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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a full day’s debate, in Government time on the Floor of the House, on the relationship between Parliament and the Executive? Given that the scope of Government
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activity is greater than ever before, and that the operation of the 24-hour media is a fact of life, would the right hon. and learned Lady accept that the responsibility of this House to hold the Executive to account should be our single biggest and most pressing concern? We need to consider what reforms to the composition of Committees and the use of parliamentary time would enable us better to discharge that responsibility in the future than perhaps we do at present.

Ms Harman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the general principles of the importance of our role, and I suspect that behind his comments of principle, he has a number of suggestions. Perhaps I could ask him to come and meet me and he can set out those suggestions in more detail so that we can talk them through.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The Leader of the House and all Members will be aware that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is currently waging a high-profile campaign on how we can better protect young people from harm. Given that we all agree that such concerns are of the utmost importance, can the Leader of the House guarantee a debate in Government time on the wider concerns so that individual issues can be addressed?

Ms Harman: On the Monday we get back we have a Second Reading debate that relates not only to apprenticeships, skills and learning but to children, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can outline the areas he is concerned about in that debate.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree with this point because she considers herself a champion of fairness and equality. May we have a debate in Government time on systematic and institutional discrimination against Christians? We saw last week the case of Mrs. Petrie who was suspended by North Somerset primary care trust and reinstated only after a media furore. This week, anti-Christian zealots in Devon are on the verge of suspending a lady who works in a school for defending her Christian beliefs and those of her daughter. Do fairness and equality apply only to people who are non-Christians in this country?

Ms Harman: Fairness and equality should apply to everyone, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seek a Westminster Hall debate on the issues he raises.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): When may we debate yesterday’s written ministerial statement on defence planning assumptions? Last month, we had the unedifying spectacle of delays to the carrier programme not being debated properly, or at all, in this House, and the Leader of the House commented favourably on our request that the matter should be brought before the House. I have to say that this is becoming something of a habit with Defence Ministers. Could she encourage her shy and retiring colleagues to come to the House to discuss these matters, which are of vital national importance?

Ms Harman: We recently had a debate on armed services personnel, and we will shortly be having a debate on procurement for the armed services. We are
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phasing the carrier programme, which is very important, and there is no way the investment in procurement will be cut back. We have Defence questions on the Monday after the recess.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I think that we are pushing at an open door as far as getting a debate on the elderly and pensioners is concerned. The Lancashire Telegraph in my area covers Chorley and a number of other constituencies, and today it is launching its own campaign for the elderly, raising the profile of the problems that they face such as the recession, high energy prices and access to health care. The number of elderly people in east Lancashire who have died from respiratory diseases in the past six weeks has increased dramatically. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that an urgent debate, sooner rather than later, would allow the House to address such real issues?

Ms Harman: The issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned could certainly be included in the debate that I said I am considering and I congratulate the Lancashire Telegraph on raising those issues. That is why we have been so determined to press down food and fuel prices and to do everything that we can to help pensioners in difficult times.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the five hon. Members remaining that if they ask brief supplementary questions, I can take them all.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady would be disappointed if she did not have her weekly update on the farce over the port rating system. Could we have an early debate on Tuesday’s statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government that said that port owners must talk to their tenants or be faced with the prospect of empty premises and empty rate policies? That was the day after the Valuation Office Agency confirmed to MPs that port owners will continue to be rated on a different basis so that they would never face any such threat.

Ms Harman: Unless I am mistaken, that matter was raised in Treasury questions this morning. I know that it is an issue to consider, and it is being kept under review.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): May we have what I stress must be a general statement by the Leader of the House on the relationship between parliamentary privilege, parliamentary accountability and the separation of the powers that are due to politicians and those that are due to the judiciary? We understand that, not content with previously having ruled that MPs’ home addresses should be published regardless of security concerns, while jealously guarding the privacy and security of their own home addresses, judges in courts might now second-guess constituency cases. Given that even the most assiduous of MPs will always have a few constituents who will not accept that nothing more can be done for them, how appropriate is it that judges should second-guess our work? We are responsible to our electors for what we do and do not achieve on their behalf.

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Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continuing work on Members’ home addresses. I hope that there will be agreement on that soon, so that electors can be satisfied that they know whereabouts candidates live without necessarily knowing the actual number of their flat or their street address, if the candidate does not want that known. He has done the whole House a service on that issue.

We are accountable to the courts in respect of criminal and contract law. If we breach a contract, we can expect to be taken before the courts, and we are accountable as employers under employment law. However, a duty of care to our constituents is set out in the code for Members to which we all subscribe. For that, we are accountable not to the courts but to our constituents at the general election. The courts can get on with criminal, contract and employment law, but when it comes to our duty to our constituents, we have to subject ourselves to the court of public opinion at general elections.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas? I should declare my interest as, I believe, the only Member of Parliament who has served in the brigade. Many comments have been made about the plight of the Gurkhas, most of which have been ill-informed. My personal fear is for the brigade’s future. Given the Prime Minister’s commitment to British jobs for British workers, does the Leader of the House share my concern that, although the Gurkhas may have won their most recent battle against the Government, they may ultimately have lost the war?

Ms Harman: There will be Defence questions on the Monday we return, during which the hon. Gentleman can seek to raise the matter. We are proud of the work of the Gurkhas and pay tribute to them for it. Their settlement is under review, and new guidance will be issued shortly.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): May we have a debate on how rules are applied in the
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House? My constituents do not understand how some members of the Cabinet are able to prove that their main home is in their constituency by having Sunday lunch there, whereas another escapes investigation while claiming public money to pay for her main family home.

Ms Harman: No one escapes investigation if there are justified grounds for complaint. The independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards will consider complaints and decide whether they merit an investigation. We have clarified the new rules, the House has agreed them and there is an independent element to the process. It does not help anybody if hon. Members make smearing comments about other Members without mentioning their name. It is absolutely clear to whom the hon. Gentleman refers, however, and I am disappointed about that.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate about free speech and political correctness? It is reported in the paper today that a man who worked at a warehouse has been sacked for displaying a Daily Star poster saying “British jobs for British workers”. Is it not ludicrous that anybody could lose their job for displaying such a slogan, or does the Leader of the House believe that anybody who uses that slogan should be sacked?

Ms Harman: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman urges me to have a debate about political correctness. The answer to that might be yes, and I am sure that he will want to congratulate the leader of his party on insisting that a Tory candidate take down a nude pin-up that he was displaying in his office. I am sure that he agrees with his party leader about that.

royal assent

Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Banking Act 2009

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New Trains (Investment)

12.25 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about new investment for our railways. The House will understand that, because of the significant and sensitive commercial nature of this announcement, it was necessary to make the information available to the markets in advance of informing the House.

Britain’s rail network has been a remarkable success story over the past 10 years. There are more passengers using our trains than at any time since the second world war—more than 1 billion last year. We have taken decisive action to remedy the failings of privatisation and put in place a stable structure for the long term. We have delivered, on time and to budget, the United Kingdom’s first high-speed railway line. As I announced to the House last month, we have set up a new company, High Speed 2, which has already started work on planning the new high-speed rail services to the west midlands, the north of England and Scotland.

To ensure that our railways remain resilient during the economic downturn and are well placed to support future economic growth, I am determined that we take the necessary steps now to invest in that critical part of Britain’s infrastructure. Our priority is to deal with overcrowding and increase capacity to meet future demand. That is why we are investing more than £20 billion in enhanced rail capacity and in new and improved trains to accommodate the record passenger numbers.

Britain’s £5.8 billion first high-speed line is now open, and from December this year commuters will be able to use high-speed rail services between London and Kent. Work has already started on the £16 billion Crossrail project, which will link the Docklands, the City, the west end and Heathrow. We are upgrading the Thameslink service, bringing more frequent and longer trains to commuters on that critical route, and passengers on the west coast main line are now starting to see the benefits of an £8.8 billion upgrade that has reduced journey times and delivered more frequent services.

I would like to inform the House today of what we are doing to invest in the next generation of long-distance trains, to make the UK a centre of excellence for European rail manufacturing. This morning, I announced to the stock exchange that a British-led consortium of John Laing, Hitachi and Barclays had been chosen as the preferred bidder for the contract to re-equip the east coast and Great Western main lines with new express trains. The high-speed trains that operate on those routes are up to 30 years old and although they have served passengers well, they now need to be replaced with more reliable, more efficient and greener trains that can carry more passengers.

I hope that the House will allow me to make a personal observation. My father, who worked on the railways all his life, was involved in the testing of the 125 high-speed trains as they were brought into service. I am delighted to have the opportunity to announce their successors today. They will have longer coaches, allowing up to 20 per cent. more seats on each train. Faster acceleration will allow journey times between London and major centres to be cut significantly, so a train leaving London will arrive in Leeds or Bristol
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10 minutes sooner, Edinburgh 12 minutes sooner and Cardiff 15 minutes sooner. Faster journey times will mean that more frequent trains can be fitted on to the network, and improved reliability will mean that passengers face less disruption to their journeys. Moreover, the new trains will be up to 17 per cent. lighter than their existing counterparts, increasing fuel efficiency. Modern braking systems will further drive down energy consumption.

The contract, worth some £7.5 billion, is the biggest single investment in inter-city trains in a generation. It involves the construction and maintenance of up to 1,400 new vehicles. The first of those trains will enter service in 2013, and over the following years they will provide high-quality journeys to passengers between London and destinations across the UK, including Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, the Thames valley and south Wales. They will also be able to run on both electrified and non-electrified lines, which means that through trains will be able to run from the electrified to the non-electrified parts of the network. That is why I have announced, in parallel to the introduction of those trains, that we are developing plans for the electrification of the Great Western and midland main lines. That will allow us to deliver the widest possible range of high-quality services for passengers.

The announcement is good news for United Kingdom jobs, as well as rail passengers. As part of the contract, the winning consortium has agreed to make significant inward investment in the UK to construct a new state-of-the-art train assembly and manufacturing facility. I expect that nearly three quarters of the value of the order will be spent in the UK, benefiting the UK economy and providing UK jobs. The exact location of the new factory remains subject to further negotiation, but the company has confirmed to me that it will be in the east midlands, Yorkshire or the north-east.

In addition, new maintenance depots will be built in Bristol, Reading, Doncaster, Leeds and west London, with upgrades to existing depots throughout Great Britain. That means that new manufacturing jobs will be created and maintained in those regions, and that many more jobs will be safeguarded across the country in the supply chain. In all, I estimate that some 12,500 long-term jobs will be created or safeguarded as a result of today’s announcement.

As hon. Members know, Japan is one of the most advanced nations in the world in high-speed rail and new rail technology. Japanese trains have extraordinarily high levels of reliability and speed. Meanwhile, the rail industry is expanding across Europe—with countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy investing in high-speed rail and new train fleets, and significant new opportunities in the countries of central and eastern Europe.

By bringing together UK and Japanese technology, design and manufacturing capability, we will give the UK an even stronger bridgehead into the fast-developing European and international rail markets—just as the entrance of Toyota, Honda and Nissan into the UK did with the automotive industry. That means that the UK will continue to develop as a centre of excellence in train manufacturing, enabling the country to become a key player, as what was once a domestic rail industry becomes increasingly international.

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The Government’s investment in the UK rail industry means that, in addition to the announcement, orders for a further 2,200 train carriages worth more than £2.5 billion are already confirmed or in the pipeline. Today, I can also confirm that the Department is in advanced discussions with National Express East Anglia to provide 120 new carriages to renew and expand the train fleet operating on the West Anglia route between Liverpool Street and Stansted airport. The preferred bidder for those trains is Bombardier Transportation Ltd, which plans to assemble the new carriages in Derby, safeguarding jobs there.

A further order worth £400 million—as part of the fiscal stimulus package announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—will be awarded shortly. Again, Bombardier is well placed to win that. There is another £2 billion order for 1,200 carriages for Thameslink, for which a preferred bidder will be announced later in the year.

The orders demonstrate that the Government are prepared to invest, even in difficult economic times, in improving our national infrastructure. The announcement is genuine good news—for workers that up to 12,500 jobs will be created and safeguarded; for the economy that we are putting the UK back at the forefront of international manufacturing industry; for the regions that the Government are supporting significant inward investment, and for passengers that we are taking the steps necessary to improve their rail journeys.

I commend the statement to the House.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): We welcome the prospect of new trains for the UK’s chronically overcrowded railways, but the Secretary of State needs to answer several important questions about his statement. However, first, I thank him for advance sight of it.

On the phasing of the project, how many trains will be delivered? On what dates and to which parts of the network will they be provided? When will the full roll-out of the inter-city express programme be completed?

The Government have been working on the project since 2004; why is it taking so long to deliver? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the 2013 phase will be testing only, so that there will be almost no benefits to the travelling public before 2015?

How much in total has been spent on consultants during the procurement process since the end of 2007, when the total was already a startling £6.7 million? How much would have been saved if the Government had opted for a more standardised, off-the-shelf train rather than setting down the very detailed and complex specification that they chose?

How much has been added to the cost of the programme because a decision has yet to be made on whether to electrify the Great Western line? Is the Secretary of State promising the delivery of the new trains on the Great Western line by 2015, even though the final outcome on electrification may not be determined by then? To what extent will costs consequently be driven up?

The specification in the contract for the bids was for trains that weighed 362 tonnes, yet the Hitachi bid, which has been accepted, is for 411 tonnes. The Secretary of State claims that that is substantially compliant, but was Bombardier disadvantaged by sticking more rigorously than Hitachi to the weight specification?

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