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House of Commons

Thursday 10 March 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Investment Strategy

1. Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to implement its road investment strategy. [904015]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Highways England’s delivery plan sets out how it will deliver the Government’s £15 billion road investment strategy. Work on site is already under way on 19 major schemes, seven of which have started this financial year, as planned.

Suella Fernandes: Chronic congestion causes delays to thousands of commuters on the M27 at junctions 9 and 10. With Fareham set to see 6,000 new homes at Welborne and thousands more at North Whiteley, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that vital upgrades to that piece of infrastructure are carried out as a matter of priority?

Mr McLoughlin: I know that particular scheme is of great interest to my hon. Friend. The Department is working together with Highways England and Hampshire County Council on a way forward for improvements to junction 9 of the M27. I will ensure that my hon. Friend is kept fully informed of progress. A separate scheme to improve junction 10 of the M27 is being funded by a private developer and the local enterprise partnership. It is for them to progress it with the local authority, but I am more than happy to continue to update her on the matter.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): As the Secretary of State will know, junctions 12 to 14 of the M56 have seen a significant increase in accidents in recent years, and there is an urgent need for some form of managed motorway there. Does he share my disappointment that the northern transport strategy published this week by his Department makes no mention of that at all? When will his Department take action?

Mr McLoughlin: I will certainly look at the specific point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but the fact is that we have a road investment strategy far superior to anything that existed before 2010. I would have thought that he would have welcomed that.

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Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents warmly welcome the investment that is being made in upgrading the A12 to three lanes? Is he in a position to advise me on when he expects phase 1, from the M25 to Margaretting on the southern border of Chelmsford, to commence and progress?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. In December 2014, the Government announced a scheme to widen the A12 from junction 28 of the M25 to the Chelmsford bypass. The scheme will be developed in the first roads period from April 2015 to March 2020, to be ready for construction in the next roads period. We expect the next roads period to run from April 2020 to March 2025.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What assessment has the Department made of the M66 and the M60 to the south of it? I believe TomTom said that it was one of the busiest, or the busiest road in the UK. It is jam-packed from about 6.15 to about 10 am—every morning, it is gridlocked and cars cannot move. What is being done to resolve that situation?

Mr McLoughlin: As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), investment is on a far greater scale than ever imagined by the Labour party that the hon. Gentleman supported in government. It is a simple fact that we are talking about £15 billion for the road investment strategy, which is a greater investment than we have seen in our roads network for a number of years.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): One critical part of the road investment strategy is to improve safety. On that note, may I ask my right hon. Friend to look at safety, particularly over the last few months, at the junction of the A303 and the A34, where a number of accidents have happened recently? In my view, safety could be improved there.

Mr McLoughlin: I am more than happy to ask officials to look at that and to report back to me. I will write to my hon. Friend.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): The road investment strategy is really important, but we know that every journey begins on a local road and that the vast majority of journeys are made on local roads. Some of them are in quite a state. Last November, to great fanfare, the permanent pothole fund was announced—we hope that means permanent action on potholes, not permanent potholes. How much has been drawn down by councils from that pothole fund, and how many potholes have been filled in so far?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman wants devolution, but he also wants the Government to tell local authorities exactly what to do in every set of circumstances. The simple fact is that, for the period 2015 and 2020, £6 billion has been allocated to local authorities for road maintenance. Between 2010 and 2015, the figure was £4 billion. Between 2005 and 2010, the amount allocated to local authorities was £3 billion. That shows the significant increase in the amount that this Government are giving for local road maintenance, and I would have thought that he would welcome that.

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Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the urgent need for clarity about the capacity of junction 8 of the M11 motorway and the possibility of there being a junction 7A, as these matters have a bearing on decisions having to be made against a deadline by local authorities on their local plans?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that particular case with me. I will certainly write to him to tell him what progress is being made in that exact location.

Local Transport Projects (Funding)

2. Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): What steps he is taking to provide funding for large local transport projects. [904016]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Department is providing over £7 billion for the devolved local growth fund, which will fund more than 500 local transport projects by the end of this Parliament. It now includes £475 million for transformational local transport schemes that are too large for the devolved allocations. We will be providing further details very soon.

Mr Jackson: May I make a plea to the Minister? Will he tell me when some of the £75 million funding from the roads investment strategy will be used to reduce the noise pollution that has already been identified by Highways England on the A47 Soke Parkway through Peterborough, adjacent to Apsley Way and Bradwell Road?

Mr Goodwill: The A47 is part of the strategic road network and is therefore not covered by the money that I have just announced. However, in November 2014, the Chancellor announced £300 million for the A47, including the Wansford to Sutton section between the A1 and Peterborough. On the question of noise pollution, the Government have challenged Highways England to mitigate noise at more than 1,000 locations. Measures that could be used include noise reduction surfacing, tree planting and barriers.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Transport for the North published a report this week that looks into local and regional links as well as access to the national network. It puts forward ambitious schemes for improvements in rail transport between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds and for better access to the High Speed 2 network. What kind of co-ordination will there be to ensure that this happens?

Mr Goodwill: It is particularly important that we co-ordinate rail and road systems, particularly in regard to freight, and HS2 will open up a large number of additional freight paths that will take pressure off the roads. Co-ordination will be absolutely vital and we are working with Transport for the North and the leaders of the great cities of the north, including Liverpool, to make sure that that happens. Indeed, I shall be in Liverpool later today.

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18. [904034] Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): My hon. Friend will be aware of the absurd situation on Canvey where, although residents can virtually kick a football at the new DP World container port, it is easier to access the tens of thousands of jobs there by travelling from the east end of London. What support can he give my residents on Canvey Island who have been campaigning for a third road for many decades?

Mr Goodwill: I very much agree that new road infrastructure can transform local economies and boost access to jobs, which is why we have given significant funding and freedoms to local areas to take forward schemes such as this. We will be announcing further funding opportunities very soon. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to make the case for that project with Essex County Council and the South East local enterprise partnership. The port facilities in her constituency are absolutely superb, and it is important that we give them the infrastructure that they need to back them up.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): Large local infrastructure projects have been the hallmark of the Scottish Government since they came to power in 2007. There have been too many to list here, but they include the Borders rail link, the Tarbert to Campbelltown trunk link road and, in my own constituency, the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness. According to independent analysis, Scotland is investing twice as much per person in transport as England. That includes active travel projects such as cycling, on which we are already way ahead of the UK. Last year, this Government announced a new £680 million access fund up to 2021. Can they clear up the confusion about when that fund is going to go ahead?

Mr Goodwill: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the high-speed rail line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which has been conveniently shelved. He may be aware that SNP-controlled Perth and Kinross Council has decided that potholes now have to be at least 60 mm deep—that is nearly 2 and a half inches—before it will consider filling them in. That indicates what its priorities might be in some cases.

Drew Hendry: The Minister and I may disagree on many things, but one thing that we do agree on is the benefits of cycling. The cycle-to-work scheme has been a popular and progressive policy, and credit is due to the Government for continuing with it. However, in the summer Budget, the Treasury said that it was actively monitoring salary sacrifice arrangements because they were becoming increasingly popular. In Scotland, progressive policies that work and are popular are something that the Government there support. Will he confirm that he is working to ensure that the Chancellor will protect cycle-to-work schemes in the forthcoming Budget?

Mr Goodwill: The hon. Gentleman may have to be patient and wait for the Budget, but certainly schemes such as the cycle-to-work scheme are very good. Large numbers of people who have bicycles are using them to get to work and it is a great way of getting people fit and active, as well as reducing congestion on our roads.

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Public Transport (Cost to Passengers)

3. Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of the cost of public transport to passengers. [904018]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): The Government understand the importance of affordable transport and we have capped regulated rail fares at the level of RPI for two years running, and will do so for the life of this Parliament. The bus market outside London is deregulated and decisions regarding setting the level of fares is therefore primarily a decision for commercial bus operators. Almost £1 billion is provided each year to fund concessionary travel, ensuring free bus travel for the elderly and disabled.

Imran Hussain: More than 2,500 people commute into Bradford, and more than 7,000 commute out of Bradford by rail, so fast, cheap and efficient connections with the rest of the region are vital for jobs and our local economy. What is the Minister doing to ensure fast, cheap and efficient connections in the region, considering that rail fares across the country have gone up by 25% and punctuality has deteriorated?

Andrew Jones: I know the city of Bradford very well, having gone to school there and lived just outside it for many years. I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to welcome the investment that we are seeing in rail. Appley Bridge railway station has only just opened in his constituency, and he has had investment in Frizinghall as well. We are seeing investment across the north, including in West Yorkshire, and there is the ability to keep fares down in the Metro region. I repeat my point about how we have capped regulated rail fares and removed the fare “flex”.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One of the problems for local bus passengers is congestion and delays. People in Kettering always say that, when the traffic lights stop working, the traffic flows much better. Given that the Minister is responsible for local roads, will he consider undertaking a pilot whereby we can switch traffic lights off and get traffic and buses flowing more freely?

Andrew Jones: My hon. Friend makes an ingenious link to the cost of public transport. I am aware, because I hear it quite regularly in my own area as well, that traffic is said to flow more freely when traffic lights do not work. I have major reservations about that argument. At the same time, initiatives are being put in place to keep traffic flowing. I will have a look at what my hon. Friend says, but we should be very cautious about removing traffic lights, as they are a key ingredient in road safety.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): No one in Yorkshire would mind paying the fares on a good trans-Pennine link. Indeed, Ministers have already said that they will be using that sort of transport tomorrow—I hope that they will stop off in Huddersfield to celebrate the centennial of Harold Wilson’s birth, which is tomorrow. We would not mind paying the fares if the delivery of the service were fast, efficient and comfortable.

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Andrew Jones: The hon. Gentleman has forgotten the investment that is being made, the improvements that are coming through the franchise for the east coast main line and for the trans-Pennine line, and the significant enhancements for Huddersfield, including the London connections.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that, thanks to the Government’s action to cap rail fare increases, wages are now rising faster than fares for the first time since 2003?

Andrew Jones: My hon. Friend makes as wise a point as ever. We are trying to ensure that regulated rail fares are affordable. What we are seeing is a wide range of tickets on offer, including some very low-priced fares, which can be bought in advance. That allows more people to travel by rail. We only have to look at the growth in passenger numbers to see how that is working.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The number of bus and rail passengers in Northern Ireland has fallen. I know that London is the exception, but outside London, numbers have fallen as well. Fifty-seven per cent. of commuters travel by car. What steps can the Minister take to encourage more people to cycle or walk to work, where possible, promoting healthier lifestyles and reducing the carbon footprint?

Andrew Jones: An element of the road investment strategy is to promote cycling and we also have the cycling and walking investment strategy, which has already been mentioned.

Mr Speaker: I call Bob Blackman. Not here. Where is the chappie?

Frequency of Trains (Birmingham and Telford)

5. Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to increase the frequency of trains between Birmingham and Telford. [904020]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Telford serves more than 1 million passengers each year, and I was pleased to negotiate services with Virgin Trains in 2014 from Shrewsbury to London via Telford and Birmingham.

We are currently running a public consultation to help to specify the next west midlands franchise and will launch a public consultation on the new west coast franchise in June. I encourage my hon. Friend and her constituents to make their views known through that process.

Lucy Allan: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, for which my constituents will be grateful. Telford is a rapidly growing new town that is 26 miles from Birmingham, yet it takes 51 minutes to get there. Will he continue to work with me to ensure that we have a 21st century rail system for Telford?

Mr McLoughlin: I most certainly will. I recognise the growing importance of connectivity between cities. My hon. Friend’s point about Telford and its relationship with Birmingham is important.

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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): The Secretary of State knows Wolverhampton well because of his youth and his fighting a parliamentary seat there, so he will know that trains from Telford to Wolverhampton to Birmingham to London are far slower than trains from Stafford to London because of the bottleneck in the urban west midlands. When will the Government get around to quad-tracking the Coventry to Stafford corridor?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman is right that I know the area incredibly well, but we have seen major investment in the west midlands, including the re-establishment of the service from Shrewsbury via Telford, to which I referred in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), which has been welcomed. He is right that there is always demand for extra investment, but that must be measured against the record investment that we are putting into our railways.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): Cannock Chase, like Telford, is connected to Birmingham via a local line. It is a service that my right hon. Friend knows incredibly well. Unfortunately, users of the Chase line report multiple issues, such as late, overcrowded and cancelled trains. Will he confirm that the electrification project, which will mean that users will have a much better and frequent service, is on track for completion by the end of 2017?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I was in her constituency just a few weeks ago and noticed that electrification work had already started on the line that runs through Hednesford to Cannock, not least at Stafford Lane and down by Brindley Heath where new bridges have been put up. I happen to know the area very well; it is where I grew up.

UK Spaceport

6. Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): When the Government plan to make a decision on the location of a UK spaceport. [904021]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Government’s ambition is for the UK to have the facilities and regulatory environment in place for commercial spaceflight during this Parliament. My Department is currently working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to assess and understand the technical requirements, with the aim of announcing the process for spaceport selection later this year.

Brendan O’Hara: As the Member for Argyll and Bute, I have championed and will continue to champion the Machrihanish bid to become the UK’s spaceport. The community-owned facility has considerable advantages, including a 3 km runway and the overwhelming backing of the community. When will the next stage criteria be announced by the Department for Transport? Can the Minister assure all those who are working hard to bring the project to Machrihanish that the Government are still 100% committed to the creation of a UK spaceport?

Mr Goodwill: I can certainly confirm that. In fact, the Department for Transport has provided £5 million to fund initial phases of work. It is also important that we

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work with potential operators to check out the facilities that they might want to ensure that they can be provided. It is a great opportunity. With companies such an Inmarsat, Clyde Space north of the border, and Surrey Satellite Technology, we are already world leaders in space technology, so this will be a further step towards pushing against the barriers to British involvement in the space race.

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): I thank the Minister for his recent visit to Cornwall Newquay airport where he saw the excellent facilities we have there to host the spaceport. Will he confirm that he went away with the very clear message that Cornwall not only can accommodate but is ambitious to be the English bid for the spaceport?

Mr Goodwill: I certainly did get a very clear message and was taken up by the enthusiasm of the people in Newquay. I was recently at Prestwick, as well, so I know that other airports are interested. I did notice when I was at Prestwick that there was no shortage of slots to use; it seemed quite quiet when I was there.

Bus Services (Rural Communities)

7. Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con): What steps he plans to take to ensure that rural communities have access to regular bus services. [904022]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): We are very aware of the importance of bus services to rural communities and, in recognition of that, we were able to protect the bus service operators grant funding as part of the spending review last year. The Government paid out some £250 million last year to support bus services in England through BSOG, of which around £40 million is paid directly to local authorities.

Craig Tracey: Will the Minister agree to look into the provision of buses in the rural part of my constituency for local students travelling to school compared with national averages, and advise on how we can improve that?

Andrew Jones: All children aged between five and 16 qualify for free school transport if they attend their nearest school and it is sufficiently far from their home. The decision to provide additional services will be a matter for the local authority and some do, such as the Staffordshire scheme for those aged between 11 and 19. There is obviously an issue that concerns my hon. Friend and I will be happy to meet him to explore the issue further and to try to help.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): One section of our population that is particularly disadvantaged by poor bus services, both rural and urban, is young people, who are also hit by the cost of travelling. What are the Government doing to help young people access transport and to help them with the cost?

Andrew Jones: There is a mixture of support through national and local government. Individual local authorities decide their funding priorities, but local authorities in England have spent an average of £330 million a year

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over the past three years supporting bus services, and 42% of bus income comes from public funds. I have talked about BSOG support nationally already.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): Will the Minister consider rural bus service provision in Eddisbury, where cuts to bus services have meant that apprentices cannot access apprenticeships and college students cannot get to the local college without having to take two buses? May I invite the Minister to meet me to discuss that?

Andrew Jones: I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. Access to bus services is very important, and that is especially true when it facilitates people’s access to work.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): Government tax makes up 70% of the cost of fuel. Does the Minister agree with the Scottish National party that there should be a continued freeze on fuel duty and that that will help to control the cost of bus services in rural areas?

Andrew Jones: Fuel duty might well be something for the Chancellor to consider rather than me, but I can highlight the bus service operators grant, which used to be called the fuel duty rebate and provides a 34.57p subsidy per litre of fuel used. We are supporting bus companies and local authorities through that mechanism.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Subsidy for all 118 supported bus routes in Oxfordshire is being withdrawn and, earlier this week, I travelled on the popular 215 service along with the excellent Labour and Co-operative councillors for Witney and Chipping Norton, who are campaigning to protect their local bus networks. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that some additional funding has now been secured for local transport on a cross-party basis and does he agree that when the buses Bill is published, it must address the severe challenges facing rural bus services, including in the Prime Minister’s constituency?

Andrew Jones: I remind the hon. Lady that she was busy saying that we were going to completely cut and lose BSOG, but it has been protected. I am always pleased to hear that local authorities are supporting their bus services, because I value the role that buses play in local communities. We should be supporting local authorities in deciding their funding priorities.

Railway Station Refurbishment

8. Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What funding his Department is providing to help refurbish railway stations. [904023]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I am proud that under Conservative-led Governments since 2010, my Department has made almost £400 million pounds available for station improvements through programmes such as the national stations improvement programme, the station commercial project facility, the new stations fund and the Access for All scheme. In addition, we have many improvements delivered by operators through franchise commitments or through substantial local growth funding.

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Mr Cunningham: What effort is the Minister making to ensure that the rail franchise holders pay their fair share to maintain the railway structure? Will she look at how the Nuckle project in Coventry is working out, in relation to the frequency of train stops at the Ricoh Arena? I believe that there are some problems there.

Claire Perry: We are clear in our franchising agreements that improvements to stations are absolutely part of those projects. The hon. Gentleman has benefited locally, with Virgin West Coast installation of automatic ticket machines at Coventry station. I was pleased to participate in the opening of the Coventry Arena and Bermuda Park stations, to which the Department contributed almost £5 million, the first stage of the vital Nuckle scheme. That scheme was 14 years on paper under Labour; delivered under this Government thanks to the amazing efforts of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones).

Mr Speaker: Sounds very exciting indeed, I am bound to say.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): When we consider rail station refurbishments, one of the things that we should prioritise is disabled access. On the Chessington branch in my constituency there is not a single accessible station. In the renewal of the South Western route franchise, will the Minister therefore consider prioritising improvements to disabled access on our train stations?

Claire Perry: Mr Speaker, I am glad that you share my excitement about the improvements in the rail networks. We have set up the £400 million Access for All scheme, which has been wisely and well spent. I am always happy to look at additional station improvements and to meet with my hon. Friend to discuss.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I rise to support the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry). I have nine train stations in my constituency. Unfortunately, about half are inaccessible for people in wheelchairs or with prams. We were using Access for All to improve those stations. The funding has been cut in half. Are we really doing enough?

Claire Perry: I am afraid I dispute the statement that funding has been cut in half. The first phase of the programme—£400 million—was delivered, but I am always keen to look at cost-effective ways to improve access for disabled people and young mothers with buggies, for whom a flight of stairs, as I know, and dads like the hon. Gentleman with his daughter know, can be a real problem. I am happy to meet further to discuss.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Residents in Torbay have welcomed some of the investment that we have seen to improve Torquay station, but Paignton station is a relic of the Beeching era. It is the old goods shed, which was converted into a station. Will she meet me and a delegation from the bay to discuss how we can make Paignton a terminus for the 21st century?

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Claire Perry: Of course. The best way to deliver station improvements is to get together the local group, the local enterprise partnership, local businesses and local communities. The record Government investment in the railways is best spent when it is pulled through to support local needs.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): What assurance can the Minister give that full accessibility for passengers with disabilities is made a priority in the refurbishment of railway stations? Will she ensure that the needs of passengers are central to the refurbishment or renovation of stations without any access provisions or stations that need upgrading? How can that be achieved, given the 40% cut to Access for All funding?

Claire Perry: I sometimes wonder whether we are reading the same papers. The Government are spending more on the railways—£38 billion—than has been spent at any time since the Victorian era. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that disability access is hugely important. It is also important on the trains. All the train fleet will be disability compliant in the next few years. It is important, but we have a limited amount of money to spend on upgrading the railways, which were woefully neglected under his Government.

Laser Pens

9. Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): What steps he is taking to tackle the use of laser pens to target aircraft. [904024]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): There is already legislation prohibiting the use of lasers on aircraft. It is an offence to direct or shine any light at any aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the aircraft. Anyone found guilty of this offence could be liable to a fine, up to a maximum of £2,500. Anyone found guilty of endangering an aircraft, could be liable to up to five years imprisonment. We will keep this under review.

Greg Mulholland: I welcome the previous changes, which I backed, but more needs to be done. Half of pilots have reported a laser pen attack in the past 12 months, and it is a particular problem around Leeds-Bradford airport. What measures such as licensing or classification of laser pens as offensive weapons could be considered to put a stop to this dangerous practice?

Mr McLoughlin: A number of measures are being considered across Government Departments. I take the matter very seriously, particularly in the light of certain recent events that have been reported.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Following my conversation with the Secretary of State for Justice, I tabled a private Member’s Bill to prohibit certain high-powered laser pens. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Secretary of State for Justice to see whether the Bill can be taken forward? As the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) says, access to certain types of laser pens needs to be controlled.

Mr McLoughlin: I am aware of my hon. Friend’s Bill. I can assure him that not only will I talk to the Secretary of State for Justice, but we are talking across other

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Government Departments as well. As I say, the issue is taken extremely seriously. I will also listen to the representations that have been made to the Department by the British Airline Pilots Association and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): As we have just heard, the issue has had much coverage in the media over the past few months. The number of incidents has rocketed, no more so than in Glasgow, the area neighbouring my constituency, where more aircraft were targeted in the first two months of this year than in the whole of last year. Has the Minister made any representations on the matter to the Scottish Government and, if so, can he share those with the House?

Mr McLoughlin: I am more than happy to ensure that the Scottish Government are consulted if it is decided to take any further measures. The matter is taken seriously in all parts of the House and I welcome the points that the hon. Lady makes.

Network Rail: Privatisation

10. Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): What his policy is on privatisation of Network Rail. [904025]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I have no plans.

Dr Whitehead: The Secretary of State will be aware that the Treasury-backed Shaw report, the final version of which is due to be published next week and which looks at the future financing of railways, has made it clear that full privatisation of Network Rail is on the table. I am sure the Minister would agree that we do not want to go back to the dark and chaotic days of the private management of our rail system under Railtrack. Beyond having no plans, will he commit himself today to rejecting any recommendations that lead to the privatisation of Network Rail?

Mr McLoughlin: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on seeing a report which I do not think has been published yet. How he knows what the contents are is beyond me. I am very proud of what we have achieved with the railway industry. It has been a fantastic success, with the franchising that takes place. I am sorry that that is being put at risk, not by the Government, but by the Opposition.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the evidence from other sectors shows that privatisation has the potential to increase efficiency and improve performance?

Mr McLoughlin: I do agree, but there is obviously responsibility for a system of railway maintenance and improvement, which is very important. Through the private sector we have seen vast improvements in our railway service. At the time of privatisation of our railways, there were 750 million people a year using trains; last year there were 1.6 billion and that figure is growing year on year. So I do not have to be convinced about the advantages of a system that has evolved over

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a number of years, using the private sector. I will consider any other ways in which we can involve the private sector in providing better railway services for our constituents.

22. [904038] Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Network Rail has confirmed that it has considered selling up to 18 major stations and a number of other assets as it struggles to plug a £2.5 billion budget black hole. Would the Secretary of State like to comment on that?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Lady talks about a £2.5 billion black hole. We are investing over this railway period some £38 billion in Network Rail. If Network Rail is sitting on certain assets, should it consider disposing of some of them so that we can carry on improving the overall system? Yes, it should. I do not see anything wrong with that. Indeed, a number of asset sales took place under the previous Government too.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): When the Secretary of State reads the Shaw report, I hope he will recognise the relevance of the words of the great rail manager Gerry Fiennes, who said that

“when you reorganise you bleed. For many months the few top people who keep the momentum up are distracted from their proper job. Punctuality goes to hell. Safety starts to slip. Don’t reorganise. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.”

There is broad cross-party support for investment in the railways, for maintaining our outstanding safety record, and for delivering major projects such as HS2, so will the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that the progress that has been made will not be jeopardised by pursuing unneeded, unwanted and dangerous plans to privatise Network Rail?

Mr McLoughlin: I can tell the hon. Lady with absolute certainty that there are no plans to continue a disastrous policy of nationalising the railways, which is one that she and her party leader put forward. She just talked about all the investment that is going on, and, indeed, she has seen quite a bit of it in her own constituency, not least in Nottingham station. She welcomed that investment—of course she welcomed that investment, and I welcome investment in our railways too. However, it is worth asking how we carry on that level of investment—investment at a level she would only ever have dreamed of when Labour were in government.

Rail Electrification Programme

11. Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): What assessment he has made of progress on the rail electrification programme. [904026]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): In the north-west, the first ever electric trains are now running between Liverpool and Manchester, and between Liverpool and Wigan, and the Farnworth tunnel is now open, further proof of this Government’s commitment to electrification—part of the biggest rail investment since Victorian times.

Last month, Network Rail marked a significant milestone in the introduction of the brand-new IEP trains by completing all 1,377 foundations needed for the overhead line electrification between Tilehurst and Didcot.

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Christian Matheson: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I have to note that, in the Transport for the North document, all the focus is on the large cities. To ensure that the fast-growing regions of Cheshire and, indeed, north Wales are not to be squeezed out by the large cities, will the Secretary of State look again at the possibility of better east-west electrification programmes that include parts of those areas, which he has not mentioned?

Mr McLoughlin: I thought I had mentioned quite a few areas. The truth is that the investment taking place in the northern hub, including the redevelopment of Manchester Victoria station, does a lot to increase connectivity right across the north-west. That links a number of the places the hon. Gentleman mentions directly into our northern cities.

20. [904036] Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): Rail commuters in my constituency have been putting up with severe overcrowding for many years. The electrification of part of Bolton’s network is welcome news, but it has been delayed by a year. Will the Government therefore examine whether rolling stock is available to alleviate that overcrowding?

Mr McLoughlin: We are looking at all problems with rolling stock as a result of any delays in the finalisation of electrification. There is a large amount of new rolling stock coming on to our railways over the next five years, not least the new IEP trains, but also the new trains on Thameslink—the Siemens contract, which is being developed at the moment and coming into operation later this year.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): There is still an awful lot of engineering work to be carried out around Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road, and that work will almost certainly require the re-routeing of trains through to Victoria while it takes place. When that happens, can we please consider using the line through Reddish South and Denton stations, which are currently served by one train a week in one direction only? If trains can be re-routed on to that line, can they please stop at those stations so that we can start to assess the passenger demand that there really is there?

Mr McLoughlin: If it is such a bad experience, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor have been so bad at getting better services, but I am always willing to look at any suggestions. However, the hon. Gentleman’s first point, about the problems with major re-engineering work being carried out on the railways, was actually very serious. That work does lead to inconvenience while it is being carried out, and that is something that we do try to address. It is also something that I regularly talk to the chief executive and the chairman of Network Rail about.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Clearly, good work is being done throughout the network, although I have to report that no progress is being made on electrification in northern Lincolnshire, which is probably one reason why the recent edition of Rail Magazine had a headline saying, “Rail service is truly grim for Grimsby”. Added to that, the Transport for the North publication

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this week does not even include northern Lincolnshire routes on its map. Will the Secretary of State assure me that more will be done to improve services to my constituency?

Mr McLoughlin: After my hon. Friend’s very successful campaign, we managed to protect the services in his area when we renegotiated the franchises. He has always pressed for greater services to his constituency. I will look at the issue, particularly when the new franchise starts operating later this year.

High Speed 2

12. Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): When construction of High Speed 2 is planned to begin. [904027]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): A great deal of work has already been completed, and actual construction will start next year.

Mr Baker: Tempted as I am to propose that the Government build HS2 sometime in the Parliament after next, when it will be seen for the white elephant that it is, could the Minister reassure me that there is time enough to deal with all the environmental impacts of HS2, such as the construction impact on the historic village of West Wycombe in my constituency?

Mr Goodwill: My hon. Friend did promise me an impish supplementary question and I was not disappointed. The fact is that we have promised that there will be no net environmental loss during the construction. Indeed, we plan to plant 2 million trees as part of the phase 1 construction. I think it will be a project that we can be proud of and one that communities up and down the country will value as part of our economic plans.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): I rather like elephants, white or otherwise. Let us look at the building of phase 2 of HS2. The Secretary of State has said in the past that serious consideration would be given to the possibility of beginning construction on the northern part of phase 2 between Sheffield and Leeds in parallel with work on the southern part of that leg. How much serious consideration has been given to that, and is there a possibility that work between Sheffield and Leeds could begin before the very end of the project?

Mr Goodwill: It is important that we prioritise the Birmingham route, because that is where the congestion is and where the real benefits are. Let us not forget that those trains will run through to serve stations in the north and in Scotland from day one. It is very important that we look at how we can deliver that. Indeed, some of the investment at the station locations in the north can go ahead even before the trains reach those locations.

Driving Test Centres: Waiting Times

13. Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): What steps he has taken to reduce waiting times at driving test centres. [904028]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): Demand for driving tests has increased and with it waiting times. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is recruiting more examiners, improving its forecasting model to better match resource with demand, and redeploying examiners from lower-wait centres to those with higher waiting times.

Callum McCaig: Motorcyclists face a particular and perennial problem at the Cove driving centre in my constituency, because the motorcycling manoeuvre area is regularly covered in moss. Will the Minister look into that matter and make sure that every effort is being taken to ensure that motorcyclists are not disadvantaged?

Andrew Jones: I will certainly will look into that matter and respond to the hon. Gentleman.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What assessment has the Minister made of email cancellations? I have been made aware of a number of cases where people have received them just minutes before tests were due to start. I would be interested to know the impact that is having on waiting times.

Andrew Jones: I will look into that. The challenge faced by the DVSA is one of increasing demand. Nationally over the past few months, 181 new driving examiners have started work, 70 people are either currently attending or booked to attend new entrant training courses, and 38 have been offered posts. The DVSA is, therefore, responding with more people, but it also needs to respond in a customer-friendly way. My hon. Friend makes an important point and I will look into it.

Topical Questions

T1. [904005] Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): We have continued to make progress on transport infrastructure schemes across the country. In the north, the “Northern transport strategy: spring 2016” report has set out more details of how we are building the northern powerhouse. In the east, we are working hard on evaluating bids for the East Anglia franchise, which will start this October, while in the south- west, Highways England has started local community engagement on the work on the A303 and A358 improvement plans. Connecting the country together, the HS2 phase 1 hybrid Bill Select Committee has published its final report after 17 months of hard work. I would like to thank all Members who were involved in that work for their significant time and effort over the course of those hearings.

Steve Double: The businesses and residents of the St Austell area have longed for a new road linking the town to the A30 for many years. A new road would also provide relief for the villages of Bugle and Roche. Yesterday, Cornwall Council’s cabinet voted to approve the development of a business case for the new road. Will the Secretary of State confirm the Government’s continued support for that new road, and will his Department continue to work with me to make sure that it is delivered as soon as possible?

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Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend has made the case for that road to me on many occasions, not least when I was in Cornwall and he took me around the area that we are talking about. The Government are making funds available through the local road fund for local schemes that support economic growth. It will be up to Cornwall Council to prepare and submit the bid for funding in the normal way, but Cornwall has a very successful history of obtaining funds through that grant, and I wish it well with that scheme.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The UK Airprox Board investigated 23 near misses between aircraft and drones in six months last year. Of those, 12 were deemed to involve a serious risk of collision. The British Airline Pilots Association wants the Government to run tests on what would happen if a drone were sucked into an engine or hit a windscreen, and the Government have had a working group on the matter since 2013. So why is it only this summer that Ministers will say anything? Should we not know by now what tests have already been done, what regulatory and other options are being considered and when Ministers expect any agreed option to be put into practice?

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I assure the House that we take that matter very seriously indeed, and we are aware of the risk of a collision with a drone. Yesterday, I met representatives of the British Airline Pilots Association, and that was one of the topics that came up. As the Secretary of State said in answer to an earlier question, severe penalties are in place for people who get involved with such activities. There are a number of technologies, such as geo-fencing, which would prevent those aircraft from entering sensitive airspace. We take the matter very seriously, and we are considering the best action to take.

Richard Burden: On a different but also topical subject, I was in Kent yesterday talking to businesses that had felt at first hand the traffic chaos surrounding 32 days of Operation Stack last year. I know that the Government are consulting on lorry parks and junction improvements for future years, but what are they going to do to prevent a repeat of last year’s scenes from occurring in 2016? I am not asking the Minister to tell me who he is meeting; I am asking him what the action plan is.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): Operation Stack is a critical part of controlling access to the ports and trying to make the ports flow more smoothly. We had exceptional circumstances last summer, with strikes as well as challenges over migrants closing the tunnel. The Operation Stack proposals, which are effectively to create an off-the-highway holding area, represent a significant investment; it is a £250 million project. The closure of the consultation is only a few days away. I have met Highways England and local providers of highways, and we are working on what we can do in the short term. I will keep local Members informed of that progress.

T2. [904006] Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): On 4 February this year, hundreds of my constituents were gridlocked on the M6 and the M42 for an entire day following an accident. Would the Minister meet me to discuss lessons

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to be learned from that day of chaos and examine proposals to open the M6 toll for free or for a nominal charge, but only when such crisis situations occur?

Mr Goodwill: There is an agreement in place whereby M6 tolls can be lifted in the event of a major failure that is likely to lead to prolonged inoperability of the surrounding roads on the strategic road network. The Government are looking at options over that agreement, but there are substantial cost, policy and value-for-money implications involved with de-tolling, which we are currently considering. As part of the process, I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.

T4. [904008] Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): With an estimated skills gap of some 50,000 HGV drivers predicted by the end of this Parliament, does the Minister agree that it would make sense for the Government to contribute towards the £3,500 training fee required for licences? Not only would that help to plug the skills gap, but it would mean more people working and paying tax, and it would reduce welfare.

Mr McLoughlin: I am looking at various options to help with this issue, along with other Departments. It is also for the industry to step up to the mark in its training programme.

T3. [904007] Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): Will the Minister join me in welcoming the report published earlier this week by the Independent Transport Commission, which sets out ways in which the environmental impact of expansion at Heathrow can be mitigated? Given the increased confidence that it can be mitigated, and given the weight of opinion included in the Davies report, when can we look forward to a statement and progress on the matter?

Mr McLoughlin: I have noted the publication of the report by the Independent Transport Commission, which will obviously feed into our wider considerations. On the wider issue of airport capacity and when we will be able to make a decision on the location, I hope, as I have previously said, to be able to do so later this year.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): I have been contacted by one of my constituents, Fiona Brice, who describes the impact of late running trains on her job and her income. She says:

“Please understand that I am self-employed and cannot just phone in sick”

if I am late for work and the

“service fails me. This meeting was for a job worth £5,000 to me personally. Turning up 30mins late may well cost me this work.”

Does the rail Minister accept that late running trains and the lamentable performance of Southern rail are having an impact on the productivity of the south of England?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): The hon. Gentleman knows that I absolutely accept that point. I just point out that rail passenger satisfaction is up 3 percentage points over the country. The challenge we have is that, behind the national numbers, there are some lines, such as his Brighton

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main line, on which customers are absolutely not getting the punctuality and the service they deserve. That is why we are so committed to getting Network Rail and the franchise holder to work together. There is no blame; we want the two of them to work together to improve the service.

T5. [904009] Sir Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): Does the rail Minister agree that capital improvements to the Ely North junction and the nearby crossing are crucial to securing improved services on the line between King’s Cross and King’s Lynn, thus unlocking more economic growth along the route? Will she and her colleagues work with me to help to secure this crucial investment?

Claire Perry: My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have left me in no doubt about the value of the Ely North junction upgrade work. I am disappointed that this work will not be completed until after 2019. As a result of discussions that he and others have organised, I am now more confident that the preparatory work the project needs can go ahead sooner, with funding coming from a variety of sources. I have committed my Department to work with him and the local team.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What actual progress has been made with the top three projects recommended by the northern electrification taskforce, which was chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones)?

Mr McLoughlin: The report was a cross-party report from the taskforce, which was chaired by my hon. Friend. Much has obviously been learned about electrification since then, but the report forms part of the foundation for deciding how we will move forward with further electrification and how we will prioritise those particular schemes.

T6. [904010] Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I know that the Government keep the status of trust ports under periodic review. Poole, which is a trust port, is a successful port. Such a status has the support of the local community, and indeed of its Member of Parliament. I hope the shipping Minister understands that.

Mr Goodwill: May I first put on the record our gratitude to my hon. Friend for the very hard work he carried out as a member of the Select Committee on the hybrid HS2 Bill? We occasionally ask trust ports to review their status. All the feedback I have had from his trust port certainly shows that the trust port model is working well, and we would not wish to interfere with that.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): It is clearly in the public interest for a person reporting somebody as unfit to drive to have anonymity. However, does the Secretary of State agree that anonymity should be rescinded where the allegation appears to be malicious, and that the reporting form should clearly state that an accuser will be liable to prosecution if false accusations are made about an individual?

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Mr McLoughlin: I think that is a matter for the Secretary of State for Justice, but I will reflect on the question.

T7. [904011] Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Will my hon. Friend update the House on the reinstatement of the Halton curve, and will she agree to meet me and a group from the Merseyside local enterprise partnership to discuss this vital transport link, which is so important for Cheshire, Wirral, north Wales and beyond?

Claire Perry: My hon. Friend is right that this is a vital link. The Government have contributed £10.4 million to the work. I understand that the business case will be considered by the combined authorities in April. If approved—I hope it is—the work will go ahead in June next year and be completed by May 2018. It would of course be a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend and his friends, if only to feed him some buns to keep up his weight during his marathon training.

Mr Speaker: It is always useful to have a bit of additional information. I feel sure that the House is very appreciative, not least the hon. Gentleman.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): May I thank the Minister of State for his visit to Northern Ireland? It was good to see everyone in the Union working together. He visited Belfast International airport, Lough Neagh Rescue and Wrightbus. Will he use his influence to help the various road and rail projects we saw, and help with things such as air passenger duty, enterprise zones and, of course, one day having a new runway here to improve links to Northern Ireland?

Mr Goodwill: It was great to visit Ulster and see some of the good news about the 300 new jobs at Belfast International airport. Ryanair is now based at that airport, with direct flights to Gatwick and new routes in the pipeline, including to Milan and Berlin. It was great to visit Northern Ireland, and I look forward to going again.

T8. [904012] David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): In my constituency, a link road from the M6 to Heysham port will open within the next 12 months. Are there any plans to trunk that road, given that it is a strategic route, and will my right hon. Friend make a statement on that?

Mr McLoughlin: I visited that site with my hon. Friend not so long ago, and that major piece of new infrastructure will serve his area incredibly well. The question of trunking the road has not previously been raised, but I will obviously consider it. I am pleased that my hon. Friend and his constituents will see the benefit of our massive road investment scheme in the near future.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): When my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and I raised some time ago the need for a road tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester, many thought that we were just kite flying. Even when the Government agreed to carry out a review, some thought that it would be only a desktop study. Will the Secretary

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of State confirm that that road tunnel is a real possibility, and that it might even become a reality before some of us depart this world and fail to get the benefits of it?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is asking me to comment on his demise at this stage, but I will resist doing so. He may be right to say that when past Governments have raised this issue, it has been a desktop job. It is not a desktop job; it is a proper, serious piece of work. Importantly, such infrastructure would not be just for 30 years; it will be around for the next 100 years and very important to the area, and it would therefore probably see the demise of both of us.

T9. [904013] Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con): The Government are making a welcome investment in rail in the north, with electrification bringing huge benefits to constituencies such as mine. What will the Government do to upgrade stations such as Morley, where improvements to disabled access and other facilities are long overdue? Will the Minister meet me to discuss improvements at Morley station?

Claire Perry: My hon. Friend is right to mention Morley station. It has been put forward several times, but there were many others ahead of it in the queue in terms of passenger footfall—again, we are trying to catch up from decades of neglect. It would be a pleasure to meet her and discuss station refurbishment, in particular disability access.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not think much of the second part of my earlier question, but it was deadly serious. The re-routing of services because of the work at Piccadilly and Oxford Road will use the line though my constituency. May I meet the Secretary of State so that I can explain the importance of being able to assess whether Denton and Reddish South stations can make a business case for future services?

Mr McLoughlin: I am glad that topical questions have given the hon. Gentleman another chance to ask that question because he was not satisfied with the answer in the first place—I presume it was topical because he was not happy with the first answer. I understand that he will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) in 30 minutes, and no doubt he will add that issue to the list of things to discuss.

T10. [904014] Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I recently visited Vivarail, which is refurbishing tube trains for main line use. Does my hon. Friend agree that those trains could make an excellent replacement for the decrepit rolling stock on the line from Boston to Skegness?

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Claire Perry: Like my hon. Friend I have also visited the Vivarail facility, and there are fantastic innovations with rolling stock that is made of aluminium, is rust free, and could run for many more years. The East Midland franchise competition is coming up this summer, and the successful bidder will be required to bid based on the rolling stock they will provide. We expect them to be innovative and to consider each and every opportunity for rolling stock. We want to improve the rolling stock in my hon. Friend’s region.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): The proposed trans-Pennine tunnel mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) would be transformative, not just for congestion in my constituency, but for our local economy. Yes it is ambitious, but I say that the north is worthy of that level of ambition. Will the Secretary of State reiterate what he has just said, and urge the Chancellor to show his support next week?

Mr McLoughlin: I do not think I need to encourage the Chancellor on infrastructure spending. I have been incredibly successful in securing funding for infrastructure from the Chancellor, who certainly gets the importance of infrastructure investment, not least in the north. Indeed, it is his policy to pursue the northern powerhouse and to take forward transport for the north. That will have a transformative effect on transport between our northern cities and is something other parts of the country are looking to follow.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The Secretary of State will recall the Shoreham airshow crash, which tragically claimed the lives of 11 men in my constituency last August. I just received a call from the media asking for my comments on the air accident investigation board report on the air crash, which apparently is being published today. Why was I not aware of that and what plans do the Government have to respond to it?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure we do pre-notification of air accident investigation board reports before they are published. I think it is part of the report that is being published later today. I do not think it is the full report, but a part of its investigation. It is taking the opportunity to update people on where it has got to so far.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry. There are several colleagues who have been waiting very patiently, but I am afraid that today demand has heavily outstripped supply and we must now move on.

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Pubs Code Adjudicator

10.36 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make a statement on the appointment of the first Pubs Code Adjudicator.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): As I announced to the House yesterday, Paul Newby has been appointed as the first Pubs Code Adjudicator. I hope the House will join me in congratulating him on his appointment. I pay tribute and say thank you to all those who applied for this important position. I also pay tribute, as I am sure the House will, to all the candidates in an excellent and very strong field.

Mr Newby will start his work full time on 2 May. He has actually already started work. He has been very helpful to my officials in making sure that we have the pub code up and running, and ready to come before this House. Paul Newby is a chartered surveyor with a particular expertise in valuation and arbitration, key skills for the Pubs Code Adjudicator. He has 30 years’ experience of the pub trade, working with pub company landlords and pub tenants. I think he will be an excellent Pubs Code Adjudicator.

Greg Mulholland: I am afraid that is not a view shared by tenants’ groups, who have been absolutely astonished by this appointment. Let us be clear, this is the appointment of someone who is a director of a company that derives the majority of its income from the very companies the legislation is intended to regulate. By his own admission—it is on his CV—he has been engaged by numerous managed and tenanted pubcos on rent review matters. In the past five years he has acted for Enterprise Inns, Marston’s and Punch Taverns. The very companies he is currently acting for are bullying and coercing tenants into signing away their rights or forfeiting pubs. His company is actively involved in selling off pubs. How can he possibly be trusted to be impartial, given that for 20 years his salary has been dependent on those he must now adjudicate on and potentially impose financial penalties on? There is a clear conflict of interest, which appears to render this process extremely dubious at the very least.

I must ask the Minister for urgent clarification. Did Mr Newby, as a director, declare how much of the income of the company he works for is derived from the companies he will supposedly adjudicate on? Will he be stepping down from his role as director of Fleurets during the four-year period? How can tenants have any confidence in this appointment? Why has a chartered surveyor been appointed, rather than someone from a legal background or an independent arbitrator? How was this process conducted? We do not know who was involved, how many candidates were involved or who made the final decision.

This is a very worrying appointment that once again demonstrates either complicity with pubco influence or an utter lack of understanding and knowledge of the issues and the conflicts in the sector. It is in danger of making a laughing stock of the adjudicator’s role. Tenant groups predict that if this appointment is allowed to stand, the statutory reforms will go the same way as the

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failed self-regulatory regime. It is a crass, complicit and clueless appointment, and it now needs to be properly scrutinised by the House.

Anna Soubry: That was an absolutely disgraceful set of slurs—[Interruption.] I would appreciate it if the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) would be good enough to listen. Paul Newby was appointed absolutely in accordance with the usual ways of public appointments, and I take very grave exception to any allegation that either I or anybody else has acted improperly or with complicity. As I said, Mr Newby has represented not just pub trade companies but tenants. He has 30 years’ experience effectively representing both sides. He is an experienced arbitrator, and the great skills he brings to this position do not just include his extensive experience of the pub trade industry; like many professionals, he has the absolute ability to be fair and to arbitrate fairly. The fact that he might be representing somebody does not mean he is in their pay; he can act independently.

Greg Mulholland: He is in their pay.

Anna Soubry: Oh no. The hon. Gentleman does not understand how professionals work, and many of us take great exception—[Interruption.] Opposition Members would do better not to heckle about somebody they do not even know. They have not looked at his antecedents. I made the announcement only yesterday in this place at about 7 o’clock. I have no doubt that Mr Newby’s considerable experience and ability to do the job are first rate, and I take great exception to the idea that there has been an impropriety.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): Do you know him?

Anna Soubry: No, I don’t know him. I did not meet him until—[Interruption.] I met him at the end of the procedure, as the House would expect. His was one of three names put forward, quite properly, in a full, open and fair process, and I object very strongly, on behalf of Mr Newby, who will do this job with propriety. All things will be done properly.

Sir Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister has behaved absolutely correctly and properly. Surely what matters is Paul Newby’s ability. Does she agree that he should look first at, among other things, the loophole that allows retailers and shop owners to buy a pub that does not require planning permission, whereas if it reverts to being a pub, it does require planning permission?

Anna Soubry: Yes. Paul Newby’s primary job, of course, is to implement the pubs code and make sure it is complied with. When people invoke the pubs code, his job will be to act as a fair arbitrator, and I have no doubt that he has all the necessary skills and experience of the pub trade. As I have said, he has experience of representing both pub companies and tenants, so he sees things from both sides; he has all the skills, and his appointment was made with great care and total propriety.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The way the Minister announced the appointment yesterday—as part of the shambolic proceedings on the Enterprise Bill and

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Sunday trading—did not exactly inspire confidence. She announced it in an intervention—of all things—on Third Reading, after the Secretary of State could have mentioned it in his Third Reading speech. If nobody had mentioned the pubs code on Third Reading, the announcement would not have been made even then.

Turning to Paul Newby’s appointment as the first adjudicator, I certainly look forward to meeting him and to raising the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and, more importantly, by pub tenants about the relationship between Mr Newby’s employers and the large pub-owning businesses. I do not think that the tenants will be at all reassured by what the Minister has said. The challenge for Mr Newby will be in ensuring a level playing field between tenants and pubcos. How does she think that he can do that, given the concerns that have been raised by tenants?

There is a very real danger that someone who has acted for Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns and Marston’s will be seen as continuing to act on their behalf, and the Minister must be aware of this very real concern, as she sits there, chuntering as usual. She will also be aware of concerns among tenant groups that the adjudicator should not be a chartered surveyor. Will she pursue concerns about the attitude of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors about parallel rent assessments?

Labour raised concerns about the pubs code in the Lords and in Committee here, so will the Minister raise those concerns with the adjudicator about pubcos offering shorter leases to make it impractical for tenants to take up the market rent only option? Will she ensure an effective date of 1 June for tenants who wish to take up the MRO, rather than allowing a potential delay of six months—another of the asks of pub tenants?

The shambolic approach to the initial consultation on the pubs code undermined pub tenants’ trust, which is back on track after concerns were raised by pub tenants organisations—

Mr Speaker: Order. I think that we will leave it at that. Forgive me. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] On this occasion, I advised the principal actors on this stage that I would be quite insistent that the time limits be kept. To be fair, the Minister was well within her time, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) exceeded his by a small number of seconds, but he was closer than he has been in the past. No discourtesy is intended to the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). I think that he has got the thrust of it across. But, please, we really must from now on stick to the limits; otherwise it is not fair to Back Benchers. I think that we are very clear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I thank him.

Anna Soubry: We are confident that the pub code will be in its proper form, laid at the appropriate time and up and running by 1 June. Yesterday, a press release was prepared for publication today. I took the opportunity, as you know, Mr Speaker, to tell the House first—I thought that was a courtesy to the House—and I did so in intervening on the hon. Member for Leeds North West because I thought he had a proper interest in pubs and that he might be in some way grateful, but we live and learn.

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Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I very much welcome the Government’s action on this issue. I represent a number of pubs that I have dealt with over the years that have had problems with the large pubcos that own them. Does the Minister agree that in appointing a fair and experienced adjudicator, it is important that we appoint someone who understands both sides of the argument and can therefore adjudicate fairly?

Anna Soubry: I absolutely agree. That is the joy of Paul Newby: not only is he a chartered surveyor, with all that that brings to the job, but he is an experienced arbitrator who has knowledge of both sides. I know that he will be fair. I have complete confidence in him. He is very good news.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): The pubs adjudicator is effectively classed as England-only, but, as with Sunday trading, the proposals on market rent only options could have an effect in Scotland, because pub companies might direct investment towards pubs in England and Wales. The Scottish Government are consulting on the effect of tied pubs in Scotland. Will the Minister ensure that the adjudicator takes cognisance of the consultation in Scotland and the possible effect of the proposals on Scottish pubs and Scotland?

Anna Soubry: I do not think there was a question there, but I am sure that we can have a chat about this afterwards and discuss all these things.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this appointment has been made absolutely on merit, fairly and without interference from the Government? The most important thing is how the person does the job and implements the pub code.

Anna Soubry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is absolutely right. This is actually an insult to the civil servants and all those who took part in the process, because they exercise the greatest care in ensuring that the very best candidates are put forward as the final seven and then the next three who come to the Minister, often with a recommendation in relation to one of them. I do not take this personally; it is against not me, but against my civil servants and all that team. This is very good news: Paul Newby is fair and he knows what he is talking about.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I have a recorded interest in pubs, and I chair the John Clare Trust, which owns a pub in which John Clare played and sang. It is not operating at the moment, but it will be. Let us depersonalise this issue. I work very closely with “pub is the hub”; pubs are central to our communities in Britain. I do not know this man, and I hope he does a good job. Unlike the supermarket adjudicator, however, I hope this man will have some teeth to do something about the vigorous brewing and pub industry in this country.

Anna Soubry: It is, of course, all about getting the balance right. I take exception, however, to what the hon. Gentleman said about Christine Tacon, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who now has exactly the teeth that

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he would like. She has not held back in her criticism, as we saw only recently. She is doing a great job. She now has the power to impose fines. In any event, the most important thing is the naming and shaming. As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is sometimes the most powerful tool. The code adjudicator is just that— an adjudicator to ensure fairness. Paul Newby will do that.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What involvement, if any, have both sides of the industry had in this selection process?

Anna Soubry: I can assure my hon. Friend that there has been no influence at all. We sought somebody with the right skills set who could be an experienced arbitrator and who understood the trade and had the ability to see things from both sides. Paul Newby has all those skills and more.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): As Chair of the BIS Select Committee that initiated one of the earlier inquiries which informed this particular piece of legislation, I would not wish to prejudge the performance of Paul Newby, but I emphasise that there is huge disquiet among the tenants. Will the Minister consider that and review the adjudicator’s performance after a certain time, and keep up a dialogue with the tenants to ensure that their concerns are met? Otherwise, this issue will not go away.

Anna Soubry: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I am pleased that he, unlike others, has an open mind. I think he will be impressed by Mr Newby. He is absolutely right in any event that, as with all appointments, if someone is not performing adequately, that is matter of concern and measures can be taken to rectify it. There are many tied tenants in pubs throughout England and Wales, so we must be careful to ensure that groups genuinely represent the voice of all tenants. We must not let a few dominate the debate. It is important to be fair to both sides and to make sure that all the tenant groups are involved; this is why I am a great fan of Campaign for Real Ale, which represents a large section of tenants.

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con): I echo the sentiment that the pub is at the heart of many communities, particularly in smaller towns and villages. I am hoping that the appointment of Mr Newby will normalise many of these relationships. I hope this will help to avoid what happened in the case of a pub near me, the Chequer Inn in Ash, which has suffered under an overbearing pub company. New tenants are tempted in and the pub runs well, but then prices escalate until they are forced to collapse and close, when we see a planning application for alternative use. I am really hoping that this will normalise these relationships.

Anna Soubry: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is the change of culture that is so important. We have all encountered similar examples in our constituencies; I, too, have fought to keep local pubs open. Unfortunately, I was not successful in one instance, although I was in another. It is about changing the

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atmosphere and making sure that pubcos act in a sensible and responsible manner, not just towards their tied tenants, but to the broader communities.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I understand that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors failed to respond to the Government’s request for clarification on rent assessment guidance, and has clearly laid out its position that it is against a parallel rent assessment through which a tenant can compare their tied rents and rewards with the rents and rewards of those who are not tied. Will the Minister confirm how the adjudicator reconciles his position with that of a professional body such as the RICS?

Anna Soubry: I hear what my hon. Friend says—he is my Friend, as he knows—but I can tell him that Paul Newby is going to be his own man. I was a member of a professional body, and the Bar Council often had a point of view that I personally completely disagreed with. Paul Newby is a good man and he will be his own man. He will be fair, and he comes with a huge skill set.

Mr Speaker: I am bound to say that I am rather staggered by the fact that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) seems to have disappeared from the Chamber. The question is ongoing, and the hon. Gentleman is the Front-Bench spokesman for his party. He should not be toddling out of the Chamber in the middle of the exchanges. These courtesies really must be observed. This really will not do. Honestly!

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): The appointment brief for this role, which was issued in July last year, stated that—[Interruption.]

Hon. Members: Hooray!

Mr Speaker: Order. It is very good that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has beetled back into the Chamber. We are deeply grateful to him, but I want the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) to have his question heard without interruption and with the reverence that it warrants.

Mr Nuttall: It is a brief question. The appointment brief for this role, which was issued in July last year, stated that the appointment would be announced in January. Can the Minister tell me why the announcement was delayed by two months?

Anna Soubry: If I am wrong about this I will apologise profusely, but if my memory is correct, it was because Mr Newby had to serve a period of his contract before he could give notice. I believe that the decision was made just before Christmas, but we could not announce it until now because of his relationship with his employer.

Mr Speaker: I call Liz Saville Roberts—[Laughter.] That is inexplicable to me, but I am sure that nobody is laughing at the hon. Lady, whom I take extremely seriously. I want to hear what she has to say.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the Dwyfor region of my constituency, one brewery effectively has a monopoly, with 30 tied houses. This blocks local producers such as Cwrw Llyn

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from selling to pubs on their doorstep. More than 100 small breweries are in a similar position across Wales. Could the economic context of Wales be considered by the newly appointed pubs adjudicator?

Anna Soubry: I do not think that that falls within his remit. He is there to ensure that anyone who raises a complaint under the pub code will be able to be heard fairly and that the matter can be arbitrated in the right way. The hon. Lady raises an important point, however. We all know the huge importance of our pubs to communities, and it is absolutely the case that they should trade fairly.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Minister tell us how many years the initial appointment is for? If it is only for a short period, there will be understandable concern that the adjudicator will not want to burn their bridges with the pubco industry.

Anna Soubry: I have just been helped by those sitting in the Box—I nearly said “those who instruct me”—and the answer is four years.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Is the Minister confident that this appointment abides by the principles of the Committee on Standards in Public Life?

Anna Soubry: Yes.

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Business of the House

10.58 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): I should like to start by informing the House that the state opening of the next Session of Parliament will take place on Wednesday 18 May. I am also pleased to announce the calendar for this House for the remainder of the year. The House will rise for the early May bank holiday on Thursday 28 April and return on Tuesday 3 May. For the Whitsun recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Thursday 26 May and return on Monday 6 June. Members will wish to know that, additionally, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 15 June and return on Monday 27 June. The House will rise for the summer recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 21 July and return on Monday 5 September. The conference recess will commence at the close of business on Thursday 15 September, with the House returning on Monday 10 October. The House will rise on Tuesday 8 November and return on Monday 14 November. Finally, for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 20 December and return on Monday 9 January 2017. As usual, all dates are subject to the progress of business, as they have been for the past few weeks.

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 14 March—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 15 March—Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Terrorism Act 2000.

Wednesday 16 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 17 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 18 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 March will include:

Monday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 22 March—Continuation and conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 23 March—Remaining stages of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. I might just take the liberty of offering my thanks on behalf of the House to all those who have been involved in the extended period of the Committee stage of that Bill.

Thursday 24 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 17 March and 21 March will be:

Thursday 17 March—General debate on cabin air safety and aerotoxic syndrome.

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Monday 21 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to contract negotiations with the British Medical Association.

Chris Bryant: I am absolutely delighted that the Leader of the House has confirmed the recess dates that I announced three weeks ago—I am glad that he is catching up. The decision to hold the Queen’s Speech on 18 May is a profound mistake. Whatever the Government’s intentions, they will be misconstrued. We have already seen that the Brexit campaign is now so desperate that it is even trying to recruit members of the royal family to its cause. I say, “Lay off the Queen and think again.” After all, there is plenty that we could be getting on with.

The Government’s permanently delayed decision on Heathrow is hurting business. Their long-delayed childhood obesity strategy is hurting children. They promised to change the law to make it easier to put up mobile phone masts in the countryside four years ago. The Prime Minister even mentioned it again yesterday—great! We have been calling for it for years, but why do they not just publish the electronic communications code tomorrow?

Incidentally, have the Government learned anything from yesterday—how to count perhaps? The way in which Ministers handled the Enterprise Bill really was a classic case of how not to do it. They were so scared of the bishops that they let the Bill go all the way through the Lords without mentioning Sunday trading, the provisions on which they inserted upstairs in Committee. At one point in Committee, the Ministers forgot to vote, but a generous Chair allowed them a second chance. Then, at the very last instance, they tabled a manuscript amendment to their own amendment. Some people have said that they are being too clever by half, but, to be honest—to coin a phrase—I think they are just a little dim.

I gather that there were many blandishments to rebels yesterday. Arms were twisted and the Chief Whip explained the facts of life to recalcitrant Members. Apparently, the Chancellor even tried being charming, but that was so terrifying that one rebel Member’s hair turned completely grey and she may never regain the power of speech. Still, after all that, the Government lost. Can you hear that sound, Mr Speaker? It is the sound of the slow ebbing out down the beach of the authority of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I offer this advice for free: this House never likes sharp practice, so stop trying to pull a fast one and just do things the proper way.

Incidentally, is it not time that we abandoned English votes for English laws? Last night, we had the hilarious sight of Ministers staring at you, Mr Speaker, in blank amazement when you suspended the House. When the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked the Chairman of Ways and Means, who should know the answer, if he could explain what was going on, Mr Deputy Speaker made it absolutely clear that he had not the foggiest idea what was happening. Looking at the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, it seemed as though there was a desert of vast eternity between her ears. Nobody understands the system. It wastes time and it has not made a difference to a single decision so far. It is not Bills that need certifying; it is the Leader of the House for introducing this muddle. It is time to abandon it.

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Incidentally, I note that the Leader of the House is giving a Brexit speech today—we are all agog. Did he have to get approval for his speech from the Prime Minister, or from the actual leader of the out campaign, the Justice Secretary? Can the Leader of the House guarantee that his special advisers were not involved in briefing the papers on this speech and will not be in attendance when he makes it? The Cabinet Secretary has explicitly instructed that special advisers may not do so during office hours. Is the Leader of the House therefore being forced to make the speech under cover of darkness? He and I do have one thing in common, however. On Tuesday night, the Labour party auctioned off the opportunity to swim with sharks with me—this is instead of attending a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party—and I fear that he may be swimming with the fishes after 23 June.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has written to Mike Ashley, the chief executive and majority shareholder of Sports Direct, to demand that he gives evidence on his company’s decidedly shady practices, but he has refused. This is a truly hideous company. In one warehouse, 80% of staff are on zero-hours contracts. Every member of staff is subjected to a 15-minute search at the end of the day, unpaid. The effective hourly rate is way below the minimum wage, so he should of course be appearing before the Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the House can deal with recalcitrant executives? If necessary, the Select Committee can order Mr Ashley to appear. If that fails, it can ask the House to force to him to attend and, if necessary, to be arraigned before the Bar of the House. He may be the 22nd-richest man in Britain, but he is running a modern-day sweatshop and the House will get to the truth.

If we are to criticise the working practices of Sports Direct, however, surely we should put our own house in order. Since 2010, the cost of agency staff working in the House’s catering and hospitality department has quadrupled. Agency staff now represent one in 12 members of staff, which means that the House will be paying substantially more than those employees will be getting, and they will receive no share of the tips. Should we not bring such staff in house and ensure that everyone gets a fair share of the tips?

Finally, may I say happy birthday to my father for tomorrow?

Chris Grayling: I am delighted to send many happy returns to the hon. Gentleman’s father. I also want to take a moment to celebrate another important occasion that is a matter of great interest on the Opposition Benches. Tomorrow is the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson and it is worth this House marking that. Many people have made the case for having a statue of him in this place. There is a lot to be said for that, so I hope that the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art will give it due consideration. It is particularly apposite to celebrate his life at the moment because, 41 years ago, he was the first person to give us a referendum on our membership of the European Union.

Chris Bryant: And won it.

Chris Grayling: I hope to be part of a winning side as well. The other thing about Harold Wilson is that he is a former Labour Prime Minister whom the Opposition

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are still happy to talk about, which is a bit of a rarity in today’s world.

The shadow Leader of the House went on about the Queen’s Speech, but I do not understand what he is talking about. One moment he talks about a zombie Parliament with nothing to do, but now he complains that we are having a Queen’s Speech in May containing an important set of measures that will help to reform this country. The Opposition talk about a zombie Parliament, but last Monday we had the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill, which is an important set of measures that will make a difference to policing in this country. Government Members were here debating it, but where were the Labour Members? They barely turned up and the business finished early. We do not have a zombie Parliament; we have a zombie Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the authority of the Prime Minister seeping away, but I have to say that coming from the Labour party today, with the authority of its leader seeping away, that is frankly unbelievable. We sit at Prime Minister’s questions each week and look at the faces of Opposition Members as their leader asks questions. The shadow Leader of the House’s face is a picture; we know what he thinks about his leader. The Opposition are profoundly depressed and miserable, to the extent that today we have the first speech in the next Labour leadership contest.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about the speech I am going to be giving today, but what he missed was that I have already given it, so he clearly was not paying that much attention.

Chris Bryant: Yes, we missed it. We certainly did.

Chris Grayling: Surprisingly enough, I am not after his support.

As for the EVEL vote and the procedure that the shadow Leader of the House talked about, the Conservatives stood on a manifesto of giving the English a share in the devolution settlement. We took that through the House and it is now in operation. If it is now the Labour party’s policy to say to English voters, “We will take away from you your bit of the devolution settlement,” I look forward to having that debate on the doorsteps and at the ballot box.

On the subject of Mike Ashley and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of course it should always be the case that if a Committee of the House seeks to bring somebody who is a citizen of this country before it, it should be free to do so. That should happen, unequivocally.

On employees in this House, I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that he is a member of the House of Commons Commission. We discuss how we spend money on this House, but I do not remember him bringing that issue to the Commission. I am sure that he will do so and we will be able to consider it.

Finally, this weekend is the denouement of the rugby six nations between Wales and England at Twickenham. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be there cheering on his side, and I will be cheering on the English, but I would say, “May the best team win.” One thing we can be sure about is that he will not be joining in the singing of “Delilah” this weekend, but he has written that, even as a republican, he looks forward

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“to a good old blast of ‘God Save the Queen’”,

so I am sure that he will be joining in with the anthem on Saturday.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): Next week, I will be going back to Redbrook Hayes Community Primary School in Brereton, which has recently been rated good following a couple of years of hard work and commitment from the headteacher, Chris Gaffiney, and all his team. May we have a debate in Government time about the progress that is being made to improve school standards?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I should wish her a happy birthday for Saturday as well. We have made enormous progress under this Government and the coalition Government on improving educational standards in our schools. That is essential to the future success of our nation. I pay tribute not only to the headteacher she mentions, but to all those in her constituency who are helping to make a difference for the young people of Cannock Chase.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Let us see whether we can get through this business quickly so that he can resume his core business of slagging off his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The big issue of the day is whether Her Majesty the Queen is a Brexiteer or not. I have an elegant solution for how we can try to discover that: we could perhaps dispatch the Prime Minister to the palace to ask her indirectly—one purr for in, two purrs for out. That would solve the issue, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He said what he said, but for the benefit of the House, and particularly for the benefit of new Members, may I underline that we do not discuss the views of the monarch in this Chamber? There have occasionally been debates on matters appertaining to the royal family, which I have happily granted, but we do not discuss that matter. I think it better if we just leave it there. Mr Wishart, please continue.

Pete Wishart: You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. We will leave it entirely to Government figures to do that.

Yesterday, the Government were defeated and it was the SNP wot won it—[Interruption.] I am afraid that we cannot take exclusive credit for that incredible victory—there were others, of course, and we did have some friends in the Conservative party—but we SNP Members really enjoyed the wailing and gnashing of Conservative teeth. There was something almost delicious about the way in which the Tories lashed out at the SNP. This Government, having imposed English votes for English laws, criticised our temerity for getting up and supporting Scottish workers. Do the Government believe for a minute that normal rules stand when it comes to issues such as this?

The Government have imposed these ridiculous EVEL rules without the agreement or support of any other party in the House. What about those rules, Mr Speaker? No one had a Scooby what was going on yesterday. I asked the Deputy Speaker and he did not know. I do

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not blame him, Mr Speaker; you would need an advanced degree in madness and impenetrable inconsequentials even to start to understand what is going on with the dog’s breakfast that is EVEL. The time has come to abandon EVEL and to decide that it does not work. If anything was to happen to the Leader of the House—some accidental consequence of his support for the leave Europe campaign—this will be his legacy. What a legacy to leave the House divided on an issue such as EVEL.

I support the calls that were made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). We should have a debate on the treatment of asylum seekers in this country and especially the evidence that has been uncovered thus far about their treatment. Perhaps we could have a proper look at the use of private services in dealing with asylum seekers.

We are also grateful to the Leader of the House for announcing the recess dates and that there will, after all, be a Queen’s Speech before the European referendum, but once again the recess dates do not cover the Scottish National party conference. We are the third largest party in the House. The recess covers the Liberal conference, but may I have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that 14 October will be a non-sitting day so that the members of the third party in the House can also get to their conference?

Once again, all the time that we are having off in the summer does not include the Scottish school holidays. My hon. Friends will not be able to spend the same amount of time with their families as hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom. We need to get that fixed for next year, get the SNP conference covered, and for goodness sake try to cover the holidays of every nation of the United Kingdom.

Chris Grayling: First, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for what you said about the Queen and the royal family? That was absolutely appropriate. The one thing it is always appropriate to say in this House is how we much we value our monarch and appreciate the magnificent job that she does for our nation.

With regard to events yesterday, the hon. Gentleman said, “It was the SNP wot won it.” He knows that I have a high regard for him, but yesterday was one of those occasions when it was clear how far away from political principle the SNP can find itself. SNP Members cannot talk about the importance—as they always have and did during the EVEL debate—of standing aside from matters that are England only, but then dive in when it is opportunistic for them to do so. That is a party of opportunism, I am afraid, not a party of principle.

I listened again to the hon. Gentleman’s words about EVEL. As he knows, I was in Scotland last week, supporting our fine team campaigning in the Scottish elections. One of our Scottish members said to me, “That Mr Wishart is very hysterical, isn’t he?” I had to reassure him and say, “Look, he is actually a nice guy behind the scenes.” However, when I hear comments such as those that he made this morning, I understand why some of the people of Scotland get the wrong idea about him.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes seriously the issue of asylum seekers. We will always do our best to ensure that people are treated humanely.

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I clearly owe the hon. Gentleman an apology. I thought that ensuring that he had the opportunity to be here on the first day of the SNP conference was a help to him, rather than a hindrance, because I have never had the sense that he was desperate to get there first. I thought that, as he did this year, he would enjoy being here on the first day of conference. Clearly we will have to look next year at whether we move his conference dates or do things otherwise.

Finally, I have some bad news for the hon. Gentleman. He has competition next year on the Eurovision front. As he may know, Members on the Government Benches are also recording some fine music. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) looks like being tough competition for him and the rest of MP4 when it comes to next year’s Eurovision—may the best man or woman win.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): It will not have escaped the notice of the Leader of the House that depending on how the business pans out today, particularly how long the Northern Ireland business takes, there is at least a reasonable likelihood that the important debate at the end of the day on the way in which our Acts of Parliament are recorded may be squeezed down to a very short time, or even squeezed out completely. Given the Government’s support for the motion, which is supported also by 48 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and historically by you, Mr Speaker, will the Leader of the House find Government time for a substantive debate on the matter, so that we can let the House of Lords know what we think about it?

Chris Grayling: I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about the matter. The debate has been tabled on a Backbench day. It is appropriate for it to be a matter for the House, not debated in Government time which would otherwise be made available for legislation. As the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here today, I am sure that if my hon. Friend is not able to hold his debate today, an early opportunity will be found to bring the matter before the House.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that that will be the case.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the announcement of the future business. With the date of state opening being announced as 18 May, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is a Standing Order of the House that the Backbench Business Committee be awarded 27 days of Chamber time in a parliamentary Session? We are still some way short of that and we are expecting a glut of Backbench business in the five and a half weeks that remain after Easter and before the state opening. I add one personal rider: if we do get Mr Mike Ashley into this place, may we at the same time question him about the terrible running of Newcastle United football club? I do not want to diminish the importance of the employment practices of Sports Direct, but based on the management of Newcastle United, I am afraid I do not expect a very big party in a brewery any time soon.

Chris Grayling: It is tough being a Newcastle supporter at the moment. I wish the hon. Gentleman and his team well for the rest of the season. There is time to escape

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the relegation zone and no doubt he will be cheering from the stands. I have no doubt that he will seek more time for Backbench business over the next few weeks. I am aware of what the Standing Orders say. I am not sure that we are quite in agreement on the numbers, but we will have a proper discussion about that. I hope he will note that in response to his request, we made protected time available for the debate on Tuesday. Where it is important to do so, we will look at doing that in the future.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): On Saturday I joined Dartmoor search and rescue team and learned that 70% of calls to the service come from within the boundaries of Plymouth, many in Home Park, owing to elderly people getting lost. May we have a debate on how we might support those excellent volunteers, who get no money from central Government?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have suggested before at one of these sessions that the Backbench Business Committee might consider holding a full day debate, when one is available, on volunteering. A large number of Members would like to pay tribute to the good work done in their constituency. That would provide an opportunity for my hon. Friend to do what he has just described. I cannot resist drawing attention to the news story this week that a council in East Anglia has appointed the first hedgehog tsar. It is clear already that my hon. Friend’s campaign is making a difference.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Last week I was visited by retailers from Dewsbury town centre. They are facing unaffordable business rates in the coming year, due to the end of the business rates retail relief. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss whether the Government have plans to subsidise these retailers, many of whom would have to close their businesses as a result of the rises?

Chris Grayling: Of course, we are all concerned about the future of the high street. This is a matter that can certainly be brought up during the debate on the Budget next week. I do not yet know whether the Chancellor has any plans in that area, but the hon. Lady will want to make the case for her constituency in the four days of debate that follow the Budget, when this is very much one of the matters on the agenda.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Today we are starting the consultation on the final designs for the barrage across the Parrett, which is the outcome of the terrible flooding in 2011. I know that the project has been supported across the House and I am very grateful for that. May we have time in this place to discuss it? It is massively important because 12% of my district council area was under water in 2011. The history and the lessons we are learning in the south and the north of the UK need to be reiterated. Is there time for a debate in the House?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a more than effective advocate for his constituency and for the parts of Somerset affected by flooding. Our hearts went out to all the communities affected last year.

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I know that, since then, lessons have been learned and significant steps have been taken, as he has just described, to address the issue for the future. There will of course be an opportunity next Thursday to question the Environment Secretary, which I am sure he will do, but we all need to work to make sure that the terrible events of last year cannot happen again.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we discuss early-day motion 1182?

[That this House believes that politicisation of the institution of monarchy threatens that institution’s future; recalls that the present monarch remained politically neutral for 62 years until an intervention on the Scottish Referendum debate that The Guardian reported was crafted and choreographed by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s Private Secretary; notes that a recent speech by the Prince of Wales was widely interpreted as a plea for the UK to remain in the EU; emphasises that the prime role of the Head of State is to intervene when a Prime Minister acts in her or his own interests to the detriment of the interests of state; and further believes that the Government and the Civil Service should cease employing members of the Royal Family for political purposes.]

The early-day motion does not trespass into the forbidden area—that the views of the monarch cannot be discussed in this place, and only in this place, although they can be discussed everywhere else—but it does raise the conduct of a well-documented conspiracy between Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Christopher Geidt at the time when the Scottish referendum appeared to be in trouble from the Government’s point of view, and it is alleged that those two gentlemen conspired to put the Queen’s opinion into the public domain.

Is not it important that we discuss those who give advice to the royal family, because its main function is to act in situations where a Prime Minister is acting in her or his own interests against the interests of the country? The politicisation of the monarchy would mean that it could not act in those situations, and any exposure of the royal family’s views threatens the furtherance and continuation of the institution.

Chris Grayling: There are rather large numbers of conspiracy theories in this world. If we spent all our time in this House discussing them, we would not get round to the serious business that faces the nation, so I fear we will not actually be debating that particular issue.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I say to my right hon. Friend how pleased I am that the House will be sitting on 26 May, because that will be the seventh anniversary of the Prime Minister’s famous speech on fixing broken politics, in which he called for more Back-Bench power, more free votes and less whipping? May we have a debate on that occasion to see how much progress has been made on implementing those principles?

Chris Grayling: I am sure we have learned in the past few days that independent spirit on the Back Benches is certainly not something that is lacking in this Parliament.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): This day week is St Patrick’s day. Yesterday I tabled an early-day motion requesting that the Government bring

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forward legislative proposals—this is not a devolved matter—to make St Patrick’s day a public holiday in Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate about this important issue?

Chris Grayling: Of course, this is a subject the hon. Lady feels strongly about. We always have to be careful about granting too many extra bank holidays because of the economic impact on the areas affected, but I am sure she will bring forward an Adjournment debate and bring a Minister to the House so that she can make the point she has raised this morning.

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the practice of big businesses trying to prevent Members of Parliament from doing their democratic duty and raising constituents’ concerns in this place? Outrageously, National Express Group plc has written to Lord Feldman, the chairman of the Conservative party, complaining that I have been raising in this place my constituents’ anxiety over c2c timetable changes.

Chris Grayling: I suspect that National Express may need new political advisers, because the one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that writing a letter of complaint about my hon. Friend is likely to make him more rather than less zealous in pursuing issues on behalf of his constituents.

Mr Speaker: And rightly so.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): At 7 am the Competition and Markets Authority produced a report on its energy market investigation. I welcome that report, which focuses on prepayment meters—the issue is also dealt with under the hashtag PrePayRipOff. I have had an Adjournment debate, I have written to the Prime Minister and I have written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and the responses have been inadequate. Will the Leader of the House make available Government time so that the House can have an urgently needed proper discussion, to explore the CMA’s recommendation, which the Secretary of State said she will implement?

Chris Grayling: The Energy Secretary will be here in 10 days’ time, but if the hon. Lady wants to raise matters before that, I suggest that she writes and I will make the Energy Secretary aware that she is going to raise the issue.

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): In the first half of 2015, six cyclists were fatally injured in London following collisions with heavy goods vehicles. Could the Leader of the House find time in the parliamentary calendar for a debate on the costs and benefits of restricting HGVs from city centres at rush-hour times?

Chris Grayling: This is a deeply important matter. There have been far too many tragedies in recent times, some involving deaths and others serious injuries. The issue has been widely raised as a matter of concern, including by The Times, a member of whose staff was, tragically, seriously injured in an accident with an HGV.

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We want to take all possible steps to improve the situation, and the Mayor of London in particular has taken a lead in trying to improve things. We will continue to look for ways to improve the situation and to discuss different ideas about how we can do so.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): This week the Premier League made a very good announcement that all clubs will cap the cost of away tickets at £30, which will be a great relief to many football fans. However, a more pressing concern for fans, particularly Boro fans who will watch Boro play Charlton this Sunday, is the changing of fixture dates. That game was originally meant to be played on Saturday and fans were given only 17 days’ notice of the change. They had already made travel arrangements and booked hotels for Saturday, so a lot of them will now not be able to attend. May we have a debate about the effect on football fans of the dominance of TV contracts over fixtures?

Chris Grayling: TV coverage has enabled a much broader audience to watch matches and there are still substantial crowds at grounds around the country, but I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I do not support the idea of last-minute changes that disrupt people’s plans, and I hope the football authorities will listen to what he says. I wish him and his team well for the last few weeks of the season. The interesting question is whether his team and that of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will play each other next season, and if so, in which division.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have a debate on the Rural Payments Agency? Does the Leader of the House share my concern that some small Shropshire farmers who were due to be paid under the basic payment scheme in December 2015 have still not been paid, which is causing real hardship?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and I understand how strongly he feels about it. Of course, small farmers in particular depend on these payments. It is not acceptable for them to be left in the position where their cash flows are unnecessarily and inappropriately stretched through Government failure. The Rural Payments Agency has made a range of payments—from less than £500 to more than £150,000—covering the full range of small, medium and large-sized farm businesses across all geographic regions and all sectors of the industry. The latest news is that some 80% of small farm businesses and 83% of medium farm businesses have received their payments, but the Secretary of State is well aware of the need to complete the job. We do not want farmers to be put under undue pressure. It is not acceptable for them to be left financially high and dry.