at Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme, France.
On 25 September 1916, Lieutenant Gerald Archibald Arbuthnot, 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards, Member for Burnley in 1910, was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, France.
We remember them today.
Business before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Batley and Spen in the room of Helen Joanne Cox, deceased.—(Dame Rosie Winterton.)
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of Witney in the room of the right honourable David William Donald Cameron, who since his election for the said County constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York.—(Gavin Williamson.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Transport Infrastructure and Economic Growth
An assessment of the impact on the economy is a routine part of transport investment decisions. The Department uses an internationally respected analytical framework for assessing schemes, which includes the impact on jobs, growth and regeneration.
May I welcome the Minister to his place and say how pleased I am that the Department will have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of my Lincolnshire colleague? I say that not just because I would like his help with the roads! Every day this summer, my constituents, tourists and I had to wait up to 45 minutes to pass through the traffic lights at the Bull Ring in Horncastle, where the very busy A153 crosses the even busier A158. The single carriageway road cannot cope with the volume of traffic between the city of Lincoln, the market town of Louth and the east coast. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and local councillors to discuss what can be done to get rid of these bottlenecks to help local residents and businesses and to encourage even more tourism at the wonderful Lincolnshire coast?
My hon. Friend is a doughty and articulate campaigner for her constituents’ interests. She will know that all counties of our great country are dear to my heart, but none more so than my own county of Lincolnshire. I am familiar with this part of the county and I understand the pressures on the roads there. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend and local councillors to discuss the situation. Indeed, I want to go further, because that alone is just not good enough. I want to hold a round-table meeting with all concerned parties in my Department and to ask my officials to look specifically at what my hon. Friend has said. If I may say so, her complimentary words were most welcome. She could have added, for future reference, dexterity, determination and, in the light of recent events, durability!
Will the Minister give a firm commitment to ensure that High Speed 2 goes ahead with a clear timetable, and will he accelerate work on trans-Pennine links from Liverpool to Hull so that the United Kingdom’s economy can be supported and its rebalancing can be assisted throughout the UK?
At a meeting earlier this week, the hon. Lady and I discussed a range of issues in the light of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, including the significance of the trans-Pennine connection. It is important for us to see all our transport needs in terms of not just north-south but east-west links. I know that that will be recognised by many Members who represent constituencies in the east of England, as I do, and in the west of England, as the hon. Lady does.
I am more than happy to look at all the options to which the hon. Lady has referred. As she will know, we are considering a range of ways of making those links real. In her role as Select Committee Chairman, she will want to test me further when she, no doubt, calls me to appear before her.
Will my right hon. Friend have particular regard to the reports from the Great Eastern and West Anglian taskforces, chaired by two of his colleagues, about the contribution that they can make to the future prosperity of the Anglian region, so that there can be a reliable rail structure on which the splendid new trains that are to come can run more efficiently?
As you know, Mr Speaker, I have a deep regard for the past, and my relatively recent past reminds me that the right hon. Gentleman tested me on these matters at the time of my last incarnation in the Department for Transport, when he advanced similar arguments about the importance of the links to which he has referred today. I look forward to receiving and studying that report, and when I do so, I shall be more than happy to have further discussions with him on its contents, but no one could argue that he has not made his case powerfully and repeatedly.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) realises how lucky he is to have the prospect of further conversations with the Minister of State. Not all of us are in that category.
(Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Infrastructure is vital to economic growth, which is why it is so unfortunate that the Highways Agency has, without consultation, announced the closure of the A34 at Talke junction. That stretch of road is the main access route to Freeport shopping centre. The works are much needed, but they are due to start next week and continue until 23 December, which will affect Christmas shopping at the centre. Will the Minister endeavour to work with me and with the Highways Agency, so that it can see the error of its ways?
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I shall make a general point and then a specific one. The general point is this. On my first day in this job, I met representatives of Highways England, as it is now called, and made it very clear that one of the things they had to do better was give proper notice of their plans, communicate with all interested parties—including Members of Parliament—and be very precise about the time that decisions and their implications would take. Obviously, the case in point is apposite.
As for the specific point, I was not aware of the situation that the hon. Lady has described, but this is what I am going to do. I will meet representatives of Highways England today, I will raise that particular issue, and by tomorrow I will speak to the hon. Lady about it.
My right hon. Friend is dexterous, determined and durable, as well as being extremely distinguished. The A34 is one of the most important roads for our economy, taking freight from the south coast to the midlands, but it is becoming increasingly dangerous: two recent crashes caused fatalities. Now that I have recorded that he is dexterous, determined and durable, will my right hon. Friend hold a round table with me and other Oxfordshire Members to discuss how to improve safety and the free running of the A34?
My table grows ever more round. I am none the worse for it, by the way.
I am familiar with that road. As my right hon. Friend will know, a number of suggestions have been made for the improvement of the scheme. There are always demands relating to different roads, and different ideas about how those demands should be met. We study these matters carefully, and part of that process involves the kind of consultation that my right hon. Friend has recommended. I am always delighted to speak to him about any matter that he raises in the House, including the one that he has raised today.
The Government talk about rebalancing the economy, and it is interesting that the Minister just talked about improving east-west links in the north, but may I make one suggestion that I hope he will take forward? Can we extend the M65 all the way to Scotch Corner? That needs to be done. Millions of people in the north-east need to be connected directly to millions of people in the north-west and the Manchester region. That vital east-west infrastructure link would rebalance that economy.
The hon. Gentleman is known for making the case for links that would further boost his local economy. There have been scurrilous suggestions that the northern powerhouse has in some way faltered. Let me tell the House that the northern powerhouse is not only alive and well, but will thrive under this Government. That will include the kind of infrastructure investment necessary not only to provide transport links, but to boost economic growth, build skills and spread opportunity. That is the kind of Government we are: a Government with big ideas who put them into action for the benefit of our people.
Midland Main Line (Electrification)
Following the un-pausing of electrification, Network Rail has re-mobilised its team and is working towards a final design for the enhancement programme, as set out in the Hendy review last year. Work to increase capacity on the route has already started.
The east midlands has had the lowest level of rail spending per head in every one of the past six years. We have discovered that the pausing and un-pausing of the electrification of the midland main line wasted almost £40 million and cost countless jobs in the supply chain, and now there are rumours that it could be cancelled or deferred again. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the line will be electrified all the way to Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023, and will he commit to real action to ensure that there are no further delays or broken promises?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on assiduously carrying out her former brief—who knows when she might return to the Front Bench to continue in that role? She makes an important point about the importance of the line to the east midlands. In my view, the supply chain in the east midlands does not just depend on this one project; the investment in Bombardier’s 660 trains for East Anglia is just one way of safeguarding that particular supply chain. On her wider point about the work on that line, it is worth bearing it in mind that we have already completed 10 km of new line in that stretch; nearly 9 km of existing line has been improved; over 3,000 new piles have been put into place; and there is 10 km of new earthworks, strengthening of key bridges, and new viaducts, particularly at Harpers Brook. Work on this line is ongoing and we are looking to improve capacity through the franchising arrangements.
I am delighted to hear that the northern powerhouse is alive and well. Does the Minister agree that if it is to have real effect, it is important that investment is made in connectivity not just between the cities of the north, but between the towns? I thank Ministers for the initial investment in the Middlewich bypass, but will they also look at the business case for the reopening of the Middlewich railway station?
As someone born and bred in a town very close to Middlewich, I am well aware in my 40 years of the importance of the town’s connectivity at the heart of Cheshire. I know that there are good plans for Middlewich’s new station and look forward to working with my hon. Friend on progressing the business case.
Before the pause, electrification was due to be completed by 2020, which is also the date when all trains have to comply with new disability legislation. What will the Government do between 2020 and 2023, when the old HST trains on the line, with their slam doors, will not comply with disability legislation? Will they abandon the legislation or put in temporary rolling stock?
We take accessibility issues on our railways extremely seriously. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the commitments we have made. We are currently examining how best to increase capacity on this line, particularly at peak hours, when there is a risk of standing on some stretches. We are looking carefully at how we can deliver on that.
Will the Minister ensure that the branch line that runs through Langley Mill and Alfreton stations in my constituency is added to the plans to re-energise electrification, having been unaccountably missed out of the original plans?
I am not familiar with that branch line at this stage but I shall certainly look into the matter, discuss it with my officials and write to my hon. Friend.
With the faster line speeds that electrification will bring, will the Minister look to reinstate the half-hourly service northwards from Kettering, which was cut to an hourly service under the last Labour Government?
A number of timetabling and scheduling opportunities always come about through any reprofiling of a line and indeed any change in the rolling stock on the line. We will of course feed that into all the consultations on how best to make use of the reprofiling of that line.
Aviation Safety: Drones
The safety of the public is our top priority. We are working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and industry to understand and address the safe use of drones. We are continuing to adapt and strengthen the regulations as the use of drones evolves. The current regulatory framework balances clear rules on safety and strong penalties for misuse, with a commercial permissions system that ensures responsible use of this emerging technology.
But I asked the Minister what assessment he had made of the effect on aviation safety. How real is the risk? I know that he knows that it was discussed this week at the Trades Union Congress conference and that there is great concern about the matter. We need to know what the risk is and what steps the Government are taking, before we end up with the inevitable ministerial statement about lessons learned.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the TUC discussing the issue yesterday. We had a word about that earlier. The TUC is right to raise it because it is an emerging technology and the risk is dynamic. We constantly need to have analysis in place about the risk that poses. It is not just irresponsible use; it could be malevolent use that poses risk. Drones could be used by all kinds of agents to do all kinds of things. The assurance I give him is that I will ensure that my Department is continuing that analysis and makes sure that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose having done that analysis. The best thing to do is for me to come back to the House to give regular reports on how that is going. He always takes a diligent interest in the affairs of the House. He has raised an important issue, which I think is entirely bi-partisan and which we need to take seriously.
My constituent Lesley Smith administers Tutbury castle and she tells me that drones are not only a danger to aircraft; they also affect privacy. They affect copyright law. They are also a danger to people who may be visiting the castle: the drone may run out of power and fall on to their heads. When will we see tighter instructions and education about how to use drones? Incidentally, Mr Speaker, intellectual property rights was the phrase I was searching for.
And you found it.
To be absolutely clear, we take drones very seriously, as I said in answer to the previous question. Anyone who “recklessly or negligently” causes or permits their drone to endanger any person or property can face a fine of up to £5,000 or two years’ imprisonment, so we are not taking the matter lightly. The point that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) make is that, because the technology is evolving, it is important that we do proper work to look at the scale and type of danger we face, and then the regulatory framework can be fit for purpose.
I wonder whether there has been co-operation between the Department and the Ministry of Defence in relation to security and the threat that drones pose to the security of the nation.
Indeed. I have recently arrived back at the Department for Transport from the Home Office, where I was Minister for Security, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office take this matter very seriously. He can be absolutely sure that, across the Government, we are looking at this issue. As I said earlier, it is not just about irresponsible use; it might also be about malevolent use of the kind that he has described.
The Government are committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that the country needs, including delivering runway capacity in the south-east on the timetable set out by the Airports Commission. We are currently undertaking further work, including assurance of the Airports Commission’s evidence and on air quality, and the decision will be made shortly.
The new Transport Secretary, a fierce advocate of the UK exiting the EU, has already done more than enough to wreak economic havoc. Perhaps he would care to use his new position to mitigate some of that damage by putting an end to this third runway debacle. If not, will he apologise to businesses and commuters in Scotland for putting their economic interests on the line?
First, I would simply remind the hon. Lady that some of the things that were said about our economy have not proved to be the case, and that under this Government our economy continues to do well. I would also say to her that this Government retain, and will always retain, a commitment to the economy and the people of Scotland, as part of one United Kingdom. The decision that we seek to take on runway capacity in the south-east, whatever it may be, will be designed to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom by improving our connectivity to the world.
When the previous Prime Minister was reminded of his words “no ifs, no buts” that there would be no third runway at Heathrow, he said that a decision would be made this summer. The current Government position is that the decision will be announced in October, and the current Prime Minister seems to be erasing all evidence of her previous opposition to the proposal. After the Davies debacle and the expenditure of £20 million, it looks as though there is going to be a free vote. Can the Secretary of State confirm or deny that? To my constituents, this looks like a protracted fudge.
Order. We need shorter questions.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is going to have to wait for us to set out our plans. I have said today that we are committed to making our decision shortly. I regard this as an important decision for our nation, and it is one that we need to get on with. We have of course seen a significant change in the Administration across the summer, and it is right and proper that the Prime Minister and I should be sufficiently prepared to make the decision. We will make sure that that is the case.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we want to keep London as the hub airport for western Europe, it is crucial that we deal with the capacity problems that currently affect Heathrow in particular? This saga has been going on for so long, and I want him to ensure that we have no further delays in reaching a conclusion on the Davies recommendations. May I also tell him that there is only one obvious answer, and that it is Heathrow?
As you know, Mr Speaker, there are differing opinions on this across the House, and it is right and proper that the Government should look in a dispassionate way at all three options recommended to us by the Davies commission, assess the strengths and weaknesses of what is being offered and take the right decision in the interests of our nation. I assure the House that that is what we will do.
As Britain leaves the European Union, we are going to have to develop more markets in Asia and the far east. That will mean more passenger traffic and, in particular, more freight traffic. Is it not therefore essential for the national interest that RiverOak’s plans for a freight hub at Manston should be allowed to proceed and to be successful, and that we should preserve Manston as an airport?
I absolutely understand how strongly people in Thanet feel about the future of Manston. I know how controversial it is, and has been. I can simply say to my hon. Friend that this Government would be perfectly supportive of proposals to develop a freight hub at Manston, but I am afraid that that has to be a matter for the local community, the owners and the local authority, and I hope that they reach the right decision in the interest of the nation.
The expansion will use 370,000 tonnes of steel and Heathrow has committed to using UK steel. Whatever the decision on airport infrastructure, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that UK steel is used in any expansion?
I am an unashamed champion of this country’s businesses and of what we do as a nation to give them the best possible opportunities. While we are an outward-facing nation and will always do business with companies from around the world, it is right and proper that we champion organisations that deliver in this country, such as our steelmakers. I am proud that our railways use almost entirely British steel and want British steel to be used in all our major infrastructure projects.
Although residents would agree that there is a need for airport expansion, does the Secretary of State share the concerns of the three quarters of a million people who live under Heathrow’s flight path about the new plan, about the change to the tunnelling of the M25 and about the lifting of a cap on the limit of aircraft movement? Does he agree with residents that Heathrow cannot be trusted not to go for a fourth runway and not to have night flights?
I am well aware of how strongly people in west London feel. I am also aware of how strongly people around Gatwick feel, albeit they are smaller in number than those around Heathrow. My hon. Friend is passionate about such issues and I can only assure her that the Government will have in mind the impact on noise and air quality and how that is dealt with as we reach a view on the Davies commission’s recommendations.
As a veteran of almost 12 weeks in post, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He is the second Secretary of State I have had the pleasure of shadowing. I welcome him and his new Ministers to their places and look forward to many discussions about transport in the months ahead.
A decision on airport expansion in the south-east is long overdue and has been made only more urgent by the vote to leave the European Union and the consequent need to demonstrate that the UK is open for business. Already twice delayed to avoid party political bickering inside the Tory party, there are now rumours that Ministers will be given a free vote. This is neither a constitutional issue nor a matter of conscience; it is a nationally critical infrastructure project. Will the Secretary of State tell the House the exact date on which he will confirm that the decision, whatever it is, will have the backing of the full Cabinet?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s words of welcome. He is underemployed in comparison with my previous shadow, who held two shadow Cabinet roles, so perhaps there will also be an opportunity for him to have additional responsibilities. I look forward to sparring across the Dispatch Box with somebody so much more experienced than I am in this role.
The decision is important for our nation’s strategic interests. I am new to this job, as the hon. Gentleman points out, and the Prime Minister is new to hers, so we want to ensure that we have done the necessary work and are properly informed before we take a decision. I did a lot over the summer to ensure that that was the case, including visiting the sites of all three proposals. I have carefully considered the issues and the Prime Minister is doing the same. We will reach a view shortly and will bring it to the House. It is right and proper that everyone in the House will be able to have a say in this important matter.
Airport Expansion: EU Referendum
The Prime Minister will begin the negotiation for Britain’s future relationship with the EU and will also take the decision about when to trigger article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU. As I said a moment ago, as we move into the new world beyond our membership of the European Union, it is important that we are an outward-facing nation with strong business ties around the world. The decision on runway capacity is an important part of that, and it is important that we get it right. We will take that decision and move ahead with our plans, ensuring that we have the right links for the future.
I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my enthusiasm about the referendum result giving us vast opportunities to forge new links around the world. The Airports Commission estimated that the economic benefit of expanding Heathrow would be up to £23.6 billion for the south-east, as opposed to £12.4 billion if Gatwick is expanded. Expansion at Heathrow would greatly benefit Buckinghamshire. Will my right hon. Friend think about putting a date on this and letting us know when he will make a decision? Will he commit to an integrated transport strategy that benefits the people of Bucks—unlike HS2?
I will not give an exact date today, but I assure the House that we intend to take the decision soon. It is important that we move ahead with these plans. I hear what my right hon. Friend says about Heathrow. I have seen three effective, well-crafted proposals for the Government and this House to consider. We will reach a view shortly about what recommendation we will seek to make.
The Prime Minister has claimed that she wishes to govern in the interests of the whole country. The expansion of Heathrow would deliver more than 8,000 jobs for Wales and contribute more than £6 billion to the growth of our economy. Does the Secretary of State agree that the expansion of Heathrow is the only right answer for the economy of Wales?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and he clearly has a strong view on this matter. As he will have seen, strong views are held on both sides of the House and on all three sides of this argument. I note what he says about the importance of proper air links for Wales. This Government will always focus on the best way we have at our disposal to help Wales, but we have to take a decision about the interests of our collective United Kingdom and which option is better, and that is the decision we will take.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, now that the British people have decided to leave the EU and free our country from the interference and over-regulation it brought, the Government have new opportunities to support regional connectivity? Will he look closely at the opportunities that a decision on Heathrow would bring?
It is worth saying that whatever decision we take about airport expansion, it is important that we have in mind the need to make sure that we have good connectivity around the UK, and I assure my hon. Friend that that will be a priority in our considerations.
Will the Secretary of State reassure me that he will not be diverted by claims about the difference Brexit makes to airport expansion and will address the costs to the taxpayer of road and rail infrastructure that would be required for a third runway? Will he also look at the comparative costs for other alternatives, such as Gatwick?
It is clearly important that we take our decision in the interests of the nation and that we foster ties around the world and within Europe. We are not leaving Europe; we are leaving the European Union. We want to retain good, strong economic ties with our neighbours in Europe. It is important that we take the right decision for the whole of our nation, and that is what we will do.
Tolls: Roads and Bridges
Successive Governments have taken the view that tolling is justified on certain infrastructure, such as significant river crossings.
I thank the Minister for the reply. Before the general election, the former Chancellor promised motorists in Cheshire West, Warrington and Chester discounts on the tolls that are to be introduced in 2017 on the new Mersey Gateway bridge and the old Silver Jubilee bridge. I have no objection to the Government’s paying for discounts for motorists, but my constituents in Liverpool and in Knowsley live closer to those bridges and rely on them just as much as people who live in Chester and Warrington. So will the Minister have a word with the new Chancellor and ask him to provide some money to pay for those discounts to be extended to my constituents?
I imagined that the hon. Lady would ask that question, because she has tabled a number of written questions in a similar vein. She rightly says that a local discount scheme will operate on the Mersey Gateway bridge. The Government have said that they were looking to extend those discounts, as she also said. Let me be clear: officials are currently working through the character and effect of that extension, and no decision has been made upon it. Of course, I will give full consideration to the arguments she has made on behalf of her constituents and others.
Is a toll being considered for the proposed cross-Pennine road link?
I did say at the outset that successive Governments have taken the view that tolling is justified on major infrastructure schemes. My hon. Friend will know that those matters are, as I said earlier, also being considered in the round. No decisions have been made to the effect that he describes.
The M4 is the main supply route into the Welsh economy and hence there is cross-party support in the National Assembly for devolving ownership of the Severn bridges once they return to public ownership. Will the right hon. Gentleman update the House on what discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on this issue?
I am always happy to have discussions with the Welsh Government, and I have done so in a variety of ministerial roles. My view is very clear, and I think that we have been plain about the toll on that important crossing. It is this Government who, when the current regime comes to its conclusion in 2018, will halve the toll. The hon. Gentleman must welcome that, as he knows how good it will be for his constituents, so I hope that after today’s questions he will put out a press release, congratulating the Government on their decision.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I welcome the Secretary of State and his new Ministers to their places?
Was the Minister aware that the very first act of the SNP Scottish Government was to introduce the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Act 2008, which means that, in Scotland, there is no need for discounts? Tolls are gone, saving commuters around Scotland hundreds of pounds a year and boosting tourism and the economy. Has he studied that model for his own use?
I will give a mercifully short answer: Scottish independence would mean that the SNP Government could not afford that anymore.
Of course, there will be no tolls either on the new £3 billion dual carriageway of the A9. On the subject of the A9, will the Minister congratulate the Scottish Government on the safety cameras on the non-dualled section between Perth and Inverness, which was unbelievably opposed by one of the Minister’s former colleagues, Sir Daniel Alexander? Those cameras have seen speeding drop from 43% to 10% since 2012, thereby reducing death and injuries. Will the Minister consider that matter?
Of course we always give consideration to those kind of matters and it is important that we give credit where credit is due. When I have worked out, following the hon. Gentleman’s rather long question, whether credit is due, I will decide whether or not to give it.
Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles
Local councils have the powers to provide effective licensing arrangements in their area, but legislation is in the House to strengthen the current framework. We will consult on new statutory guidance for local licensing authorities once the parliamentary process is complete.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Internet and smartphone use has revolutionised private hire vehicle services. Does he believe that current legislation, which is now several decades old, is adequately regulating this technology?
The legislation that governs this sector goes back many, many more decades, to the age of the horse and carriage. That is why the Government asked the Law Commission to take a comprehensive review of taxi and private hire regulation in England and Wales. Obviously, it is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We will be responding to the Law Commission’s report in due course.
Sheffield City Council believes that its tough policy on child sexual exploitation is basically useless because other taxi operators can license themselves outside Sheffield and then operate in Sheffield. Will the Minister meet me and other colleagues from Sheffield city region to discuss taxi licensing in relation to CSE?
I will be happy to meet the hon. Lady. I just point out that whatever licensing area a company is operating in, it has to ensure that a fit and proper person test is carried out, but I will be very happy to meet her.
May I also welcome the Secretary of State. He knows my city of Cambridge very well. We look forward to him coming to open the new railway station, which is long overdue. He also knows that Cambridge is full of people who think that prisoners should read books and that Britain should be in the European Union. I suggest that he brings a very hard hat with him when he comes.
We heard in an Adjournment debate raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) about the problems in the taxi trade and the procrastination and inaction over two years since the Law Commission report. Some months ago, the Minister told us that he was about to act, and yet in a written question to me a few days ago, he said that the Government have no plans to bring forward legislation in the current Session. How much longer will we have to wait?
That is a complex matter and we are working on it and through it, but we are already taking action on the key issue of child sexual exploitation in the taxi and private car sector by putting the guidance on to a statutory basis. We hope to be consulting on that as soon as the Policing and Crime Bill has reached Royal Assent.
What a striking contrast with the new Mayor of London, who has done more in a few weeks than his predecessor did in eight years, and more than that lot have done in six years. Does the Minister recognise the problem with cross-border licensing? As we have heard, there are councils in this country handing out licences like confetti. These vehicles are clogging up the streets of London and adding to congestion. How much longer will we have to wait until he takes the problem seriously?
The Government are clearly taking the issue seriously. I am aware of the actions taken by the new Mayor of London, but it is worth making sure that one gets those actions right; I understand that one of the operators has already won the right to a judicial review.
Order. We started late because of the preliminary announcements, so we can run on slightly, but we must have much shorter questions from now on. To be honest, questions today have been simply far too long.
There are no current plans to extend the Crossrail route. Any proposed extension would require a strong business case, and would need to be in the best interests of rail passengers.
Crossrail is on budget and on time, and will dramatically reduce journey times across London. The one area of the capital that does not benefit from it is north-west London, and Harrow and Wealdstone in particular. Will my hon. Friend look at the business case for expanding the network so that all Londoners can benefit from Crossrail?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the connectivity benefits of Crossrail. I know that it has looked at the possibility of an extension through Harrow and Wealdstone, which he has been campaigning for, and into Hertfordshire, to join the west coast main line there. That was found by Crossrail, Transport for London and Network Rail to offer poor value for money, so we are not taking it forward at this time, but of course we always keep the issue under review.
As much as I would like my constituents to benefit from an expanded Crossrail network, geography makes that unlikely, so can the Minister with responsibility for rail tell me his assessment of Southeastern’s submission for additional rolling stock?
We always want to make sure that commuters in London, which is one of the most burdened parts of the network, have the best possible chance of having a reliable, predictable, punctual service, with a good chance of getting a seat. That is why we, contrary to what happened in the 13 years of Labour Government, are investing so many billions of pounds in new carriages across London and the south-east.
High Speed 2
To be absolutely clear, the Government are firmly committed to HS2, which will become the backbone of our national rail network and help us to build an economy that works for everyone. I have spent a lot of time this summer looking at the full extent of the route, so I fully understand all the issues around it.
In Liverpool, there are many concerns that we will not be properly connected to HS2, which will be challenging not only for passengers, but for transporting the freight that comes into the new super-port; that will throw into question the notion of a genuine northern powerhouse. Will the Secretary of State please confirm that the provision of a junction allowing a future line to Liverpool from the Golborne link of HS2 will be announced in the autumn statement?
I cannot pre-announce the autumn statement, but I can say this: the hon. Lady knows that I am a regular visitor to Liverpool—I was there during the summer—and I am well aware of the transport challenges around the city. I am also proud that we are spending something like £350 million today on rail improvements. We need to make sure that Liverpool is well served in future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest disadvantage of the HS2 route is that it does not go to Cleethorpes? As he knows, we are urgently in need of a direct service to King’s Cross. Will he continue to work with me to try to deliver a direct service to Cleethorpes?
I am always delighted to work with my hon. Friend on improving the rail service and transport system in Cleethorpes. I fear that I probably will not be able to deliver on getting HS2 to go there.
HS2 is intended to be a jewel in the crown of British infrastructure, but as was revealed in the Public Accounts Committee’s report, it is losing some of its lustre. To be at this stage and still not know how much HS2 will cost, what the route will be and when it will open is unacceptable. The Government are quite clearly losing their grip on the project. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to say why his Department has failed to set a workable, realistic timetable for HS2 Ltd, and will he give a guarantee to deliver an entire high-speed railway?
I do not want to start my relationship with the hon. Gentleman on a bad note, but I have to say that that is a lot of nonsense. We have a proposal for an innovative railway line that is completing its journey as a hybrid Bill through the Lords, and we will start work next year. We aim to deliver the first stage, as planned, in the middle of the next decade, and later this autumn, we will set out the remaining route in detail. I am proud to do that for this important project for our nation.
Driving Licence Withdrawals
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency deals with around 600,000 medical cases each year. The vast majority of cases, 90%, are dealt with quickly and efficiently, but the other 10% are complex, often requiring consultation with several medical professionals. As each case is taken on its merits, that can take time, but we are aware of the importance of the issue. The DVLA has taken on more than 100 extra staff and additional medical advisers to handle cases.
If someone is cleared of their medical condition, it is very frustrating to have to wait a long time for the processing to be completed, so I am grateful for whatever the Minister can do.
I am acutely aware of how important this is for people. If some people lose their licence, they may also be losing their means to continue their careers. The DVLA is working on the matter by bringing in extra personnel and so far it has been successful: the average processing time last year was 53 days, and so far this year it is 38 days and we are working to reduce that even further.
The Minister felt a compelling need to read out part B of the brief, but we are grateful and we are better informed.
Rail Services: Overcrowding
This Government are making the biggest investment in our railways since the Victorian era, enabling more trains and longer trains to operate on many of our busiest routes. More than 563 new carriages are planned to enter service by the end of 2020.
[Official Report, 10 October 2016, Vol. 615, c. 1MC.]
The Minister is right that investment is the key to tackling overcrowding, so why has his Department waited two years before even making a decision on the private finance available to electrify the line to Hull?
In the interests of brevity, I will not have a theological debate with the hon. Lady about whether that is privately or publicly financed, but it is publicly financed. I recognise that she has been a doughty campaigner for improved services to Hull. Connectivity to Hull is very important and I look forward to giving her good news as soon as we can.
Electrification of the Chase line will help to address overcrowding. However, I am aware that there may be delays in getting electric trains on the line. Will my hon. Friend review the position and do everything in his power to ensure that we get electric trains as soon as possible?
We had a very productive meeting with my hon. Friend last week. She is a doughty campaigner on behalf of that line and I will continue to press for further advances on the issue, as she asks.
The service on Southern is officially the worst in the country, and passengers have endured appalling overcrowding for far too long. Removing hundreds of services a day has served only to exacerbate overcrowding on the services that survive. When will the Secretary of State bring to an end the misery of long-suffering passengers and intervene, or does he agree with the former Rail Minister, who effectively said that there are no circumstances that would warrant Govia Thameslink Railway being stripped of this franchise?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that more than two thirds of the services that were taken out of the timetable have now been put back in again. Our focus is on restoring normality to the service and putting the interests of passengers first. The service is improving on a regular basis, with more services returning to the full timetable, and I will focus on that to make sure that we get back to the full timetable.[Official Report, 10 October 2016, Vol. 615, c. 2MC.]
First, I thank the Scottish National party and others for their kind words of welcome to me and the new team. It is great to be back in the transport brief after a decade. I am very proud that my first actions as Secretary of State were to give the go-ahead for the expansion of London City airport and to visit the Bombardier factory in Derby to announce a £1 billion new train order for a service that is essential to this country. I am grateful to all the people throughout our transport network who are making it a success across most of the country.
As they do not know, will the Government count the mileage of residential roads that remain unadopted by local highways authorities, including a large and growing number in Kettering, and ensure that no residential road remains unadopted after 10 years?
That is an issue that I have experienced in my own constituency. It is not acceptable. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to talk about the situation in Kettering and how we address it.
The Minister will be aware of the calls in national newspapers today, including the Daily Mirror, for action on the increasing number of drivers who put other people’s lives at risk by using mobile phones while driving. In the past couple of years the RAC has found that more people think that is okay. That has happened on this Government’s watch. Will he work with us, the Mirror and others to clamp down on this dangerous practice?
Let us be clear. Labour was in power for 13 years and did not tackle the issue. I am very clear that this is an unacceptable practice, and we intend to unveil tough action on it shortly.
I am very interested in this as a proposal, and it is being looked at very carefully. What I would say to my hon. Friend, to every Member on the Southern route and to all the passengers on the Southern route is that I recognise that the issues over the last few months have been unacceptable. I am working hard with all those involved, and I have unveiled a number of changes in recent weeks, which I believe will help to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible. It has not been acceptable; it has to be dealt with, and we are working as hard as we can to ensure that it is.
It is simply because the Government are giving more powers to local authorities to franchise services, and we were anxious that the powers to commission and provide were separated.
Like me, my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of improved accessibility on our rail network. As he will know, some of the Access for All funding was re-prioritised under the Hendy recommendations. I am hoping to announce very shortly which stations will be prioritised again. I stop in Lichfield Trent Valley often myself—largely in the dark, I must confess—and I am sure there is a great need for improved accessibility there. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend to further discuss that.
I call Stephen Kinnock. What has happened? The hon. Gentleman has bunked off.
Rail passengers in the north, including on the Calder Valley line, which serves my constituency, are frequently packed on to ageing trains, including Pacers. It is encouraging to see that Arriva Rail North has signed a deal to deliver hundreds of new carriages from October 2018, but what assurances can the Minister give my constituents that Eversholt’s financing of new rolling stock will not lead to delays, sharp fare increases or de-staffing?
As a fellow north-west MP, I am sure the hon. Lady shares my interest in seeing the back of our inefficient and unpleasant Pacers, and she will welcome the fact they will be disappearing by December 2019. I hope she will also welcome the improvement on the Calder Valley line, which will occur in two phases: Calder Valley East in December 2018 and Calder Valley West completing this year—a full upgrade to signalling and speed on the line.
I have recently been made aware of this situation. I do not want to see the timetable held back, and I will be engaging with all those involved to see how we address the issue.
I always recognise customers’ concerns about the amount they pay on fares. I have been very clear with the rail industry so far in my dealings with it that it has to put the passengers first in all the decisions that it takes, and the convenience of the industry must be a subsidiary concern.
I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I am obviously aware of the noise issues. I am pleased to see that the latest generation of aircraft are bringing down noise levels, but I recognise there is still a big challenge for residents close not just to Heathrow but other airports around the United Kingdom. I will be very happy to talk to her.
As the hon. Lady knows, there is a substantial compensation scheme in place for those affected by HS2. HS2 will bring greater prosperity across the United Kingdom. I hope that she and her party would recognise that and support it, notwithstanding local challenges.
It is likely that in a few weeks’ time this House will be asked to decide if it wants a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. One of the core considerations will be deliverability of those schemes. All the evidence suggests that even if the Government give a green light to Heathrow, it cannot happen. To that end, will my right hon. Friend commit to providing this House, before any vote, with a clear risk assessment looking at environmental risk, planning risk, legal risk and financial risk so that it can take a properly informed decision on the deliverability of those schemes?
I can assure my hon. Friend that when the time comes to bring these matters to the House, we will place before it the detailed information on which the Government have formed their view. That is right is proper. He will know that there are differing opinions and strong views across this House. There are three strong proposals for us to consider. We will take the best possible decision in the interests of the nation, and I am sure that subsequently this House will do the same.
A constituent of mine has raised concerns about the number of road accidents involving young people. The most recent research from Swansea University supports his case that young drivers aged between 17 and 21 are five times more likely to crash than drivers over 70. With this in mind, will the Minister agree to look at policies such as a graduated driver licensing scheme?
We want to strike the right balance between safety and freedom for young drivers, many of whom rely on their cars to get to work or to college. We are focusing on efforts to encourage learner drivers to be better prepared for the wonderful freedom that a licence provides, through the reform package on changes to the driving test. The consultation on that closed only a few days ago. I hope that the hon. Lady participated in it.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new proposals for the HS2 route to Leeds will still be published this autumn?
It is definitely my intention to publish details of the proposed northern part of the route—the right-hand side of the Y on the last leg to Manchester—later this autumn.
What is the Minister’s current assessment of when the Severn bridge’s concession will end, given the extra traffic when the Severn tunnel is closed for electrification work? Are the Government on top of this, given that we have not yet had a date for the public consultation?
It is right that we should have that confidence. I am more than happy to commit to doing the work necessary to reassure the hon. Lady about that. It needs to be safe, it needs to be secure, and it needs to be right which is why I am more than happy to make that commitment.
I call Parliament’s grassroots sports champion of the year, Mr Tom Pursglove.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. People in Corby would like to see a greater number of rail services, both northbound and southbound. Will Ministers commit to factoring that into any future discussions that they have on this?
I am always happy to take suggestions from all parts of the House as to how we can improve rail services across the country. I look forward to hearing more from my hon. Friend about what he perceives in Corby.
Given his earlier line on regional connectivity, will the Secretary of State ensure that the aviation Minister and officials give positive and prompt consideration to the submission by City of Derry airport for at least PSO—public service obligation—support for a twice daily service to London?
Yes. This is on my desk right now and I recognise its importance. I am very pleased that over the summer the link to north America was kept in place. Good connectivity in Northern Ireland is, remains, and always will be very important.
On 16 July I wrote to the rail Minister requesting a meeting to discuss the daily failings that my constituents have at the hands of Southeastern Trains and Network Rail. Will he say yes to that meeting today?
As we are seeing a bonfire of the vanity projects associated with the former Chancellor and Prime Minister, would it not be sensible not to be seduced by “grands projets” and to add to that list, heeding the sage advice of Rod Eddington in his 2006 study, binning HS2 and focusing on local capacity to benefit, much sooner, passengers and regions?
The trick is to do both. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he, as a Birmingham Member of Parliament, is absolutely not speaking the same language as his city council and many of those involved in the business community in Birmingham, who are looking forward to the improvements that HS2 will bring to that city.
Will my right hon. Friend commit that if there are any further delays in phase 2b of HS2, which affects my constituency, compensation will be given to my residents whose properties are blighted?
I will happily talk to my hon. Friend about that, but it is not my desire that we delay announcing routes any further. As I have said, I intend to set out our plans later this autumn.
What discussions is the Minister having with Vauxhall concerning its Zafira models that have been catching fire—over 300 of them in the UK alone—and will he agree to meet me and affected drivers later in the year?
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is leading on this issue, on which it has met, corresponded with and continues to liaise with Vauxhall. There have been two safety recalls. I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but significant progress is being made on the issue.
Missing for 25 years, the Chickenhall Lane link road is a vital piece of infrastructure for my constituency. It is backed by the Solent local enterprise partnership and the local council, and it was in July’s Budget book. Will the Minister meet me at a rectangular, round or square table to discussing bringing it forward?
Will the Minister agree to invite all Members whose constituencies are served by Southeastern trains to the meeting with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)? Our constituents are suffering daily disruption to their lives, as a result of the poor performance of Network Rail and Southeastern, and we would welcome a meeting with him to bring that to his attention.
I very much recognise that there are issues involving Southeastern. I am happy to meet Members from all parts of the House.
As the Government have committed to the development of Crossrail 2, will my hon. Friend give equal support to the construction of four-tracking on the West Anglia line, which is an integral part of it?
If that is a key part of my right hon. Friend’s forthcoming report, I look forward to reading all about it and discussing it with him.
My constituents who work at Liverpool airport face paying an extra £1,000 a year in tolls when the new Mersey crossing is opened. Will Ministers try to find some mechanism for existing employees so that they are not hit with what is essentially a retrospective charge for going to work?
Yes. The answer is that that sounds like a very good idea to me. I will obviously need to look at the detail, but I am very happy to do so. My open mind is well known.
I always thought, having known him for 30 years, that it was the defining characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman.
Insurance for young drivers has become very expensive. One method that some insurance companies have put forward is the black box system, whereby they monitor people’s driving and reduce their costs. What steps have been taken with insurance companies to ensure that young drivers can take advantage of that system?
Such a system is already built into some companies’ pricing, because people get cheaper premiums if they accept some of the benefits that technology can provide. I have met the insurance industry, and will meet it again shortly, when I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
Further to the Secretary of State’s inadequate reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the deadly menace of mobile phone use, may I ask him whether he heard an expert say on the radio this morning that the use of mobile phones impairs drivers’ ability more seriously than drinking? Does he accept that a £50 increase in the already paltry fine is a totally inadequate response to this deadly menace on our roads?
I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman thought that. I will be announcing tough plans on this matter shortly, in response to sensible pressure from a wide variety of outside groups. The hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned one national newspaper group. In fact, the campaign is coming from both sides of the spectrum, because the Daily Mail is running the same campaign. Those newspapers are right to do so, and the truth is that, in my view, this requires strong action. It is happening far too often.
The Secretary of State may be aware that I secured a debate earlier in the year on the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority. Given his warm words today and the concerns of my constituents about noise pollution from aircraft, will he commit to supporting the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority?
Given the impending decision on runways, I am not going to set out any plans today. All I will say is that I have taken note of what the hon. Lady has said. Noise is of course a major issue for us.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he supports his predecessor’s welcome announcement earlier in the year allowing Transport for London to take over Southeastern services when its franchise lapses in 2018?
My policy and the Government’s policy is that devolution should happen where it will make a difference, not simply for its own sake. I need to see the Mayor’s proposals about how he thinks he can enhance services in London—I am looking forward to seeing them—before I consider any changes.
Given that the Secretary of State has today confirmed his commitments to Scotland and to investment in infrastructure, will he have a word with the Chancellor about reversing the 25% cut that Scotland has suffered in its capital budget to allow further investment in roads and rail in Scotland?
Scotland benefits enormously from the funding support that is provided to it as part of the United Kingdom. That will continue, unless people seek to change the situation and put Scotland in a position where it would be far worse off and far less able to invest for its future.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Finance Act 2016
Haberdashers’ Aske’s Charity Act 2016.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week following this unnecessarily protracted recess?
The business for the week commencing 10 October is as follows:
Monday 10 October—Motion to approve the Second Report 2016-17 from the Committee of Privileges, followed by Second Reading of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.
Tuesday 11 October—Second Reading of the Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill.
Wednesday 12 October—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 13 October—General debate on baby loss, followed by debate on a motion on the inquiry into hormone pregnancy tests. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 October—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 October will include:
Monday 17 October—Second Reading of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 20 October will be:
Thursday 20 October—Debate on the Education Committee reports on mental health and wellbeing of looked after children and on social work reform, followed by general debate on national arthritis week 2016 as recommended by the Liaison Committee and Backbench Business Committee.
Colleagues will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the February recess at the end of business on Thursday 9 February and return on Monday 20 February.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.
May we deal with the new Select Committees and the date for the election of Chairs? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will be renamed and continue with a Labour Chairman; that the new International Trade Committee will be chaired by a Member of the Scottish National party; and that the new Brexit Committee will be chaired by a Labour MP?
We join you, Mr Speaker, in sending our best wishes to the retiring Speaker’s counsel, Michael Carpenter, and in welcoming Saira Salimi, who has been appointed to the role.
Today is the International Day of Democracy. Democracy was invented in Greece two and a half thousand years ago and has come to these islands in instalments. We are the only country in the world, other than Lesotho, that still has hereditary chieftains in its legislature. David Cameron’s final awards have been described in the Daily Mail and The Guardian—at both ends of the political spectrum—as “devalued”, “debased”, “discredited”, “egregious”, “grubby”, “tawdry”, “tainted” and “tarnished”, but otherwise okay. At the heart of our democracy is this rotten system with, as the Lord Speaker said, 200 unnecessary people prancing around in ermine down the other end of the corridor. The changes introduced by the former Prime Minister over the years involve £34 million of spending. This is a wanton waste of public money at a time when his justification for the massive disruption to elected Members by the boundary changes was that it would save peanuts. Will the Leader of the House add some new lustre to his parliamentary halo and not be just a leader who is here today and nowhere tomorrow, but take on real reforms?
I also strongly recommend that the Leader of the House takes up this report I have with me, published this week by distinguished Members of all parties. For 25 years, parties of all colours have failed to respond to the appeals from the seriously ill who have suffered agonies of pain when they ask for relief that is provided by the only medicine that works for them, which is cannabis. Because of the prejudice-rich, cowardly, knowledge-free policies of both Governments, we have continued with a system that has criminalised seriously ill people. Now there is a clear call from distinguished and knowledgeable Members here and in the other place to end this barbarous practice whereby we criminalise people for using cannabis but allow heroin to be prescribed. Other countries throughout the world are doing this; there is no excuse for continuing with this practice.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s warm support on this matter, which I have enjoyed over the years.
How does today’s decision on Hinkley fit into the parliamentary timetable? It has never been properly debated here, and any new proposals have certainly not been debated here. This could be the greatest financial and technological catastrophe for 50 years. The price is a rip-off and the technology does not work. Finland was promised that nuclear power from the EPR would be working by 2009, but it is still not working and no date has been offered for when it will, while Flamanville is in a mess because of a technical problem. Yet the Government are going to blunder ahead because they do not have the courage to examine the scheme again. They are going ahead because of political inertia. My party’s policy will be spelled out later by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), but in the meantime we have to tell the Leader of the House that he must gain parliamentary approval, because this is going ahead without any parliamentary imprimatur at all. As the years and decades go by, and as the futility of this operation continues, this will be seen not as a parliamentary disaster or a parliamentary error, but as a Tory error.
Let me first agree with and join the hon. Gentleman in wishing a successful retirement to Speaker’s counsel, who has served this House and you in particular, Mr Speaker, with distinction over many years. I can confirm the arrangements that the hon. Gentleman mentioned with respect to the Chairs of the Select Committees.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the use of cannabis in medical treatment, it is of course perfectly possible for medicines derived from cannabis—medicines that include cannabinoids—to go through the normal process of medical licensing and approval. I am not attracted to the idea that, without that sort of analysis, checking and approval by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, we should simply agree to particular drugs being made available to patients who might be suffering from all kinds of different and sensitive conditions.
On the hon. Gentleman’s points about Hinkley, I have to say that I gained the impression that this was, for him, a therapeutic experience rather than a quest for truth. He will have the opportunity in a relatively short space of time to put questions on this subject directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I urge him to contain his impatience that little bit longer.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the International Day of Democracy, which I think members of all parties would wish to celebrate today.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my own voting record on House of Lords reform is recorded in Hansard. The fact is, however, that the House of Commons had an opportunity very recently to vote for reform, and this House—this elected House—voted down every option that was available. Whatever views one holds about the second Chamber, I do not think it right to denigrate the very hard work of scrutiny and review that is put in by members of all political parties, and Cross-Benchers, in that Chamber in order to play their part in the legislative process.
I find it a bit rum that the hon. Gentleman should denounce the House of Lords in such florid terms when so many of his former right hon. and hon. Friends have been in a rush to go and serve there. Only earlier this week, a new life peer, sent there by the Leader of the Opposition, took her seat. I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to have some words with his own leader about his views.
Order. As colleagues know, ordinarily it is my practice to call everyone in this set of exchanges, and I should like to do so again today, but I am very conscious that there are two statements to follow, and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, of which the first is notably well subscribed. There is, therefore, a premium on brevity, which I know will be exemplified by Sir Edward Leigh.
The Leader of the House has on his desk a report on the full decant of Parliament. Will he take his time over bringing the decision back to the House, and ensure that a full consultation takes place? Given that 1 million people visit this place every year, including 100,000 children, the issue is extraordinarily serious, and many of us are deeply concerned about the vacation of an historic Palace for five or more years. Many of us think that we should get on with the work now, abolish the September sittings, and start repairing the building in good time.
This is, of course, a report from a Joint Committee to the House as a whole. It is not just on my desk; it is on the desk of every Member of this House, because it is this House and the other place that will have to make a decision about the future of the Palace of Westminster. I hope that every Member will read the report and consider it carefully, and I hope to arrange a time for a proper debate on the subject later in the autumn.
I, too, pay tribute to Speaker’s counsel, who has been such an assiduous servant of the House for all these years. I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business following our return.
It is 12 weeks since the European Union referendum, and in that time there has not been a single debate in Government time on the consequences of that vote. Our constituents demand to know the Government’s intention in regard to Brexit. They want to know whether we will be members of the single market, they want to know what sort of immigration systems will be in place—for goodness’ sake, they just want to know whether visas will be required for European travel in the future. This was supposed to be about taking control, but we seem to have handed control to a bunch of clueless Brexit Tories who are determined to keep all this in a shroud of secrecy. The House should demand better than that, so when will we hear from the Leader of the House when we can have a detailed debate about our European Union Brexit plans?
As you said, Mr Speaker, two important statements will follow business questions—[Interruption.] I will take as much time as is required. I remind the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that ours is the third party in the House.
I woke this morning to hear all the details of the Hinkley Point C announcement. What happened to the convention that Secretaries of State should make important announcements to this House first, rather than having them discussed in the media? I support the shadow Leader of the House’s call for a full debate on the plans, because it is appalling that we have not debated them thus far.
The House is only just back from recess, but in about five hours’ time we will once again go into what is charmingly called the conference recess. It does indeed cover the conferences of some of the big parties in this House, but curiously not that of the Scottish National party, although we are breaking today to accommodate the Liberal Democrats, who I believe are meeting in a pub near Portsmouth, if they can find the necessary number of members. Our constituents are simply baffled as to why the House is rising while important matters remain to be discussed, such as the details of Brexit, and just because voluntary organisations—that is what parties are—are meeting. I think that we should consider abandoning the conference recess, and I hope that the Leader of the House will support that.
One thing that the recess will resolve is the most vicious party civil war in history—its bitterness is matched only by its destructiveness. Perhaps the Leader of the House and I should offer to work as peacekeepers as Labour Members try to bring back their broken party once again.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I fear that matters may now be pretty much beyond repair. On Hinkley Point C, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be at the Dispatch Box within an hour and all Members will have the opportunity to put questions to him.
On the consequences of the EU referendum, the fact remains—my views were well known at the time—that the people of the United Kingdom voted by a relatively small but none the less decisive majority to leave the European Union. As the Prime Minister said the other day, we cannot have a running commentary on the preparation or articulation of our negotiating position. One does not, in diplomacy, business or any other walk of life, set out one’s negotiating position in detail so that those with whom one is negotiating know all the details. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will have the opportunity to put oral questions to the Foreign Secretary on 18 October and to the Exiting the EU Secretary on 20 October, so there will be further opportunities for debate then, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has been appearing before Select Committees of this House and the other place to answer questions on the Government’s policy.
Very briefly, the Leader of the House did mention the Select Committee chairmanships, but he forgot to say whether those motions have been laid before the House. I understand that at the moment they have not been, so perhaps he could comment on that. My main question is about the boundary changes. When the House debated the changes, we did not know that we would be leaving the EU. With 75% of our laws made in the EU, and with the abolition of all those hard-working MEPs, why are we now reducing the number of MPs? Perhaps the Prime Minister should look at this again. May we have a statement next week?
The House took that decision when it passed the primary legislation setting out the proposed reduction in the number of MPs and the framework within which the parliamentary Boundary Commission would operate. On my hon. Friend’s other point, we intend to lay the relevant motions and changes to the Standing Orders as rapidly as possible. There are still a few technical discussions, and if we can we will hammer those out today, but it is certainly our intention that there should be no unavoidable delay before the motions are tabled.
Greenwich clinical commissioning group has granted a £73 million contract to Circle Group plc to provide musculoskeletal services. Circle employs no clinicians who can deliver those services and so will rely on contracting existing service providers to provide NHS services. That is complete madness and it is leading to chaos in our local NHS. It is a totally unnecessary tier of bureaucracy in Circle, which will suck out its profits at the expense of patients. May we have a debate on the performance of private companies in the NHS so that we can expose the poor performance of Circle and others?
The hon. Gentleman may wish to seek an Adjournment debate on the matter. These are rightly decisions for the local NHS, and the decisions may vary from area to area, but this Government, like the previous Labour Government, recognise that the NHS can sometimes usefully make use of the private and charitable sectors to deliver NHS services free to their users.
Residents in Rugeley and, depending on the wind direction, other parts of Cannock Chase are suffering from the smoke from a fire at a farm in Slitting Mill that has been burning for over a week and a half. Can we have a debate in Government time about the illegal dumping of waste and the enforcement action and the penalties applied in such situations?
I was concerned to hear about the plight of my hon. Friend’s constituents. I urge her to liaise with the Environment Agency, which has an important role in trying to sort this out. I will draw her comments to the attention of the relevant Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so that there can be a Government response to her concerns.
I thank the Leader of the House for the announcement of the business for the week beginning 10 October and for the two important debates on Thursday 13 October. One is on baby loss, infant mortality and stillbirth. The other is on the current inquiry into hormone pregnancy tests and the use of the drug Primodos, which has led to much damage among many in the population. During this morning’s exchanges, he will undoubtedly suggest to right hon. and hon. Members that they go to the Backbench Business Committee to air their issues, but we already have a significant queue of outstanding and unheard debates, so may I ask that he be particularly generous after the conference recess in allocating time to the Committee?
We shall try always to be as generous as possible to the hon. Gentleman and his Committee, within the limits that are laid down on the allocation of days. Just as I and my fellow business managers sometimes have to say no to Ministers who want to bring in legislation, so there is a question of priorities for the Committee.
The New Inn in Norton Lindsey in my constituency has recently closed. Local residents, under the banner of the New Inn Salvation Squad, are campaigning hard to try to save the pub for the village. Can we have a debate on how we can support that community and other villages throughout the country to save their local pubs?
This sounds to me a perfect subject for an Adjournment debate. I can point to cases in my own constituency where the local community has rallied and saved the local pub as a community asset. Changes to the law by this Government have made that possible.
May we have a debate on the NHS? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). NHS Walsall clinical commissioning group, my local CCG, has had to find savings of £22 million. That is going to have a direct effect on Walsall Manor hospital and on social services. They need extra money, rather than to have to make cuts, so may we have that debate?
The Government have delivered in full and up front the additional money that the chief executive of the NHS said that he needed to deliver the NHS’s plan. The NHS plan involves looking at how health services in different parts of the country need to change and evolve to become the kind of services that we will need in future. Those are rightly decisions for the local NHS because the needs of urban and rural areas, and of one part of the country and another, may differ significantly.
Two Government consultations have recommended increasing the rates of interest paid on late payments of compensation to people who are subject to compulsory orders. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has indicated that those measures are unlikely to be introduced until after the construction of HS2 is due to start. Following years of mismanagement and failure, I have little faith HS2 Ltd will pay compensation on time and fairly to my constituents, but I understand that the measures can be introduced via a statutory instrument. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statutory instrument to be brought before the House as soon as possible and certainly well in advance of the construction of HS2?
Mr Speaker, as my right hon. Friend knows, you and I will both have been following her question very closely. I will talk to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to understand better the current position, and I am sure that he will want to write to my right hon. Friend to set out his views.
May we have a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs detailing what sanctions or incentives it has to ensure that developers comply with the national policy statement on ports in respect of shore-side electricity connection, particularly in areas identified as having poor air quality, such as London?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman was unable to put that question to Transport Ministers in the oral Question Time that we have just had. I would advise him either to write to Transport Ministers or to seek an Adjournment debate at which he can seek a more detailed response from the relevant Minister.
Given that the number of MPs might be reduced by 50, the problem that we would then face is that this House would have to do all the stuff it does anyway with an inadequate budget. Will the Leader of the House either make a statement or allow time for a debate in the House on the staffing budget for the smaller number of MPs, who will still have to do the same amount of work across the House?
As my hon. Friend knows, that is a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and I hope that he and other colleagues who are concerned will make representations to IPSA. When I meet the chairman and chief executive of IPSA in a few weeks’ time, I will make sure that I have his concerns on my agenda.
Two weeks ago, Paawan Purba, a 20-year-old student from Heston, died of meningitis within 48 hours of contracting what appeared to be normal flu. She had no other obvious symptoms. Her parents, her sister Isha and the rest of her family have described to me how they knew little about how the disease could strike, or that any strand of it was potentially fatal. That level of knowledge has been reflected by almost everyone they have met, as well as by people I know. The family are calling for much more to be done to prevent more people from falling victim to the disease. Cases of meningitis W are on the rise, and Public Health England has called for more young people to be vaccinated. May we have a debate on the take-up rate for meningitis vaccination, on how to increase awareness and better join up the messages and understanding across our communities and on how we can undertake more research, to see an end to this horrific disease?
May I first express my sincere sympathy to the family and friends of the hon. Lady’s constituent? That must be an unbearable experience for any family to endure. I think many of us will have had comparable examples in the areas that we represent. I agree with her about the importance of highlighting this matter, and I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will support her endeavours. It strikes me that this is the sort of thing that a debate in Westminster Hall, which would allow a number of Members to participate, might be the best way in which to highlight the matter.
Since the second world war, the BBC monitoring service at Caversham Park has performed a vital service in providing open source intelligence, and the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed at Defence questions on Monday that it is of vital interest to his Department. Today, an important letter on the same subject from Lord Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, comes to the same conclusion. May we therefore have a statement or a debate as soon as Parliament returns on the swingeing cuts that the BBC is proposing to make to the service? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be disgraceful if any irrevocable steps were taken before the House returns, given that the BBC has been informed that at least one and probably two Select Committees want to hold inquiries into this matter urgently?
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s concern. He has taken a close interest in these issues for many years. I note that there will be a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the BBC later today, and my right hon. Friend might be able to contrive to ask her a question that is in order at that point.
The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) would certainly be able to do that, but whether that would meet the needs of his case is a matter for him to judge.
The Leader of the House is a keen listener, and probably a wannabe contributor, to my Wednesday afternoon radio phone-in show on LBC, in which I declare an interest. We had a vigorous debate yesterday on Hinkley Point before the announcement today because of Downing Street briefings. Why does he allow that to happen? Why does he not allow a vote, so that those who vote for this monstrous, mind-boggling financial folly can be named and shamed to their constituents for generations to come?
This is not a new policy. I do not want to pre-empt the statement, but a decision was made by the previous Government and it was put on hold by the Prime Minister, so that, quite reasonably, she could re-examine the evidence in detail before deciding whether to commit the United Kingdom to such a major project. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will set out in detail the Government’s decision and the reasoning behind it, and the right hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunity to put his case to the Secretary of State then.
One of my constituents, Naba Pandey, has been battling for many months for the return of money he invested in StratX Markets. StratX Markets—I want to stress the firm’s name—has refused to engage with my constituent or me, and the money has not been returned. Binary options trading remains an unregulated, almost cowboy market, and the Treasury remains impotent. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate about regulation of the market?
My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment in detail on that constituency case, but binary option operators that hold remote gambling equipment in Great Britain are regulated by the Gambling Commission. Such operators must hold a licence to sell binary options lawfully to consumers. To do so without a licence is an offence. The Gambling Commission can and does take action against unlicensed operators. I advise my hon. Friend to take the case to the Gambling Commission. If his constituent believes that fraudulent activity has happened, he should take the case to Action Fraud.
Children across the country returned to school last week. Research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers trade union suggests that a quarter of them were potentially malnourished because free schools meals were not available during the school holidays. That is heart-breaking, but we still do not know the scale of the problem because no proper research has been carried out. May we have a debate in Government time to establish what can be done about child food poverty?
The hon. Lady is right to draw the House’s attention to the matter, and I will ensure that her concerns are passed on to the relevant Minister at the Department for Education. It may be that this is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee or for a debate in Westminster Hall, to thoroughly explore the issues and to get an answer from a Minister.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the situation in east Asia, with North Korean nuclear tests and rising tensions in the South China sea. Does he agree that in this time of Brexit our allies across the region, Japan in particular, will be looking to this House and this Government to see whether we remain engaged in the region? Will he find time for the House to debate the matter?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the grave significance of the recent North Korean nuclear test. This Government will certainly remain active in world affairs. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go to the UN Assembly, they will have the opportunity to talk to leaders from around the world about, among other subjects, the risks of nuclear proliferation. The Government remain utterly opposed to the North Korean nuclear programme and sanctions are in place. A lot hinges upon the Chinese Government’s approach, as they are the power with the most direct influence over Pyongyang. My hon. Friend will have a further opportunity to ask about the matter at FCO questions on Tuesday 18 October.
I found out this week that the suicide rate is rising faster in Cumbria than in any other part of the country. A mental health nurse has told me her worries about the stresses on services, but she is particularly concerned about the extra pressure that followed the devastating floods of last year. May we have a debate to look not only at what needs to be done to improve support for our mental health services, but at what extra support needs to be put in place when constituencies suffer a crisis?
As I hope the hon. Lady knows, the Health Secretary has made it clear that his policy is to ensure that mental health is treated not as a Cinderella service but on a par with physical health in planning the future of the NHS. I take note of her point about the problems that have affected Cumbria. It seems to me that in the first place this is matter for the local NHS, working with the many charitable and benevolent organisations that can often provide preventive support and help for people who are badly affected by floods or another disaster, and for them then to seek help from the NHS nationally if they feel that they need something extra for a period of time.
My constituent Michelle Evans, who is severely disabled, and her full-time carer and partner, John Turner, received a letter headed, “Your disability living allowance is ending”. It then gave less than a month’s notice to apply for the personal independence payment, followed by a curt text. May we have a debate on the way in which severely disabled people who have been on DLA for many years are communicated with and treated in the transfer to PIP?
I am concerned to hear about that case. If my hon. Friend would like to write to me with the details, I will ensure that they are passed on to the relevant Minister.
My constituent, Maria Hill, who has cleaned Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices in Liverpool for 20 years was expecting a modest pay rise when the national living wage came in. Instead, Government contractors ISS cut her hours unilaterally and, as a consequence, she lost her tax credits and was £50 a week worse off. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss how the Government are making sure that their contractors comply with not only the law, but the spirit of the law?
On the HMRC case that the hon. Lady mentioned, I should point out that there are Treasury questions on 25 October, but I will have a look into the question that she raises more generally.
Last Friday, I was honoured to speak at the 80th anniversary celebrations of Vent-Axia in my constituency. I appreciate that we have yet to have a decision of both Houses on the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, but can we ensure that companies such as Vent-Axia and others in constituencies across the UK will be the preferred suppliers for that work? Perhaps this will even be enhanced in a post-EU procurement world, too.
If Parliament approves the restoration and renewal programme, there will be a need for skills and expertise in construction and renovation of all kinds. Indeed, the Joint Committee report says in terms that we need to make sure that there would be opportunities for specialist firms and for small businesses in this country to get a share of that work.
In the past week, two reports have been published on the tragic problem of drug-related deaths, as well as a report on the medical use of cannabis, which my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House has referred to so eloquently. Given the absence of the Government’s long-awaited drugs strategy, may we have a full debate on developing a relevant and realistic drugs policy?
Obviously, we have a new team of Ministers and it is reasonable for them to consider what drugs strategy they want to publish. The opportunities here lie with the Backbench Business Committee or perhaps with a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate to give that subject a proper airing.
We are fast approaching the anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal. At the same time, the opponents of the Iranian regime are executed, religious minorities are persecuted, the Iranian regime has enhanced its ballistic missile capability and there is serious doubt that Iran is keeping to the nuclear deal. May we have a statement in Government time on what steps the UK Government are going to take to ensure that this regime is halted?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the frankly appalling human rights record of the Iranian Government. I also take the view that, generally, it is sensible, even where we have the most profound disagreements with the Government of another country, to have diplomatic channels so that there is a means by which to communicate with that Government. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is determined to ensure that human rights remain a key element in the United Kingdom’s foreign policy. There will be an opportunity to ask about Iran on 18 October.
Today, postal workers across the UK are taking industrial action to protect their jobs, their pensions and our post offices. The Post Office has received £2 billion of public money over the past seven years. May we have a debate about why that money has not been spent on new services, securing the future of our post offices and protecting decent jobs?
I regret the fact that there is industrial action, because all that will do is inconvenience customers and make it more likely that those customers will look elsewhere for the delivery of parcels and for communicating messages, rather than using Post Office services. The Post Office has indeed been given taxpayers’ money to enable it to make the difficult transformation to a world that relies increasingly on electronic and digital communications and in which there are other competitors for things such as parcel delivery. In general, this has to be a matter of commercial judgment for the Post Office management.
What a summer of sport we have had: Andy Murray winning at Wimbledon, scores of Olympic golds, Paralympic success at the moment, and, perhaps most significantly, Northamptonshire winning the T20 Blast. When the House returns in the autumn, may we have a debate about the stunning summer of sporting success?
I cannot promise a debate, but I know that everyone in the House will want to congratulate not only the Olympians and Paralympians, but Northamptonshire on their T20 triumph. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be doing his best to arrange the Corby ticker-tape parade as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on whether London councils such as Greenwich, which want to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees, are receiving adequate support from the Government, particularly to cover the higher costs of accommodation in the capital?
There are ongoing discussions between the Government and local authorities about the pressure on a number of local authorities that would, in principle, be willing to take refugees, but that judge that, at the moment, there is too much pressure from a growing population on the housing market in their own areas. Ministers want to see those discussions brought to a successful conclusion as well, so I hope that we can take the matter forward to a satisfactory agreement.
Following the announcement by Celtic Energy to mothball the opencast mine at Nant Helen, Coelbren, with the loss of more than 100 jobs in my constituency, may we have a debate on the coal industry in Wales in order to support an industry that has done so much for the British economy over the centuries?
My hon. Friend is a very strong champion of his constituents, and I completely understand his concern. As he knows, this is a commercial decision taken by the company. I will draw his concern to the attention of Ministers at both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Wales Office, so that they can consider whether it is possible for the Government to help constituents who will need to look for other employment following the decision.
The House will be aware that, earlier this summer, we saw the collapse of Bathgate-based Dunne Group, which had some 600 direct employees and around 1,200 sub- contractors. Almost two months on, the adverse knock-on effect from that closure on other firms within the supply chain is now fully apparent, and is typified by Beattie Contracts Ltd from Grangemouth, which has lost £280,000. Many other businesses have been affected by this and other closures. May we have a ministerial statement, or a debate in Government time, on what steps the Government are taking to ensure better payment standards for contractors?
The Government have a strong record of insisting on tight schedules of repayment by contractors, and we have introduced new rules that try to make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises in particular are paid on time. If the hon. Gentleman would like to send me details of his constituency case, I will draw them to the attention of the Minister directly responsible.
May we have a statement on what the Government are doing to stop convicted killers absconding from prison? This week, yet another murderer has disappeared, this time from Sudbury. Ministry of Justice figures show that prisoners convicted of murder have been absconding at the rate of one a month for years, putting the public at risk, so it is time that we really got a grip.
As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is preparing legislation on prisons reform, and I am sure that she will want to take account of my hon. Friend’s concerns as she develops her policy further.
In the light of the Brexit vote, may we please have a debate in Government time on whether the previous Parliament’s decision to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies by 50 still commands the support of the House of Commons, and on whether the Government will reduce the number of Ministers if there is a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament?
I have to say that quite a number of Members of this House have, for some years, been representing a significantly larger number of constituents than the quota proposed by the boundary commissions. The central principle behind the new law and the boundary commissions’ recent proposals is that the electorates in each constituency should be the same, so that everybody’s vote counts equally. That seems a democratically just principle.
The Wales Bill, which concluded its proceedings in this House on Monday evening, includes provisions to devolve an element of income tax powers to Wales. For those powers to work properly, they must be supported by a fair fiscal framework. May we therefore have an oral statement from the Treasury on this issue before the Bill reaches the National Assembly for Wales for the legislative consent motion process?
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, but there will be Treasury questions on 25 October when he can make that point directly to Ministers.
This week, the Victorian Society released its list of top 10 endangered buildings in the country. Tellingly, none was in London or the south-east. The grade-II-listed Victoria mill in Great Grimsby was on that list, and it was pictured covered in scaffolding, paid for by the local council following years of neglect by the private owners. May we have a debate, in Government time, on the responsibilities of private companies to preserve heritage assets around the country for the benefit of local communities?
As the hon. Lady hinted, there are already legal obligations on owners to keep buildings in a proper state of repair, particularly if the buildings are listed in any way, and there are sanctions available against those who choose not to do that, so there should be a remedy for her local authority. Often, the community rallying around can help to restore a historical building and convert it to new use successfully.
May we have a debate about delays to the approval of a report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls on the supply of weapons to Saudi, as there is compelling evidence that UK arms are being used to kill women and children in Yemen? Can the Leader of the House advise us on whether the Government Whips had any role whatever in Committee members breaking the quorum during two Committee meetings, thus leaving the report as yet unapproved?
I am afraid that what goes on in Committees is certainly not a matter for me. On the broader point, there was a statement on this and related matters quite recently by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). The best thing I can do is point the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) towards Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, which will be in the week after we get back.
If the Leader of the House will not listen to the will of the current House, which is against the reduction from 650 Members to 600, may I suggest a debate on reducing the numbers in the Lords? Could we take a lesson from sport and introduce a squad system, whereby each party could nominate active peers, including Cross Benchers, thereby reducing the numbers voting in the Lords and ending the ridiculous situation where there are far more peers than elected MPs?
My regret is that when this House had the opportunity to vote for thoroughgoing House of Lords reform, this House chose not to do so.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will shortly issue a statement on the impact of employment tribunal fees? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that given that claims of sex discrimination are down by 91%, employment tribunal fees discriminate against women workers?
I shall draw the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the attention of the relevant Minister. I do not know exactly when the report is likely to be published, but I shall find out and make sure that he is informed, as far as we are able to do so in advance.
May we have a debate on the all-party parliamentary group on social work’s excellent report on adult mental health in England, especially section 2 on meeting the needs of diverse and marginalised groups, including ex-military personnel with dual diagnosis of mental health problems, substance misuse and complex needs? Veterans are a unique group whose lives have been shattered by service to their country and too many of them are ending up in prison because of mental health problems.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. Many of us in our constituency surgeries have experience of individual cases of the kind that she describes. It sounds to me like the right kind of subject for a Westminster Hall debate. In my experience, it is often the military and service charities working with the NHS services that are best able to reach out to and communicate with the ex-service people concerned.
The Charlie Taylor report into the youth justice system will be wide ranging and important. It is critical that we improve the life chances of young people in danger of a life of crime, so may we please have a statement and publication of the report as soon as we return here after the party conference season?
I will draw that request to the attention of the Ministers concerned.
Last month I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeking clarification about future funding for projects in the Stirling area that are currently funded by EU funding streams. The response that I received from the Treasury indicated that information on that would be published before the autumn statement. Does this imply that the Government have the beginnings of a plan about how to exit the EU? When will we be able to debate it?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he will guarantee the funding currently supplied by the EU up till 2020 on projected levels, and that he has also agreed to guarantee to fund various regional agricultural and fisheries projects which will have been signed and sealed by the time of the autumn statement, even if the lifetime of those deals goes beyond the likely date of exit. I hope that that will have given the hon. Gentleman the reassurance he seeks. If it does not and if he would like to write to me about his particular concerns, I will take that to Treasury Ministers.
May we please have a statement on the progress of the Government’s help to buy ISA? A number of constituents have been in touch over the summer. They are saving for their first home and are concerned about reports that they cannot use that for the all-important exchange deposit. May we have clarification as these people need information urgently?
I refer back to the business statement. We will be dealing with the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill on 17 October, and the hon. Lady will be able to explore those matters in detail then.
The plight of displaced Syrians has moved us all. One of them came to my surgery last week. She is rebuilding her life as a third-year UCL PhD student and is now, unexpectedly, stuck with a bill of more than £30,000 for fees, as a result of the bar on funds coming in or out of Syria. May we have a Government statement to clarify the status of Syrian students? Her counterparts at Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh and Newcastle universities had their fees waived, and she faces an uncertain future here through no fault of her own.
The hon. Lady has just pointed to a disparity between the apparent practice in different cases. If she would like to write to me with details of her constituency case, I will take this up with the relevant Department.
Following the welcome news that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will not be renewing its contract with Concentrix, whose performance the Leader of the House last week described as completely unacceptable, may we have a debate in Government time on the payment-by-results model in our welfare system?
There was a good opportunity to question the Financial Secretary when she made the statement about Concentrix earlier this week. I know that my right hon. Friends at the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions will be doing all they possibly can to ensure that appropriate lessons are learned and that we get the decent standard from contractors that constituents are entitled to expect.
On 16 December 2015, Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague Le Thu Ha were arrested by police in Hanoi for providing training to religious communities throughout Vietnam and charged with conducting propaganda against the state, and they could face a sentence of 20 years. Would Ministers agree to make a statement on the release of these two prisoners, and indeed all prisoners of conscience, and to encourage Vietnam to repeal laws and decrees that infringe on fundamental human rights?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it should be regarded as a fundamental right for people to express and to proselytise on behalf of the religion to which they themselves adhere, so I was dismayed to hear about that particular case. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on 18 October may provide him with the opportunity he is seeking.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues.
Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a personal statement. In response to the report published by the Privileges Committee today and the report published by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, I wanted to take this opportunity to make a full and unreserved apology to you and to the House.
In 2013, I breached the rules of conduct by sharing a draft report by the Committee of Public Accounts regarding the regulation of consumer credit. An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards was initiated in 2015, following a complaint made by Wonga. I completely accept the findings of the report published today by the Privileges Committee and the report submitted by the Commissioner for Standards. I accept that my actions in sharing the report constitute an interference in the work of the Committee of Public Accounts, and for this I am truly sorry. This was never my intention.
These actions came as a result of my own naiveté, driven by a desire to strengthen regulations on payday lenders and protect vulnerable consumers. The Commissioner for Standards confirmed this as my motivation, based on evidence that I have worked on cross-party campaigns to protect consumers and that I had long argued for tighter regulation of the payday lending industry. I welcome the report’s conclusion that my actions were not motivated by financial gain, and the report states that I did not act in the way I did for financial gain, nor with the intention of reflecting the views of the company concerned. I also appreciate the acknowledgment that the national newspaper story following the start of the investigation was unsubstantiated.
I have accepted full responsibility since the very beginning of this process and, as acknowledged in the report, I have provided an unreserved acceptance of the findings of the commissioner and have co-operated fully throughout three different inquiries. I would like to add my thanks to the Privileges Committee, the Clerk of that Committee and the Commissioner for Standards for their diligent work throughout this process.
I reiterate my apology today, Mr Speaker, and I am very grateful that the House has allowed me to make this apology at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and, indeed, for the way in which he has said it.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Today I am laying before Parliament a draft of the royal charter for the continuance of the BBC, together with the accompanying draft framework agreement between the Government and the BBC. The latter sets out the detail behind the charter, including out how the BBC will operate in the new charter period.
These drafts set out the policies contained in the White Paper, “A BBC for the future: a broadcaster of distinction”, which was published in May. This White Paper was the culmination of one of the largest public consultations ever. More than 190,000 members of the public, as well as industry stakeholders and experts, gave their views on how the Government could enable the BBC to continue to deliver world-class content and services over the next 11 years. The consultation served as a reminder that the BBC matters deeply to this country, as it does to people right across the world. Far from diminishing the BBC, our changes strengthen it.
I am very grateful to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), for all his brilliant work on the BBC. My Department has worked very closely with both the BBC and Ofcom, which has taken on the job of being the BBC’s first independent regulator, to develop and agree these draft documents. I am a huge fan of the BBC. At its best, it is peerless. Our aim is to ensure that a strong, distinctive, independent BBC will continue to thrive for years to come—and also to improve the BBC where we can. I extend my personal thanks to Tony Hall and Rona Fairhead, and their teams, for their commitment to making this work.
The new charter and agreement will enable a number of improvements. They enhance the distinctiveness of BBC content, and the BBC’s mission and public purposes have been reformed to reflect this requirement. The governance and regulation of the BBC will also be reformed. The new BBC Board will be responsible for governing the BBC, and Ofcom will take on the regulation of the BBC. The charter and agreement sets out functions and obligations that the BBC and Ofcom must follow in order to deliver this. The charter explicitly recognises the need for the BBC to be independent, particularly in editorial matters, and the BBC will appoint a majority of the members of the new board, with strict rules to ensure all appointments are made fairly and openly. The charter also provides financial stability for the BBC by making it clear that the licence fee will remain the key source of funding for the BBC for the next charter period.
Obligations for the BBC to consider both the negative and positive market impacts of its activities are set out in the charter. Ofcom must always keep these in mind when reviewing new and changed services. The BBC is obliged to work closely with others and to share its knowledge, research and expertise for wider public benefit. The Government want a BBC that is as open and transparent as possible. The charter sets out new obligations in this regard, including publishing the salaries of those employees and talent who earn more than £150,000.
The BBC serves all nations and regions. It needs to be more reflective of the whole of the United Kingdom, and the new charter requires this through the mission and public purposes. This will be supported by specific board representation, including the appointment of nation members, which, for the first time, will be agreed with the Administrations of Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as Scotland, as is currently the case. Provision for the nations will be regulated by Ofcom through a new operating licence regime, which will include continuing the approach of production targets for making programmes outside London. One of the BBC’s many responsibilities is to bring people together, supporting and encouraging greater cohesion, not least among the nations of the United Kingdom.
We have made considerable progress since the publication of the White Paper and resolved a number of important areas with the BBC, allowing us to go further in the key areas of transparency, fairness, and securing independence for the BBC. In addition to the principle of a mix of public and BBC-made appointments, all made in line with best practice, I can confirm that the charter sets out that the BBC will appoint nine board members, including five non-executive directors, and that an additional five will be public appointments. This means that the BBC will appoint the majority of members to its new board, which will ensure that the BBC Board is independent and that each nation of the UK will have a voice. This will strengthen the BBC’s independence, compared with when all the BBC trustees were appointed by the Government.
The National Audit Office will become the BBC’s financial auditor. In addition, the charter will enhance the NAO’s role and access, and allow it to conduct value-for-money studies of the BBC’s commercial subsidiaries. Such money subsidises the licence fee, so the public has every right to expect value for money.
There will also be greater transparency, with be a full, fair and open competition for the post of chair of the new BBC Board. This is in line with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation. It is a significant new post, and transparency and fairness in making the appointment is vital, not least so that the industry and the public have confidence in it. I am grateful to Rona Fairhead, who has decided not to be a candidate for this new post, for the work she has done as chair of the BBC Trust, and in particular for her help in reforming the governance of the BBC.
The fundamental reforms set out in the draft charter will take time to implement, given the complexity of the changes, the need for a smooth transition and the importance of consulting on some elements of the new regulatory structure. There will be a short period of transition before the BBC Board and Ofcom take on their new governance and regulatory roles on 3 April next year. The BBC will continue to operate under current arrangements during the transitional period. Further details about the transition will be confirmed in the coming months, as we work closely with the BBC and Ofcom to ensure that all the elements of transition are managed as smoothly as possible, including the process by which the new BBC Board will be established.
Members of both Houses will now have a chance to consider the proposals in detail. To aid them in that endeavour, I have today deposited a series of information sheets in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also sent the draft documents to the devolved Administrations so that the devolved legislatures can debate them over the coming weeks. My Culture, Media and Sport ministerial colleagues and I look forward to parliamentary debates on the draft charter and agreement in due course. Following those debates, the Government will present the charter to the Privy Council in order that the new charter is in place by the end of the year.
The BBC is one of this country’s greatest achievements and greatest treasures. These reforms ensure that it will continue to be cherished at home and abroad for many years to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of her statement this morning. As she rightly says, the BBC is one of Britain’s greatest achievements and greatest treasures. It is indeed the broadcaster against which other broadcasters across the world are judged, and the quality of its programmes is second to none. The BBC must be protected and sustained both in its independence and its funding. Does the Secretary of State accept that both of these are under some degree of threat?
Will not the charter sustain a degree of Government pressure given that the BBC will have Government appointees on its new board? More significantly, does the Secretary of State accept that the introduction of mid-term reviews of the charter in the 10-year renewal cycle will put pressure on the BBC to look over its shoulder and seek to avoid upsetting the Government of the day, when it should be genuinely independent and free to comment without fear or favour on what Governments do and when Governments get things wrong? How will viewers and listeners be assured that the five-year health check will not put undue pressure on the BBC, or be interpreted as a de facto charter review? The fact that the new board has a number of Government appointees—including the chair and deputy chair with responsibility for editorial decision making—could weaken the BBC’s editorial independence. What guarantees will she give that undue Government pressure will not affect BBC independence?
On funding, what answers does the Secretary of State have for Lord Patten—the former chairman of the BBC and Conservative Cabinet Minister—about whether the BBC’s financial security will be affected, now that the cost of TV licences for the over-75s has been foisted on it in what he described as a “heist”? The Opposition take the view that welfare benefits, such as free TV licences, should be decided on and paid for by Government, not squeezed out of the BBC’s staff and programming budgets, other licence fee payers and, as will probably happen, some of the pensioners too. What answer does she have to that fair and logical case?
The Government have suggested that the BBC should have “distinctiveness”, in a departure from the Reithian view that the BBC should “inform, educate and entertain”. Channel 4 was created to bring distinctiveness to our viewing, but as a direct effect of the squeeze on BBC funding, great BBC entertainment programmes are being transferred to Channel 4. Is there not a risk that more of the BBC’s brilliant programmes will follow?
Even more worryingly, the BBC’s funding might be further top-sliced in the future. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that that will not happen? Will she look again at Government policy, and its relationship with the BBC, and guarantee that the charter will not diminish the scope and effectiveness of the BBC? Does she accept that the changes being brought forward by the Government will damage the BBC, in respect of its crucial independence and, most significantly, its ability to put on the finest of programmes, because of the impact on its funding? The BBC should be able to continue to put on the finest programmes across the whole range of its broadcasting. What assurances will the Government give that when the regulation of the BBC is transferred to Ofcom, it will retain its editorial independence? Above all, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that the BBC will be able to continue making the programmes we all enjoy? Finally, will the draft charter be subject to the most rigorous parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses and the devolved Administrations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I agree that the BBC must be protected and sustained. The work we have done on this charter will ensure that the BBC can not just survive, but flourish in a new era. This is not the world where everybody sat down and watched the same programme at the same time; people are accessing TV programmes in entirely different ways, and we want to make sure that the charter gives the BBC the sustainable footing it needs.
For the first time, we have made it an 11-year charter in order that it does not coincide with the electoral cycle and there cannot be seen to be political influence on the charter renewal. In addition, we want to make sure that this is the longest charter ever. Therefore, a mid-term review to ensure that the BBC is still delivering what licence fee payers, which we all are, want to see is a very important part of our proposals.[Official Report, 11 October 2016, Vol. 615, c. 3MC.]
I must pick the hon. Gentleman up on his point about the deputy chair. There is no longer a deputy chair within the board’s structure. There are a chair and four nation members who will be Government appointments—public appointments. It is important that we have a member for each of the nations on the board and that they are full public appointments, and that the chair is an open and transparent public appointment. We are not appointing a deputy chair; it will be for the board to determine who the senior independent director should be.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about ensuring that there is distinctiveness. The words on distinctiveness are taken from the White Paper, which was the result of the consultation to which we had 190,000 responses—the largest consultation of its kind. I accept his point about making sure that there is a difference between Channel 4 and the BBC, but the distinctiveness of the BBC is what makes it so great for licence fee payers and for us as a nation. It is the thing that makes the BBC something that we can sell across the world. I doubt that any of us who went abroad over the summer did not come into contact with some form of BBC content, programming or original idea that was being shown or talked about locally.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about editorial independence. The charter sets out that there is editorial independence and ensures that the BBC is entirely independent. Although the public appointments will go through the full public appointments process, once they are board members, they will be BBC Board members who work towards ensuring that the BBC is the greatest it can be.
Finally, on funding and the over-75s’ TV licences, the director-general, Tony Hall, said in July 2015:
“The government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC.”
Order. As I mentioned to the House earlier, there is another statement to follow and then two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, to which the first is notably well subscribed, so there is a premium upon brevity. May I appeal to colleagues, even distinguished and cerebral Back-Bench Members, to avoid discursive commentary or lengthy preamble and instead just to get to a pithy inquiry, to which I know there will be a pithy reply from the Secretary of State?
Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the draft charter is not, as some have said, either a damp squib or the brainchild of Rupert Murdoch? Does she agree that the charter makes significant changes—including the new governance structure, the new requirements for diversity, distinctiveness and impartiality, the opening up of the schedule to 100% competition, and full access to the National Audit Office—and that those changes will ensure that the BBC continues to be the best broadcaster in the world?
I have a suitably pithy response, Mr Speaker: yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend, to whom we owe a great debt for where we are with the charter today.
May I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement?
Scottish National party Members are great champions of public service broadcasting and we welcome a number of the Secretary of State’s announcements, including the commitments to equality and diversity and to transparency and openness. That is something that we have not always seen at the BBC, not least with the appointment of Rona Fairhead. As we discovered during the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearings, Ms Fairhead was reappointed after, apparently, a cosy private chat with the then Prime Minister. That is not how such significant appointments should be made, so the Secretary of State is entirely right to throw open the appointment to public competition.
We also welcome the adoption of another of the Committee’s recommendations on talent pay. Does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC argument that this will be a charter to poach talent is, quite simply, nonsense? If an agent is worth his or her salt, they will know exactly how much their client and all their competition are paid. I know that from bitter experience. Perhaps the Secretary of State will agree that the danger for the BBC is that it will be forced to reveal the salaries of many of its more mediocre but overpaid employees, and that there may be some national teeth-gnashing as a result, when people discover exactly what goes on behind closed doors.
We welcome the recognition of Gaelic, but will the Secretary of State go a little further and say whether she thinks it should have parity with Welsh? May I also address the Secretary of State’s rather strange statement that one of the BBC’s many responsibilities is to bring—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of his time, but I am sure he is finishing his sentence. It needs to be a very short sentence.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the Secretary of State agree that the matter of a separate “Scottish Six” is entirely the responsibility of the BBC and its right to continue its pilots?
I detected significant personal feeling in the hon. Gentleman’s comments on pay—I will not comment further.
The position of chair of the new BBC Board is an entirely new role; it is not a continuation of the role of the chair of the BBC Trust. I pay tribute to Rona Fairhead for the work she has done as chair of the BBC Trust, but this is a brand-new role and, as such, we took the decision that it needed to be open to a full recruitment process, to ensure that we get the right person for the job. I am grateful to Rona for the work she has done, including on the charter, and I accept that she has decided not to put herself forward for the role.
On regional broadcasting, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that BBC Alba is part of the BBC, whereas S4C is a separate, independent business. There may appear to be a difference in treatment, but that is to reflect the fact that BBC Alba is a wholly owned part of the BBC. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that we have considerably beefed up the role of BBC Alba in the charter.
Finally, on the point about the “Scottish Six”, let me be clear that the BBC is the nation’s broadcaster, so I expect the BBC to reflect the national mood and the national news that is important across the whole nation. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is for the BBC, which has operational independence in this matter, to determine how exactly it makes that happen.
I echo the Secretary of State’s praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that the “Maldon charter” has been considerably enhanced by the “Moorlands amendments”, particularly on transparency of pay and open competition for the BBC chairman. Will the Secretary of State confirm that diversity remains an important part of the charter and that she will work with the BBC to ensure that we see greater diversity—not just on the screen, but particularly behind it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and pay tribute to him for the role he carried out as, I think, the longest-serving Culture Minister we have ever seen. I agree with him on diversity and I can confirm that what he said is the case.
Given where we could have ended up, may I warmly welcome today’s statement, and particularly the fact that the Government have backed down on the composition of the board? Given that Rona Fairhead was appointed specifically, in effect, to abolish her own organisation—she has done so—and to oversee a smooth transfer to the new unitary board, has her treatment not been a little rough?
I do not accept that there has been a backdown about the board; it is about considering what is an appropriate, balanced board which is the most effective way of helping the BBC to deliver on its charter requirements. I do not agree about Ms Fairhead. The proposal is no reflection on her or her ability to perform the role; it is merely a brand-new role.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to accept the Select Committee’s recommendation that there should be an open and fair process for the appointment of the chairman of the new BBC unitary board. When does she expect or hope that that appointment will be made and the new unitary board will assume its responsibilities?
As acting Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend has done sterling work. The Select Committee’s report very much influenced the work we did on the charter over the summer. As I said in my statement, I expect the new board to be in place and all the regulators working by 3 April next year. I expect the new chair of the board to be appointed before that date.
Does the Secretary of State accept and acknowledge that many of us do not share the doe-eyed sentimentality often expressed about the BBC, especially when they have borne the brunt of its bias over several years? On the issue of transparency, why has the publication of expenses or salaries been limited of amounts over £150,000? Why can it not be brought into line with MPs’ expenses of £75,000 and include all other expenses, including travel and accommodation?
The hon. Gentleman has, I know, had long-term issues—that might be the best way of putting it—with the BBC and a view of bias, but I am sure he would agree that he enjoys many BBC programmes on radio and television. We should cherish and really want to protect that. When it is at its best, it is Britain at its best. The Rio Olympics was a prime example of when the whole of Britain came together. The proposals are in line with civil service obligations on pay transparency, but the first disclosures will across bigger bands than we have in the civil service.
If the BBC is so universally wonderful and popular as we have heard, why does it need the criminal law in place to coerce people to pay for it? Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that if the BBC wants to take public money, it should be transparent and that if it does not want to be transparent, it should not take public money?
My hon. Friend knows that we carried out the Perry review on decriminalisation, which found that there was a need for a criminal sanction under the system. This is one of the issues that will continue to be looked at. The BBC, of course, needs to be transparent to show that it is producing value for money for the licence payer.
I thank the Secretary of State for what she said about the importance of the BBC; any organisation that can turn Ed Balls into Fred Astaire is truly remarkable. Will she emphasise that this charter renewal does not undermine the flexibility of BBC Scotland’s news programming, and underline how important it is for audiences, not politicians, to choose programming?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is for the BBC and the viewing public to make that determination. They will watch the programmes they want to watch, and the BBC can take editorial decisions around that. I am not sure that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is that keen now to be married to Fred Astaire.
Just for absolute clarity, may I ask the Secretary of State why there is no provision in the statement for Scotland’s very own six o’clock news?
That is a matter of editorial independence at the BBC, and it is for it to make that decision.
When appearing before the Education and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament, lead officials from the BBC eventually admitted after hard questioning from the Convener that ultimately decisions over commissioning would rest with London executives. Does the Secretary of State feel that the new charter will genuinely satisfy the desire of many in Scotland for greater autonomy on editorial and commissioning decisions lying where it should, with commissioners in Scotland?
The hon. Lady will have seen a letter from the director-general setting out his view of how the BBC ensures that that happens, and as an independent BBC, it is for the BBC to make sure that happens.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, in particular in relation to the involvement of the National Audit Office and the value-for-money assessments it will make. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should deliver confidence, transparency, accountability and financial rigour?
The BBC is increasingly unable to afford sports events and programmes such as “The Great British Bake-Off”, which has now gone to Channel 4, and we are now seeing pressures on BBC services and a merger of news channels. Is it not the case that this Government keep top-slicing and undermining? We see the BBC asked to fund the World Service, local TV, and now the £600 million for over-75s’ TV licences. This Government do not care about the BBC.
I totally disagree, and I will quote again the director-general:
“Far from being a cut, the way this financial settlement is shaped gives us, effectively, flat licence fee income across the first five years of the next charter.”
Will the Secretary of State ensure that no decisions are taken about the monitoring service at Caversham Park before important Select Committee inquiries are held next month? And can I just say that I do not share this unhealthy obsession with what other people earn? I was always told that it was rude to ask.
I will write to my right hon. Friend on that matter.
The Secretary of State talked a lot in her statement about the nations, but will she say how the charter will impact on regional news programmes and local radio such as BBC Humberside?
The decisions about news programming are editorial matters for the BBC and it has editorial independence as set out in the charter, but I strongly agree that we need strong regional programming across the whole of the UK, and that is what is clear in this charter.
Following the previous question, the Secretary of State will be aware that the English regions feel that their voice is not heard loudly enough. She refers specifically to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; what board representation will there be from the English regions?