My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) brings to these debates a particular, specialist knowledge. He recognises, from a military background, the importance of bringing development, diplomacy and security together in many of the most challenging parts of the world. He also rightly made the point that

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we need to get much better and smarter at preventing humanitarian crises in the first place, rather than responding to them when the situation has deteriorated.

We must acknowledge the tremendous work that my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has done over the years to draw attention to the disgraceful human rights abuses taking place in Zimbabwe. She has often been a lone voice when raising those concerns in the House. I was delighted to hear her praise the work of DFID in Zimbabwe; it has made a real difference there, in incredibly difficult circumstances. I should also like to pay tribute to Dave Fish, the head of the DFID office in Zimbabwe, who is due to resign in the next few weeks—

Mr Andrew Mitchell: Retire, not resign.

Mr Lewis: I meant to say retire—although, knowing Dave Fish, now that we have a Tory Government, he might be about to resign. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, that was not a serious suggestion. He has served both Governments with great distinction, as I think the Secretary of State would acknowledge. He has been one of the wisest voices and has a great understanding of the many political dilemmas in Africa. So, seriously, I think that Members on both sides of the House would like to pay tribute to him.

Mr McCann: I should like to ask the whole House to pay tribute to Dave Fish. He was my first boss in the Overseas Development Administration, now DFID, in East Kilbride. He has done marvellous work in every single job he has been given by the Government, irrespective of which political party has been in power, and it is important that we recognise his contribution to international development across the globe.

Mr Lewis: I agree entirely. Dave Fish embodies the best of the British civil service, and it is important to place that on the record here this evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) was absolutely right to point out the dangers of the austerity programme being pursued by this Government and others. It is clear that, economically, it has been a failure, and what we desperately need in this country and across Europe is a set of serious policies for jobs and growth.

My hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) raised the question of Israel/Palestine. There is absolutely no doubt that in that part of the middle east we urgently need security and normalisation for the state of Israel, and dignity and statehood for the Palestinians. A lack of progress on the two-state solution is creating instability in the middle east as a whole, and we need rapid political progress.

I shall turn now specifically to development. Rooted in my party’s DNA is a commitment to social justice, not only in our country but across the world. For Labour, ensuring that the United Kingdom plays a leading role in aid and development is not political positioning or the detoxification of our brand; it is the application of our core values. I am immensely proud of our legacy. Through the political leadership of Tony Blair

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and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), we led and changed the world. Labour’s international leadership achieved great results by cancelling debt, increasing aid, improving trading opportunities, leading on climate change, creating DFID as a Cabinet-level Department and championing the millennium development goals.

In these difficult, austere times, we—and enlightened right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—recognise our duty to make the case to the British people that we should continue to honour our commitments to the world’s poorest. We should do so because levels of poverty and inequality remain an affront to humanity, but also because it is in our national interest. Poverty is frequently the breeding ground for the terrorists who threaten our national security, and yesterday’s poor nations are our trading partners of today and tomorrow.

The idea that spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid is excessive simply does not stand up to scrutiny, even in the context of difficult times and difficult choices. There are those who argue that aid does not reach the people who really need it and that it is invariably misused by corrupt agencies or Governments. That is a sweeping generalisation and it is not supported by the facts. There is of course a need to focus on global aid effectiveness and transparency. That formed a central part of the agreement at the 2008 Accra conference, which was brokered by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. He asked me to include that point in my speech.

Aid has made, and does make, a tremendous difference. The UK’s support to developing counties under the Labour Government was life changing. Over 10 years, we enabled the distribution of 70 million bed nets, provided more than 1.4 million people with antiretroviral therapy in Africa through bilateral aid, assisted more than 12 million people through food security programmes, trained 165,000 teachers and provided loans for 450,000 entrepreneurs in Helmand and ensured that 19,000 women could get a proper education in Pakistan.

I have made it clear that we will support the Government when they do the right thing. If they honour Labour’s commitment to achieve 0.7% by 2013, we will support them. I do not doubt the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to development. However, when the Government are wrong or break their promises, we will not hesitate to hold them to account.

The Government’s failure to include the 0.7% aid commitment in legislation in the first Queen’s Speech breached a clear Tory manifesto commitment and a key element of the coalition agreement. Their failure to include it in this second Queen’s Speech is not only a broken promise, but represents something far more significant—a Prime Minister weakened by the omnishambles of recent months with no authority to change his party and a Chancellor pandering to the right, always with an eye to the succession. Development policy should not be used as a dividing line for internal ideological battles in the Tory party; it is too important for that. Will the Secretary of State now confirm when the Government will bring forward the legislation and whether there will be full Government support and co-operation for any private Member’s Bill that seeks to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in law?

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Alec Shelbrooke: I would like to emphasise that the hon. Gentleman seems to be under some illusion, probably based on stuff he has read in the media or on certain internet sites, that the Conservative party is not committed to 0.7%. He listened to my speech earlier and I hope he is not going down the road of saying that we are not committed to it, which is deeply offensive to many Conservative Back Benchers.

Mr Lewis: I read in the hon. Gentleman’s manifesto and I read in the coalition agreement that 0.7% would be enshrined in legislation in the first Session of Parliament. We are now at the beginning of the second, yet there is no intention to do so. That is why people have doubts.

I am concerned about other aspects of the Government’s policy direction. The Secretary of State recently provoked controversy by linking aid to India with a defence contract—a breach of his commitment to maintain our policy of de-linking aid from specific trade deals. Will he confirm in his response that de-linking remains Government policy? He is demanding an ideologically driven rapid expansion of DFID’s private sector spend, to which I have no objection in principle, but this raises serious concerns about a lack of focus on ethics and responsibility, and fundamental questions about the Department’s capacity to ensure the spend is effective.

In government, we were very clear that both our taxpayers and poor people in developing countries have a right to see tangible results from UK aid spending, so I support the Secretary of State when he places an emphasis on results. Meaningful results, however, are often about long-term sustainable change, not simple quick fixes or easy-to-measure outcomes. It would be an abdication of responsibility if support for state building, the empowerment of women and civil society were sacrificed for easier headlines.

I am concerned that many Government objectives require DFID to work in partnership with other Government Departments. On Rio+20 and private sector/tax transparency issues, I am not convinced that this is happening or that DFID is playing a leading role across Whitehall.

Turning to the future, I welcome the Prime Minister’s appointment by the UN Secretary-General to co-chair the high-level group considering the future millennium development goals framework post 2015. It is good that, after a golden decade of UK global leadership on development, the UK has a further opportunity to help shape the direction of future policy. My test for the Prime Minister is whether he understands that development is about social justice and human rights, not charity, and that an ideological approach that espouses “private good”, “public and NGO bad”, would be a missed opportunity.

A new global covenant for development must recognise that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Arab spring and the new concentration of poverty in middle-income countries, the world has changed. A new covenant must be developed on an equal basis by developing, developed and middle-income countries—not by a settlement imposed by developed on developing countries. It must seek to address the big global challenges of fair trade, sustainable growth, climate change, inequality, social protection, universal human rights and responsible capitalism. Instead of global targets, it may be more appropriate to have a matrix of indicators that enables every country to set its own targets.

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As we face these big questions, I hope DFID will continue to be a thought leader and policy innovator, not simply an aid agency. It is one of the main reasons why, when we left office, DFID was regarded as the world’s leading state development agency—a source of great national pride. The complex challenges of today’s world require defence, diplomacy and development to be deployed in a strategic and integrated way. Britain has a distinct and crucial role to play, working with allies old and new, to help build a stable, fairer world. The Government must step up to the plate and ensure that their antagonism to the EU does not lead to isolation in Europe and marginalisation in the world. That would be a betrayal of Britain’s national interest.

9.44 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): It is 20 years since I seconded the Loyal Address, standing where my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is currently sitting. It was the most frightening thing I have ever done. I shall begin today by echoing the Prime Minister’s words at the start of our debate: he began his speech in response to the Loyal Address by making it clear that over the past year Britain has fed more than 2.5 million people facing famine and starvation, vaccinated 1.3 million children against measles in the horn of Africa, and kept livestock alive for 150,000 of the poorest people in that area through vaccination and fodder. Those points were well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. I shall also start by echoing the words of the Foreign Secretary in thanking the men and women of our brilliant armed forces and the diplomatic service, as well as the DFID and humanitarian workers, my own officials and, of course, Dave Fish, who has been much celebrated during the course of this debate.

The Government are clear about Britain’s promise to allocate 0.7% of our national income to development, as confirmed in the Gracious Speech. That is a promise not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world. At a time when people here in the United Kingdom are feeling the pinch and we are grappling with the economic difficulties imposed on us as the servants of the hard-pressed taxpayer, we also give a commitment to wrest full value from every penny we spend—a point eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). We are doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do, but also because it is hugely in our own national interest, contributing to our security and stability and to our future prosperity, and helping to ensure that in future there are more South Koreas and fewer North Koreas. This is truly aid for Britain, as well as aid from Britain.

Over the course of this Parliament, we are on track to deliver extraordinary transformational change, putting some 11 million children into school at 2.5% of the cost of educating a British child, vaccinating a child every two seconds, and saving the life of a child every two minutes from diseases none of our own children die from. For every citizen of the United Kingdom, we will provide clean water or sanitation for someone in the poor world who does not currently have that, and we will be able to save the lives of 50,000 mothers in childbirth—my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) made that point, about what is a very important topic.

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We are also championing the enablers of development, supporting free and fair elections in at least 13 countries, working to promote openness and improvements in financial management, building up taxation systems in 22 countries, ensuring that 18 million women have access to financial services, ensuring that 6 million people who do not currently have property rights gain them, and helping 10 million women access justice through the courts, the police and legal assistance. These are just a few examples of what we are doing on behalf of Britain, and what our taxpayers in the UK will achieve.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): On promoting transparency and democracy, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the deteriorating political situation in Bangladesh, which is one of the largest recipients of aid, and specifically of the disappearance of Mr Elias Ali, the former Member of Parliament for Bishwanath in Sylhet area. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with the Foreign Office to ensure that DFID and the FCO work together to promote democracy and the safe return of Mr Elias Ali?

Mr Mitchell: I had an opportunity to make those points during a recent visit to Bangladesh, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been directly pursuing the case.

On the results that we will achieve with taxpayer funding, it is interesting to reflect on what the polling shows in Britain. When people are asked how much public expenditure goes on international development, they believe it to be 17.9%. When they are asked what they think the right level of public expenditure on international development should be, they give a figure of 7.9%. What is the actual figure? It is 1.1%, which means that we are achieving these transformational results with one seventeenth of the funding that the public think we are spending and with one seventh of the funding they believe we should be spending. All of us have constituents who would be interested in understanding and hearing those figures.

Mr McCann: If the figures are so low, why is the Secretary of State not legislating for 0.7%?

Mr Mitchell: I will deal directly with that in a moment. The point I seek to make is that we have made changes through the bilateral aid review, which determined that bilateral aid to 16 of the countries supported by Labour under the programme should be wound up, and through the multilateral aid reviews, where we found that 10% of the multilateral agencies that Britain was funding were not delivering value for money. We have made these tough decisions and we have, therefore, been able to refocus the programme and make it far more effective.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald said, we have made sure that girls and women are at the heart of British development policy; we have set up the independent evaluation of British aid, so that the public can judge for themselves what we are achieving; we have emphasised the building blocks of wealth creation—trade, a vibrant private sector, property rights and a low-carbon climate-resilient economy; we

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have completely overhauled CDC; and we sold our remaining 40% share in Actis to rectify the shameful deal done by the previous Government, from which the British taxpayer has not seen a single penny.

DFID now plays a full part in the National Security Council and has brought much greater focus to fragile and conflict-affected areas; we have ensured that the British public have a say in how part of the aid budget is spent; and our new UK aid match funding scheme has already made commitments that will directly benefit more than 2.7 million people in some of the world’s poorest countries—we have provided match funding for Sightsavers, Sport Relief, WaterAid and Save the Children.

We have also introduced a wholly new system of support for Britain’s brilliant international charities, which means that we will be able to help smaller non-governmental organisations to reach more people by launching fresh rounds of the global poverty action fund, which in its first year supported 56 charities and organisations that will help nearly 6 million people.

Over the course of this Session, we will host a major global summit this summer, with Melinda Gates, which will bring a renewed international emphasis and much-needed action on family planning. The aim will be to halve the number of women in the poorest parts of the world who want access to contraception but cannot get it.

The Prime Minister has been asked by the United Nations Secretary-General to co-chair, along with the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, the high-level panel that will consider what framework might succeed the millennium development goals in 2015. This will be a major issue for the international community over the coming years, and the UK will ensure that it helps to steer an open and consultative process, on which I look forward to engaging with colleagues.

We will continue to work with the rest of Whitehall and the international community to tackle the urgent and long-term issues in Somalia. We are championing the case for more effective resilience and humanitarian reform, especially in the light of the recent crisis in the horn of Africa, about which many colleagues have spoken.

Alec Shelbrooke: My right hon. Friend has outlined the list of achievements by the Government under his stewardship of the Department. Does he take the same umbrage as I do at the suggestion that this is all just a detoxification? This actually is something we believe in, it is a moral obligation and we find it deeply offensive to be told that it is just a detoxification.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend, in his eloquent contribution, brings me directly to the issue of the legislation. Many hon. Members have raised the question of the legislation—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) would stop mumbling from a sedentary position and trying to put me off, he will hear the answer to the question that his colleagues have been asking in respect of the legislation. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I wish that it were just mumbling. It is very much more vocal than mumbling: it is too noisy, it is excessive and it should desist. Let us hear the Secretary of State.

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Mr Mitchell: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Many Members have raised the question of the legislation, so let me confirm again today that the Bill is ready and will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. As the Queen set out in her speech, next year the Government will meet our historic aid promise for the first time ever. Our plans are set out in black and white, and the Prime Minister and I have made it clear that the Bill is ready and will proceed. In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty set out clearly the commitment to 0.7% and the Chancellor has confirmed in his Budget that that will take place. Next year, historically, this Conservative-led coalition Government will reach the commitment that we have all made.

I wish to respond to some of the specific points that were made. Let me start with the contribution by the shadow Foreign Secretary who, as one of my predecessors, deserves special treatment. He said that he agreed with much of what the Government were doing, specifically on the subject of Syria. In addition, he tried to make the case that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was not a strong supporter and user of the multilateral system to pursue Britain’s foreign policy objectives, but that simply will not fly. I mention just four things: the UN work on Syria that has largely been led by my right hon. Friend; the Somalia conference in London; the work as co-chair of the Friends of Yemen; and the work in the World Trade Organisation that Britain has tried to assist with, which gets widespread support from hon. Members in all parts of the House. Those are all areas where Britain is clearly a leader in the multilateral system.

The shadow Foreign Secretary asked about Government policy on Ministers visiting Ukraine during Euro 2012 and the case of Yulia Tymoshenko. This is a sensitive issue and we need to balance the need to keep politics away from sport with our concerns about the treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition politicians. We are keeping potential attendance by the UK under review while we assess how the Ukrainian authorities are responding to our concerns.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about improving relations with Pakistan. He will know that the Prime Minister has just hosted a very successful visit by Prime Minister Gilani to London. We are increasing co-operation on security and defence and we will continue to drive forward our development relationship over the course of this Parliament. Pakistan will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, recipients of British aid in the world, which will include getting 4 million children into school. I can think of no better way to blunt the fanatic recruiters’ appeal than educating so many children. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the outcomes of the Chicago summit. It is positive that NATO has

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extended an invitation to President Zardari to attend the summit. We want Pakistan to play a full role in helping to achieve lasting peace and security in Afghanistan and we hope that it will attend the summit and engage fully in the process.

There have been a number of very important and useful speeches. I am thinking in particular of the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), who dwelt on the fact that we have been much more targeted in how we have used British aid. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) spoke about the importance of tackling the situation in the middle east, as did the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), who had, I think, been on a visit with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and spoke with much passion and conviction on the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) spoke with characteristic robustness about Europe and, having returned from a full day in Brussels this morning, I listened with great attention and more sympathy than I might otherwise have had.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) is sadly not in his place. He said that he thought that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had been closing embassies. I have secured the record and the Foreign Office plans to open up to 19 new posts, whereas under the previous Labour Government some 45 posts were closed.

I apologise to those to whom I am not able to respond. I say to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that under this Government funding for the Commonwealth has increased from the 33% figure we inherited from the Labour party to 55% of the budget. The Commonwealth is a big and important priority for the coalition Government. Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) for her comments about the Government’s funding for St Helena airport. I know she was a strong supporter of that project in—

Mr Speaker: Order.

10 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.

Delegated Legislation (committees)


That the Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I., 2012, No. 742), dated 5 March 2012, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee.—(Mr Vara.)

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Lowestoft Train Station

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Vara.)

10 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak about what is an important issue for the Waveney constituency: the opportunity and challenge of redeveloping Lowestoft railway station. Lowestoft Central, the most easterly railway station in Britain, was built in its existing form in 1855. At that time and over much of the proceeding century it was an impressive building, very much at the heart of the town, close to the main shopping area and with sidings running down into the port, the fish market, the timber works and the coach works. Nearby was a thriving holiday resort comprising beaches, two piers, a promenade and assorted hotels and guest houses. Today, the building is unfortunately a very pale shadow of its former self. Its impressive roof was allowed to fall into disrepair and was removed in 1992. The walls remain with the iconic British Rail Lowestoft Central sign on the eastern facade but the surrounds are now untidy, in places strewn with litter, and give a very poor first impression of the town to those arriving by train.

There is now a compelling case for redeveloping Lowestoft Central station, to return it to a good state of repair and to make it a focal point for the regeneration of Lowestoft. Seaside towns such as Lowestoft, which are invariably isolated physically and at the end of the line, are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to attracting new business. This drawback must be addressed if we are truly to rebalance the UK’s economy and realise the full potential of the country’s maritime industries in the energy, tourism and trade sectors. To achieve this we need good infrastructure, the provision of which we have not done particularly well on in Britain in recent years. In many respects that has bypassed East Anglia altogether until recently. Tonight I am concentrating on the railways, but road links and broadband are also important and if I am successful in subsequent ballots, I shall return to them in future debates.

Let me take a few minutes to outline the compelling case for upgrading Lowestoft Central. First, the station occupies a unique location at the heart of Lowestoft. It is strategically placed close to many of the businesses that have such a vital role to play in the town’s future. In the past, there have been plans to move the station inland to the west to open up further retail development opportunities, but that is not a course I wish to pursue. Such a project is not economically viable and in any case the station is in the right location; the challenge we face is to redevelop it on its existing site.

The Mary Portas review highlighted the challenges that town centres have faced in recent years and Lowestoft has had its fair share of those. The main such challenges relate to accessibility and congestion. The seemingly never-ending repairs to the nearby bascule bridge and the sewer repairs in Station square in January and February this year brought traffic to a halt. At present the station is in many respects a blot on the landscape, and it is important that steps are taken to improve its appearance to make a visit to the town centre an experience that is both appealing and enticing. First impressions of a town are important so that people make those vital return visits.

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The station stands immediately opposite the former Tuttles department store, originally opened in 1888 and for many decades the town’s main shopping anchor tenant, the magnet that attracted people into Lowestoft. The Tuttles building has also fallen into disrepair in recent years, but a planning application has just been submitted for its redevelopment by Wetherspoons. This is welcome news and I believe it is now appropriate to focus attention on Lowestoft’s other landmark building, the railway station just across the road. As work gets under way, we hope, on the Tuttles building in the coming months, people are entitled to ask what plans there are for the station. It is important that we have the answers and can show that we are on the case.

Some years ago Wetherspoons obtained planning permission for redevelopment of part of the station. I do not know precisely why the scheme did not go ahead, but it is important that such opportunities are not missed again. As well as helping the town centre, a redeveloped railway station can play an important role in supporting two other industries that are important to Lowestoft’s and Waveney’s economic future.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I spoke to him earlier about the matter and congratulate him on bringing it to the Chamber. At the beginning of his contribution, he mentioned the tourism potential. Is it time for the Government, the regional assemblies and the railway companies to have a co-ordinated plan to lift railway stations such as Lowestoft and others elsewhere in the United Kingdom, to ensure that the tourism potential can be achieved? The economic boost that that would bring could benefit Lowestoft and many other places in the United Kingdom.

Peter Aldous: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. In an effort to rebalance the economy, the seaside and the seaside towns—the marine economy—is in many respects the hidden jewel of the British economy and we do not make enough of it. Therefore any initiatives that help us to realise the marine economy’s full potential are to be welcomed.

As well as helping the town centre, a redeveloped railway station can play an important part in supporting other industries that are important to Lowestoft’s future— tourism and energy. Lowestoft Central station is within walking distance of the town’s two beaches, which have just had their Blue Flag status reconfirmed. Inland are the Norfolk and Suffolk broads. The two railway lines serving Lowestoft, the East Suffolk line from Ipswich and the Wherry line from Norwich, are themselves tourist attractions passing through attractive countryside, along the Suffolk coast, through the water meadows and alongside the waterways of the broads. It is so important that the journey’s end should be in keeping with the rest of these special journeys.

The station is also close to two of the areas that form part of the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone, which came into operation on 1 April. The enterprise zone is focused on the energy sector, both oil and gas and offshore renewables. In the case of the latter, Lowestoft occupies an important strategic location as the port that is closest to some of the largest proposed offshore wind farms—SSE’s Galloper and Gabbard development and Scottish Power’s and Vattenfall’s East Anglian Array.

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Already wind farm developers and supply chain companies are looking either to increase their presence in the area or to move into the town. A smart station as part of a good rail service will play an important role in attracting them and jobs to the area. The station in its current form and appearance provides no help in attracting such inward investment.

Significant improvements to the local rail network are now taking place, and if they are to realise their full potential, it is important that we have stations that are attractive in appearance and provide customers with the facilities they need. Work is currently taking place on the Beccles loop on the East Suffolk line which will lead later this year to a resumption of an hourly service from Lowestoft to Ipswich; indeed, I understand that the construction of the loop was completed this past weekend. That work is welcome and the service should prove popular, but Lowestoft Central in its current state will be a let-down to many passengers, and I fear that at present it does not pass the test in terms of appearance, facilities and services on offer.

Other improvements have taken place as well, including the new passenger lift at Ipswich station, which will make it easier for travellers to connect with ongoing services to and from London Liverpool Street and further afield on Crossrail, which will improve access in and around London and to Heathrow, thereby helping to address the challenge of physical isolation that has held back the Lowestoft economy in recent years. In due course it is important that the through service from Lowestoft to Liverpool Street is resumed, but that is another debate for another day.

A further consideration to have in mind is that bus services in and around Lowestoft are being improved. Suffolk county council, with sustainable transport fund finance, is putting on a new circular bus route, serving the main employment areas and tourist destinations. The bus will stop at the station, as does the 601 service that runs down the coast to Kessingland and Southwold. To ensure that the investment in these services is successful the area around the station needs to be looked at closely to ensure that it is laid out in a way that enables the station to play a full role as a transport interchange and hub, not only for buses but also for taxis, and with the necessary facilities for the disabled, the elderly and the infirm.

The case for redeveloping Lowestoft station is a strong one that satisfies the most rigorous of cost-benefit analysis. I anticipate that the feedback I may get from the Minister, although I do not wish to prejudge his response, is that this is a good idea but there is no money available and I will need to take my place in that good old British institution of the queue. I shall now set out a suggested way forward and the support that I would like the Government to provide.

First, we need to consider future franchising arrangements. Abellio, which is now operating as Greater Anglia, took on a 29-month franchise in February of this year. That runs until July 2014. The new franchise needs to be in a form and of a nature that encourages both good management of the property and investment in it. A longer-term franchise would help secure this investment from the operator, who should also be given full control and responsibility for the management of the whole station and all its surrounds.

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As I mentioned earlier, much of the surrounds of Lowestoft station are at present untidy and strewn with litter. Part of the problem is that no one party, neither Network Rail nor Greater Anglia, is ultimately responsible for its upkeep; it is a shared liability. The result is that no one takes full responsibility. There is nowhere for the buck to stop. In essence, a full repairing lease needs to be granted to the rail operator so that it is fully responsible for keeping the station and its surrounds in both good repair and tidy in appearance. This is a role for the train company and not Network Rail, which should concentrate its efforts on its core activity of being responsible for the track and larger category A stations, such as King’s Cross and Birmingham New Street. Smaller stations, such as Lowestoft, should be the responsibility of train operators, which are better attuned to local needs and demands and will have more of an incentive to provide a smart station that will help attract customers.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I commend the hon. Gentleman on raising this matter. As he knows, I have a twin brother who lives in Lowestoft and has lived there for 25 years. He constantly makes the case for having a station that has connectivity to the rest of Britain, and it is a case that could be made throughout the United Kingdom, especially in our rural parts. We must have this connectivity to enliven our rural parts of Britain.

Peter Aldous: I wholeheartedly endorse the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. He is quite correct. As I said, railways have a key role to play in reinvigorating the parts that perhaps other means of transport do not get to.

Secondly, I would look to all interested parties to get together as a local delivery group to produce a blueprint of how the station should be redeveloped. I have in mind not only Greater Anglia and Network Rail, but Suffolk county council and Waveney district council. The latter has just appointed two project managers to help promote regeneration of this area of Lowestoft and they can take the lead in this work. The chamber of commerce, the new Anglia local enterprise partnership and the town centre partnership, which recently submitted the Portas pilot bid, should also be involved, and there should be an opportunity for the public to have their say. I would welcome the Minister’s support for such an initiative and confirmation that he will encourage Network Rail to participate fully and proactively.

Once it has been agreed how the station should be redeveloped, we need to think creatively about funding. The national stations improvement programme has had great success in completing projects, leveraging in private funding and delivering schemes that provide a real dividend for local communities. It has been such a success that all the funds for the period to 2014 have been spent. Given that success, I ask the Minister to lobby the Treasury for additional funds in the autumn statement and next year’s Budget for the continuation of the scheme.

We also need to consider other sources of funding, such as the coastal communities fund and the regional growth fund, and how best to leverage in private investment. A possible way forward with the latter might be the granting of sub-leases to restaurants, newsagents and other shops, for example, which as part of their financial

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commitment would pay rent at a lower level and agree to carry out capital improvements to a particular part of the property.

As a chartered surveyor, I was taught at a very early stage in my career that there are three factors that determine the success or failure of a redevelopment scheme: location, location and location. Lowestoft Central station occupies a unique location; it is the most easterly station in Britain, at the heart of the town’s main trading and retailing area and situated close to two of its most important industries—energy and tourism. I believe that the scheme could produce an attractive return, by bringing more people into Lowestoft, creating a feel-good factor and helping to provide and underpin jobs. I hope that the Minister and the Government will work with the people of Lowestoft to achieve that goal at the earliest possible opportunity.

10.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate and providing the House with an opportunity to discuss the necessary redevelopment of Lowestoft train station. The coalition Government understand that the quality of stations is an important issue for passengers and are committed to facilitating investment in station improvements through reforms to the way the railways are run.

To pick up directly on the first point my hon. Friend made, we are granting longer rail franchises in order to give train operators the incentive to invest in the improvements that passengers want, including better stations. I recognise that the present Greater Anglia franchise is only two years long, a point to which I will return later in my remarks. Further funding for major station improvements over the 2014-19 period—this relates to his third point—will be considered as part of the high-level output specification process, with an announcement expected in the summer. To give him some reassurance, I am always happy to lobby the Treasury for funds for transport schemes, although with more success on some occasions than on others. The Department is considering the need for future investment over the next five-year period, so his debate is well timed in that respect.

My hon. Friend also referred to the need for good management and investment in stations and suggested that full control of stations should be handed to train operators, coupled with a full repairing lease for the operator. I am happy to tell him that we are committed to giving train operators full responsibility for the management and operation of many stations. The Greater Anglia franchise, which started on 5 February 2012, is the first to implement that policy and does so for more than 160 stations. Until that franchise was let, stations were typically leased by a franchisee from Network Rail for the duration of the franchise, with responsibilities for maintenance, repair and renewals divided between Network Rail and the franchisee. He is correct that too often that resulted in inefficient working, because there were, in effect, two estate managers.

Although a franchisee could develop stations, they often have not done so in practice, because they have seen the period in which to realise benefits as too short

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and the compensation mechanism for securing value beyond the end of the franchise as not sufficiently attractive. Additionally, property interest is divided and the consent mechanisms are complex.

The new arrangements that have been agreed between the Department, Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Association of Train Operating Companies—their umbrella body—are designed to give franchisees full responsibility for station operation and management.

I recognise the hard work that my hon. Friend puts in on behalf of Lowestoft residents and, particularly, those who use rail services, and I know that he has campaigned strongly to help secure the funding necessary for the implementation of the Beccles loop, to which he referred, the implementation of which—later this year, I am advised—should greatly benefit Lowestoft by allowing additional services to operate. Indeed, I understand that he made an appearance on local television only today in support of the matter.

My hon. Friend has also been a strong supporter of Suffolk county council’s bid for funding under the local sustainable transport fund, and I am pleased to confirm that I was able to approve £5 million of funding that should bring significant benefits for Lowestoft residents, including the improved bus-rail interchange at the railway station to which he refers.

As my hon. Friend will know, I visited Lowestoft on 12 October last year, when I was able to see with my own eyes the facilities available to passengers at the station and, therefore, to understand fully the case for improvement. It does help in one’s ministerial capacity to visit the places about which one talks, because then one understands more fully the remarks that are made. I did appreciate the iconic British Rail sign, which is one of the unique ones around the country—I suppose it is unique, if we are going to use that adjective; but I can also confirm that the station was looking a little sorry, and indeed I might even go so far as to say that in its present state it leaves a lot to be desired. So I well understand why my hon. Friend has brought this subject to the House tonight.

The good news is that, in addition to the improvements that I have mentioned, under the current Greater Anglia franchise there is a commitment to provide 110 additional car parking spaces at the station. I understand that Suffolk county council is developing detailed plans for consultation with interested parties, such as Network Rail and Greater Anglia, and I encourage all parties to work together to secure the benefits anticipated by the funding bid.

Lowestoft is also a fully accessible station, which is not something that can be said for all our Victorian infrastructure throughout the country, and that is beneficial to all passengers but, having said that, I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s aspirations for an improvement in the general condition of the station.

This Government, as I have said, believe that train operators are best placed to understand the needs and aspirations of local rail users and stakeholders, and they have a clear line of accountability. Our policy of giving full maintenance responsibility at stations to a single entity—in this case, Greater Anglia—will remove the previous inefficiencies and duplications and allow the franchisee to focus on the efficient operation of the

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station and the development of maintenance and improvements plans that meet local needs. I certainly encourage the current Greater Anglia franchise holder to work closely with all stakeholders, including my hon. Friend, to secure in the short term the progress towards the improvements that local residents quite rightly wish to see delivered at Lowestoft station.

As my hon. Friend knows, the current Greater Anglia franchise has been let for a short period, and it is likely that if more significant investment is sought at the station, it might be delivered through the next franchise, which will be let for a long period. He and other key stakeholders will have an opportunity to respond to the Department’s consultation on the next franchise and to engage with potential bidders when they are announced in order to put the case for further investment at Lowestoft station. I know that he will continue to represent the interests of Lowestoft and the surrounding area in order to develop economic and environmental benefits for residents, visitors and tourists.

My hon. Friend referred also to the concept of a local delivery group, and I am very happy to say that we certainly support such initiatives, which are very much the coalition Government’s direction of travel in terms of devolving responsibility for the rail network to local areas. So we must not forget the good work that community rail partnerships have already done to bring new life to tired and sometimes derelict rail stations and, indeed, to branch lines up and down the country.

Through work with local people and volunteers, many of those stations have been transformed. Such schemes have included school artwork projects, rubbish clearance, which may be of particular interest to my hon. Friend, station gardens and a range of innovative, small-scale and cost-effective refurbishments that encourage passengers. Having seen what the community has done to transform

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Plumpton station, a small country station in my constituency, I very well understand the benefits that such community engagement brings to smaller stations and to branch lines.

About 4,000 volunteers work in community rail, contributing over 1.2 million hours of work and bringing around £27 million of extra value to the rail industry, with an estimated benefit-cost ratio of £4.60 benefit for every £1 spent. Recognising the value of community rail, the Department has formally designated over 30 community rail routes. Designation encourages good standards across the community rail industry. There are many examples of excellent community rail projects across the country. For example, as my hon. Friend will know, the Wherry line between Lowestoft and Norwich is a successful partnership promoting the railway and the surrounding area to develop economic and environmental benefits for residents, visitors and tourists. His idea of a local delivery group therefore builds on something that has already taken shape in the area. I certainly think that the idea of the local council, and indeed the wider community, working with the rail industry, be it Network Rail or the train company, is likely to be helpful and successful.

In summary, I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that the coalition Government are committed to improving and modernising stations across the network through a combination of substantial investment and reform of the way in which the railways are run. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to engage with the local train operator to secure the further improvements that he understandably seeks for Lowestoft station.

Question put and agreed to.

10.26 pm

House adjourned.