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House of Commons

Thursday 12 September 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

High Speed 2

1. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What the current budget is for High Speed 2. [900267]

5. Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): What the current budget is for High Speed 2. [900272]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The spending round of 2013 set a long-term budget for the delivery of HS2 of £42.6 billion. That is made up of £21.4 billion for phase 1 and £21.2 billion for phase 2. The budget includes significant contingency provision of £14.4 billion. That budget is being tightly monitored by the Government and we are confident that the railway will be delivered for less than that figure. I have set HS2 Ltd a “target price” for phase 1 of £17.1 billion.

Susan Elan Jones: France, Germany, Japan and many other countries have benefited hugely from their high-speed rail links, and many of us are fed up with a largely London-based commentariat that is seeking to stop a north-south high-speed rail link for this country, but does the Secretary of State agree that, if we are to build a better consensus, it is extremely important that the budget figures he referred to will be both monitored and met?

Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. We have a good record of delivering big projects on time. The Crossrail scheme, which is being built at the moment, involves more than £14 billion and is the largest construction project in Europe. It will greatly enhance transport in London; it is essential, but HS2 is essential for the rest of the country.

Mrs Siân C. James: The Secretary of State has outlined the significant budget of the HS2 project, but what assurances can the Government give me and the people of Swansea East that they will give full consideration to the proposals of the Howard Davies commission and the benefits of a future high-speed rail link between Cardiff and Heathrow airport?

Mr McLoughlin: I do not want to anticipate or prejudge what the Davies commission report will say. The commission is very important and its interim report is due by the end of the year. The hon. Lady makes a point about

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infrastructure and the rest of the railway network. It is essential that we carry on investing in rail services in other parts of the country and, over the next spending review, Network Rail plans to spend some £37.5 billion on the current railway network.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Secretary of State was forced this week to launch a so-called fightback with a piece of expensive and self-justifying research from KPMG on HS2, because he has lost control of the budget and of the arguments, including the need to travel at speeds in excess of 250 mph. It is about time that we replaced HS2 with a thoroughly researched and prepared integrated transport strategy for all regions, including Wales, and covering air, road, rail and communications links. When will he cancel that project and produce a decent overall strategy?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure I was forced to do anything, but I was asked by the Public Accounts Committee to do proper research and to back up the case for HS2. I dare say that if yesterday’s report had come out negative, all those people who are against HS2 would have been shouting it from the rooftops. Because it came out positive, they are opposed to it.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The KPMG report showed that every region of Britain will benefit from plans for HS2 to go as far as Leeds and Manchester, but Scotland and the north of England would benefit even more if the lines extended to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle. How are the Secretary of State’s discussions with the Scottish Government progressing in that regard?

Mr McLoughlin: I am prepared to have the meetings with the Scottish Government. I announced last October that we would be looking to take the line to Scotland. That work is ongoing.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State referred to funds to be invested by Network Rail in the classic lines. Will he give an assurance that, in addition, there will be sufficient funds to invest in new passenger and freight services on lines freed by the development of HS2?

Mr McLoughlin: Indeed. The hon. Lady who chairs the Transport Committee embarks on an important point. One key problem that any future Government will face is that of capacity on the network, as well as speed, and this line is also very much about capacity. If we made the improvement that some people suggest on the present line, it would lead to capacity increases of about 53% between London and Birmingham. HS2 will lead to a capacity increase of 143%. That is why it is so important to meet the objectives that we both have.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): My right hon. Friend says that HS2 is about capacity rather than just speed, so will he instruct HS2 to cut the speed so that the route can be more flexible and do less damage to dozens of communities along the route, including five in my constituency?

Mr McLoughlin: I have tried to say that the case for HS2 is not just about speed and that capacity is one of the main reasons for it. Although the reduction in

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journey time between London and Birmingham is not huge—it will be in the region of 30 minutes—for great cities in the north such as Manchester and Leeds the reduction will be very beneficial. There is not just one reason; there are many reasons for doing this project. Even if we took the line down to a lower speed limit, it would not reduce the cost by much—we would be talking about 90% of the present cost, rather than 100%.

14. [900283] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). Has the Secretary of State looked at an alternative integrated rail system, as opposed to high-speed rail? Is there a Treasury limit on spending for that project?

Mr McLoughlin: I have set out carefully the spending limit, and we have a put in place a reasonable contingency, based on internationally recognised figures. It is a big contingency and I hope, as the chief executive of Network Rail said a few weeks ago, that the project could come in under the budget that the Government have allowed.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The KPMG report this week revealed £15 billion of economic growth, mainly in the main conurbations of the north. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that not just those main conurbations but smaller towns and cities such as Chester will benefit from new and increased services because of increased capacity on the west coast main line?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this does add to the capacity and more services. Since I have been Secretary of State for Transport, I have noticed that my colleagues on both the Opposition and Government Benches always press for more and better services. If we are to adapt that and celebrate the success of railway travel, which in this country has gone from 750 million passenger journeys a year to 1.5 billion, with an increase doubling on inter-city lines, we must find that extra capacity.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): There is strong, cross-party agreement that a new north-south line is vital to tackle the serious and growing capacity constraints on our existing rail network. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this investment will not draw funding away from essential upgrades to the existing rail network such as the northern hub, electrification, and new inter-city trains? Does he agree it is imperative that the new north-south line remains on budget and on track?

Mr McLoughlin: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, and she has pointed out three important projects that will take place between 2014 and 2019: 880 miles of electrification; the new purchase of inter-city express programme trains for the east coast and great western lines; and the northern hub. Those important projects are planned for between 2014 and 2019, and refer to the £37 billion that I mentioned Network Rail is going to invest in the current railway system.


2. Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle potholes on UK roads. [900268]

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4. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle potholes on UK roads. [900271]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): The Department for Transport is providing more than £18 billion for highway maintenance for both the strategic and local road network between 2011 and 2021. That funding will help address the issue of potholes, which we know can cause problems for all highway users, including cyclists.

Sir Tony Baldry: Last year Oxfordshire county council repaired 5,662 potholes, and so far this year it has repaired 4,719, at a cost of about £5 million. However, the way we repair potholes has not changed much over the years, so may I ask my hon. Friend what research is being done to improve the way we repair roads for the 21st century?

Norman Baker: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I am happy to tell him that the Department has provided £6 million to the highways maintenance efficiency programme, which is looking at best practice, optimum techniques to keep costs down, and the materials that will be used. Two pothole reviews published in 2012 and 2013 take those matters forward, but getting best value is absolutely important.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The Secretary of State took his life into his hands in my constituency over the summer by getting on his bike, and saw at first hand the risks of the pothole crisis across north Yorkshire. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue of potholes, because for rural areas it is the No. 1 transport issue?

Norman Baker: I am happy to meet any hon. Member to discuss such matters. I am also grateful for the confirmation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has joined the rest of the ministerial team on a bike: we are very committed to cycling in the Department.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Cyclists and drivers in Wirral are infuriated by the quality of our roads and the number of potholes we have. The council has suffered ferocious cuts from the Government, so can the Minister tell me what conversations he has had with leaders of local authorities about how they can ensure that our roads are of a decent standard, given the Chancellor’s austerity for local government?

Norman Baker: With respect, the hon. Lady might be misinformed about the funding, because the Government will spend more in this five-year period than the previous Government did on highway maintenance, with a greater allocation of money from the Department for Transport than happened under Labour. There will be a significant increase in the period from 2015-16 through the next Parliament. Coupled with the highway maintenance efficiency programme I mentioned a moment ago, that gives local authorities both the money and the tools to do the job properly. I suggest that she directs her remarks to her local authority.

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London’s Transport Network

3. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What his plans are for future investment in London’s transport network. [900269]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): As the Chancellor announced at the spending review, the Government are providing more than £5.8 billion in capital grant and a further £3.8 billion of borrowing power between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to Transport for London, which will enable it to continue to invest in critical transport infrastructure, including Crossrail and the tube upgrade programme. This is in addition to more than £10 billion that has been provided to TfL over the current spending review period up to 2015.

Heidi Alexander: Can the Minister assure me that, in considering the case for Crossrail 2—which would link south-west London and north-east London—the Government will not forget that south-east London, the area I represent, barely makes it on to the tube map at the moment? Does he agree that the proposal to extend the Bakerloo line to Lewisham should form part of the strategic review of London’s future transport needs and how they can be met?

Stephen Hammond: As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are making £2 million available to TfL for the Crossrail 2 study to take place. Any proposal to extend the underground is primarily a matter for the Mayor and TfL. To date, the Mayor has made no representations that suggest that the Bakerloo line extension is a priority for him.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Last week, a security scare closed the Dartford crossing and led to six-hour tailbacks along the M25 for local residents. Will the Minister explore ways of mitigating such problems in the future and helping the residents of Dartford, who are sick to the back teeth of problems arising from the Dartford crossing?

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend is right about the significant repercussions for the residents of Dartford, but he will appreciate that security is our first priority. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already called for an in-depth report into the incident, the implications, and what can be done to mitigate such effects in the future.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) is right to highlight the fact that south-east London is not served by the underground system and therefore is heavily reliant on the rail system. The plan to develop a road crossing at Silvertown, next to the Blackwall tunnel, will not sufficiently provide the extra river crossings and access to docklands that south-east London needs. I stress the need for extra public transport options—including, if we build the Silvertown link, a docklands light railway crossing—that will reduce the capacity on the roads.

Stephen Hammond: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s case, and I accept the point about the Silvertown link—indeed, the Mayor has made a

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commitment to look at that. As I said to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), any proposal to extend the underground and the rail system in that part of London is primarily a decision for the Mayor.

East Coast Rail Services

6. Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): What his policy is on the privatisation of InterCity East Coast rail services; and if he will make a statement. [900274]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the Government’s programme for rail franchising in March. This included the intention to return the InterCity East Coast franchise to the private sector by February 2015, and this remains our policy.

Mr McKenzie: Why does the Minister continue to claim that the only way to get investment in the east coast main line is through privatisation, when he is well aware of the planned upgrade and the new generation of inter-city trains, both paid for by the taxpayer?

Mr Burns: Because, as I would hope the hon. Gentleman appreciates, the purpose of Directly Operated Railways is not to run a railway ad infinitum; it is a short-term measure when a problem arises with a franchise. He is absolutely right that as part of the record-breaking investment in our rail infrastructure we are investing in the east coast main line—as we are doing in the west coast main line and other lines— because that is the way forward. With the innovation and impetus of the private sector and a private sector franchisee, the maximum benefits can be ensured from state and Government investment.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Why have the Government reordered the franchising timetable, and what is the justification? The east coast main line timetable has been accelerated way out of order. What is the cost to the taxpayer?

Mr Burns: The reason for the change in the timetable is the unfortunate episode with the west coast main line—[Interruption.] I said “unfortunate”. Following the Brown inquiry, we redrew the franchising programmes and took his advice that the west coast main line and east coast main line franchises should not be done at the same time. That is why we are pressing ahead with putting the east coast main line franchise back into the private sector in February 2015.

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): The Minister knows that his decision to reorder the franchising timetable just to enable him dogmatically to flog off a service that is working well has required him to renegotiate extensions to other inter-city contracts. Can he confirm, therefore, as a result of his negotiating skills, how much money he is requiring Virgin Trains to pay to the Government next year?

Mr Burns: I do not think the hon. Lady fully appreciates the role of DOR, which is not to run a franchise ad infinitum but to do so as an emergency measure. We have made it plain, following the Brown inquiry and

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recommendations, that it is best for the private sector to run the railways, as was always intended under the legislation, and that is why we are pressing ahead.

Maria Eagle: I am disappointed that the Minister does not know what he has negotiated, but I can tell him that Virgin Trains is paying £94 million, which, according to the independent rail regulator, is a staggering £64 million less than it paid last year. As his own Department’s figures reveal that he could have ended above-inflation fare rises next year for a similar sum, is it not a disgrace that passengers face fare rises of up to 9%, adding to the cost of living crisis, as a direct result of his decision to pursue this costly and unnecessary privatisation?

Mr Burns: The hon. Lady forgets to mention that to take into account the economic situation and economic mess that we inherited from her Government, we have provided help to fare payers by reducing the average formula from RPI plus 3% to RPI plus 1%. She selectively chooses the figure of a 9% increase—an extreme increase—but that will arise in a very small number of instances, because the formula calculates an average increase. She also forgets to mention those fares that have gone down rather than up.

Transport Infrastructure (North-west England)

7. Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What his future plans are for transport infrastructure in north-west England; and if he will make a statement. [900275]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Since 2010 we have invested significantly in the north west, including the electrification of key rail links, the development of managed motorways and support for many local major schemes. Our rail investment strategy and this summer’s spending review include a commitment to HS2, the northern hub, additional managed motorways and a record £12 billion boost to local transport. I hope to be able to announce shortly the final approval of the Pennine Reach bus improvement scheme in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Graham Jones: Is the Minister aware of the real concern that delays to the Thameslink train contract will mean that the electric trains due to be switched for use in the north-west will not be available by the time electrification is completed in the region? Does he agree that it will be ridiculous to have electrified lines and no electric trains in the area?

Norman Baker: I am glad the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to rolling stock, because I can confirm that the improvements we are introducing and the steps we are taking will provide capacity for up to 700 more trains per day in the north of England. Of course, our plans are properly aligned, so that electrification will occur at the same time as the new rolling stock.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Very few of my constituents travel regularly to London, but many do travel daily by road to Manchester. What plans does the Minister therefore have to speed up their daily commute by car?

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Norman Baker: As I mentioned a moment ago, the Government is investing heavily across all modes in the north-west of England, which is one of the areas to benefit most from the Government’s investment in the forward period. That includes investment in the road network, but if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about a specific road, I will be very happy to discuss it with him.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): For maximum economic benefit, the high-speed link needs to go to Manchester airport, yet it is left out of the otherwise excellent KPMG report, which brings a serious dimension to this debate. When will it be included?

Norman Baker: We fully appreciate the importance of Manchester airport, which meets a very important regional need. The issue of HS2 and Manchester airport is under consideration, so the hon. Gentleman should not be unduly pessimistic about that.

High Speed 2 (East Midlands)

8. Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effect of High Speed 2 on economic growth in a) Chesterfield, b) Derbyshire and c) the east midlands. [900276]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): Yesterday, HS2 Ltd published a report by KPMG evaluating the potential impact of HS2 on productivity and business location. The report estimates that HS2 could generate productivity benefits to the Derby-Nottingham city region, which includes Chesterfield, of between £1.1 billion and £2.2 billion per year—equivalent to between a 2.2% and 4.3% increase in total local economic output within five years of opening.

Toby Perkins: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Many of us who recognise that there will be significant economic benefits to the Chesterfield and Derbyshire area, and who support the principle, remain concerned that the current planned route could have very negative impacts on projects such as the Chesterfield canal and the junction 29A enterprise zone. What reassurances can the Minister give to people who do not want the economic benefits of HS2 to undermine other existing economic projects in the region?

Mr Burns: We do not wish or expect there to be any undermining of other projects, but I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I hope he is reassured that the matter is out to consultation, so he and others will have a full opportunity to make their case before any final decision is taken.

15. [900284] Mr Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that one of the biggest but so far largely unrecognised benefits of constructing High Speed 2 is the enormous increase in capacity that it creates on existing lines, for the benefit of all regions?

Mr Burns: Yes, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that, because what is important and what is on offer is that the High Speed 2 project will continue, but not at the expense of full and continued investment

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in the conventional rail network. As he is probably aware, in the next control period Network Rail and the Government are spending £37.5 billion to ensure that we improve, enhance and add to the existing network, as well as having high-speed rail.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that this so-called HS2—if it ever appears—is going to criss-cross the M1 about four times? What is he going to do about that? And as for Derbyshire and economic benefit, is he aware that there is not a single stop in Derbyshire?

Mr Burns: On the narrow geographical issue, I accept that Toton is not in Derbyshire, but it is halfway between Nottingham and Derby, so considerable benefits will be brought to both those communities and the surrounding area. We appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman is making about the M1, but, as he will appreciate, that matter is also out to consultation, so he will have an opportunity to input into it. However, I hope he welcomes the fact that, as a result of the station at Toton, there will be significant economic benefits to the whole region, which no doubt will please him.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this vital project will free up capacity on the existing network to ensure that towns such as Shrewsbury and Blackpool will be able to have connections to the capital?

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He is anxious to have a direct service on the conventional rail network from Shrewsbury to London and I have considerable sympathy and support for that. That is one of the reasons that high-speed rail is so important: it is capacity, capacity, capacity, to echo a former Prime Minister on another subject. That is what will be achieved, which will help areas such as Shrewsbury.

Roads Spending Programme

9. George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): What plans he has to ensure that the roads spending programme supports a) the A47 and b) other routes of strategic regional and national economic importance. [900277]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): The development of route-based strategies by the Highways Agency will provide much smarter investment planning for the strategic road network. On 20 August, the Government announced that the Department would undertake a feasibility study on the A47 to identify ways to improve performance and support economic growth in East Anglia. I of course look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and the A47 on Monday.

George Freeman: I thank the Minister for his commitment to the roads budget and for his agreement to visit Norfolk next week; his visit is widely anticipated and welcomed. As he knows from the Adjournment debate that we have had, the dossier that he has seen and the business plan prepared by the A47 Alliance, the A47 is a key economic artery linking our offshore energy cluster, the research park and the midlands. Assuming we have

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a successful visit next week, what opportunity might there be to access some funding to begin the process in the next few years?

Stephen Hammond: The announced study will focus on the route-based solutions that will unlock the potential for local transport innovation and for economic and housing improvements. I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the Government’s investment, and I am sure that the visit next week will be successful.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister agree that improvements to A roads that are minor in cost terms can have considerable benefit strategically? In my constituency, the A509 bypass and the A45 dualling would help us enormously. Will he look at those projects?

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Government have had two tranches of pinch-point improvements for the national strategic road network, and have provided £170 million for local pinch-points as well. I would be delighted to meet him at some stage in the near future to discuss his schemes.

East Coast Main Line (Rolling Stock Procurement)

10. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): What progress his Department has made on procuring new rolling stock for the east coast main line. [900279]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): The Department is investing £2 billion in a contract to supply 227 vehicles from its InterCity Express programme to replace the class 125 fleet and 270 vehicles to replace the class 225 fleet on the east coast main line. It is working with Agility to conclude the financing of the deal.

Jason McCartney: On my journey to and from Yorkshire every week, I regularly see the peak-time overcrowding on the east coast main line. In fact, when I brought my daughters down to London in the last week of August, we had to sit on the floor on the journey down and back up to Yorkshire. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we can have investment in HS2 and also in the east coast main line and that it is not a question of either/or?

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He is absolutely right. I can categorically confirm, as I did to my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), that it is not a case of either/or: it is both. We will continue to invest record amounts—billions of pounds—in the conventional rail network and proceed to build HS2, because it is in the national interest.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is not the Minister aware that my experience as Chair of a Select Committee for 10 years was that the best way to have policy is to base it on evidence? The east coast is under the shadow of the plans to build HS2. Five independent reports have said not only that it is a waste of money but that it will suck power and wealth from the northern regions to London and the south.

Mr Burns: I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman, despite his 10 years as Chair of a Select Committee, when he was presumably assiduous about detail, has not read the KPMG report that was published yesterday, which categorically shows that the exact opposite is the

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case and that significant benefits are coming north of London. London gets some benefit but noticeably less than the northern parts of this country. That is why local authorities in the north support the project so much.

Isle of Wight Ferry Services

11. Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What assessment he has made of the (a) cost and (b) reduction in service of ferries between the Isle of Wight and the English mainland; and if he will make a statement. [900280]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): My hon. Friend will remember that I visited the Isle of Wight earlier this year, as did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We are of course aware of the fares for the ferry services and of the level and frequency of service provided by the island’s three ferry operators. There has been no formal assessment. This is a competitive market, and it is for the ferry operators to decide the level of fares and services based on market conditions.

Mr Turner: The island’s ferries provide lifeline services and the repeated cuts damage our quality of life. Wightlink has enormous debts, which are paid for out of the island’s economy. I plead with my hon. Friends to enter into dialogue to consider how public service obligations can be introduced so that we have the certainty to build our economy and create more jobs.

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend will remember that I met him and a delegation from the island earlier in the year. I promised then to meet Wightlink, and have done so. There are more than 200 sailings to and from the island each day, so there is no apparent market failure. I hear my hon. Friend’s plea to put public service obligations in place and we will continue to keep them under review, but at the moment there is no case to do so.

Topical Questions

T1. [900287] Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Since I was last at the Dispatch Box, my Department has announced £94 million in funding to boost cycling in eight cities and four national parks. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has today published a consultation on the long-term property compensation measures for phase 1 of HS2. The Government have always been clear that they intend to go further than the existing discretionary scheme in order to assist affected property owners. The consultation proposals that we are setting out today are designed to do just that.

I am also announcing today important changes to the discount scheme, which will help local people who use the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, following a persuasive campaign by my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). From March 2014, those registered on the schemes will be able to make unlimited trips over the crossing for just £20 a year. For the first time, we will include privately registered vans, offering a welcome boost to small businesses.

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Ian Lucas: The Wrexham-Bidston line, in one of the most successful industrial regions in the UK, north-east Wales and west Cheshire, is crucial to the development of the region’s economy. What comfort can the Secretary of State give to local businesses who have expressed the concern to me that HS2 will divert investment in any proposals in that region?

Mr McLoughlin: As we pointed out earlier in Question Time, we are making significant investment in the whole railway system. That will come sooner than HS2. We are spending £37.5 billion between 2014 and 2019. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also talked to me about the line my hon. Friend has just referred to, and I will be looking at how improvements can be made to that line as well.

T2. [900288] James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Pinch-point funding for our road network is very important. Ingleby Barwick in my constituency has significant traffic issues, especially where the A174 meets Thornaby road. Will the Secretary of State work with me to find a solution to make life a bit better for my constituents?

Mr McLoughlin: I certainly will work with my hon. Friend and meet to discuss this scheme with him. It was part of the applications made originally for the local pinch-point fund, but it did not fall in the first round of that. The scheme was very successful and over-subscribed, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are looking hard at ways in which we might go further, and I will be happy to talk to him about his particular scheme.

T6. [900293] Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Returning to the subject of HS2, will the Secretary of State confirm—we have been talking about the importance of integrating the line—that residents in Chesterfield who want to take advantage of the benefits of HS2 will not have to drive down to Toton to do so, but will have a link from Chesterfield railway station?

Mr McLoughlin: Although the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) rightly pointed out that Toton is in Nottinghamshire, probably even he could throw a brick from Derbyshire into Toton.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Further than you.

Mr McLoughlin: Possibly even further than me. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) knows, the line from Chesterfield goes through the Toton works, so one would imagine that there will be a good connection from Chesterfield and other stations to the new station we are planning at Toton.

T3. [900289] Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I wonder whether the Secretary of State is aware that the Hastings to Ashford rail line is the only unelectrified line on the south coast line. Will he join me in calling for the electrification of this line so that my constituents can look forward to more reliable and better link times to London?

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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): As my hon. Friend is aware, Network Rail is currently undertaking an electrification study, looking at all routes, including Hastings to Ashford, to identify potential candidates for electrification, which could be carried out in the next rail control period from 2019 to 2024. Any scheme would have to demonstrate a business case before being considered, but would then be given full consideration.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Three years on from the axing of Cycling England and its £60 million annual budget, this Tory-led Government promised £148 million for cycling. That has turned out to be an average of £38 million per year until 2016, with local authorities expected to find the rest. In comparison, £28 billion is planned to be spent on roads. Does the Minister really believe that this is the right proportion and that this Government really are the most pro-cycling ever?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): We are the most pro-cycling Government ever. If the hon. Lady does not believe that, she should look at some of the comments from the cycling groups, who have warmly welcomed the huge investment—the record investment—that has taken place under this Government. That is a real step change in cycling, and I would have thought that she welcomed it rather than criticise it.

T4. [900290] Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that northern commuters on the trans-Pennine routes are still in line to benefit from the promised 40 extra carriages, and will he continue to look into increasing capacity on those northern commuter routes?

Mr Burns: I am delighted to confirm that commuters on the trans-Pennine express are in line to benefit from increased capacity provided by the extra 40 carriages to be introduced on the Manchester to Scotland route and the reallocation of diesel trains. The new electric trains are scheduled to enter passenger service between December 2013 and May 2014. I have no doubt that this will bring benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituents and others along the line of route.

T7. [900294] Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Will the rail Minister look seriously and urgently at the situation at Finsbury Park station, which is jointly run by Transport for London, London Underground and Network Rail? There are welcome new platforms for the overground but there is no step-free access for the underground. The station is the busiest outside central London and it is dangerously overcrowded at many times. The Mayor is proposing changes from 2017. That is too late; we need them now.

Mr Burns: I will certainly look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman has said. I will consult the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), and Transport for London. I hope that we can deal with this as successfully as we did when the hon. Gentleman and I last had a meeting in the Department for Transport, when we resolved another issue extremely satisfactorily.

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T5. [900292] Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The £100 billion the Government have set aside for infrastructure projects is warmly to be welcomed. May I reiterate to my right hon. Friend the importance of the north-west relief road around Shrewsbury and the importance that we attach to this vital project for the town, which is bringing great economic benefits to the whole of Shropshire and mid-Wales?

Mr McLoughlin: Once my hon. Friend starts a campaign he never loses an opportunity to mention it. He raised this point with the Prime Minister and he has a meeting planned with me. We are spending £9 million on pinch points to tackle existing congestion around the road. I look forward to my meeting with him, where I am sure he will make his case persuasively.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): One in three blind or partially sighted people are spending about £30 a month on taxis because buses cannot accommodate them through the use of audiovisual equipment. What are the Government doing to change that?

Norman Baker: We give strong support to the bus industry through financial support directly to the operators, through the bus service operators grant, and through local authorities. Our reforms to the bus system through, for example, the BSOG reforms and the extra money provided for green buses are giving a welcome boost to the bus industry. That means that passenger numbers are roughly where they were at the end of the previous Government’s time in office.

T9. [900296] Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I recently met my constituent John Letch, owner of Car Contacts Ltd, which sells second-hand cars, many of which it imports from Northern Ireland. Mr Letch tells me that in recent months the company has experienced severe delays in the re-registering of cars by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, delaying their onward sale and putting the company under financial strain. Will the Minister meet me and Mr Letch, and other traders, to discuss this matter urgently?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): My hon. Friend refers to applications that were centralised at the DVLA in Swansea in July. There were initially some delays, but on 9 August a special team was created to deal with the more complex applications, and I think that that is now beginning to resolve the situation. However, I would of course be happy to meet him and his constituents.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The consultation on the potential closure of the Driver and Vehicle Agency office in Coleraine and the moving of 300 jobs to Swansea closed this morning. Although I do not expect the Minister to have the answers to the consultation yet, will he agree to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and a small delegation of workers who would be affected by the closure? More importantly, will he take this opportunity to remove the smear levelled at workers that there were sectarian issues that would lead to the closure of the office when none has ever been reported?

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right that I will not comment on the result of the consultation. He is referring to the package of documents

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that were published as part of the consultation, including an equality assessment. I apologise for any offence that was inadvertently caused and accept that the wording could have been clearer. I must stress that there was no intention to imply that any of the staff at the DVA might be biased in any way. Indeed, the equality assessment concludes that there is nothing in the proposal on the centralisation plans that would give rise to any bias or any perception of bias. Finally, I would, of course, be delighted to meet him, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and a group of their constituents.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): My constituents look forward to the electrification of the Great Western main line. When does the Secretary of State expect to begin a consultation on any reconfiguration of services, especially in the Bristol travel-to-work area, that will be made possible by electrification and the new trains that come with it?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome for our planned investment. I will write to him about the more detailed question of the timetable so that he will be well aware of it.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I want to take the railways Minister back to his earlier statement about the east coast franchise. Could he be precise about the innovations that I and my fellow travellers will see if the process goes ahead?

Mr McLoughlin: We will see, when we make the invitations to tender, exactly what proposals come back from rail companies, but the simple fact is that this Government—and the previous Government, for that matter—have seen huge growth in our railways as a result of the innovation of the train operating companies. This is not new; it was well established under the previous Government and continues to be under this one.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Transport questions always tend to bust the box office, I am afraid: demand exceeds supply. The last ticket goes to Jake Berry.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), will the Secretary of State confirm that he will continue to work with me and my hon. Friend for improvements on the M66, which is a key commuter route into Manchester for east Lancashire and Bury North, both of which have played their part, with their manufacturing-based economy, in reducing unemployment in our area?

Mr McLoughlin: I was very pleased to join my hon. Friend in his constituency a few months ago, where he explained to me some of the great difficulties he has with regard to communications and the transport links for his constituency. It is incumbent on us all to look at how we can address those particular problems, improve the transport links and, where we can, improve the road network as well as, if possible, the rail network. I

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understand that my hon. Friend has been fighting a valiant campaign, but that it has drawn a blank from the county council.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Tabling of Amendments

1. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): If he will make it his policy to encourage his ministerial colleagues to table Government amendments to Bills whenever possible in the House of Commons rather than the House of Lords; and if he will make a statement. [900258]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): It is usual practice for Government to make amendments, where possible, in the House of introduction. However, the Government are rightly expected to listen and respond to debates on Bills in both Houses of Parliament, and it is, of course, the core strength of our Parliament that any amendments made to Bills in the other place must also be agreed by this House.

Simon Hughes: Obviously, all Governments try to introduce perfect legislation the first time around, but very few succeed. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues understand that it is really important that the democratic House has the opportunity to look at any changes that are found to be necessary as a result of the work of Select Committees and others. I hope that this Government will try very hard to ensure that we see amendments first and that they are not left as a sort of teaser at the other end of the building late in the day.

Tom Brake: I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is very important that this House is given an opportunity to consider amendments but, as I said in my earlier response, it is inevitable that matters will be raised in the other House that will need to be addressed there. I understand what my right hon. Friend is saying and I will ensure, as far as I can, that what he seeks actually happens.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) is trying to contribute or to make a 100-metre sprint.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I will sprint later.

Mr Speaker: We are grateful. I call Angela Smith.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): There are rumours in this place that the Government intend to table a number of amendments to the lobbying Bill and to make a number of concessions. Given what the Deputy Leader of the House has just said, will he commit to ensuring that those amendments are tabled in this House and not in the House of Lords? Even better, why do they not just withdraw the Bill?

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Tom Brake: Clearly, the Government will not withdraw the Bill. It has been made very clear over the past couple of days that the Government will bring forward an amendment on Report to address the significant issue that charities have raised with us. We hope to come to a conclusion that they think is satisfactory.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that a more important reform with regard to amendments would be to allow Members on both sides a free vote in Committee and to not subject them to whipping? Would that not produce better legislation?

Tom Brake: That is an interesting point. I suspect that allowing free votes on amendments in this place would lead to chaos.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Recycling (Parliamentary Estate)

2. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What progress has been made in encouraging the recycling of plastics and cartons on the parliamentary estate. [900259]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): At present, separate recycling facilities are provided for plastic, glass, cans and paper. A new system is being trialled in Portcullis House to increase the estate’s recycling rate. Office bins will be used for mixed, dry recyclables only, including paper, cans, plastic and juice cartons. Food and non-recyclable waste will be collected in bins at tea points and in kitchen areas. By introducing that scheme, we aim to maximise the amount of plastics and other items that are recycled. We anticipate an increase from the current 58% towards our target of 75%.

Mr Hollobone: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his endeavours in this regard. It is important that the Commons estate leads by example on recycling. Is he satisfied that waste from individual offices is separated properly into the different waste streams?

John Thurso: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. The short answer is that I am never satisfied and we can do a great deal more. I think that our efforts to collect waste centrally and separate it into the different recycling streams will make quite a difference. I look forward to being able to report improvements in the future.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I welcome any improvements in recycling, as I am sure does everybody else. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the use of plastic by the building as a whole? We have removed much of it from the catering department, but not all of it. However, Members’ offices are still supplied with plastic envelopes that are not recyclable or biodegradable. I could be

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wrong about that, but I believe it to be the case. Will he ensure that we use only paper and cardboard, which are completely recyclable?

John Thurso: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. Some of the matters that he has raised are outwith our control, but we seek to pursue the strategy that he advocates wherever it is within our control.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Recycling targets are set for households, councils and manufacturing businesses. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to set targets for the House of Commons Commission so that it is trying to achieve the sorts of targets that we try to achieve at home?

John Thurso: I am delighted to confirm that we have a target. The House has a target to reduce by 75% the waste that is generated by weight by 2020-21, based on a 2008-09 baseline. Our recycling rate for the 12-month period ending 31 August was, as I have just said, 58.4%. I hope that the measures we are taking will get us far closer to our target.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Private Members’ Bills

3. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What recent discussions he has had on private Members’ Bills. [900260]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has had a range of recent discussions on private Members’ Bills and has given evidence to the Procedure Committee as part of its inquiry.

Charlie Elphicke: Does the Minister agree that the conduct of some Members of this place with regard to private Members’ Bills undermines Parliament and weakens the power and the voice of Back Benchers, and that the timetable ought to be reformed to give the House greater strength and a greater say?

Tom Brake: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Procedure Committee has been considering the issue of private Members’ Bills because he gave evidence to that inquiry. The Committee will come forward with a wide range of recommendations that might address the points that he has made. I am sure that the House will have the opportunity to debate and resolve those issues in the near future.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister may not be aware that I recently served on the private Members’ Bill Committee of the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which reported yesterday. If he cares so much about private Members’ Bills, does he realise what a sham that Bill is, in the sense that everybody knew it was not a genuine private Members’ Bill, but a Government Bill once removed? Is that good for Members who introduce private Member’s Bills?

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Tom Brake: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has strong views on that particular private Members’ Bill but, as I stated, it is important that we consider these matters in the round. The Procedure Committee has rightly devoted a substantial amount of time to considering this matter and the House should look at its proposals—for example, on the process of balloting Members—so that it can come to a sensible decision.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does the Deputy Leader of the House not agree that whatever procedures are adopted, it is essential that no private Members’ Bill should be allowed to pass through the House without receiving the fullest and most detailed scrutiny, and certainly not less than that given to Government Bills?

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He may be aware that the Procedure Committee’s report states that it is not its intention to facilitate the passage of Bills into law through the private Members’ Bill route, and that it should not be easy to do so. Its position is that it does not want a simple process that allows private Members’ Bills to be rushed through.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Unusually, I was here last Friday for the consideration of private Members’ Bills—I had the joy of having secured the Adjournment debate. I have to say that it reminded me just how dreadful the process is. Any member of the public would be appalled at the behaviour of the House in these matters and the way that Bills are talked out. Last Friday, I actually saw a Minister participating in that process to ensure that a later Bill did not receive proper consideration. Surely we need urgent reform.

Tom Brake: All I can say is that there are cases where private Members’ Bills do not make the progress that Members who promote and sponsor them would like. However, there are examples of Members—they include the Leader of the House and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young)—who have, when in opposition, successfully passed private Members’ Bills. It is possible for Members to make progress.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Palace of Westminster (Restoration)

4. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What progress has been made on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster; and if he will make a statement. [900261]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Following consideration of the study report on the condition of the fabric of the Palace, the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords House Committee agreed, in October last year, to commission a comprehensive independent cost appraisal of a range of

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options for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The opportunity to prepare the independent options appraisal has been advertised, and six interested bidders who met the brief qualification requirements have been invited to submit a proposal. The deadline for submissions is 11 October. It is anticipated that the successful tenderer will begin work in January 2014.

Pauline Latham: My concern is that if we decant from this place for five years, which has been rumoured, new Members in 2015 might never serve in this Chamber. That would be detrimental to their experience of being in Parliament, if they serve only one term. Is it possible to consider moving us into the House of Lords, with the Lords moving out for the period and us then moving back in?

John Thurso: I understand that there is precedent for that. The purpose of the independent options appraisal is to consider all those points. The critical point is that no decision will be possible until the next Parliament, so no decision will be taken on whatever option may be thought best until sometime in the next Parliament. It will be the Parliament after that before the decision is implemented. The key factor is that all Members of both Houses want to achieve the best value for money for the taxpayer, who will ultimately be paying for this. That should be the guiding principle, provided we can work appropriately.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Since £30 million a year is spent on both Houses for essential maintenance, and recognising the state of the building as described in the report last year—widespread defective mechanical and electrical services, fire risk, asbestos and so on—should we not reach a decision more quickly on the rebuilding of the Palace, and not leave it in a state where each year we are spending money when, at the end of it all, rebuilding will have to take place?

John Thurso: The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely good point—one that has been considered in the essential maintenance work that is going on. Clearly, the mechanical and electrical services in particular have to be brought up to a safe and workable standard so that we can occupy the building. I believe that time and money spent now in getting a really thorough appraisal will produce the best value result overall, but we have to keep spending money to ensure that the building is safe and proper to use.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Select Committees

5. Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the current level of independence of select committees. [900262]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The independence and impact of Select Committees has undoubtedly increased markedly since the implementation of this Government’s reforms. The

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election of Chairs by the House and of Committee members by the members of political parties has been instrumental in achieving this increased independence.

Keith Vaz: Does the Leader of the House agree that Ministers should not seek to influence or interfere in the work of Select Committees?

Mr Lansley: I do agree with that. I attach great importance to mutual respect and trust between Ministers and Select Committees.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

6. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What plans he has to extend the practice of pre-legislative scrutiny. [900263]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): The Government are committed, wherever possible, to publishing legislation in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny. We have a good record. We published 17 draft Bills or sets of draft measures in the last Session, which is more than the previous Government did in any Session. I am sure the hon. Lady would be aware that, before the summer recess, the Government published substantive draft Bills on deregulation and consumer rights and will publish further measures as the Session progresses.

Diana Johnson: I am disappointed that the Leader of the House did not respond to that question because of his experience with the NHS Bill, which did not have pre-legislative scrutiny and had quite a torrid time in Parliament. Has any thought been given to why the

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lobbying Bill did not receive pre-legislative scrutiny, particularly considering that the Government’s legislative timetable is so light?

Tom Brake: Clearly, the Government’s legislative programme is not light, as the hon. Lady suggests it is; in fact, it is very full. As for the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, there was pre-legislative scrutiny in respect of the lobbying proposals, although it is correct that such scrutiny was not possible for the other aspects of the Bill. As I have stated—[Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Lady would like to hear that we published 15 Bills in draft in the 2012-13 Session—more than in any previous Session by any Government.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Has the Deputy Leader of the House given consideration to one of the largest Bills this House has ever seen, which is due to hit it in December? I refer to the at least 50,000 pages that will accompany the High Speed 2 Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in pressing the Department for Transport to allow us not only to look at some of these papers in advance, but to have pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill, which is going to be gargantuan?

Tom Brake: I do not know whether the right hon. Lady was able to ask that question earlier in Transport questions. Having previously been a Transport spokesman and having been involved in a number of Transport Bills, such as the Crossrail Bill, I am absolutely certain that there will be extensive opportunities for people to debate these matters.

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Business of the House

10.33 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I wonder whether the Leader of the House would give us the business for when we return after the conference recess.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The business for the week commencing 7 October will be as follows:

Monday 7 October—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 8 October—Remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (Day 1).

Wednesday 9 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Thursday 10 October—Debate on a motion relating to free school meals, followed by a general debate on funding for local authorities. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The business for the week commencing 14 October will include:

Monday 14 October—Remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 15 October—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Wednesday 16 October—Opposition Day [7th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 17 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 October—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 10 and 17 October will be:

Thursday 10 October—Debate on the third report of the Environmental Audit Committee on wildlife crime, followed by debate on the first report of the Work and Pensions Committee on “Can the Work programme work for all user groups?”.

Thursday 17 October—Debate on the sixth report of the Transport Committee on the Coastguard, Emergency Towing Vessels and the Maritime Incident Response Group, followed by debate on the eighth report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the contamination of beef products.

Ms Eagle: We are always grateful to the Doorkeepers for looking after us. May I take the opportunity to wish Bill Perkiss, who has served as a Doorkeeper for 26 years, a long and very happy and retirement? It is well deserved.

The House has spent this week dismantling the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Members in all parts of the House have lined up to condemn the Bill as a sop to vested interests and a sinister gag on free speech. On Tuesday, the Government caved in to pressure and agreed to an unspecified concession on clause 26. May I ask the Leader of the House whether that will include amendments to schedule 3? Does he not realise that the rest of part 2 is riddled with problems as well?

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Given that the Leader of the House has just announced that the Bill will return for its Report stage on the first day following the recess, will he tell us how on earth we are expected to judge any amendments that the Government may table? When does he intend to publish any new amendments, and whom will he consult? Does he not agree that, in order to give the House time to consider the changes to clause 26 and to allow the views of charities, campaigners and his own regulator on the problems with the rest of part 2 to be heard, he should delay Report stage?

Some of the more generous critics of this mess of a Bill on the Government’s own Benches have suggested that the sinister gag on charities and campaigners might just be an innocent drafting mistake. I usually appreciate optimism, but I think that is taking it a bit too far. The reality is that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was spot on when he said that part 2 would “chill free speech”, and was right to vote against it along with nine of his Conservative colleagues. What a pity that the Deputy Prime Minister, who I am told cooked up the Bill at a “high-level meeting” with the Prime Minister, was mysteriously absent from the vote. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether that was because the Deputy Prime Minister could not be bothered to turn up and vote, or because he was ashamed of his own authoritarian Bill?

We must be clear. The Bill is a crude and cynical attempt by the Government to shut up their many critics in the run-up to the next general election. However, they have been found out. Is it not time that they listened to the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), and went back to the drawing board?

This week, the Liberal Democrats have been left to do the Tories’ dirty work on the gagging Bill. In fact, they have become the Bill’s most fulsome defenders. Such has been their enthusiasm for this gag on free speech that I am prompted to suggest that they invest in a dictionary, so that they can look up the meaning of the words “liberal” and “democrat”.

I never cease to be amazed by the sheer effrontery of the Liberal Democrats. This week the Minister for Schools, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), unveiled an election promise to repeal secret courts legislation. He hoped no one would remember that it had only got on to the statute book, a few months earlier, with Liberal Democrat support. Who do they think they are kidding? In that dictionary, they might also want to look under C for consistency, and then move down the page and check out the meaning of “cynical”. It is no wonder that the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) used an interview with one of the weekend papers to announce that she was in despair over her own party.

This week, the Education Secretary underlined just how callous the Government are when he asserted that those who turn to food banks have only themselves to blame. The Transport Secretary promptly agreed with him, and the Prime Minister refused to disassociate himself from the remarks during Prime Minister’s Question Time. How out of touch can this Government be? It is a scandal that since they came to power, one third of a million more people have had to use food banks, and all this Government can do is berate them for it.

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The Chancellor used the phrase “living standards” 12 times in a speech that he gave earlier in the week. He can say it all he likes, but it will not make up for the fact that it is his squeeze on living standards that means that people cannot feed themselves and their families by the end of the month. Prices have risen faster than wages in all but one of the 39 months that this Government have been in power, and all they have done is give tax cuts to millionaires and defend the privileged few. So will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on how we can build a recovery for all in an economy that works for working people?

As we all leave and head off to our party conferences, I would like to congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on his unprecedented outburst of realism on his radio phone-in show this morning. He announced that it was

“unlikely that at the next general election we are going to get an outright majority”.

I think he just might be right about that one.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House and join her in wishing Bill Perkiss a very happy retirement. We very much appreciate the way in which the Doorkeepers look after the Members of this House and wish him well.

The hon. Lady asked only two questions. One was in relation to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. We have no intention of delaying Report stage. It was perfectly evident in the course of this week that the Opposition’s approach to the Bill was to talk on early groups of amendments at inordinate and absurd length in order to try to prevent scrutiny of later groups. [Interruption.] Well, we will make sure that the Bill is scrutinised properly.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House made it very clear on Tuesday that we will table an amendment on Report. We will publish it on or before 1 October and its effect is confined to clause 26 in principle, which is to ensure that for those who are undertaking expenditure for electoral purposes the substance of the test will be the same as in 2010. We have made it clear that it has never been our intention to change the substance of the test of what constitutes expenditure for electoral purposes.

We are very clear, however, that in relation to schedule 3 and other parts of the Bill we will change the activities that will be controlled as part of controlled expenditure. We will bring down the limit, and rightly so. We will disaggregate that constituency limit, so as to make the regulation of non-party campaigning expenditure more comparable to the regulation of party expenditure and to make it apply at the constituency level as well. If I can publish the amendment earlier and consult with others, I will certainly set out to do so.

While I am on the Bill and Report stage in our first week back, as I announced, I continue to await a reply from the Leader of the Opposition to a letter that I sent two months ago asking him whether he wished to use the Bill as a vehicle for giving effect to his proposals to give members of trade unions a deliberate choice about their participation in political funds. Not only have I had no reply, but it is perfectly evident from watching the Leader of the Opposition’s rather lamentable performance in Bournemouth that the trade unions are

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not going to let him implement the changes to the political fund and its operation that he announced earlier in the summer. They will not let him do it. He and the Labour party have one route to make sure those changes happen and to entrench them: it is to use the Bill on Report, and it is not too late for them to table amendments on Report that would have that effect. I call on them to do so.

The shadow Leader of the House made some remarks about the recovery. Let me make it clear that it is this Government who inherited the most appalling deficit—the biggest annual deficit of any developed country. Let us remember that that recession was a reduction in gross domestic product of 7.2%. The idea that we could recover from such a deep recession and resolve such appalling debt problems—not only Government debt, but consumer debt—without implications for people’s living standards over the short term is nonsense. We are minimising those implications and, as a Government committed to fairness, ensuring that in the process those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, not least through our changes to the personal tax allowance, which mean that people in work and on low earnings have seen their tax burden reduced, with 2.7 million people taken out of income tax altogether. The Labour party never includes that in the figures it uses.

The most important thing is for people to have security through employment. We now have the lowest number of workless households we have seen and 1.4 million more private sector jobs. That is the basis upon which people will feel the benefits of this recovery in the years ahead.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that a serious incident occurred on the Dartford crossing last Friday and led to its being closed for seven hours, which brought home how dependent the whole economy of the south-east is on that one piece of infrastructure. As we are considering bringing forward proposals for a new crossing in the lower Thames, may we have a debate so that we can discuss the optimum solution for the whole economy of the south-east?

Mr Lansley: I am indeed aware of the incident. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, I remember when a further Dartford crossing was being contemplated back in 1985-86, and at the time it was considered that the dangers of a bridge being closed because of high winds were mitigated by the fact that there were tunnels. We hoped never to encounter a situation in which both the tunnels and the bridge were closed, but we have, so to that extent this is an important issue. I cannot at this point promise a debate, but I will encourage my colleagues at the Department for Transport to see what possibilities there are for involving the House in further discussions about those prospects.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): A year ago many Remploy factories were closed and the Government promised extra help for those disabled workers. Sadly, many of them are still unemployed. May we have a statement on why that promised help has failed so many?

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Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), has reported to the House on a number of occasions about this. He will know that the Remploy board considered all bids for the business. It has identified a preferred bidder for viable automotive factories but has not concluded that other bids were viable. Around two thirds of former Remploy workers who are accessing the support available to them are now either in work or undertaking activities aimed at getting them closer to work. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions will continue to keep the House fully informed.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): May we have a debate on the best way to achieve a living wage? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the best way to do that is either by reintroducing the 10p tax rate on earnings up to £12,500 or by taking those earning the minimum wage out of tax altogether?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right. We want to give people not only security, but good prospects and rising living standards. That is what we are aiming for and what turning the corner in the economy, which we are doing, is all about. We want to sustain the recovery, which means sticking to the policies that the Government have set out, but included in that, as he rightly says, is ensuring that those on low wages do not have to pay tax. That is where we have made such a success. Someone working 35 hours a week on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax take halved, which is very important.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Later today the House will debate the critical subject of child protection for the second time in 12 months, but I am led to understand that for the second time in 12 months the Minister responsible for child protection will not be responding to the debate, and neither will any Minister from the lead Department responsible for that important area. Will the Leader of the House look into the matter to see whether the Department for Education has abandoned its responsibilities to children? If not, will he clarify for the House how we can hold the Minister responsible to account for this most important of issues?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She knows that Ministers take child protection extremely seriously, which is why, not least, the Home Secretary has supported the development of work to combat child exploitation and crimes against children. Ministers will respond to and participate in the debate this afternoon. Ministers take these issues extremely seriously, as does the House.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): May we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? This is not an attack on IPSA, but I have established from responses to parliamentary questions that this year IPSA has already had 13 meetings with Ministers, eight of them in June and July, as well as seven meetings with Treasury officials. On 19 July, the chair and chief executive of IPSA met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a meeting at which Treasury officials were also present. The chief executive informed me in a written answer:

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“I do not intend to provide further details of these meetings as to do so may inhibit free and frank discussions in the future.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 556W.]

Mr Speaker, you chaired a meeting last week at which it was let slip that the Leader of the House had that very day had a meeting with the chair of IPSA. Would the Leader of the House care to put on record what that discussion was about?

Mr Lansley: I do not think I let it slip; I made it very clear that I had had that meeting, simply because it was the first time that I had met the board of IPSA. I did that on the same day and I made it clear to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that I had met the board, not least because, in the context of the discussion that we had in the Speaker’s Committee, I did not want it to be thought that the points I had made to the board had not been made. I wanted to make it clear that I had made those points, which related to the board’s consultation on pay and pensions.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): We heard on Tuesday an announcement from the Secretary of State for Health of additional funding for some hospitals—mainly in the south, I might add. Other hospitals did not get any extra funding, however, even though hospitals such as Whiston, which serves my constituency, has seen a 25% increase in emergency attendances. There are similar pressures at Warrington and Halton hospital, which also serves my constituency. May we have a debate on this matter? The Secretary of State did not explain himself on Tuesday, and it would be interesting to find out why those hospitals did not get funding while others did.

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will know that NHS England, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, which are respectively responsible for the commissioning and regulation of provider trusts, jointly took a view on the allocation to individual trusts of the additional funding to meet winter pressures. I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask him to inform him of the criteria that were applied when those trusts were selected.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Whole-life sentences are quite rare in this country, and they are reserved for the most dangerous prisoners. May we have a debate on the ability of prisoners on whole-life tariffs to challenge their sentences, following a recent ruling by European judges that whole-life sentences contravened prisoners’ human rights?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that the Government do not agree with the view that human rights are contravened in that way. There are proper measures in place to review whole-life tariffs, but I will of course raise his point with the Lord Chancellor in the first instance. I will invite the Lord Chancellor to respond to my hon. Friend about how we will approach that judgment.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with the Leader of the House that the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden, but is he aware that young people in my constituency and up and

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down the country are unemployed and desperate for a job and the chance of a good way of life? They face intense competition from other young people in Europe who come here because they think there is a better chance of finding a job here. We have to have a debate on what are we are going to do for the 1 million unemployed young people who need a chance to have a good life.

Mr Lansley: I am glad that we agree that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden. Indeed, in this financial year, the top 1% by earnings will contribute nearly 30% of income tax. Equally, we probably agree that we want to see young people in employment. It is vital for them and for our economy that those young people should have education, training and employment and that they do not fail to acquire the habit of employment. The fact that the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at its lowest for a decade is helpful, as is the fact that more than 1 million apprenticeships and 100,000 work experience placements have been created since the election. We are not in the least complacent about this, however. About 900,000 young people are unemployed, and we want to reduce that figure.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my right hon. Friend may be aware, my constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has close links with Gibraltar. Indeed, yesterday was national Gibraltar day. I am delighted to support the campaign to give that gallant royal naval port, which has played such a significant role in the defence of Britain over the past 300 years, the George Cross—similar to the award to Malta in 1942—to demonstrate the House’s support for Gibraltar during these difficult times with the Spanish Government. May we please have a debate on that?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recall what the Prime Minister had to say by way of expressing to the people of Gibraltar our very strong message of support, and the House will be pleased that a distinguished group of parliamentarians were with Gibraltar on its national day to express our support as a House. I am aware of the recent launch of a campaign for Gibraltar to be awarded the George Cross. As my hon. Friend knows, all reasonable cases for gallantry awards are given careful consideration.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The Government plan to close the North Liverpool community justice centre, despite its success in bringing down crime. A short consultation was held over the summer. May we have a statement on that?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady might be interested to know that on the Tuesday that we return after the conference recess, the Ministry of Justice will be responding to questions. I shall draw the Department’s attention to the point that she has made—it might be able to respond in the meantime—but that might otherwise be an opportunity for her to raise that important constituency issue.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In 2007, the High Court rejected a bid from a pupil to be allowed to wear her niqab in class. The staff powerfully argued that

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they needed to see her face to see whether she was paying attention, engaged in her work or distressed. Subsequent to that ruling, the Department for Education issued guidelines permitting schools and colleges to insist that they be able to see pupils’ faces at all times, and this week Birmingham Metropolitan college did just that. Will my right hon. Friend urge the Department for Education to reissue its guidance so that the public can see that Birmingham Metropolitan college has acted entirely within the rules and applied what most people in this country would regard as a common-sense policy with regard to the visibility of students?

Mr Speaker: I trust we can have a statement or a debate on the matter as well.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will raise the issue with the Department for Education, although I understand from his question that he supports the position that the Department has taken hitherto. I am sure it will be grateful for that. Indeed, that position is much in keeping with a general principle that head teachers responsible for education within colleges and schools should be able to make such decisions due to the effect on their institutions.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): When Fenton magistrates court closed, the building that housed it—the former Fenton town hall—was put up for sale by the Ministry of Justice, yet Fenton town hall was never bought by the Ministry or the Government, who never paid any rent for it, and the Ministry is seeking to profit from the sale of the building. May we have a debate in Government time on buildings such as Fenton town hall being put up for sale when no money was ever paid, in the hope that we achieve the transfer of the building back to the community from which it came?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment in detail on the case that he raises, although I will ask the Ministry of Justice to consider the points he has made. Generally speaking, the legislative steps taken by the Government to empower local people and local communities to identify properties of community value and to be able to intervene to secure them for community purposes have been much welcomed.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Two months ago in the Chamber, I raised the case of Nadejah Williams, a young woman with a rare form of colon cancer who had been refused life-saving CyberKnife treatment by NHS England. Last night, Nadejah was told the good news that NHS England had changed its mind and she can now be treated with Mount Vernon’s CyberKnife system. I thank Andy Lines from the Daily Mirror for doggedly pursuing her case and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for intervening personally and making NHS England see sense.

May we have a debate on why six months of trauma and three appeals by Nadejah’s specialists occurred before that young woman was allowed her CyberKnife treatment, thereby ensuring that others do not suffer what can be critical delays to their treatment?

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Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure the House will appreciate how she has pursued that case, and share her hope that successful pursuit of that treatment will be of great benefit to Ms Williams. I cannot promise a debate, but it is important for the NHS to be able to pursue innovative treatments. CyberKnife—a brand name—is a form of interventional radiotherapy, and other forms of interventional radiotherapy were agreed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to be effective. From my experience in these matters I know that, along with others, CyberKnife was increasingly being adopted across the NHS, and rightly so.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Real wages for men have dropped in Blaenau Gwent by £30 a week. May we have a debate in Government time on how the Government’s two-nation policies have failed so many parts of the UK?

Mr Lansley: What is clear is that the coalition Government are pursuing what I regard as a genuinely one-nation policy, and restoring the economic health of this country after the appalling circumstances in which it was left—I referred to that earlier—in a way that gives proper support to those in need and helps people back to work. The Work programme is among the most successful initiatives. As I said, people in work will inevitably find that across the whole economy we are not in a position to pay ourselves more than we earn, or to carry on doing so, as we did for a long time. As a country, however, we are increasingly earning our way, winning in the global race, getting contracts and exports, investing for the future, and putting in place infrastructure and business investment that will enable us to earn our way to rising living standards in the future.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): In Harrogate and Knaresborough the number of those claiming jobseeker’s allowance has fallen by almost a third in a year, and as my right hon. Friend reminded the House earlier, 1.4 million private sector jobs have been created by businesses since 2010. May we have a debate to explore further that positive news about job creation?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His constituency in the north of England is a place where jobs are being created and businesses are operating successfully, and he and his constituents can take pride in what they are doing. Generally, it is right to say that there are 1.4 million more people employed in the private sector, and a record number of women in employment. Despite the inevitable and necessary fact that we reduced the deficit and constrained public spending, which led to more than 400,000 fewer public sector jobs, more than three private sector jobs have been created since the election for every public sector job lost.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Given widespread support for a sporting legacy from London 2012, may we have a debate on unfair local Government funding to northern cities that means lots of sporting facilities will close, possibly including those at Ennerdale, which is the only standard-size swimming pool for competitions in Hull?

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Mr Lansley: I will not comment on that point, but I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has scheduled a debate for Thursday 10 October on the funding of local authorities.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Michelle Inch is a constituent who contacted me two years ago when looking for help to set up a business from home. Two years later she now has permanent premises, and is importing, rebranding and sending products throughout the country. She did that with the help of the Prince’s Trust. May we have a debate on the Prince’s Trust and business support in general, to recognise the excellent support that His Royal Highness and the trust give to businesses?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think his experience, which he ably sets out, is reproduced in many constituencies across the country. I have often found inspiring the way that the Prince’s Trust has given hope, opportunity and support to young people whom the rest of the system would probably not have thought had potential. They do have potential, however, which is realised through the offices of the Prince’s Trust. The Government want to ensure that we do our bit, and today the Prime Minister will announce a further extension to the new enterprise allowance, which has already supported the establishment of 26,000 new businesses. That is complementary to work of organisations such as the Prince’s Trust, which has done such great work in the past and today.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The UK is an acknowledged world leader in research on and clinical treatment of rare disease. Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on the structure of the UK rare disease plan, which would encourage collaboration across the UK and permit Northern Ireland to participate in the decision-making process?

Mr Lansley: I am proud that the first such rare disease plan was published when I was Secretary of State for Health. I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health regularly co-ordinate with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations, but I will ask them to what extent that involves working together on the rare disease plan.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on broadcasting and journalism so that we might pay tribute to the former Gillingham grammar school boy, Sir David Frost, who was a great broadcast journalist and a great ambassador for Gillingham?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend and many others on both sides of the House will have mourned the passing of Sir David Frost. I remember not only his sense of humour but the incisiveness with which he conducted his journalism, which is a model for journalists across the world. He is much missed.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Since the 2010 general election, unemployment has fallen by 69% in my constituency, meaning that it is now less than 2%. Would the Leader of the House consider allowing time for a debate on how we can utilise world-class

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manufacturing businesses which export, such as Pretty Polly and Aristoc in my constituency and others all over Britain, to support economic growth and make sure that employment levels continue to fall?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend gives an impressive account of her constituency that not least demonstrates that this is not a recovery that is being generated in London and by financial services, but is happening across the country and is more broadly based, especially for manufacturing companies. The figures that she quotes from her constituency are very impressive and I am pleased to hear them.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In April I asked for a statement on the case of Mr Haroon Aswat. Mr Aswat is wanted in the US as a co-conspirator of Abu Hamza, but the UK has been prevented from deporting him by the European Court of Human Rights. This week, the Court announced it will not even hear the Government’s appeal. It is no wonder that so many people think it is now time that we withdrew from the European convention. May we please now have a statement?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that we are disappointed by the panel’s decision not to refer the case to the Grand Chamber. The Home Secretary does not believe that extradition would breach Haroon Aswat’s human rights, and she will now consider what options are available in this case. I am sure the House will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage, but I know that the Home Secretary will keep the House informed.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Many young people in my constituency have been taking up jobs and apprenticeships with local food and drink producers, and this Sunday it is the Totally Locally street market in Slaithwaite, with the Holmfirth food and drink festival at the end of the month. May we have a debate on the importance to local economies of food and drink producers and the benefits of shopping locally?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I know that many hon. Members have brought local food and drink producers here as part of a constituency presentation day, which amply illustrates that point. We recognise the benefits that marketing of regional and local food can bring to producers and consumers alike, and shoppers increasingly want to know the provenance of the food they buy and how it has been produced.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Three million people have chosen to collect benefits or pensions at the post office through a Post Office card account, but the contract between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Post Office is due to end in 18 months’ time. It is important for those 3 million people and for rural post

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offices that either POCA or an alternative Post Office product continues after 2015. Time is short, so may we have an urgent debate on the subject?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend asks a good and timely question. He may know that the Department for Work and Pensions contract with Post Office Ltd to provide the Post Office card account expires in March 2015. The DWP, Post Office Ltd and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have begun detailed discussions concerning the future needs of customers beyond that date, to ensure that access to pensions or other welfare benefits is not put at risk. He will also understand that although there is the option to extend the contract for up to two years, the services provided under the contract fall within procurement regulations and would need to be subject to open competition following any period of extension.

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): We have an unacceptable situation in Rye, where two giants of the supermarket world co-own one site on which they cannot reach an agreement. For 10 years, my constituents have had to wait to see who can develop it. It is still undeveloped, causing blight and irritation to the whole town. May we have a debate on how to persuade these large corporate giants to act perhaps in the best interest of the community?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point for her constituency. She might seek to raise the issue on the Adjournment at some point, but having raised it in business questions, she would be right to take the opportunity to say to the companies concerned that while it is their decision, she and her local authority might be best placed to try and broker a solution. I encourage the companies to get together, as she asks, and see whether they can do something that is in the best interest of her community.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Following the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), can the Leader of the House make a statement confirming that in a Division a Member would not be allowed to cover their face—in fact, they must raise their head and lower it as they go through the Lobby?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises a point that is technically a matter for the Speaker, and not a matter for me as Leader of the House. I do not think we need a debate. Unless the Speaker advises me otherwise, I think the rules of the House are clear that a Member must identify themselves to the Tellers in such a way.

Mr Speaker: I think we are clear on that point. There is no requirement for a debate on the matter, but we are grateful, as always, to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). We now proceed to the statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

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11.12 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): In recent days there have been several major developments relating to Syria. I thought it would help the House if I provided an update on those developments before the House rises.

I will cover our objectives in three crucial areas: our response to the humanitarian crisis; our efforts on the political process, including relations with the Syrian National Coalition; and our support for a strong international response to the use of chemical weapons.

First, we are determined to encourage and lead international efforts to alleviate human suffering in Syria and the region. The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian relief effort after the United States. The Prime Minister’s announcement at the G20 in St Petersburg of an additional £52 million in assistance brings our total support to £400 million so far, and we are encouraging other countries to do much more. As a result of the meeting convened by the Prime Minister during the G20, Canada, Italy and Qatar have made new funding commitments, and 10 countries agreed to lobby for unfettered humanitarian access for international humanitarian organisations inside Syria, and to provide medicines, contamination tents, and medical training against chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Secondly, we remain committed to helping bring about a political settlement. The basis for a political solution was agreed in Geneva last year, namely the formation of a transitional Government, with full executive powers, drawn from the regime and the opposition, by mutual consent. We are in close touch with our partners about convening a second Geneva conference to make that a reality. It is absolutely clear that no lasting or meaningful political solution can occur without the moderate Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Coalition has committed itself to a secular, democratic and pluralist Syria that ensures equal rights for all Syrians. That is a vision that the whole House and our country can support.

Last Thursday I held talks in London with the president and senior leadership of the Syrian National Coalition. We are providing more than £20 million in non-lethal support to the opposition, including 4x4 vehicles, body armour, generators, communications equipment, water purification kits and equipment to protect against chemical weapons attacks. This includes 5,000 escape hoods, detector paper, and a stock of nerve agent pre-treatment tablets which have already been delivered. President al-Jarba, of the national coalition, and I discussed ways the UK could provide further non-lethal support to the opposition to help save lives, alleviate humanitarian suffering, provide services in areas no longer under regime control, and prepare for Geneva II.

This support is made all the more urgent by the appalling crimes being committed in Syria. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent international commission of inquiry issued a harrowing report yesterday describing crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed by the regime and its forces, including indiscriminate shelling, sieges, massacres, murder, torture, rape and sexual violence, enforced disappearances, execution

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and pillage, and serious violations committed by some extremist anti-regime armed groups, which we also condemn.

On top of this, we have now seen mass murder inflicted by the regime’s use of chemical weapons. So our third objective is to ensure a strong international response, so that these barbaric weapons are not used again and that those responsible are held to account. The House debated this subject on 29 August, and we have made it clear that we respect the view of the House.

The UN team is expected to report on its investigation into the 21 August attack early next week. We await their findings, but there should be no doubt in this House that all the evidence continues to point in one direction: the Government confirmed last week that UK experts at Porton Down have tested samples from a victim reportedly treated as a result of that attack. Both the clothing and soil samples tested positive for sarin.

Human Rights Watch issued a report this week stating that, based on its own independent evidence and assessment,

“Human Rights Watch finds that Syrian government forces were almost certainly responsible for the August 21 attacks, and that a weapons-grade nerve agent was delivered during the attack using specially designed rocket delivery systems.”

It went on to say:

“The scale and coordinated nature of the two attacks…the presence of government-controlled potential launching sites within range of the targets; the pattern of other recent alleged chemical weapon attacks against opposition-held areas using the same 330 mm rocket delivery system; and the documented possession of the 140 mm and 330 mm rocket systems able to deliver chemical weapons in the government arsenal—all point towards Syrian government responsibility for the attacks.”

The international consensus that the regime was responsible is growing. During the G20, 11 nations, including the UK, signed a statement condemning the regime’s use of chemical weapons and supporting efforts by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition against chemical weapons use. A week later, that statement has now been signed by 25 countries.

On Saturday I attended the EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Vilnius, which unanimously agreed that there was strong evidence of regime culpability, and that

“in the face of this cynical use of chemical weapons, the international community cannot remain idle”.

This growing international pressure, including the threat of military action by the United States, has had an impact. On Monday, I hosted Secretary Kerry for detailed discussions on the way forward. On the same day, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced that Russia would urge the Syrian regime to sign up to a proposal which would place their chemical weapons stocks under international control for destruction. In response, the regime announced that it supported the initiative and was ready to co-operate, and that it intended to join the chemical weapons convention, open up its sites and give up its chemical weapons.

Given its track record, any commitment made by the Syrian regime must be treated with great caution. This is a regime that has lied for years about possessing chemical weapons, that still denies that it has used them, and that refused for four months to allow UN inspectors into Syria. Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister has said, we have to take this proposal seriously and we have to test its sincerity. If the Syrian regime verifiably gave up its chemical weapons stockpiles, this would

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obviously be a major step forward. We agree with President Obama that this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force. Intensive discussions are now taking place about how to achieve this, and Secretary Kerry is meeting Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva today to discuss the proposal.

Our diplomats in New York are in close discussion about a draft Security Council resolution, and the five permanent members of the Security Council met for consultations last night. A resolution must establish a binding commitment for the Syrian regime to give up its chemical weapons within a specific time frame. We will hold further discussions in the Security Council once the UN inspectors have reported. The United Kingdom will make every effort to negotiate an enforceable agreement that credibly, reliably and promptly places the regime’s chemical weapons stocks under international control for destruction.

The House should be in no doubt of the scale of the challenge and the immense practical difficulties that would need to be overcome. It would require the genuine co-operation of a regime that denied until recently that it possessed these weapons and has used them ruthlessly against its own people on at least 14 occasions, killing many hundreds of people, including women and children. The regime has a large number of sites—possibly the largest stock of chemical weapons possessed by any nation in the world—in numerous different locations in a country that is a contested battlefield. We would need to have confidence that all chemical weapons had been identified and secured and that they could not fall into the wrong hands.

These issues can all be overcome with sufficient international unity and good will, and provided there is a complete change of approach by the Assad regime to all its past practices and deceptions. Therefore, we will approach these negotiations with determination and resolve, knowing that if successful it would be an important breakthrough, but that overcoming all these issues will not be easy and that in the meantime thousands of Syrians are dying every month from conventional weapons in this worsening conflict.

It is abundantly clear that this diplomatic opening would not have come about had the international community shown complacency or disregard for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and that pressure on the regime must be maintained. At the same time, we will continue to do all we can to alleviate humanitarian suffering and save lives, we will support Syria’s moderate opposition, and we will make every effort to advance a diplomatic solution to a conflict that has gone on for far too long.

11.21 am

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and indeed for advance sight of it this morning. Coming to the House ahead of the parliamentary recess acknowledges that there are strongly held opinions and deeply felt concerns on both sides of the House about events still unfolding in Syria.

I welcome the Government’s steps to provide vital humanitarian support to those affected by the conflict and the continuing efforts to secure additional funds

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from the international community. Those humanitarian efforts are necessary but insufficient to alleviate the suffering. The level of ongoing violence in Syria today represents the greatest diplomatic failure of the international community in the 21st century. We support the Government’s continuing efforts to convene a second Geneva conference, but we remain of the view that a contact group could assist in that endeavour, given the present difficulties in securing the attendance of the warring parties.

Members on both sides of the House stand united in their revulsion at and abhorrence and condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in this ongoing and bloody conflict. It is a conflict that means that Syria is disintegrating as a nation state. That disintegration risks destabilising not only Syria’s immediate neighbours but the region as a whole.

Two weeks ago, the votes of this House on Syria reflected real concerns that the country was being pushed too quickly towards military action, on a timetable set elsewhere, without due process being followed and the necessary steps being taken. Moments after the Government motion was lost—a rejection of the Government’s rushed judgment in relation to the use of British military force without precedent since perhaps the case of Lord North in 1782—the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and read from a sheet of paper the following words:

“It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the Government will act accordingly.”—[Official Report, 29 August 2013; Vol. 566, c. 1555.]

The suggestion has since been made that the decisive voice influencing the Prime Minister’s apparently predetermined decision to rule out the use of British military force in Syria if the Government motion was lost was not that of the Foreign Secretary but that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, in his capacity as Foreign Secretary, can the right hon. Gentleman offer the House any examples of circumstances in which the Government will seek to come back to the House on the issue of the use of British military force in Syria? The Foreign Secretary has just told the House: “The United Kingdom will make every effort to negotiate an enforceable agreement”, so he clearly agrees with me that it is preferable, if it is possible, to remove the threat of chemical weapons from Syria without having to resort to the use of force.

Two days after those votes were cast in the House of Commons, President Obama specifically referenced the British Government’s failure to secure the support of Parliament when explaining his decision to delay the use of force in Syria and indeed to take the matter to Congress, so I ask the Foreign Secretary this question. Is it not abundantly clear that if the Government’s motion had been passed by this House two weeks ago, the United States military force would in all likelihood have already been used in Syria and the diplomatic path that he now advocates with such conviction would never have been reached?

None of us has any doubt about the murderous nature of the Assad regime, and no one should have any illusions about the fact that since the start of this conflict the Russians have provided not only weaponry

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but significant diplomatic cover to the Assad regime. The challenge confronting Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov today in Geneva is indeed daunting. Their task is to find ways to evidence that a goal that is desirable is also doable. That would mean agreeing a credible plan in circumstances not just of low trust but of violent conflict; a means to identify, verify, secure and ultimately remove those weapons from Assad’s possession, with the final goal of destroying them altogether. While these critical negotiations are taken forward, the UK must continue its work to help alleviate the suffering and engage constructively with partners in the Security Council.

Mr Hague: There is strong agreement about everything I said in my statement, judging by what the right hon. Gentleman said, although disagreement about one thing that was not in the statement, which I will come back to.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said. I think that there is strong unity across the House on the importance of our humanitarian contribution. He said that everything that we and other countries were doing was necessary but not sufficient to alleviate the suffering. That, sadly, is true, because only the end of the conflict will truly alleviate or give us the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of millions of people. He rightly welcomed the diplomatic efforts that we continue to make on bringing about a second Geneva conference. There is no shortage of discussion in the international community about how to do this. We have regular discussions with all our colleagues on the Security Council, including Russia, about how to bring it about. Ideas are floated about different diplomatic groups that might bring this about, but the essence of the problem remains that we need all appropriate parties to be ready to fulfil what was agreed at Geneva. There is no evidence that the regime is in a position to do that as things stand, but we will continue to work on that.

I take what the right hon. Gentleman said as agreement in the House on the approach to the negotiations now taking place about an international agreement on chemical weapons. He said that a credible plan was needed in an atmosphere of low trust and violent conflict. That is correct, and it strikes the same note as the one that I was striking—that we must take this seriously and make every effort to make it successful, but that to be successful it has to be an enforceable agreement that credibly, reliably and promptly deals with this issue and places the regime’s chemical weapons stocks under international control for destruction.

I need to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about only one thing that he said, which is a rather extraordinary claim that none of this would have come about had the Opposition not voted against the Government motion two weeks ago, which is a rather self-obsessed view of world developments. It is like the story of the cockerel who thought its crowing brought about the dawn. He will remember that the motion we put before the House said that, far from being in a rush, the Government would await the report of the UN inspectors, which has not yet come out, before taking any military action, that they would make every effort to secure a Security Council resolution, and that there would be a second vote. That is the basis on which the United Kingdom

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was proceeding, and there is no sign at all that this development would have taken place had Governments around the world not been debating those issues and had the United States not been debating whether to take military action.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about what progress is being made at the United Nations to secure a resolution for unfettered cross-border access for the humanitarian agencies? He will be aware that most of the UN aid is going through Damascus. That means that aid is reaching the areas held by the Government but not reaching the areas held by the rebels. As winter comes on, the danger of starvation and a medical emergency will increase unless the situation is resolved.

Mr Hague: This is a very important issue. We are, one way or another, getting aid into all 14 governorates of Syria and into many different parts of Syria. However, the regime has often sought to interfere with that aid and has denied access to some areas. It has even reportedly engaged in removing medical supplies and preventing them from getting to areas where its own people are needing urgent medical attention. The answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is that we have not yet secured agreement on a resolution or action on this at the United Nations Security Council. All attempts so far to agree in the Security Council on statements or resolutions that require the Assad regime to perform any particular actions, including on the humanitarian side, have been opposed by Russia and by China. That does not mean that we should give up on it. At the G20 the Prime Minister discussed with other countries returning to this issue at the United Nations if necessary, and we are standing ready to do so.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I wish the Foreign Secretary every success in the attempt to remove chemical weapons from Syria? I am sure he will acknowledge, however, that they account for just 1% of all the casualties in this awful civil war. Will he use his influence to persuade the whole of the opposition, a significant part of which is opposed to the process now going on in the United Nations to resolve the chemical weapons issue, to come to the negotiating table, because it takes two to tango? It will be difficult enough getting Assad and the Russians and the Iranians lining up; it is essential that he use his influence to get the opposition willing to negotiate as well.

Mr Hague: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is very important that the regime and the national coalition are ready to negotiate in a second Geneva conference on the basis of what was agreed at Geneva last year. A large part of the discussions that I had with the national coalition last week was that they must be ready to do that at any time, and that their own dissociation from the use of chemical weapons must be made as clear as possible. They received that message very, very strongly from me last week, and they will continue to do so.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): When the House debated this matter in August in our response to the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus, we were working on the basis of an extremely short assessment

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by the Joint Intelligence Committee. Since then, the USA has published a detailed analysis, as have the French and others, and Human Rights Watch has concluded in a very detailed report that the regime was almost certainly responsible for the attacks. To take a requirement cited by the Leader of the Opposition, does my right hon. Friend agree that the evidence against the Syrian Government is now compelling?

Mr Hague: The evidence is compelling. In my view, it has always been compelling because, as was clear even at the time of our debate two weeks ago, there was no plausible alternative explanation. It is true, of course, that as time goes on and medical and soil samples are analysed, the evidence gets even stronger. The actual evidence is there, so yes, it is compelling. We now await the report of the UN inspectors. As I have explained before in the House, they do not have a mandate to attribute blame, but of course we hope that their findings will nevertheless be of significance.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): France has said that it wants a resolution under chapter VII of the UN charter that threatens serious consequences if Syria breaches conditions. Does the Foreign Secretary support that position?

Mr Hague: We are working closely with France, and with the United States, on a text for the Security Council. Last night we discussed with Russia and China how to set about a statement and resolution at the Security Council. As is widely known, the French draft that has been put forward is a chapter VII resolution.

I think it is best at this stage for us to be clear about what a resolution must achieve, rather than set bottom lines and red lines in every direction. The test, as I have set out before, should be a binding commitment for the Syrian regime to give up its chemical weapons within a specific time frame, and an agreement that is credible and reliable and that promptly places these chemical weapon stocks under international control. The main thing is to have a resolution and agreement at the Security Council that fulfils those objectives. We will keep discussing that with other countries.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary over recent days. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that achieving international control of Syria’s chemical weapons will require not only the effective use by Russia of its influence in Syria, but truce, safe passage and ceasefire arrangements, which necessarily link progress on this vital issue with political settlement in Syria?

Mr Hague: My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention, as I did in my statement, to the immense practical difficulties involved. Much of Syria is a contested battlefield and chemical weapons are held in numerous locations. Those sites are, of course, all in areas controlled by the regime, not the opposition, so this requires the full co-operation of the regime, and that, in turn, requires the full diplomatic involvement and pressure of Russia. The coming days will test whether they will be forthcoming.