House of Commons
Thursday 13 October 2022
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
This Saturday marks the first anniversary of the death of our friend and colleague Sir David Amess, who was murdered in his Southend West constituency. David was an extremely diligent constituency Member of Parliament who died carrying out his democratic duties, which made his death all the more shocking. May I express, on behalf of the whole House, our sympathy with his family, friends and colleagues on this sad anniversary? David was a long-serving Member who was respected and liked on all sides of the House. We will not forget him.
At this time, we also remember our colleague James Brokenshire, a dedicated, respected parliamentarian, and hold his family and friends in our thoughts this week.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Ely Rail Capacity Enhancement: Benefit-Cost Ratio
As a fellow Blue Fox, I always had a lot of time with David, and a great friendship. I join you, Mr Speaker, in your tributes to him and James. I also reflect that last Friday marked 70 years since the collision involving three trains at Harrow and Wealdstone station where 112 people lost their lives in our worst peacetime rail incident. We remember those who were lost.
The benefit-cost ratio for the Ely area capacity enhancement was calculated and assured by Network Rail as part of the development of the outline business case for the scheme. We have no reason to doubt the robustness of the benefit-cost ratio.
I welcome the Minister to his place, and indeed the new Front-Bench team. The project is backed by MPs across the east of England because it would increase capacity by 30%, enabling more passenger and freight services and delivering a major boost to growth. Given the overwhelming economic benefits that it offers, will the Government ensure that this much-delayed project, for which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been campaigning for more than a decade, is now fast-tracked and moves to the next phase?
My hon. Friend is a strong champion for the Ely scheme, and I recognise the potential for the benefits that he highlighted. It is, though, worth noting that the scheme would require significant public funding with a total cost of up to £500 million, so we need to consider that as part of reviewing patterns of rail travel post the pandemic. We will therefore seek to provide as much clarity as possible when we publish an update to the rail network enhancements pipeline.
Major Transport Infrastructure: North of England
Mayoral combined authorities across the north of England each received a share of £5.7 billion over five years from the city region sustainable transport settlements to transform their local transport networks. That builds on nearly £33 billion of central Government spending on transport across the north since 2010 as well as the £96 billion committed to the north and midlands through the integrated rail plan.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her post and thank her for her answer. Doncaster Sheffield airport is a strategic asset not just for South Yorkshire but for the wider north and an important part of our national transport infrastructure, but it is about to close. She has received numerous meeting requests from both the Mayor of South Yorkshire and Members across the House along with specific concerns about how closure would diminish our civil contingency capability, potentially with severe consequences. Will she agree to an urgent meeting to sit down with the Mayor and Members of Parliament from across South Yorkshire so that we can work together and do everything we can to keep DSA open?
The Government are incredibly disappointed that air operations at Doncaster Sheffield airport are expected to close from the start of November. We recognise that that will be difficult news for those who use the airport as well as businesses and people working there. Of course, it was ultimately a commercial decision made by the owners of DSA. I have held several meetings with both local leaders and the Peel Group to encourage them to work together towards a solution for the site that will benefit local people and the region’s economy.
I welcome the Government’s recent commitments to accelerating infrastructure investment and in particular the comments about Northern Powerhouse Rail. Will the Secretary of State encourage spades in the ground for the Ferryhill station project, which is progressing, and meet me and others with regard to the work already being done to put plans in place for the Leamside line and the opportunities to bring it into the full Northern Powerhouse Rail project?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for all transport infrastructure in County Durham, having been so before and indeed now that he is in the House. I will ensure that he can sit down with our rail Minister to discuss in greater detail the investments that we are making. The growth plan, which the Chancellor set out a few weeks ago, sets out clearly why transport infrastructure is critical to helping our economy to grow. We have a broad range of projects that we are both accelerating and continuing with the investments that we have committed.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, this is an incredibly urgent and serious issue. I am not sure what meetings the Secretary of State is referring to, but will she now agree to meet local leaders?
I have asked my officials to meet the Mayor of the combined authority in the very near future to continue the discussions we have already had, but, as I say, this is ultimately a commercial decision by the airport owners. We want to work with them and the authority to find the right solutions.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place. May I urge her to continue the work of the former cycling Minister and Active Travel England, who were enthusiastic supporters of the improvement and upgrading of the cycle route between Newcastle and Hexham, and ultimately to Carlisle, to a cycle superhighway? This has the treble benefits of increasing commuting capability, cutting cost of living, and creating both active travel and a tourist destination.
My parliamentary neighbour is nothing if not a champion for all things active travel. I would be very happy for him to sit down with the new cycling Minister to discuss that in more detail. I agree with him absolutely that we need to look at such important cycleways, which offer a series of new economic opportunities, and get those spades in the ground as quickly as possible.
I welcome the new Secretary of State and the entire ministerial team to their place. We look forward to shadowing them. I am afraid that we are not off to a great start, though. The Prime Minister promised to protect Doncaster Sheffield Airport during her leadership campaign, and she gave a promise to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who I do not see in his place this morning, at her first Prime Minister’s questions to do what she could to protect the airport. This is not just a commercial decision. The Mayor has written to the Peel Group this morning with names of potential bidders and a reiteration of financial support to keep the airport running. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the Mayor and Members across this House, and consider using her powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to keep this strategic asset running?
Department for Transport Ministers and officials have been clear throughout that the Government support our regional airports and that they provide a vital contribution. Throughout the period of review carried out by the Peel Group, Transport Ministers have been working together—I am very pleased to hear there are new proposals on the table—with the local authorities and the Peel Group to find ways forward. On the issue the hon. Lady raises relating to the Civil Contingencies Act to prevent closure, I have looked at that in some detail. While all things under the Act are owned and determined by Cabinet Office Ministers, I am not persuaded that the closure of DSA could be undertaken under that Act.
As I say, we continue to show that support for our regional airports, but at the end of the day this is an airport held in ownership by the Peel Group and we want to continue to work with it. As I said to many colleagues, we continue to provide the technical support from DFT officials that may help to find a solution, but at the end of the day a solution is offered and accepted, or not, at that level with the Peel Group.
Private Hire Operators: VAT
I know the hon. Gentleman is a keen champion for this area, given that he is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. He will know that the question of whether a private hire vehicle operator needs to pay VAT depends on two factors: whether he is acting as principal or as agent; and whether he meets the VAT threshold. As he will also know, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for VAT.
I welcome my near constituency neighbours to their posts. I hope they will get behind a brilliant public transport scheme that Cambridge craves and the country needs Cambridge to have. There are 16,000 private hire operators across the country and an impending court case could change the complicated relationship between customer and operator. The worry is that if that change comes into effect, as a consequence of the court case, many small operators could be at risk. What plans does the Department have to deal with that contingency? Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the industry to discuss that further?
I welcome the hon. Member’s championing of a great area in the country in the east of England. I am aware of the litigation that he refers to. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is considering any implications that that may have on VAT payable by private hire vehicle operators. As he will know, the Government keep all taxes under review at all times. I am sure that the Minister responsible for this area, Baroness Vere in the other place, will be happy to meet him.
Stations Outside Cities: Regeneration
The Government recognise that stations are the heart of many communities across our country, providing vital transport links. We are investing in stations through the new stations fund and the restoring your railway programme, as well as through wider enhancement and renewal schemes. We are also providing accessibility improvements through the £383 million Access for All programme.
I am grateful for that answer. No region is more poised to deliver growth for this country than the east, with agritech, cleantech, biotech and every other tech, but we are being held back by terrible infrastructure. The residents of East Anglia want a commitment to regional rail—what Network Rail dismisses as small regional routes—right at the heart of a growth vision. Will my right hon. and hon. Friends agree to support the role of stations in rural areas? There are 52 in East Anglia. They could all be innovation hubs and be redeveloped. They are going nowhere at the moment. In particular, there is Wymondham station in my patch, where disabled passengers have to go to Norwich to change platforms. We have waited 10 years. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made big commitments. Will the Minister meet me to drive rural stations for growth?
I am always delighted to meet colleagues who share my passion for investing in our rail network and who recognise that our stations are not just a handy place to board a train, but are sometimes the heart of a local community. We are investing in our stations: for example, we recently delivered a new mobility hub at Norwich station in the east of England. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend.
Staveley station in my constituency, on the Lakes line from Oxenholme to Windermere, has 41 steps to get up to it. It is 100% inaccessible to anybody with a mobility problem. That is an outrage. We have bid into several pots over the years, but because it is not a main line station, it never qualifies for any funding. Will the Minister meet me and local rail campaigners to make sure that Staveley station is accessible for everyone?
As the hon. Member will know, we are making great progress on accessibility through our Access for All programme across our stations. We are also completing an accessibility audit of all the stations on our network. I am happy to meet him to talk about his station and I look forward to announcing, in the next year, the latest round of stations that will benefit from Access for All improvements.
I welcome the Minister to his new role and thank him for all his work in the Home Office.
Will the Minister commit to the upgrade of Witham train station, which has been under debate and discussion for many years? Importantly, will he help with the accessibility issue at Marks Tey station? I also invite him to come to Marks Tey station to look at the work that is needed to make it fully accessible.
I have a feeling that I will hear quite a lot about Chorley station over the next few months, Mr Speaker.
Turning to matters in Essex, I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend in her place, campaigning hard for her constituents. I would be delighted to visit—I expect that that is an invitation I really cannot refuse.
Luton town station is our gateway to our town centre. People use it to go to work and football fans use it to go to the match, but as local people know and consistently tell me, it is not fit for purpose. It is decrepit and run down. Will the Minister outline the details of when the Access for All work will begin to install lifts to the four out of five platforms that are inaccessible? More importantly, to grow our local economy, will he commit to funding a comprehensive renovation to the station to make it fit for the 21st century?
Cycling Targets: 2025 and 2030
The Department estimates that a minimum of £4.4 billion is likely to be required to meet its cycling and walking objectives to 2025; and further, that a minimum of £5.5 billion is likely to be required to meet the objectives to 2030. The actual amount will depend on a wide variety of factors.
I am sure the Minister agrees that there is nothing nicer than seeing schoolchildren in local streets learning in a supervised way how to cycle safely, particularly as interest in cycling has grown post pandemic. Will she commit today to ensuring sufficient funding for every single local authority to maintain its cycling classes, so that children can learn and so that we can tackle air pollution together by having more children cycling safely on streets and being taught manners and the best way to cycle in our local environments?
I agree that it is important to learn from a young age how to cycle safely. That will ensure that as children grow older, they are more willing to engage in active travel rather than being in cars. I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government will offer cycle training to every primary school child in England, building on the record of 500,000 training places offered in 2022-23.
Earlier this month, 250 cyclists, including me, took part in the Cycle Winchester mass ride around the city. I also joined the school cycle bus from Twyford into Winchester during the conference recess, which was potentially a better use of my time. We are excited by the mini-Holland schemes in Hampshire that are already being invested in. In a few weeks, I will take a walk around the city to see the work that we have done investing in those plans. Can the Minister tell me whether the Government are committed to the active travel fund and when the fourth tranche of applications to it will open?
I am delighted to hear about my hon. Friend’s active travel. I remember that his constituency has a very impressive company that converts bicycles to electric bicycles. Announcements in relation to the fourth fund will be considered and made in due course.
The Minister has just outlined the fact that nearly £10 billion of investment will be required to meet the targets. One of the only good things to come out of covid has been the expansion of cycling networks and opportunities. Will she guarantee to the House today that that will not be one of the areas that has to be cut as a result of the Government’s economic plans?
I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already spent significant funds on active travel. There are core funds available, but there are also funds from other Departments, such as the levelling-up fund, the highways maintenance fund and the future high streets fund. Much of that money is already committed. I remind the hon. Gentleman about the poor record of the Labour party, whose funding for active travel was significantly less than we have already put in to this important area.
The Government have provided nearly £2 billion of support since March 2020 through emergency and recovery grants to ensure that our bus sector survived throughout the pandemic. That is on top of the £1 billion of transformation funding that will make our bus services faster, more reliable and cheaper across much of England.
I thank the whole House for the very kind comments about Southend’s greatest ever champion: Sir David Amess, my predecessor. They will be much appreciated by everyone in Southend West as we remember Sir David on Saturday.
Southend, and indeed the whole of Essex, did not benefit at all from the Government’s bus service improvement plan earlier this year, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that new cities such as Southend can bus back better? Will the Minister assure me that those areas that missed out last time will be at the top of the list for funding in future schemes?
My thoughts are with Sir David Amess’s family today. I am grateful that my hon. Friend has mentioned him.
My hon. Friend is a very keen champion for her area. I am aware that her area was not successful in the funding round that she mentions, but I am pleased that Essex County Council and Southend-on-Sea City Council have been awarded some funds to maintain bus services, with totals of £1.5 million and £330,000 respectively to support the development and delivery of their bus service improvement plans and enhanced partnerships. That is in addition to their bus recovery grant allocation and the practical support on offer, which includes guidance and training to ensure eligibility for any further BSIP funding.
Will the Minister acknowledge that there are sometimes problems with important transport links that run between destinations in different transport authority areas? Will she seek to address that, and will she talk to Hertfordshire County Council and Transport for London about restoring the 84 bus route between Chipping Barnet, Hadley and Potters Bar?
My right hon. Friend has made an important point, because, of course, transport crosses corridors. As she will know, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London, and the Government have agreed with Transport for London a £1.2 billion multi-year settlement to secure the long-term future of London’s transport network, including bus services. Where bus-tender routes operate across transport authority boundaries, we expect the local transport authorities involved to work closely with bus operators.
David Amess was a parliamentary mate. He was a proper parliamentarian. We miss him dreadfully. He would not like me to call him a mate, mind, but it is the truth.
Is the Minister aware that hydrogen-powered buses are widely available? I think there are already 16 on the streets of Belfast—I should have been speaking at a sustainability conference in Belfast today—but hydrogen-powered heavy goods vehicles and trucks, including waste trucks, are also available. When will local authorities have proper subsidies to enable them to get those hydrogen-powered buses and trucks on the road, now?
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we have a wide variety of energy sources for our transport system. The hon. Gentleman will know that only last week the Secretary of State announced £24 million for Teesside to expand its hydrogen works. I am aware of the hydrogen-powered buses; significant Government funds are available for them, for electric buses, and for various other mechanisms.
Workers in Angus, from Kirriemuir to Arbroath and from Montrose to Brechin, are stuck because of the lack of buses, itself due to a lack of drivers. They are going cap in hand to their employers to explain why they are late for work, and they are having to take taxis home because the bus had never turned up. I have canvassed a good many colleagues in this place, and I know that this is not a Scottish issue—it extends across the British Isles—so I ask the Minister please not to remind me that transport is devolved. This is a UK issue requiring UK intervention, with training for drivers and support for operators.
I am sorry, but I will remind the hon. Gentleman that transport is devolved. If there are issues in Scotland, he knows where to address those points. However, I also remind him that we have invested nearly £2 billion in buses over the pandemic, in addition to the £1 billion invested to ensure that our buses become more reliable and cheaper throughout the country.
Since covid, commuter bus routes from Hemel Hempstead into London have been cut. The reason for that is lack of demand, because people are working from home and there is no encouragement for them to come back into London. We observe that dangerous development when we drive into London each day and see that there is less and less traffic. Is there no way in which the Department can encourage people to have the confidence to come back into London so that we can put on these buses again from Hemel Hempstead?
The Government have broadly welcomed people back to work—my right hon. Friend will know that we are encouraging civil servants to come back to work and leading by example here in Parliament—and we do encourage people into our towns and cities: as he will also know, we recently spent £60 million on introducing a £2 fare cap for single tickets on most bus services in England outside London between January and March to encourage travel across the country.
The Minister will not necessarily know what the 8, 27 and 655 bus routes in my constituency have in common. The answer is that they have all been cut completely, or substantially reduced, in the last few weeks. That means that NHS workers cannot travel to their shifts, pensioners cannot travel to the Crystal Peaks shopping centre, and kids cannot travel to and from school. Will the Minister reflect on the fact that the previous Prime Minister told us that people would not need a timetable, because the service would be so good that they could just walk to the bus stop and get on a bus? They do not need a timetable for many routes now, because there are no buses running.
Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, agree to meet the Mayor and Members of Parliament for South Yorkshire to discuss the cuts, and how additional Government funding could save these essential services?
I will, of course, pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request to the Minister responsible for buses, Baroness Vere. I am sure that she will consider it. I point out that the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority received £1.6 million from the local transport authority recovery funding from April to December this year.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the new Transport Minister’s own area of Cambridgeshire, dozens of crucial bus services, including school routes, will be slashed imminently. Can the Minister explain why they think it is fair that communities in Cambridgeshire and many others across the country did not receive a penny to improve bus services after a £2 billion cut to the bus back better strategy, while the same Government will this year hand over billions of pounds of tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations? Is it not the truth that under this Government bankers are being put before buses and the services that millions rely on?
The hon. Member makes an important point about buses more broadly and in the Cambridgeshire region. I reiterate that the Government have invested £3 billion in buses, and Stagecoach East is getting £427,000 every month to support bus services. Government considered the bids as they were put forward by the Mayor, and I know the Mayor is considering very carefully how he can resolve this issue in Cambridgeshire.
Modernising the Railways
The need to reform our railways is now even stronger than when the “Plan for Rail” White Paper was published in 2021. The lasting consequences of covid-19 on passenger numbers and revenue, and the impact of strikes on railway customers, have increased the need for reform. The Government will ensure we have a modern railway, fit for the 21st century, that meets customers’ needs, supports growth and decarbonisation, harnesses the best of the private sector and connects our communities.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of opening the new disabled access ramp at Accrington station, as part of our wider plans to make this station and others across Hyndburn and Haslingden accessible for all. As we have two further stations in the pipeline—Church and Oswaldtwistle, and Rushden—can my right hon. Friend confirm that these bids will be looked on favourably? To modernise our railway stations, we need to make sure that everybody can use them.
I absolutely agree, and I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend was in attendance to open the improvements at Accrington station, where the existing non-compliant ramp was modified. The Department recently received 309 nominations for the next round of Access for All, including Rushden and Oswaldtwistle, and I will look to announce the successful stations next year.
York’s powerful rail cluster is driving innovation and modernisation across the rail network—a real asset to Great British Railways. Obviously, we are waiting to hear what is happening to the headquarters of GB Railways and the relocation outside of London, because the timetable has slipped. Will the Minister say when he is planning to announce where that new headquarters will be?
Modernising our railways and maintaining services are vitally important. Thousands of residents in Old Bexley and Sidcup have already completed my survey outlining their concerns over Southeastern’s December timetable changes on the Bexleyheath and Sidcup lines. Will the rail Minister please meet me again to discuss these concerns and Southeastern’s lack of consultation?
Leuchars train station in my constituency is the only station serving St Andrews. It is a hub for local communities and the large number of tourists and students who go to the town, but the access bridge installed in 1995 is no longer fit for purpose and those who require step-free access cannot use it. I have been in contact with the Scottish Government and I am pleased with what the Minister has said about funding announcements next year for Access for All, but can he provide clarity on who is the final decision maker?
My understanding is that accessibility is a reserved matter, hence we will announce the successful stations as the UK Government. Obviously, in looking at access, we will liaise with the Scottish Government on potential priorities. We want to make sure that there is a fair spread of spending across the UK, looking at a number of factors, including usage, how inaccessible a station is, and the type of facilities it provides.
Accessibility is a real issue at some stations in Cannock Chase; at Rugeley Trent Valley, for example, there is a footbridge to two of the platforms. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can modernise stations across Cannock Chase to ensure that they are accessible for everyone?
I recognise the representations that my right hon. Friend makes, and I will be happy to meet her. We have already agreed improvements that should deliver over 100 more accessible step-free routes. The vast majority of passengers are now able to make their journey through a step-free station, but we recognise that, due to the historical nature of much of our infrastructure, far too many stations still are not able to be used by all. That is why we asked for nominations; we have received 309, and we look forward to announcing next year the next list of stations to receive improvements.
The Scottish Government recently took ScotRail into public ownership, which has revitalised the industry, created new stations and effectively decarbonised train travel. They have also chosen to end the Caledonian Sleeper contract, because it does not give value for money to the taxpayer. When will the UK Government fully devolve Network Rail so that Scotland’s railway is fully under the control of Scotland’s Government?
I understand why the SNP, given its plans for a border at Berwick, may not see having an integrated rail network across the entirety of Great Britain as a priority. We believe it is right that we have an integrated rail network and infrastructure across Great Britain, and that is why it remains a reserved matter.
I welcome the new ministerial team to their place.
To address the failure of privatisation and fragmentation, just last year the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), announced the launch of Great British Railways. There were promotional videos with Michael Portillo and a nationwide campaign to host the new headquarters, with towns and cities investing enormous time, effort and money in their bids. There is a huge transition team, and millions of pounds of public money has already been spent. But now we hear that the whole thing is being scrapped and will not be included in the transport Bill. I appreciate that this Government are infamous for their U-turns and creating confusion, but can the Minister confirm: has Great British Railways been stopped in its tracks?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my place and I look forward to perhaps more constructive exchanges. We are taking forward an ambitious programme to reform our railways. We look forward to confirming the position on the Great British Railways headquarters in the very near future. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, for those of us who remember his clarion call to bring back British Rail, that hardly brings back memories of amazing customer service and quality provision compared with what we have today.
I, too, welcome the new Minister to his place. I often talk favourably about Scotland’s record on rail modernisation, as we actually get on and modernise infrastructure while down here the Tories focus on pushing the sector to “modernise”—to cut the workforce’s terms and conditions. Following similar comments from the Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary at the weekend, Mick Lynch of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers said yesterday that in Scotland we have an attitude of wanting to resolve workforce disputes, whereas down here the Government want to exacerbate them for political reasons. Has this new team at the helm asked Network Rail and the train operating companies to get round the table and properly negotiate with freedom? If not, why not?
Again, as the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has met leading members of the unions, but we are not the employer in this dispute. It is important that the unions sit down, stop striking and get on with coming to a deal that is fair not just for workers but for taxpayers, who have put £16 billion into supporting our railways over the last couple of years.
Bradford-Manchester Rail Journey Times
The Prime Minister has been clear that the Government will deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail in full and it will stop at Bradford. That is a pledge I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his team, and I also welcome his comments. As he will know, Northern Powerhouse Rail will slash journey times from Bradford to Manchester dramatically, bringing much-needed and immense investment to Bradford. He is right to say that the Chancellor and Prime Minister have previously made this commitment, so will he add some further clarity to this excellent news for Bradford by setting out today a timetable of funding and construction, and when the Government will finally start work on this programme in full?
I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman shares my enthusiasm for that project, which, as he says, will make a massive difference for communities in Bradford. As he will appreciate, I am not going to lay out the detailed construction timetable here in the House, but we certainly intend to engage with leaders in the region and look forward to setting out further details in due course.
Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the billions of pounds in growth and tens of thousands of jobs, depend on HS2 being delivered in full. So will the Minister guarantee that the HS2 leg beyond Birmingham to Manchester will not be the victim of his Chancellor’s kamikaze Budget?
Transport Sector Vacancies and Shortage Occupations
The Department regularly reviews the impact of labour shortages on the transport industry. Currently, there are currently 54,000 vacancies in the transport and storage sector, so my officials are in frequent contact with Home Office colleagues to ensure that the needs of the transport industry are reflected in their next review of the shortage occupation list.
Despite issues remaining for many, the HGV driver shortages, exacerbated by Brexit and covid, have marginally improved and drivers are now receiving the higher pay they rightfully deserve, although working conditions remain an issue. Many of the recruits are coming from the bus driving sector, which is causing significant driver shortages, cuts to timetables and service cancellations across the UK, and which is having an impact on passengers and net zero ambitions. What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary on expanding the shortage occupation list to include bus drivers?
The newly established transport employment and skills taskforce is already taking steps to identify and address the shortage of skills and jobs across the transport sector that we face now, and it is thinking about how we tackle this for the future. We are supporting new HGV driver training through apprenticeships and we are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to support jobseekers to become HGV drivers. We want to make sure that we grow this pool. This is a challenge not only in the UK, but across the world, and we want to make sure that we are at the front end of bringing these new young people into this industry.
Transport for London: Long-term Funding Settlement
Well, this is not remotely intimidating!
The longer-term settlement agreed with the Mayor in August sets a framework for Government funding until March 2024 and gives certainty on transport in London. It is based on commitments made by the Mayor during previous agreements and it is now down to the Mayor and Transport for London to deliver. Progress under the most recent funding settlement will be regularly monitored to ensure fairness to the national taxpayer.
I thank the Minister for that answer.
May I also commemorate the tragedy that took place 70 years ago last weekend at Harrow & Wealdstone station, in my constituency? A number of events were held in Harrow to commemorate that event, and I thank the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) for mentioning it.
On the long-term settlement for TfL, the Mayor has committed £500 million-worth of savings, but thus far we have heard nothing about what savings are to be made, and it appears that no progress has been made. Will the Under-Secretary commit to holding the Mayor to account and making sure that those savings are resolved before that funding is provided to TfL?
The long-term funding settlement does not include a condition that requires the Mayor to make or report on specific savings targets. It is for the Mayor and TfL to deliver within the funding outlined in the settlement, which provides security until March 2024 and is, I remind my hon. Friend, the fifth package of support the Government have provided to TfL for covid recovery. I remind the House that TfL was originally set up to be independent of central Government in terms of its income and spend. The current settlement returns to that model as a whole, and it is for the London Mayor to decide how he controls his costs and looks for efficiencies within TfL. We will continue to monitor his progress to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used fairly to support London’s commuters.
Motorists: Fuel Costs
I regularly discuss fuel prices with Cabinet colleagues, particularly those in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Our Departments are working with the Competition and Markets Authority, which is currently looking at fuel prices. We will continue to work together and with representatives of the fuel industry on this issue to ensure that motorists are paying a fair price at the pump.
Rural constituencies such as mine in Broadland, where public transport is limited, are disproportionately affected by high fuel costs. It is sometimes overlooked that people also have limited choice as to which forecourt to fill up at. I am struck by the effectiveness of the price-comparison requirement in Northern Ireland, which is used to get consistently lower forecourt prices; are we considering that policy in England?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to focus on the challenges in rural areas, including my own constituency, which is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct a thorough review. He is also right that although the price of fuel in Northern Ireland has historically been lower than the rest of the UK for several reasons, we absolutely consider the fuel price checker provided by the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland—along with cross-border competition with petrol stations in Ireland and lower overheads—to be part of the reason for those lower costs, and we are considering that possibility to help us to assess our own.
I do not think I am the voice of Northern Ireland, but I do my bit for Northern Ireland. Is there any intention to work with the Treasury to formulate VAT reductions for small and medium-sized businesses that pay a mileage allowance to staff and are struggling to meet those costs?
The hon. Member is indeed Northern Ireland this morning, as he sits alone on his Bench, and we are always pleased to hear him raise such important issues. Questions of finance are, of course, for the Treasury, but I will make sure that point is raised with Treasury colleagues.
I recently addressed the 41st International Civil Aviation Organisation triennial assembly, where I set out the key challenges that aviation faces and urged action, particularly on Russia’s violation of international law and on tackling climate change. It was a historic moment in two ways. First, in a triumph for those who respect the rules-based international order that ICAO and the wider UN system is built on, Russia was voted off the ICAO governing council for the first time in its history. Russia has shown a blatant disregard for its obligations under the treaty governing international civil aviation—the Chicago convention—and it is right that it no longer has the privilege of serving on the council.
Secondly, the assembly agreed to a new climate goal of net zero international aviation emissions by 2050. This is a historic milestone, not just for the future of flying but for the wider international commitments that we have all made to meet the Paris agreements. Now, the real work begins to put in place the measures to achieve that goal, including the technology, efficiencies and clean fuels that are central to our jet zero strategy.
My constituents in Blaydon are hugely concerned about the availability and reliability of our local bus routes. We were pleased to be granted funding under the bus service improvement plan programme, but will the Secretary of State assure me that Transport North East will receive that grant? If so, when?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. She will have heard earlier much discussion of the investments that we continue to make in buses. I am happy to ask the Minister who oversees the portfolio to discuss that with the hon. Lady in more detail.
I thank my hon. Friend. His invitation sounded so wonderful that I, as the Rail Minister, insisted on coming to the Dispatch Box to accept it. I do note that the proposed scheme was previously unsuccessful under the restoring your railway programme, but I am happy to continue working with him to explore opportunities to improve the rail transport offer in this area.
It was an honour to attend the anniversary mass for Sir David Amess at the Tomb of St Peter with the all-party parliamentary group on the Holy See on Friday. It was a truly moving moment.
It has been five months since the Government promised to take legal action against P&O Ferries. Given that the chief executive himself admitted to this House that he had disregarded employment law and would do so again, when will the Insolvency Service finally deliver its decision and strike him off as a director?
The hon. Member will know that the Government have taken a variety of actions and considered very carefully the position in relation to P&O. He talks about the Insolvency Service and, obviously, this is a matter for it.
With a daily charge of £12.50, I can understand why my hon. Friend’s residents are concerned. I remind him that the Mayor’s powers do not allow for revenue-raising schemes in their own right, but only those that deliver policy outcomes such as those relating to air quality and/or congestion. The consultation, which has been run by the Mayor, is now closed and we are expecting a response this year. I understand that my hon. Friend may have concerns about how responses have been considered as part of that consultation, and I would support him in directing them directly to the Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
We all shared a deep anger at the actions of P&O Ferries. Although we welcomed much of what the Government said in response at the time, we are yet to see the action match the rhetoric. In welcoming the Secretary of State to her place, I ask her whether she will confirm in this Maritime UK Week that her Department will continue working with all relevant stakeholders, including the maritime trade unions, in delivering the nine-point plan to address P&O’s actions and ensure that workers’ rights are protected from a race to the bottom.
My hon. Friend will know that I am only too keen to enhance the links across the border rather than put border infrastructure in place as others would wish to do. We are currently considering advice regarding next steps for the proposal. In particular, I am keen to see a feasibility study in place for the restoration of the whole rail route. I would be happy to put in writing more details for him in the very near future.
I welcome the entire ministerial team to their positions. I understand that they will want to take time to consider the various matters in front of them, but I ask them to recommit to page 53 of the decarbonising transport plan, promising £2 billion for active travel to ensure that we meet a target of 50% of all urban journeys being conducted by active travel. Do those two commitments stand today?
I have read the decarbonising transport plan and I am aware of the importance of active travel. I did not particularly notice what was on page 53, but I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. As I have already said, the Government are committed to active travel. We have already committed £4 billion through a variety of measures through the Department for Transport, and across Government we are committed to ensuring that active travel remains on our agenda.
It is welcome that the North Hykeham relief road, championed by myself since 2004 as a requirement for my Lincoln constituents as part of the eastern bypass, was highlighted by the Government as a project for accelerated delivery in the Chancellor’s mini-Budget. However, the welcome £110 million DFT funding is still £80 million short of the estimated total cost of the scheme. Is consideration being given by current DFT Ministers or officials to upgrading the £110 million by inflation?
The hon. Member makes an important point. We have a number of pilots relating to e-scooters. A lot of people are using them, but we must ensure that they use them safely. When we bring in regulations to ensure that people can continue with that method of travel, we will of course consult widely and discuss how we can do that safely.
Sadly, too many local residents and passengers have experienced cancelled and disrupted Avanti West Coast train services over recent months, despite the excellent service of the team at Macclesfield railway station. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Avanti’s day-to-day operational performance over the period of the new short-term contract will also be a material factor in determining who will be awarded the long-term National Rail contract to operate west coast services after April 2023? Local passengers deserve better.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The current service is not acceptable, as I have made clear directly to Avanti’s most senior management, and significant improvements are needed. We will be monitoring Avanti’s performance over the next six months, particularly the implementation of its recovery plan, before making a decision in April 2023.
We do need that fourth round of the active travel fund, because it not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but reduces congestion, improves health and frequently increases economic activity through extra footfall. Will the Government commit to it?
I am interested to hear that, although I would note that now the economy is reviving Heathrow has gone back to being the busiest airport in Europe. But it must operate within the law and we will investigate any evidence that that is not the case.
Parishes in my constituency such as Ditchling and Ringmer want to introduce road safety measures including reducing the speed limit and cutting the number of HGVs coming through the villages, but they have been told by the local highways authority that not enough fatalities have occurred. Will the Minister outline how we can change the policy so that we can make villages in my constituency safer?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her rural communities and villages. We know that inappropriate speed is particularly significant, and speed limits are one tool to address that. We believe that local transport authorities are best placed to know their local areas, so the Department for Transport has rightly given the power to vary speed limits to them and issued guidance to support them in striking the balance between safety, the data, enforcement and other factors when making those decisions. I am happy to write to her with further details.
Thank you, Mr Speaker: I was beginning to lose hope.
The previous Prime Minister made a promise on Northern Powerhouse Rail, but when the announcement came it did not include a new line. This Prime Minister has made a promise on Northern Powerhouse Rail, but will we see a new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford that is not an upgrade of the trans-Pennine line; when will the funding be delivered; and when will spades go in the ground? We need that line for the growth that the Government want to see.
I am delighted to note the support from the Opposition for the statement that the Prime Minister made last week, as I am sure she will be. We will certainly make sure that we set out in detail soon, having engaged with those in the region who have a clear interest in the detail of the plan and how we ensure that we deliver the many benefits that project will bring at the same time as minimising the impact of construction.
Creating a passing loop on the South Fylde line would double the number of trains coming into south Blackpool every hour, assisting businesses such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach to create new jobs and investment. Will the new Minister meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) to discuss the opportunities that could deliver?
Over the summer my constituents experienced atrocious service from local bus companies, with elderly and frail constituents forced to wait for hours at bus stops without knowing whether a bus was coming or not. Will the Minister with responsibility for buses, and my neighbour the Secretary of State, meet me so we can sort out at least an acceptable bus service for my constituents?
I thank the Secretary of State for reaching out to me in the early days in her new role. I urge her to make a final, binding decision on the tunnel at Stonehenge on the A303. We have been waiting nearly eight years for a definitive statement and I would welcome a decision by the end of this month.
I welcome the new Ministers to their places. What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the excellent Winnington bridge and transport corridor round 2 bid?
We are always keen to hear positive proposals to help to level up our communities, and we meet regularly with ministerial colleagues. I am particularly passionate about the role rail will play in levelling up, but roads and other aspects are important as we make sure that communities get the investment they deserve.
Whenever there is a major delay at the channel crossings in Kent, motorways in my constituency are turned into lorry parks and Kent comes to a standstill. The fact is that Kent is carrying the can for a gap in our national infrastructure. May I urge my right hon. Friend to work with Kent MPs on this problem and be the Transport Secretary who solves it?
I am pleased to have had a brief discussion with my hon. Friend about the importance of Kent and queues in relation to Kent, Dover and the borders. I am very happy to meet the Kent MPs, and I am sure the Secretary of State will be fully engaged in this issue.
Edenfield Centre: Treatment of Patients
I wish to notify Members that the police have launched an investigation into the allegation of misconduct at the Edenfield Centre. I therefore encourage Members to refrain from comments that may prejudice either the police’s ongoing investigation or any subsequent legal proceedings that may result from it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this important question. Like him, I have been horrified by the treatment of vulnerable people at the Edenfield Centre, which has been brought to light by undercover reporting from the BBC. There is no doubt that these incidents are completely unacceptable. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), has met the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, and a number of steps are being taken.
As a matter of first priority, my Department is working with the trust to ensure that all affected patients are safe, and a multidisciplinary team has completed clinical reviews of all patients. Secondly, a significant number of staff have been suspended pending further investigation. Thirdly, the trust has agreed that there will be an independent investigation into the services provided at the Edenfield Centre. Fourthly, Greater Manchester police are investigating the material presented by BBC “Panorama”. For that reason, as you rightly pointed out, Mr Speaker, I will not be commenting on the specifics of the case. The trust will continue to work closely and collaborate with local and national partners, including NHS England, the Care Quality Commission, the police and, of course, my Department.
These are important first steps, but they are by no means the last. There are serious questions that need to be answered, especially in the light of other recent scandals. I want to put on record my thanks to the whistleblowers, to the BBC and, above all else, the patients and families who have been so grievously affected. Anyone receiving mental health treatment is entitled to dignity and respect. On that principle there can be no compromise, and this Government will work with whoever it takes to put this right.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. It has been 15 days since “Panorama” aired the deeply distressing scenes from the Edenfield Centre in my constituency, which brought tears across the country, including my own, yet we have heard nothing from the Department. The programme showed some of the most vulnerable people in society being physically abused and goaded, sexualised behaviour from staff to patients, falsifying of medical records and patients locked in isolation for months on end. Seclusion seemed to be used for the convenience of staff, rather than as punishment. All this happened while the CQC was on site and did not issue a notice; it even praised bosses.
I have received an unprecedented amount of correspondence from individuals who have worked at the Edenfield Centre in the past or families with relatives there now or in the past. They all speak of failings of leadership, along with a culture of bullying. I have spoken with the families of those featured in the programme, and they advise that they are still being blocked from contacting their relatives, who are desperate to move out of the Edenfield Centre, and some are even still in seclusion. I pay tribute to Alan Haslam, who went undercover for three months. He received a crash course and was thrown in to care for these incredibly vulnerable people, many with complex needs.
What is the Minister doing to address the issue of sufficient training levels in the NHS for those providing mental health care? Can he outline how much additional funding the Government are giving the NHS for mental health services? Will he apologise to those families for what happened at Edenfield and support my call for a public inquiry, as Edenfield cannot be trusted to mark its own homework? Finally, will he outline how he is ensuring that the correct care is being given to those featured in the programme, such as Olivia and Harley, who desperately need it, and how the families will get the justice they deserve?
I thank my hon. Friend for his further question. I know that he has met the Under-Secretary, NHS England and the trust, and has had an opportunity to ask questions. On his points on training, I suggest he has a further meeting with my colleague at the Department, who has responsibility for mental health, so that she can set out those plans.
My hon. Friend asked whether I will apologise to the patients and their families. Of course, I will do so unequivocally. It should not have happened, and it is our role as Ministers—in fact, it is the role of all those who work in the NHS—to do all we possibly can to prevent it from happening again. He asked for an independent inquiry, and I believe it does the meet the threshold for that.
Finally, my hon. Friend mentioned NHS funding. The NHS long-term plan commits to investing at least an additional £2.3 billion a year, which takes the total to about £15 billion last year, and there is an additional £10 million for winter pressure this year.
I have a terrible feeling of déjà vu because I remember standing on a previous statement on an issue such as this, and here we are again. We are talking about the most vulnerable people, who cannot tell their own story, so I want to ask the Minister, who I know cares deeply about these issues, what more we can do to provide the proactive, independent evidence by any means necessary so that we nip this sort of behaviour in the bud. We have to care for these people, and I think that the overwhelmingly decent workforce in this industry will be equally appalled about what has happened in the Edenfield Centre. Will the Minister think about independent, verifiable, proactive evidence to stop this from continuing to happen?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that patients and their families deserve and indeed expect the highest standards of care quality. Safe services are by no means—never, in fact— optional extras, and where there are failures to deliver to those standards, we must continue to be transparent so that we can learn and improve. Whether it is in the CQC or local trusts, I know that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, will look at any and all options to improve transparency, and to make it far clearer where cases of this nature do take place. He is also absolutely right to point out that the vast, vast majority of those who work in our NHS provide the most incredible world-class care, and where they are let down by a tiny number of individuals, as they have been in this case, such people are letting down everyone who works in the NHS.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for his work with the families who have been affected.
I want to pick up on a point of clarification, if I may. The Minister mentioned in his response that the Government are putting an additional £2.3 billion into mental health. Over the last four years, 21 different Ministers have mentioned this same funding at that Dispatch Box on 67 different occasions as being spent in myriad different ways. I know that the Government are on the ropes, but this just shows that they are out of ideas and out of money.
Patients and their families rightly expect to be safe in in-patient settings. The footage of inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion, the bullying, dehumanisation and sexualisation of patients by staff, the verbal and physical abuse, mistakes over medication and falsification of records all made for extremely disturbing viewing. Each of these would be cause for significant concern, but together they point to a scandalous breach of patient safety. It should not have taken an undercover investigation to bring to light poor patient care. Why are the Government not across this?
Since “Panorama” aired, I too have received correspondence from families who have gone through similar experiences and from former staff at Edenfield who were bullied out of their jobs. What are the Government doing to tackle this toxic culture? The Government’s failure to learn from past failings, and to implement recommendations on reducing restraint, segregation and seclusion, is costing people their lives and traumatising too many patients, as evidenced in these reports. I sent a letter to the Secretary of State after “Panorama” aired. When will I receive a response? Is the Secretary of State even taking this seriously?
In 2019, the Government committed to reducing the need for restraint and restrictive intervention, yet the use of restraint has soared. Will the Government be conducting a rapid review into mental health in-patient services? What are the Government doing to tackle staff shortages, and what are they doing to ensure that patients’ complaints about their care are taken seriously? To have a “Dispatches” investigation into another trust less than two weeks after “Panorama” aired demonstrates that this is not a one-off. What are the Government doing? People are losing their lives.
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that all patients receive safe and high-quality care in all settings. As the hon. Lady pointed out, we are investing more than ever before in NHS mental health services through the NHS long-term plan, which will see an additional £2.3 billion in funding per year by 2023-24.
The hon. Lady asked what work is underway. There is work under way at a national level to improve the way we safeguard patients and ensure they receive high-quality care through a new mental health safety improvement programme, which has set up new mental health patient safety networks across all regions in England. We are reviewing everyone with a learning disability and all autistic people in long-term segregation in a mental health in-patient hospital. The Care Quality Commission is introducing a new approach to inspections from next year, which will be more data driven and targeted, and we have commenced the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018.
I can absolutely assure all hon. Members that this Government will continue to work with our partners across the NHS, social care and other sectors to consider what more action is needed to tackle toxic and closed cultures, looking at the available evidence base and, most importantly, hearing from the people affected and their families.
NHS guidance has been clear for many years that abuse of this kind, including punitive seclusion and overuse of restraint, should never be allowed, yet it has persisted, as other hon. Members have said, including at Winterbourne View, Whorlton Hall, Cygnet Yew Trees, Cawston Park and now the Edenfield Centre. There will be other places, too, that have not had media attention, but where families of patients are seeing abuse and have no mechanisms to change things.
Harley is a young autistic woman who was detained at the Edenfield Centre and experienced punitive seclusion for weeks at a time. She said in the programme:
“Staff provoke a patient and then my reaction is used against me. But they’re provoking us. It’s disgusting. I’ve been treated like I’m an animal.”
There are over 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities locked in inappropriate in-patient units in this country, often for 10 years or more. The policy of the use of inappropriate in-patient units for autistic people and people with learning disabilities is a choice. They could have support in the community with skilled and experienced staff. Will the Minister promise to end the culture of abuse for Harley and so many people like her?
The hon. Lady is right. I believe what I saw to be disgusting too. She specifically referenced those with learning disabilities and autistic people in long-term segregation. NHS England is undertaking independently chaired care education and treatment reviews for everyone with a learning disability and all autistic people in long-term segregation in mental health in-patient hospitals. A senior intervenor pilot is also underway. These actions will help support people in long-term segregation to move to a less restrictive setting or to leave hospital. A programme of safety and wellbeing reviews for the care and safety of people with learning disabilities and autistic people is now complete, and NHS England will be publishing the findings of a national thematic review later this year.
Recruiting the right staff is key to providing the right mental health support. I know from conversations I have had with providers in Cornwall that they are facing a huge challenge in recruiting staff. Will the Minister lay out what steps the Government are taking to attract more of the right people to work in mental health provision?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We know this issue is not exclusive to mental health practitioners, and it can be a particular challenge in rural, remote and coastal areas. The Secretary of State is currently working on a workforce plan, which we hope to publish in due course. Talking more broadly about those working in mental health in the NHS, as raised by the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), we have 6,900 more mental health professionals in the workforce than in 2021, which is a 5.4% increase since then and a 12.2% increase on June 2010.
Jemima Burnage, the interim director of mental health at the CQC, described the BBC’s footage of the Edenfield Centre as “appalling, inhumane and degrading”. The people of Greater Manchester deserve better than that. Does the Minister therefore agree with local authority calls for a public inquiry?
Having seen some of the footage, it is hard for me to disagree with the words that the hon. Gentleman has used. I know that the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has already identified and suspended staff involved in the behaviour at Edenfield that was revealed in that documentary, the police have launched an investigation into the allegations, and disciplinary proceedings have now commenced post broadcast. As I said, does that meet the threshold for an independent inquiry? My view is that it does.
As this shocking investigation shows, the Mental Health Act 1983 often leaves vulnerable people at risk of cruelty and a distinct lack of care, and too many people have endured poor treatment or been detained for many years against their wishes. Reform of the 40-year-old Act is long overdue. We had the Wessely review back in 2018 and the White Paper in 2021. When will we see legislation come to the Floor of the House so that we can finally get that overdue reform?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I understand that a Bill to reform the Mental Health Act is in the Lords. I cannot give her a further update on that as I am not the responsible Minister, but it is important to stress that it is part of a number of measures that the Government have taken to improve on some of the challenges that she rightly pointed out. Whether that is the use of force Act, the NHS patient safety strategy, the mental health safety improvement programme, the patient safety networks that I mentioned, the new requirement for learning disability and autism training for staff or the HOPE(S) model, a lot is going on. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), will be happy to meet her to update her further.
If a test of the Government is how the most vulnerable in society are protected, I am afraid that this is yet another failure—as has been said, this is not the first time that it has happened. The CQC inspected the trust only a couple of months before the documentary was aired, which raises serious questions about the efficacy of CQC inspections. What challenge has it been given about its findings?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As a former Children’s Minister who every week read the serious incident notification report, I am a little bit disappointed in it for one reason. I mentioned some of the steps that the Government are taking, and yes, we always need to do more, but no Government can ever legislate for or produce procedure or guidance that will stop anyone who is not acting with empathy and kindness. In this case, we have seen some of the most horrific abuse. No Government can legislate to stop that, but we must do all in our power to identify it and prevent it. The CQC has an important role in that. My understanding is that, as soon as a whistleblower brought the matter to its attention, it investigated. We then understand that there was the BBC investigation. Of course, we will look at how the CQC responded and hold it to account.
What was the earliest date on which a whistleblower or member of a family contacted either the Department or the CQC? With respect to what the Minister said about the CQC, given that we have repeatedly seen such degrading behaviour at Winterbourne View and other places, what confidence does he have that it can assure the public that care is being given at the quality that is required?
On the hon. Member’s first question, I am a little cautious only because I am not the responsible Minister, but my understanding—I have not heard this at first hand—is that the first whistleblower complaint was made around Easter. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, will write to him on the specifics about the point at which the CQC was first notified.
Is this in any way acceptable? The answer is no. Do we therefore need to look at processes and how the CQC investigated, how it acts and its ability to identify? Yes, of course we do. But, in the same way, going back to my time as Children and Families Minister, I know that when people act in a way in which they know they should not, they deliberately hide that from the authorities and investigative bodies. So we do need to cut the CQC a little bit of slack, because this is often not in plain sight. Where it is, it is easier to identify. However, the hon. Member is right that where there is a whistleblower complaint, we must act, and we must act swiftly.
We hear far too often of staff being completely overstretched, with far too many vacancies in mental health services. That was cited as one of the factors in the Edenfield scandal, but it is all too common. The Government were happy to clap for key worker staff, but they refuse to treat them with dignity and respect. Labour has pledged to invest in the NHS mental health workforce. We will recruit 8,500 extra staff. Why will the Minister not make the same commitment?
We are absolutely fully committed to attracting, training and recruiting the mental health workforce of the future. Through our plans set out in “Implementing the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health” and “Stepping Forward to 2020/21: the mental health workforce plan for England”, we have expanded and diversified the types of roles available. The hon. Lady asks us for our plans. Our aim is an additional 27,000 mental health professionals in the workforce by 2023-24 to deliver the transformation of mental health services in England that we all want to see.
I thank the Minister for his answers, and I welcome him to his place. Having seen a very similar issue with the treatment of vulnerable patients in Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Northern Ireland, it would appear that how we balance the safety of staff with the treatment of patients needs an overhaul, and that must be UK-wide. Will the Minister make contact with the devolved Administrations, in particular the Northern Ireland Assembly, to ensure that lessons learned can be lessons shared for the safety of patients, but also for staff who have to deal with these things throughout the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is no monopoly on best practice and where it does exist, we have to ensure it is shared. Where we identify the very poorest practice, we must ensure the lessons are learnt not just in England, but across our United Kingdom.
Business of the House
May I start by associating myself with the many remembrances and tributes that have been paid to our dearly missed late colleague, Sir David Amess? Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to say that of the many organisations Sir David supported, perhaps the best known is the Music Man Project. Next week will see the first ever live performance of its new Christmas single, the first record it has ever produced. In its efforts, it is being supported by a little-known backing group called the Royal Marines Band. I hope all Members will buy a copy of the single and support this amazing cause.
The business for the week commencing 17 October will include:
Monday 17 October—Subject to the House agreeing a motion on today’s Order Paper, the House will sit from 2 pm in order for any Members who wish to take the oath or make the affirmation to do so. Oral questions will then take place in the usual way from 2.30 pm, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Energy Prices Bill.
Tuesday 18 October—Remaining stages of the Public Order Bill, followed by consideration of a motion relating to the Committee on Standards reports into the code of conduct and its recommendation relating to appeals and a procedural protocol in the House’s conduct system.
Wednesday 19 October—Opposition day (5th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 20 October—Debate on a motion on NHS dentistry, followed by a general debate on investing in the future of motor neurone disease. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 21 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 October includes:
Monday 24 October—Consideration of out-of-turn supplementary estimates relating to HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, followed by proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Adjustments) Bill, followed by consideration of a resolution relating to stamp duty land tax (reduction), followed by all stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (Reduction) Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, and I join her and Members across the House in their tributes to our lost friend, David Amess, who will be very much in our thoughts in the coming days.
I am glad that yesterday’s motion on proxy voting seems to have inspired the right hon. Lady to press ahead with other important matters of House business, such as the Standards Committee recommendations on the Members’ code of conduct, which I have been calling on the Government to introduce for months—and now here it is. But, as with everything from this Government, it is half-baked. It appears that they are planning to bring in only the bits on appeals. Why? Will she tell us which of the other recommendations to raise standards for MPs she does not like? Is it the one about banning MPs from doing paid consultancy work? We know the reputational damage that has caused to Parliament recently. Is it the one about increasing the transparency of Members’ interests? Or are they just planning to shelve these measures altogether? Have they simply given up on standards in public life?
Despite the hard work of civil servants, Members continue to raise with me the long delays and inadequate responses that they experience when making representations to the Home Office on our constituents’ behalf. The Department said that it aims to answer all queries by the end of February 2023 and to return to its 20-day service standard by March. That is not good enough. It is important that Ministers provide MPs with the timely, quality responses that we are entitled to and that our constituents deserve. I have written to the Leader of the House on that issue and I look forward to receiving a response addressing my concerns, including the impact on our staff workload and our constituents’ lives. Will she talk to the Home Secretary about the importance of providing responses to MPs?
It is a pleasure to be back at business questions after party conference season. I hope that the right hon. Lady was watching the Labour conference as closely as I was keeping an eye on hers. It looks like she had a great time, all things considered. It is amazing what can get you cheers and applause at a Tory fringe event these days. I think I saw the right hon. Lady saying, “Our policies are great but our comms are sh—shocking”; let us go with that to keep it parliamentary. On comms, I agree, but people across the country know that her Government’s policies are sh—shocking too; I might as well make it work twice. Government Ministers know that themselves or they would not keep U-turning on them. It has been one policy for the pre-record and another for the time it is broadcast.
If only the Government had listened to Labour, because just before the Chancellor’s mini-Budget turned into a major disaster, I asked the Leader of the House whether Members could receive economic briefing papers and an independent Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, and have a proper chance to scrutinise the Chancellor’s tax cuts for the richest 1%. Labour does not ask for those things just for the sake of it; we are His Majesty’s loyal Opposition and it is our job to hold the Government to account on behalf of the people we all serve. It is the role of the House to examine and scrutinise the work of Government.
As the House’s representative in Government, has the right hon. Lady made that point to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? Have the Government learned? Will they publish the OBR document as soon as they get it? Can the Leader of the House guarantee that her Government will never again seek to swerve scrutiny in such a catastrophic way that working people are left to pick up the Government’s very expensive bill?
“Funereal” and “unspeakably bleak”—just some of last night’s savage stream of consciousness flowing from the 1922 Committee of Tory Back Benchers. Oh dear, oh dear. The country’s economic outlook is almost as grim as the faces on the Government Benches during Prime Minister’s questions. The Leader of the House could not even muster a nod for her Prime Minister, and why would she? They have crashed the economy, sent mortgages and prices sky-high and damaged the UK’s reputation on the world stage, and we are all left paying the price. This is a Tory crisis made in Downing Street. The Government must end this “roll the dice” economics, reverse their Budget and abandon their failed trickle-down approach, because only Labour—the party of sound money—will get this country back on track and deliver a fresh start for the British people.
First, let me address the hon. Lady’s comments about my facial expressions: my resting face is that of a bulldog chewing a wasp, and people should not read too much into that.
Let me address the hon. Lady’s questions. The motion next week will focus on appeals, but I will also update the House about other measures. It is not that we are not doing them; it is just that we particularly want to press ahead with the appeals issue. A lot of my work has focused on ensuring that we can do something swiftly about the declarations issue. I have already spoken to the Chair of the Standards Committee about it, and we are bringing other things forward, including a motion on Tuesday’s Order Paper about the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady about questions, and particularly about the issues at the Home Office. I have already raised the matter with the Home Secretary; on receiving her letter, I summoned the permanent secretary to come and see me to discuss the matter in detail. I know that it is a concern for many Members of the House. We need to ensure that the Home Office can meet demand.
I am guilty as charged: I was playing to the crowd as I was addressing a room full of communications professionals. That was my profession in a former life, and they always get the blame for things, even when it is not their fault.
With regard to the other issues that the hon. Lady raises, our prime concern in this Government is to deliver for the people of this country. That means delivering the Prime Minister’s plan of modernising our economy, tackling people’s priorities on the cost of living, ensuring that they can get access to healthcare and supporting business. We are facing unprecedented challenges, particularly the war in Ukraine, which is not just a war against the people of Ukraine but an economic war against every hospital, every school, every business and every household in this country. We are determined to win that war.
With regard to our record—against a backdrop of having no money left when we came into office, I remind Opposition Members—we are the party that has held down fuel duty, has introduced a living wage and has created a modern welfare system that saw millions through the pandemic. Labour’s legacy systems would have collapsed. In this Parliament, we are investing £4 billion in skills. We have introduced T-levels. We have doubled free childcare. We introduced the triple lock. Millions of households will be getting direct payments to protect the most vulnerable this winter. We have modernised the universal credit taper rate and provided £1,400, on average, to help households to combat rising energy prices. We have made the largest cash investment in affordable housing for a decade. We introduced the Tenant Fees Act 2019. Those are all things that protect vulnerable people.
Our record is nearly 4 million people back in work since 2010, unemployment halved, 2 million more women in work and 1 million more disabled people in work. [Hon. Members: “More!”] I shall not indulge myself any longer, but that is the Conservatives’ record. It is Labour and those on the Opposition Benches who are anti-more money in your pocket, anti-better public services and anti-protecting the most vulnerable. It is the anti-growth coalition whose—[Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the fire burning for over five weeks at Kiveton Park industrial estate in Rother Valley. It is having an impact on local residents, creating fumes and choking smoke that is affecting their everyday life. The burning 100,000-tonne, 30-metre-high waste pile is being tackled by firefighters as we speak, but they are in desperate need of more heavy machinery to aid them. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Environment Agency to direct more plant machinery to the fire service in Kiveton Park as a matter of urgency? What does she advise regarding avenues of compensation for my residents, who have endured this hellish situation for so long?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this terrible situation. I understand that the Environment Agency has several pieces of machinery on site to assist, and that operators have been working on the site since Friday to break apart waste so that they can get water to the site of the fire. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to the several relevant Departments that could assist. I ask him to keep my office posted so we can ensure that he gets swift responses and that we are able to help in this appalling situation. I thank him for raising it.
Let me begin by associating myself with the comments of the Leader of the House about Sir David Amess.
We are struggling through particularly difficult days, and the Prime Minister’s desperate deflection from the topic of the economic crisis, and her Business Secretary’s refusal even to admit that the dramatic crash just after the mini-Budget had anything to do with it, fail to reassure. However, this was also a week in which Tory politicians clutched their pearls in horror to discover that many people in the UK—including our First Minister in Scotland—do not like the fact that they support a party whose increasingly chaotic mismanagement and cold-hearted political ideology are viewed with utter abhorrence.
It seems that this blindness to reality goes all the way to the top. In her conference speech, the Prime Minister said:
“I know what it is like to live somewhere that isn’t feeling the benefits of economic growth. I grew up in Paisley and in Leeds in the 80s and 90s. I have seen the boarded-up shops…I have seen families struggling to put food on the table.”
That was an odd reference, given that those were of course the days of the Government of her hero, the late Margaret Thatcher—although, as she seems intent on returning us to those days, perhaps not. After all, this Government are threatening “iron discipline” on spending and “difficult decisions” coming down the line. May we therefore have a debate entitled “Economic History: Lessons Learned”? I understand that the Chancellor studied that subject at Cambridge; I think it is about time he had a refresher.
This week sees the start of the independence referendum Supreme Court case. I note that back in June 2014, before the last independence referendum, the Scotland Office issued a research and analysis sheet on the Scots’ personal finance, which stated:
“As part of the UK, our savings are protected by UK-wide institutions and the costs of the essentials you spend money on—like energy and mortgage bills—are kept lower and more stable than they would otherwise be.”
Just how far removed that is from where we find ourselves today would almost be funny were it not so frightening for our constituents. May we have a debate examining the promises—the vows, if you like—made to the Scottish people at the time of the last referendum which have let them down so badly, to ensure that they will not be misled again before the next one?
The hon. Lady has made an excellent suggestion for a debate. We could talk about the tax dividend that every Scottish household receives as a result of being part of the United Kingdom. We could talk about the various schemes that the UK Government have provided to support our people through the cost of living issues that we are facing—most recently, the enormous energy pricing package. We could also discuss the Scottish National party’s record on drugs, on health, on education, even perhaps on bin collection; and finally, we could discuss SNP Members’ total lack of self-awareness when it comes to their own tragic record.
Today the BBC journalists Michael Keohan and Colin Campbell released a shocking report on the channel crossings. It showed people smugglers selling their wares brazenly in the migrant camps and many children living in unsafe and dangerous conditions, as well as—this is breathtaking—a free French public bus service that migrants can use to travel directly from the camps to the Dunkirk departure beaches. Will my right hon. Friend allow a statement on the issue of tackling the small boat crossings and the Government’s response in their work with France?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this appalling matter. I have not seen the programme myself, but I have heard reports of it and I know that the Home Secretary will want to examine its findings. This is not just about border security in the UK; it is about the treatment of very vulnerable individuals, and also about the facilitation of crime. I am sure that the Home Secretary will want to look at this, and I will draw it, and my hon. Friend’s comments, to her attention.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement, and for announcing the Backbench Business debates for next Thursday, 20 October. If we are given the time, we have provisional offers on the stocks, for the following Thursday, of debates on a national food strategy and food security and on an independent review of children’s social care.
Quite a number of businesses in a range of sectors in my constituency, and also, interestingly, from further afield, have asked me whether we can extract from the Government urgently needed information about exactly what help with energy bills will be available to them and when, as current deals come to an end or have already ended and they face potential rises of 600% or 700%, with no certainty about how that is to be sorted out. May we have an urgent statement to reassure businesses that wish to survive in order to grow now and into the future?
Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House to join me in celebrating Colleges Week? We will be celebrating the work of colleges across the country for the whole of next week.
Yes, I will join the hon. Gentleman in that, and I will be taking part in events next week to help all who do such an incredible job for people of all ages. I thank him for raising that and for bearing with me to make sure his Committee gets time, given the unusual start to this parliamentary term.
I will raise with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I know that many of the schemes the Government are bringing forward to assist businesses are very complicated, and the Secretary of State is doing a good job of explaining how they work. He is always open to holding sessions with Members of Parliament to talk them through that, as well as coming to this House to update Members.
During the summer recess, I toured most Departments to discuss with civil servants why there is a failure—an abysmal failure, in some cases—by some Departments to respond to Members’ parliamentary questions and correspondence. We also discussed the failure of some Departments to attend Select Committee meetings, and the leaking of information to the media before it is announced to Parliament.
I was ably assisted by the excellent staff in the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, but I particularly thank Katie Hayman-Joyce, who had to listen to the same speech at least 15 times—[Hon. Members: “What about us?”] You are paid to listen to me. Will the Leader of the House tell me whether the report that was going to be prepared and issued to every Department reminding them of best practice is still going to be issued, and if so, when?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, because it affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to him. I had the benefit of his wisdom for only a few weeks, but he was of huge service to former Leaders of the House. The work that he did over the summer, on behalf of Members of this House, with every single Department to identify why they are not delivering what we need was invaluable, and it will not be wasted. We will be bringing that forward and he will get full credit for it, because it is not something that I have done. I once again thank him for everything that he has helped to make happen, particularly during the very sad events of our loss of Her late Majesty the Queen.
It was pleasing to hear the Prime Minister commit to ending section 21 notices, but when can we expect that to come fully into action? One of my constituents emailed me this morning. She has just been served with a section 21, meaning that her young family will go through the pain of being evicted from their property two weeks before Christmas, and she has a four-month-old baby. The family wanted a two-year lease so they could have security and raise their family. Will the Leader of the House urgently find time for us to discuss the issue and make sure the Bill is brought forward in this parliamentary session?
I am sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituency case, and I hope that in raising it on the Floor of the House, she will help to galvanise local services and support for that young family. I will raise with the relevant Department the issues she mentions, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will want these measures to be brought forward swiftly.
Now then, I thought things were bad in Ashfield when I was told by residents that one of the district councillors had gone to live in Wales, over 100 miles away, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) has outdone me. He tells me that one of his lazy Labour councillors has been signed off sick until the next district council elections and has also emigrated to Australia. Local people need local representation, so does the Leader of the House agree that district councillors should not live “Home and Away”? Their constituents expect them to be good “Neighbours”, because everybody needs good neighbours.
I thank my hon. Friend for the amusing but serious point that he raises. It is very important that councillors, in particular those drawing a salary and expenses for their work, are there with their communities—although, with my experience of living in a Labour-controlled council area, I often understand why people would want to move away.
The Climate Change Committee has said that before the Government lift the moratorium on fracking, they must conduct
“an in-depth independent review of the evidence”
of its climate impact. When will the Government do that review, and will it be followed by a statement in this House?
I am sure that the Department will update the House on developments with regard to our energy policy and fracking. Our policy is based on evidence, and several reassurances have been given by the Prime Minister and Departments that fracking will not proceed without local consent.
I join you, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to my two good friends, David and James, whom we lost a year ago.
May we have a debate on the way that local health authorities sometimes pull the wool over the eyes of Ministers and perhaps even mislead them in their letters? On 6 September, I got a letter thanking me for supporting a brand-new 18-storey tower block hospital in the middle of Watford. I have spent 20 years opposing that, so I was chewing a wasp. May we have a debate on how we can have honesty from Department of Health and Social Care officials and from trusts, so that Ministers can inform us in this House of the facts and not what the Department wants us to hear?
My right hon. Friend raises a serious point that I will raise on his behalf with both the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care. May I also associate myself with the remarks that he made about our late colleague James Brokenshire?
Numerous residents have contacted me this week about fireworks being set off at all hours of the night. As we come closer to bonfire night, will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on antisocial behaviour and the use of fireworks, so that we can consider what we can do to strengthen legislation?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the topic. I think it would make for a timely debate, and she will know how to go about securing one. There is already a comprehensive regulatory framework in place for fireworks, and we are determined to tackle all forms of antisocial behaviour, including fireworks being used as weapons. I will raise her concerns with my colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Office.
Will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House next week and make a statement about the appalling ecological disaster that has blighted the east coast north and south of the Tees bay, with massive numbers of dead crustaceans washed up on our beaches? DEFRA says that it is naturally occurring algal bloom, but there is not a scientist or marine biologist worth their sea salt who buys any of that. We need an independent analysis and report that our communities can rely on. While she is at it, will she persuade the Tory Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, to stop pumping out false and misleading information about the quantity and content of capital industrial dredgings from the River Tees being dumped at sea?