Tuesday 3 September 2019
Petition presented to the House but not read on the Floor
Proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges south of Northampton
The petition of Residents of the constituencies of South Northamptonshire and Daventry,
Declares that the sites for the two proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges between the villages of Blisworth, Milton Malsor, Collingtree and Roade in Northamptonshire, either side of the Northampton Loop Line as it branches from the West Coast Main Line to the south of Northampton, to be unsuitable; notes that the West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy has previously excluded these sites from industrial development; further that the local road network, including the M1, A43, A45, A5, and A508, is operating at or above capacity, and that development at the proposed sites would exacerbate existing problems of traffic, air pollution, and noise, and impose additional visual blight; further it has not been demonstrated by the developers or Network Rail that there is the existing capacity on the West Coast Main Line to provide requisite freight paths for either and/or both of the sites; further that the existing Strategic Rail Freight Interchange, Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal, which is coterminous in catchment with the two proposed sites, has recently expanded and has extensive unused capacity; and further that two local petitions on behalf of Stop Rail Central and Stop Roxhill Northampton Gateway against the two proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges have received over 17,500 signatures and the overwhelming view of the local community is that neither proposal is acceptable.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to press upon the Secretary of State for Transport the great many concerns that residents of the constituencies of South Northamptonshire and Daventry have about the two proposed Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges, and to not grant Development Consent Orders for either proposal.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Heywood Post Office
The petition of residents of Heywood and Middleton,
Declares that Crown Post Offices provide a vital service to their communities; further that Post Office Limited propose to close Heywood Post Office and to franchise the service to a local retailer; further that there is concern that this will adversely affect jobs, quality of service, and accessibility, and have a negative impact on Heywood town centre; and further that a local paper petition and online petition on this matter has received signatures.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government and Post Office Limited to keep Heywood Post Office open at its current location.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Liz McInnes, Official Report, 25 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 606.]
Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst):
The Government value and recognise the important role that the Post Office plays in communities such as Heywood and across the UK. This is why we committed in our 2017 manifesto to safeguarding the Post Office network and protect existing rural services. Since 2010, the number of branches in the network has been at its most stable for decades, at over 11,500,
While the Post Office is publicly owned, it is a commercial business. The Government set the strategic direction for the Post Office—to maintain a national network accessible to all and to do so more sustainably for the taxpayer—and allows the company the commercial freedom to deliver this strategy as an independent business.
We understand that changes to Post Office services will be a concern to some local residents of Heywood, but franchising proposals will help retain Post Office services on high streets throughout the country and bring further investment and modernisation for customers. The Post Office has always been a franchise network: 50 years ago, 92% of the network was operated on a franchise basis and there has been active franchising of Crown branches for 30 years. Today, 98% of the network operates successfully on a franchise or agency basis.
The Post Office’s proposals to franchise or host Crown branches, including the Heywood branch, are part of its plans to ensure a sustainable network in the face of challenging trading conditions in the Post Office’s core market and the wider retail sector. In fact, moving Crown post offices to retail partners has helped reduce losses in this part of the network from £46 million per year in 2012 to break-even today. Working with a retail partner is a sensible response to the challenges facing high street retailers, enabling shared costs across the combined businesses, with the franchise partner benefiting from increased footfall and income from Post Office products. Citizens Advice has been involved throughout the franchising process as consumer watchdog and its evidence concludes that customer satisfaction remained high in franchised branches. Furthermore, in terms of quality of service and access arrangements a recent report by Citizens Advice indicates that franchised branches are performing in line with or better than traditional branches.
WHSmith has been successfully operating post offices within its stores since 2017 and currently runs over 200 branches, demonstrating proficiency to run the branch in Heywood should the consultation lead to the branch relocation. The franchise arrangement will bring extended opening hours and seven-day trading for customers offering a wide range of products and services.
In relation to accessibility, when relocating a branch, the Post Office is aware of the needs of its customers, including the most vulnerable. In fact, the Post Office works with the new partner to ensure that Post Office branches meet all relevant legal accessibility requirements, whether branches are directly managed or franchised within WHSmith, and indeed all franchising partners. The Post Office has a proven track record for going above and beyond to ensure convenient access for all customers, including those with disabilities or mobility issues. In fact, the Post Office now provides accessibility information on the on-line branch finder. The Post Office also invites the local community to submit comments on access as part of a formal consultation process.
Regarding the Post Office’s consultation in Heywood, this ran for six weeks and closed on 6 March 2019. This process sought to inform, and gather views from, opinion formers and local stakeholders on the proposed changes to the network and to allow the public to inform the Post Office’s plans for the new branch. The consultation document highlighted that, should the relocation go ahead, the branch will be moving approximately 170 metres away from its current location, that opening hours will be extended by nine hours per week and will now include Sunday opening.
The Post Office also held a customer forum on 26 March to allow the public to speak to them directly. This process is in line with the Post Office’s code of practice on changes to the network agreed with Citizens Advice. A recent review by the Citizens Advice reported that the Post Office consultation process is increasingly effective, with improvements agreed in most cases, demonstrating that the Post Office listens to the community. Following the consultation and review, Post Office Limited is currently reviewing feedback received and a decision is yet to be reached.
The sustainability and future success of the Post Office network remain of the utmost importance to the Government. We recognise their value to communities, residents, businesses and tourists in all parts of the UK, including Heywood. We will continue to honour our manifesto commitments so that Post Offices can thrive and remain at the heart of our rural and urban communities.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Ceasefire in Yemen
The petition of Residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian situation, where over 91,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen, a further 24.1 million need humanitarian assistance and over 14 million are on the brink of starvation; further that the Court of Appeal decision of June 20th 2019 deemed arms-exports licences to Saudi Arabia as “unlawful”.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to pursue an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, and to honour the decision of the Court of Appeal;
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Keith Vaz, Official Report, 24 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1402.]
Petitions in the same terms were presented by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) [P002499], the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) [P002505], the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) [P002506], and the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) [P002507].
Observations from the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (Dr Andrew Murrison):
The Government are deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in Yemen. We are providing £200 million in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen this financial year (2019-20). This brings the total UK commitment to Yemen to £770 million since the conflict began in 2015. This new support is providing vital food assistance right across the country to those most at risk of dying from starvation and disease, meeting the immediate food needs of more than 1 million Yemenis each month over the year, treating 30,000 children for malnutrition, and providing over 1 million people with improved water supply and basic sanitation. To ensure the UN can continue to cover urgent needs this year, the UK has brought forward funding from our £200 million pledge and by the end of August will have provided 87% of the funding we pledged to UN agencies this year.
The Government continue to lead diplomatic efforts to achieve a political settlement, which is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. The UK fully supports the peace process led by the UN Special Envoy and encourages the parties to act in good faith to implement the agreements made in Stockholm. We urge all parties to engage constructively to overcome obstacles and to find a political solution to end the conflict. A nationwide ceasefire will only have an effect on the ground if it is underpinned by a political deal between the parties.
The Government take their export control obligations extremely seriously and we operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. The Court of Appeal judgment found against the Government on one of the three grounds of appeal: that the export licence decision-making process contained an error of approach in respect of considerations over past alleged violations of IHL as part of our assessment of “clear risk” under criterion 2c. The other grounds were dismissed. The Government disagrees with the judgement and had received permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Alongside this, we are carefully considering the implications of the judgment for decision-making. While we do this, we will not grant any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Saudi-led Coalition of items, which might be used in the conflict in Yemen. The role of the Court has been to review the process by which the Government reached their decisions—not to assess whether the decisions were right or wrong on their merits. The Court has not ordered that existing licences must be suspended but that the Government must reconsider their decisions. The Court expressly clarified that the outcome of that consideration was not a foregone conclusion.