The northern hub is about more than simply individual areas, however, important though it is for each area named. It involves investment of half a billion pounds, which will lead to a £4 billion boost for the northern economies, with the potential for the creation of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs. That massive investment of half a billion pounds will have a significant outcome. As hon. Members have mentioned, it lies beside the £14.8 billion investment in Crossrail, just under £5 billion of which comes directly from the Government. A recent study of the regional pattern of investment in transport showed that

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about three times as much was invested on a per-head basis in transport in the south and south-east as in the north.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): On the point about the difference in spend between the north and the south, the hon. Lady may have seen in the Transport Committee the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, which evaluates the projects that the Government brought forward in the spending review in the autumn. Infrastructure spending amounted to £30 billion, and the spend per head was £2,700 in London, £134 in the north-west, £200 in Leeds and Humberside, and £5 in the north-east.

Mrs Ellman: I have seen that report. It is significant that we register such great disparities, but it is even more important that we try to do something about them, and the northern hub represents a major opportunity to do that. The Transport Committee has taken a particular interest in the northern hub, which we refer to as an important proposal in our report on transport and the economy and our report on high-speed rail.

The Committee supports high-speed rail, but we registered a number of concerns, including about the importance of ensuring that investment in necessary high-speed rail did not take place at the expense of investment in the existing, classic line. We cited the importance of investing in the northern hub and invited the Government to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line by investing in both the northern hub and high-speed rail. Perhaps they will soon be asked to show their position on the matter and to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line.

Julian Sturdy: The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for HS2, and if we are to make high-speed rail a success, we need investment in the northern hub. If we are to bring passengers up to the north more quickly, do we not also have to ensure that we invest in connectivity so that the system that high-speed rail passengers continue their journey on is not antiquated? Otherwise, the system will not work.

Mrs Ellman: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We want modern, new rail, not only on the new High Speed 2 line but on existing lines and connections, and investing in the northern hub as a separate project is one way to achieve that.

At the moment, Network Rail is assessing the detail of the northern hub proposals and looking at value for money. That needs to be done, but it is absolutely essential to recognise the strategic importance of this investment in rail in the north. The Government’s commitment to rail electrification in the north is much appreciated, but it is not an alternative to proceeding with the northern hub. I await with interest their final decision on the northern hub, and I ask the Minister to assure us that she recognises the strategic importance of investing in the north and to commit to the investment in the northern hub.

3.19 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

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3.33 pm

On resuming

Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. I will be calling the Opposition spokesman no later than 5 minutes to 4 pm The debate will now finish at 4.15 pm, as opposed to 4 o’clock.

Mrs Ellman: Thank you, Mr Hood.

I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance today that she recognises the importance of the northern hub as a strategic transport investment to improve connectivity and economy. I hope that she can give us an additional assurance that, after due consideration, the scheme will be approved.

3.34 pm

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on stimulating this important debate, and I pay tribute to other contributors, in particular the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who has fought a long and relentless battle to get the northern hub on the political agenda. I think it can be accepted that to get Merseyside MPs such as myself and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) to advocate serious investment in Manchester takes something special, and it is due to a recognition that the Manchester network is a bottleneck for the whole north, affecting Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Yorkshire and various golden triangles, squares and rectangles as yet unenumerated. The effect on the north is widespread, and my constituents in Southport are affected too; their journeys to Manchester are a nightmare, they suffer overcrowding not only on the train but at the platform in Manchester and they suffer the most appalling stock and the most appalling service.

On 20 October, at the northern rail conference, the Minister said, rather encouragingly, that we were going to get rid of the Pacers. We have heard that refrain before, and people have mentioned cascading stock down and so on, but in reality new trains are found first, foremost and almost exclusively for the south-east. The feeling in the north sometimes is that it is jam tomorrow, and I regard High Speed 2 as jam tomorrow or some way in the distance. Collectively, as northern MPs, however, we all want serious incremental change now. We want the better links with London, which would certainly be a good thing, but currently we desperately need better inter-regional connectivity.

I praise the Government and the Minister for having made a good start. To my great astonishment, we have seen the introduction of new rail in the north-west with the Todmorden curve, and £300 million has been found for electrification and £85 million for the Ordsall chord. The total Government commitment for rail is, however, actually £18 billion, and the whole northern hub project has been costed at £560 million, as Members have said, which puts things in perspective. Hon. Members have pointed out that the benefit-cost ratio exceeds comfortably the figures presented for Crossrail, which is costing about £6 billion. I speak with real bitterness because I was sentenced to two years, for crimes unknown, to serve on the hybrid Crossrail Bill. I was surprised at the many substantial objections to the scheme, which, had

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it been in the north, would certainly have postponed it, if not altogether eliminated it.

The Secretary of State for Transport has, however, said some encouraging things. She has spoken about investing in 2,700 new carriages throughout the network, but as I pointed out, that will only lead to a weary shrug from the man trapped on the Pacer. I went through some of my e-mails on the subject recently, and I want to refer briefly to two of them. A chap wrote to me in 2008 and said:

“Regularly there are only two carriages laid on and it is standing room before we have left the station. Breakdowns …particularly in winter are a feature attraction of the service however given the age of the trains this is unsurprising. When will there be some newer trains on this line?”

Four years later, another e-mail begins wearily:

“Yet again my journey on a Monday morning has been delayed by over an hour by the poor quality rolling stock used on the Southport to Manchester line…This is on top of the regular short formation of units, which appears to be a Northern Rail buzz phrase”—

a synonym for serious overcrowding.

I therefore welcome the progress that might be made on the northern hub, and we would all like to see more progress. I like the sound of a united or pan-northern approach, which is important, because it has not always been there in previous Parliaments and it is refreshing. Often, the objection to serious infrastructure is the lack of collective political will in an area, but cross-party, substantial and solid political will is clearly present. We do not need a Napoleonic regional mayor to step in and tell us what needs doing. Collectively, as politicians, we have come to the conclusion that this needs doing, and we would just like the Minister to get on with it.

3.39 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this debate, and on his commitment in campaigning for the northern hub. It is wonderful to see so many hon. Members from across the north in the Chamber, and one or two additional supporters who are more than welcome in our fight. As chair of the all-party group on rail in the north, I am pleased to see so many members of the group here. Hon. Members across parties are united on the issue of the northern hub. We are divided only by the Pennines, which are another reason why the whole hub must be united—so that we do not have the perpetual Pennine divide.

The Minister can judge how important the issue is for all of us, and how crucial it is that the whole hub be funded. We will not have the full economic benefit across the whole north if there is a piecemeal approach. I was worried recently when the Secretary of State talked about the welcome electrification of the Manchester-York line as part of the northern hub. I do not want to split hairs, but electrification was always seen as an addition to the hub, and not as the hub itself. It is essential not to lose part of the hub to that electrification, welcome though it is. It is the hub that will hold us all together.

The hub is not glamorous like High Speed 2, but it is essential if we are to tackle overcrowding, increase line speed, reduce journey times and increase services. It is an integral part of High Speed 2. I speak from bitter experience. When Virgin high-frequency trains were

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introduced with three trains an hour from Manchester to London, services to my constituency diminished. The trains terminated at Manchester Victoria, and we lost services to the airport and elsewhere because inter-city trains took the paths that our trains had previously taken. The only way to prevent that in future is to ensure that the engineering works proposed for the hub are carried out.

We will have more trains through and to Manchester, and more trains will connect to the west coast main line. Eventually, trains will connect to High Speed 2. That unglamorous engineering work will provide passing places so that we continue to have slow, stopping services with fast services. It will improve signalling, the Ordsall chord route across Manchester city, and Manchester Victoria station. Any hon. Members who have spent time at that station will know that it is not the nicest in the world, and I as a woman do not feel particularly safe there. There will be improvements at the station, and two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly.

Such improvements are as important to the north as the shiny new 250 mph train, and will be to the whole economy. Services will not then stop completely at Manchester Piccadilly when the Huddersfield train leaves, because it crosses every train path coming into the station, with the result that nothing else can come in and out. Constituents in Bolton will have a better, faster service, and people at my home station, Atherton, will not have to play sardines on the train, or have long waits at another gruesome station, Salford Crescent. They will be able to join the inter-city lines.

The project will bring £4 of benefit for every pound spent, and will do something to redress the imbalance between spending in the north and south. I do not understand why Londoners should have three times as much taxpayers’ money spent on their public transport as our constituents in the north.

Graham Stringer: During the debate I have done some arithmetic, which I believe is right, and which my hon. Friend may be interested in. Three months’ expenditure on Crossrail would pay for the whole northern hub. Is that not extraordinary?

Julie Hilling: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which is interesting. It has been interesting during the High Speed 2 debate that people have frowned about putting so much money into the north, and people in the south-west have rightly asked why they are not receiving expenditure. There never seems to be an outcry about expenditure in London. I spend part of my life in London and before becoming an MP, I wanted to come to our capital city. Investment is needed in London, but it is also needed in the regions.

Yasmin Qureshi: I am sure that hon. Members here have no problem with investment in rail projects throughout the country. HS2 has come in at £500 million more expensive than originally projected. The northern hub itself would cost that sort of money. Does my hon. Friend agree that it should not be too difficult to find funding for the northern hub?

Julie Hilling: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Of course, it is not easy to find money, and I agree that it is good that the Government have protected some of

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the investment in rail. We all welcome that, but the issue is not an either/or. It is not all right to say that we can have part of the hub. If the whole north—the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the north-east—is to benefit, the whole hub must be developed. I am worried that the approach will be piecemeal.

As hon. Members have said, we need connectivity between our great cities, and the ability to travel across the country. We must consider the cost of having so much road traffic because rail travel is not adequate. As some of us have been saying for some time, it is quicker to drive from Manchester to Leeds than to take the train. It is quicker to drive from Milton Keynes to Leeds than to take the train. That is ludicrous, and we need the project to alter that. Like every hon. Member in the Chamber, I plead with the Minister to fund the northern hub in full, so that we will have rail connectivity between our great cities and receive the investment the north so badly needs.

3.46 pm

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Hood, to have the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this important debate. It is even more important following the recent announcement to give the go-ahead to High Speed 2. That announcement is a signal of just how important investment in high-speed, efficient rail services is for the future growth of our national and regional economies. I absolutely support the northern hub as an important strategic investment and opportunity.

In that context, I want to be slightly more parochial and to plead that places and communities such as West Lancashire should not be forgotten when planning and investing in our railways. The danger for West Lancashire is that we lose out because of the dominance of the city regions and core cities that act almost as capitals. The effectiveness of such schemes lies in connectivity and the quality of the entire rail network. West Lancashire is virtually at the crossroads of the north-west. If big circles are drawn around Preston, Liverpool and Manchester, West Lancashire is the bit in the middle. My plea in this debate and the wider debate on transport infrastructure investment is not to forget West Lancashire.

Since being elected in 2005, I have campaigned constantly for improved rail infrastructure across all areas of my constituency. My great concern is that places such as West Lancashire are in real danger of falling behind with rail infrastructure. I shall give a couple of brief examples. Skelmersdale is the most populated town in my constituency, but it has no rail service at all. A major redevelopment of the town centre is about to start and is the biggest investment since it was established 50 years ago. We have a brand new state-of-the-art college, and the town has an exciting new future with many opportunities, if people can get there.

The really good news for the north-west is the Lancashire triangle rail electrification, which will be transformational for the north-west. West Lancashire has three lines serving the area, and I ask the Minister to remember that our biggest town, Skelmersdale, has no rail service at all. Delivery of the Lancashire triangle rail electrification will leave West Lancashire in a strange position, because diesel trains will still run in a small area unless more investment is put into the electrification.

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If nothing is done, there will be implications on rail development in West Lancashire. For example, the Manchester line carries an increasing number of passengers, with alternate trains going to Victoria and Manchester airport. Transport for Greater Manchester appears to be suggesting that the airport service may be sacrificed in favour of running trains from West Yorkshire and east Manchester to the airport. The Kirkby to Wigan line passes through Up Holland, which would form the basis of a rail station at Skelmersdale. That line was proposed for electrification in the early 1980s, and there is clearly a need to extend the existing Merseyrail service from Liverpool to Kirkby to serve Skelmersdale. That would provide an opportunity to consider a service between Skelmersdale, Wigan and Manchester, and that should be done because it is likely that many of the employment opportunities for those who live in West Lancashire will be found in Liverpool and Manchester.

My third example is the route between Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston. Ormskirk has a superb service to Liverpool; the line from Ormskirk to Preston has recently received an improved timetable, and Network Rail is examining the business case for an hourly service. There is, however, strong demand to extend the existing Merseyrail service beyond Ormskirk to Burscough and the famous Burscough curves. That would enable an hourly service to Preston to be delivered at low cost.

John Pugh: Does the hon. Lady recognise that the Government are taking a huge step in restoring the Todmorden curve? It shows that they are ready to look at such projects and provides some hope that the Burscough curves will receive serious consideration.

Rosie Cooper: I did not quite hear all of that, but I am hopeful that a service on the Burscough curves will eventually be established. My point is that all three routes that I have mentioned will be operating in an area that is dominated by electric services. Electric trains run only where the line is electrified, so unless the trains have an additional power source that will enable them to continue for some distance, West Lancashire runs the risk of becoming isolated.

As well as the new electric trains on the newly electrified Lancashire triangle—well, not new exactly, but second-hand from the London area—the superb Merseyrail electric network also uses third-rail electrification. If lines in my area are not electrified and with the investment to improve the national and regional rail network infrastructure, my fear is that places such as West Lancashire will be left behind, which we cannot afford for a plethora of social and economic reasons. Such a move would begin to create greater disconnection and disintegration of the rail network. The challenge for me, West Lancashire and, I hope, the Minister is to ensure that West Lancashire does not become ever more isolated as a small island of diesel trains that are not included in the great opportunities and investment that is taking place.

3.53 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this important debate. How strongly Members from across the north

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feel about this issue has been highlighted by the strength and number of contributions that we have heard today. It is important that voices from both sides of the Pennines and from otherwise rival areas of Yorkshire and the north-west are heard speaking as one on this issue. Although many of the physical works of the northern hub programme fall to the west of the Pennines, the benefits of the hub would be felt across the whole of the north. I can contribute to that discussion because I am a Sheffield lad whose north-west constituency, although in Cumbria, still harks back to its routes in Lancashire in the old days.

As Members have pointed out, the rail network could play a significant role in securing economic growth in the north of England. As has been highlighted, however, that potential is currently limited by pinch points and other capacity restraints across the network that limit the frequency of trains, raise journey times and reduce reliability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said so well, the northern rail network reflects the needs of its 19th-century creators and the rivalries of Victorian railway companies. It is not fit for purpose in the different economic reality of the early 21st century.

Members from all parties have pointed out the benefits that the northern hub could provide, which include 700 extra trains per day running across the north, improved connectivity between major regional economic hubs, which would give those areas a chance to grow still further and provide vital regeneration, and the creation of up to 30,000 jobs.

Improving links between northern cities and the capital is important, which is why the previous Labour Government delivered the upgrade to the west coast main line and why we want a greater commitment to a new high-speed line serving Manchester and Leeds than the Government have given so far. If we are serious about rebalancing the UK economy and driving the growth that will return the country to long-term prosperity, we must not focus simply on travel between regions. Travel within regions, including northern regions, is also important, and that is seen in the strength of feeling and unity that has been displayed during this debate.

There are some positive things. We welcome the electrification and high-speed rail initiatives in which the new Administration are sticking to the commitments made by the previous one. Question marks and concerns remain in certain areas, but perhaps they are for another debate—I would be delighted if such a discussion could be scheduled for the near future.

The Ordsall chord is a useful piece of infrastructure, but as the hon. Member for Colne Valley highlighted, as long as Manchester Piccadilly has just two through platforms—as most hon. Members will be aware, those two platforms are unpleasantly cramped and overcrowded, and frequently cause delays to trains—the ability to use that station to deliver additional journey opportunities will be severely limited.

Announcing the electrification of the route from York to Manchester via Leeds is a positive move, but without the extra lines and loops to allow express trains to overtake stopping services and freight trains, as proposed in the northern hub, it will be hard to deliver extra services or significantly faster journeys. Ministers are obviously right to examine carefully the scope and scale of projects such as the northern hub before approving

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them, and it is essential to achieve best value for money. It is also, however, essential that the issues faced by the rail network in the north are addressed strategically and not in a piecemeal fashion.

Now is the time to commit to this scheme. The sooner that it is achieved, the sooner the boost to growth can be felt where it is urgently needed. In their spending priorities, the Government chose to back-load the cuts to rail investment, in contrast to other areas of spending. The bulk of the proposed cuts fall in the final two years of the spending review period, the second of which represents the first year of Network Rail’s control period 5, during which the bulk of the northern hub schemes would be delivered.

The Government are committed to finding almost £1.3 billion of efficiency savings and cuts from the Network Rail and passenger rail budgets over the period of the comprehensive spending review, although the National Audit Office has warned, understandably and rightly, that great uncertainty over where the axe will fall still remains. That is why the continued silence on this project is deeply concerning: as we can see, the lean period for rail investment is fast approaching.

Ministers have consistently said that the case for the northern hub is strong. They are well aware of the business case showing a return of £4 for every £1 invested in the scheme. Today’s debate has shown that hon. Members of all parties from across the north recognise the necessity of the extra capacity, new links and faster journeys that the northern hub will provide. I therefore hope that the Minister will make it clear that she recognises that, if we deal with the scheme in parts and do not implement the full package, the overall cost-benefit ratio will be significantly diminished. Will she make it clear whether she will commit to the full package of improvements provided by the northern hub project appearing in the high-level output specification for control period 5 when it is published this summer?

It is, of course, also important that the northern hub plans reflect the changing environment on the railways and are delivered on in the most efficient way possible, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are examining whether the package of measures can be revised to deliver equal benefit at potentially lower cost in the light of recent announcements on trans-Pennine electrification?

Confidence that the region’s transport infrastructure will be able to cope with the demands placed on it is an essential part of producing the confidence needed to secure investment, jobs and economic growth across the north. The northern hub would help to provide that. That is why we are urging Ministers today to give it their full support.

4.1 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. This has been a great debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing it. This issue is clearly of great importance to the big turnout of hon. Members who are here today and to their constituents. Throughout my time with the transport brief, both in

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opposition and in government, I have been impressed by the determination of the MPs and the stakeholders behind the northern hub project. Indeed, one of my first regional visits as Minister was to meet a group of them in Manchester soon after the coalition was formed.

As we have heard today, there is much support for the northern hub project. We heard the gracious support of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), representing the views of her Committee. We also heard support expressed across party lines. There was even trans-Pennine solidarity, which is not something that we get on every issue. I am told that this issue even unites east, west, south and north Yorkshire. Again, not many issues do that. Last but not least, the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) commented on how dramatic it was that the issue had united Liverpool and Manchester in support.

I commend the evidence-based approach that those behind the northern hub project have taken in pressing the case for the hub and for improvements in rail and other forms of transport in the north generally. Many hon. Members emphasised the importance of finding ways to bridge the prosperity gap between north and south, and I completely agree that improving our transport infrastructure is an important way to achieve that goal. The Government fully appreciate the economic benefits that improving our transport system can generate. That point was emphasised by many hon. Members: my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), to name but a few. We recognise the economic benefits that can be generated by investing in the north specifically as well.

That is why we have placed a priority on improving the rail network even when budgets are severely limited by the pressing need to deal with the deficit. Therefore, as well as going ahead with the high-speed rail network, we have embarked on what is probably the biggest programme of rail improvements since the Victorian era. Those ambitious plans include a number of major projects in the north of England. Many have been mentioned and welcomed today, not least the new stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew).

Our programme also includes important elements of the northern hub project. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others, the Ordsall chord is going ahead. That new stretch of railway linking Victoria and Piccadilly—two of Manchester’s busiest stations—has been talked about since the 1960s, I am told, and will deliver benefits to the whole of the north of England by substantially reducing journey times between Liverpool and Leeds.

The electrification of the North TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds through to York and the east coast line will also deliver important benefits. Strictly speaking, that was not part of the original northern hub scheme, but it was prioritised by the rail industry in its initial plan, which it drew up recently. The combined effect of North TransPennine electrification, the Ordsall chord and line-speed improvements that are already part of the CP4 programme will see journey times between Liverpool and Newcastle cut by as much as 45 minutes.

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These programmes are already starting to provide the improved connectivity within the region, between the cities of the north of England, that many hon. Members have rightly highlighted as crucial if the economy in the north is to flourish. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) emphasised that point. The improvements will also promote the modal shift that a number of hon. Members highlighted as important.

Virtually every hon. Member who spoke emphasised the importance to the northern economy of implementing the package in full during the 2014-2019 railway control period. Those hon. Members included the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who is the chairman of the all-party group on rail in the north, my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton.

As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Chairman of the Select Committee, acknowledged, Network Rail is as we speak considering in detail all the remaining elements of the hub that have yet to be funded. The Government have asked it to do that to assist us in the decisions that we will make in the summer. There are about nine individual packages. Network Rail is considering, at a more detailed level, the business case for the whole project, as well as for all those nine individual elements. This is, therefore, a timely debate—a good opportunity for the House to contribute to the Government’s thinking on this matter.

Julie Hilling: I am slightly puzzled. The argument is that the whole of the hub gives the 4:1 benefit ratio. There is a possibility, of course, that one little place may give less benefit than another bit, but all together the benefit ratio is 4:1. Given what the Minister is saying, is there a risk that a part that has a lower cost-value ratio but still a value will be overlooked?

Mrs Villiers: As I said, we have asked Network Rail to consider in greater detail the value-for-money case for the whole project—all elements of it—because we believe that it is very important to consider very thoroughly all the elements of the northern hub. That view is confirmed by the strong support expressed by hon. Members today.

With input from train operators and the passenger transport executives, Network Rail needs to establish the impact that North TransPennine electrification will have on the original hub proposals. It may be that the eventual package put forward by Network Rail, the industry and the PTEs to achieve the goals of the northern hub is somewhat different from the original 2009 proposals. We will obviously have to consider carefully the input that we get from the industry groups and from the PTEs in the relevant areas before we make final decisions on the matter. I fully appreciate how much support there is for going ahead with the whole package and I fully appreciate the benefits that it could deliver. I can assure the House that the Government will consider the northern hub package as a whole as well as its individual elements when we make our decisions on HLOS2 and the CP5 period this summer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley wanted me to pre-empt that process and make the decision today. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him, but

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I can assure him that we will consider the matter with great care in the run-up to our announcement on HLOS2 and the CP5 period in the summer. Whether we can fund the whole programme in CP5 depends on what is affordable within available budgets. We will also need to assess the case for improvements elsewhere in the country to determine which projects can be given priority. Of course we want to fund as many projects that promote economic growth as possible, but we also need to ensure that the Government’s overall finances are not overstretched in these difficult times. Given the competing demands on limited taxpayer funding, it is vital that the overall cost of running the railways and the cost of such upgrades come down. If we can achieve the kind of savings that Sir Ray McNulty said were possible in his report last year, it will become much easier to deliver the improvements that passengers want.

We will be publishing a Command Paper on the reform that we need to see costs come down on the railways, thus improving value for money for both passengers and taxpayers. The more inefficiency that we can take out of the railways, the greater the scope for delivering infrastructure upgrades and additional services.

Naturally, today’s debate has focused primarily on improvements to the conventional rail network in the north. The projects that we have given the go-ahead to in the north will complement our proposals on high-speed rail. I welcome the support that has been expressed today by a number of hon. Members for the Government’s high-speed rail proposals. The Secretary of State for Transport was very clear that her decision was to go ahead with the whole Y network to Manchester and Leeds and not just the London to Birmingham leg. HS2 can potentially complement the improvement of local and regional services. For example, Centro produced an analysis that said that the benefits of HS2 to Birmingham could be significantly increased, with improvements to the local and regional transport network in the west midlands. It is quite important to consider whether the commitment to the Y network to the north of England might further strengthen the case for the northern hub package because of its potential to spread the benefits of high-speed rail more quickly and more widely around the north of England.

In the last few minutes available to me, I want to pick up on some of the more specific questions raised in the debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley expressed concern about the future of services to Mossley, Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite. Before the announcement on the electrification of the North TransPennine route, some suggestions were made on the future of those services and whether some stations between Stalybridge and Huddersfield might end up with fewer stops. The electrification announcement means that Network Rail will need to review this matter and the capacity on the route. My hon. Friend made it clear that no decision on this has been made as yet. It will not be made for some time and it will be made only after an appropriate public consultation.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge has again called for the reopening of the Woodhead route. I have to say that that was not one that was prioritised as part of the northern hub because of the capacity that is still available on the Hope Valley line.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the hon. Members for Southport and for Blackley and Broughton all expressed concern about crowding in the north of England and the balance of spending between north and south. I remind the House of the importance of the additional capacity that the Government are introducing through the HLOS programme.

The northern hub has achieved a significant amount of support. I commend the evidence that has been produced by the supporters of the project. It will be useful to the Government when they make their decision. We will be listening with care to the views of all those in the north of England who are promoting this project when we make our decisions on what rail upgrade we can take forward in the next railway control period.

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4.15 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and I am grateful to Mr Speaker for selecting this important topic for debate. According to the British Journal of Cancer, the incidence of the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is expected to rise by 52% in both men and women by 2030. One of the many tragic aspects of advanced melanoma is that, compared with other cancers, it disproportionally affects younger people. Indeed, more than a third of all cases of melanoma affect people who are under the age of 55. With such a high incidence, combined with the aggressive nature of melanoma, treatment options are very important.

I want to draw attention to the new and innovative drug, ipilimumab, also known under the trade name of Yervoy. Ipilimumab works in a new and unique way through a form of immunotherapy. It encourages the immune system to produce more cancer-killing cells. The drug is significant, and it has not been available to patients before.

In July last year, ipilimumab was launched in the UK with a licence approved by the European Medicines Agency. This is the first major advance for treatment of this cancer in 30 years. However, to the disappointment of patients and stakeholders, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence announced on 14 October that it would not be recommending ipilimumab for the treatment of advanced melanoma on the NHS. I was profoundly disappointed to discover that the chief executive of NICE, Andrew Dillon, had deemed that this treatment was not

“a cost effective use of NHS resources.”

In response to that news, I held a stakeholder investigation in the Houses of Parliament and invited patients, carers, clinicians, charities—they included the patient support group, Factor 50, and the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer charity, also known as Skcin—and parliamentarians to come together and discuss their personal concerns about the negative preliminary guidance that was given by NICE.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned that this disease affects younger people to a greater extent. One of my constituents, who is young and has young children, needs the drug Yervoy, which is expensive. Does she agree that we need to do everything that we can to ensure that those young children can see their mother for a longer period and that her last days are not lost days?

Pauline Latham: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to some cases in a moment. It is a very important point.

As well as coming together to share our concerns, the meeting was held to create a report that was submitted to NICE in response to the appraisal consultation document, in anticipation that it would be considered ahead of the NICE technology appraisal meeting, which took place on 16 November. We have had no response so far.

When holding the meeting on advanced melanoma, I was given the opportunity to hear first hand from melanoma patients, who are desperate to receive the drug. Melanoma often strikes at the younger end of the

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population. More than a third of all cases of melanoma occur in people below the age of 55, and it is the second most common form of cancer in the UK for those aged between 15 and 34. What those statistics on advanced melanoma in the younger population do not show is that many people in that age group will have children and so will face a very aggressive cancer, alongside the knowledge that they face leaving behind their children and family.

The patients whom I met at the meeting all echoed a simple and profound point: they are desperate to stay alive, so that they can be with their children, husbands, wives, partners and families. Given that treatment options for the disease have not advanced for three decades, how can it be fair not to release the drug for use by those patients who could have more time with their families? One young patient—a lady aged only 30—said at the meeting:

“I need to live. I have to live for my children. I just want a few more years so that my boys will remember me.”

Richard Clifford, the founder and trustee of the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer charity—Skcin—said at the meeting that

“median overall survival time after diagnosis is six to nine months. This is tragic because people have little time to prepare themselves and their loved ones for what is inevitably going to occur.”

I could not agree more with his sentiments. There is clearly an unmet need in the treatments available, and I believe that ipilimumab has a place in today’s treatment options, which are already scarce for cases of malignant melanoma. An experienced oncologist from Leeds who has used ipilimumab echoed that view at the meeting:

“It is the first drug that can help people live longer or make them more likely to be active for a meaningful period of time.”

I add a personal plea for help: my brother died from a malignant melanoma 11 years ago this month at the age of 54, one week after his birthday, leaving his wife and two teenage children. I know how debilitating this form of cancer is and how quickly it can spread. Apart from radical surgery, he had very few options in terms of the drugs on offer. As a result of Michael’s illness and death, I see my GP regularly, and I have had several pre-cancerous areas removed before they had the chance to progress to malignancy.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this important issue. As someone with very fair skin, I have had to have skin removed and examined, so I understand the potential consequences and the worry that people go through. Does she agree that we need more education about the consequences for fair-skinned people and, indeed, everyone of too much exposure to the sun and the overuse of sunbeds?

Pauline Latham: Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that up. Sunbeds are still a problem, particularly among young women who think that having a tan makes them look healthier.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter before the House. Skin cancer is the deadliest cancer in Northern Ireland, and that is very worrying. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) mentioned sunbeds. People under the age of 35 who use sunbeds increase their possibility of getting skin cancer. What does the hon. Lady think can

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be done? Does she think that councils need to do more? Councils have control of sunbeds, so perhaps they need to say, “No more.”

Pauline Latham: Yes, I would like that to happen. Looking tanned does not mean that someone is healthy. In fact, tanning increases the risk of malignant melanomas, which are rapid killers, and I would like councils to have the strength to say, “No.”

It may be expensive to prescribe the drug, but it is the first advance in treatment for a long time, and if used, may offer the opportunity of more trials to refine it, which could lead to its becoming even more effective. For young people with melanomas, it is a lifeline, even if they only survive for a relatively short time. Let us not forget the possibility that agencies, such as social services, and welfare benefits can cost the country huge sums if the remaining parent has to give up their career to look after a young family. Patients with this aggressive disease are expected to have a median overall survival time of six to nine months, but in trials, 46% of patients taking ipilimumab were still alive after a year, and in some cases, patients can live even longer.

At the stakeholder’s meeting on 8 November, we heard from a patient called Ian. He seemed well, spoke eloquently and raised many important points on access to treatment, which I urge hon. Members to read in the report that we submitted to NICE—I am happy to provide a copy. Sadly, before 21 December 2011, Ian became very unwell and was ultimately bedridden. The short time between Ian attending the meeting in November and his death a week ago demonstrates the aggressive nature of advanced melanomas.

Lack of access to the drug is still a major concern to all melanoma patients and, of course, to their families and friends. It is very distressing for them to know that there is a drug on the market that has been proven to prolong the lives of sufferers, if even for only a few months or years, yet they cannot access it through the normal channels. I acknowledge that ipilimumab is available in some parts of England through the cancer drugs fund, but it is not available in all areas, and the fund does not even exist in Wales—yet another example of inequality from the cancer drugs fund and another illustration of a postcode lottery.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): On my hon. Friend’s point about a postcode lottery and regional variation, I think that she will be interested in figures that I recently obtained through a parliamentary question. They break down the number of registrations of newly diagnosed cases of melanoma—skin cancer—by local authority and region. I would happily give her a copy. In my region of Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire, there has been an explosion of newly diagnosed cases of skin cancer, from 254 in 1999 to 455 in 2008—an increase of 79%. The huge variation across the country shows that this is not just about the future, but that we have a problem now that we must urgently tackle.

Pauline Latham: Yes, I agree. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, because although we are talking about a big increase by 2030, he is right that melanomas are affecting more and more people, particularly the young, and they are usually a death sentence.

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What will happen to those patients in areas covered by the cancer drugs fund who can access ipilimumab through the fund when funding ends in 2014? That further illustrates why it is imperative that NICE recommends ipilimumab, so that it is available across England and Wales to all patients who could benefit from it. The Minister knows that my concerns about access to treatments for other cancers—for example, Avastin as second-line treatment for bowel cancer via the cancer drugs fund—are well versed through parliamentary questions and speeches in the Chamber. I remain equally determined to ensure the availability to cancer patients of other life-prolonging drugs, such as ipilimumab.

Alongside Factor 50 and Skcin, I urge in the strongest possible terms that the Department of Health, the manufacturers and NICE work together, so that ipilimumab is available to appropriate patients across England and Wales. There are huge concerns that, without a positive decision on ipilimumab, patients will lose out on a lifeline to have those extra months or even years with their loved ones.

4.28 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing the debate and bringing this important issue to the attention of the House today, and on the way she set out the issue and spoke of her experiences and of those whom she represents. She powerfully made the case for the drug and, more generally, for the need to raise awareness in order to educate people and to ensure they take the right steps better to protect themselves from melanomas.

I want to make it clear that the Government’s commitment to improving outcomes for cancer patients, including people with malignant melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer, as my hon. Friend said—remains unwavering. Our cancer outcomes strategy, which we published just a year ago, sets out our aims for delivering health care outcomes as good as those anywhere in the world. Our ambition is to reduce significantly the number of deaths from preventable and avoidable cancers. The strategy sets out actions to tackle preventable cancer incidence, improve the quality and efficiency of cancer treatment and services, improve patients’ experience of care, and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors.

I will start with prevention, to which some reference has already been made, because it is the really important aspect of this issue. Cancer Research UK has been running the SunSmart campaign on behalf of the Department of Health for a number of years. It is a national campaign that provides information and advice about skin cancer and sun protection, and it has a particular focus on young people aged 16 to 24, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend rightly mentioned. Its major activity in 2011 was a bespoke marketing partnership with T4 on the Beach, which is a popular music festival, I am told. At the event, about 3,225 people in the target audience were directly engaged by the campaign, and the evaluation showed that those who saw the T4 SunSmart campaign were more likely to report that they would wear sunscreen in the future—72%, compared with 52%. Clearly, there are lessons to learn from that for future campaigns in this area.

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In reference to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about sunbeds, and I draw her attention to the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010, which came into force last April, making it an offence for sunbed businesses in England and Wales to permit people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds on their commercial premises. To reinforce that, we have been working with Cancer Research UK through the Department-funded “R UV Ugly?” campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of sunbeds and the benefits of skin checks. The campaign is being run in partnership with the company sk:n, which is providing free ultraviolet scans in its clinics across the UK.

That brings me on to early diagnosis, which is the next step in the process.

Jim Shannon: I intervened earlier on the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), regarding councils sometimes needing to be more aware of what they can do. Has the Minister any intention of asking councils to be more proactive in preventing sunbed use? That is perhaps a key question.

Paul Burstow: In England, one of the opportunities coming up as a result of the Health and Social Care Bill is the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities. Alongside the authorities’ other responsibilities for environmental health and trading standards, that brings both enforcement and education opportunities, which will be very important in making the existing regulations even more effective.

Earlier diagnosis is central to the strategy the Government have laid out, because if we catch more cancers earlier they will become more treatable. The SunSmart campaign has a website that provides information about how to spot the symptoms of the disease, and during 2011 it received more than 11,000 visits per month on average, peaking in June, surprisingly, with more than 21,000 visits. With a programme grant from the Department of Health, Cancer Research UK and the British Association of Dermatologists are working together on a toolkit to provide practical online support and training to help GPs with pattern recognition for skin lesions. The toolkit will be piloted early this year, before a planned national roll-out, building on the evidence base.

That leads me on to treatment. Once skin cancer is diagnosed, access to appropriate treatment, delivered to a high standard, is critical. Increasing access to cancer treatments is a goal that all Members who have contributed, or are listening, to the debate share. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire for her campaigning work on behalf of a number of her constituents and other people, and I would like to set out the current situation in relation to ipilimumab. I am struggling with the pronunciation of that word, and I apologise; I do not in any way wish to denigrate the issue. It is really important to explain where we are, because the drug is being appraised by NICE for use in the treatment of stage 3 and stage 4 malignant melanoma. NICE has a rather difficult job, and my hon. Friend has fairly described the challenge it faces in coming to its judgments. NICE’s role is to provide the NHS with robust, evidence-based guidance on whether a drug should be available, on clinical and cost-effectiveness grounds. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that

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NICE recognises that its work has genuine consequences and has an impact on individuals’ lives. It makes a great effort to ensure that clinicians, patients, and anyone with an interest is involved in its work. I will forward my hon. Friend’s speech to NICE and ensure that it sees it.

NICE published its draft guidance on both the clinical and cost-effectiveness of ipilimumab last October. My hon. Friend has explained that the document does not recommend the use of the drug by the NHS, and she has described, in no uncertain terms, the dismay and disappointment that she and others feel on behalf of the families and the sufferers. However, NICE has not yet finalised its guidance to the NHS, and I am sure that Members will appreciate that, because NICE is an independent body, it would not be appropriate for me to dictate to or direct it. What I can tell Members—I hope this will be at least a glimmer of light—is that Bristol-Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of the drug, has proposed a patient access scheme, and the Department has agreed that NICE can consider it. I understand that NICE will now ask its appraisal committee to consider the scheme as part of its reconsideration of the drug.

Until NICE publishes its final guidance, PCTs are responsible for making funds available on the basis of individual needs in their local populations. There is no excuse at this point for PCTs not to do that, and patients have a right under the NHS constitution to expect local decisions about the funding of medicines and treatments to be made rationally, following proper consideration of all the evidence. In addition, where a treatment is not normally funded, PCTs are required to have processes in place to consider exceptional funding requests if a doctor feels that a particular patient’s exceptional clinical circumstances would warrant such funding. To help PCTs make these difficult decisions, the Department has issued a set of core principles that should govern them.

That is the current regime, and when this Government came into office they decided to go further, as part of their coalition programme. We are delivering on a promise in our programme for Government to create a cancer drugs fund. In the first year of the fund we have provided £50 million, and from 2010 through to the end of the fund there will be £600 million. I will say a bit more later about what happens after the fund ends.

Rehman Chishti: It is great to hear the Minister saying that we are looking to ensure that people can get new drugs, such as Yervoy. Does he agree that we must also ensure that PCTs, local authorities and the voluntary sector provide excellent palliative care to the terminally ill?

Paul Burstow: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will know that we received the recommendations

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of the palliative care review last year, and we are looking forward to making announcements on it in the near future.

The cancer drugs fund means that clinicians in England are now able to prescribe cancer drugs from which they feel patients would benefit, without restrictions simply on cost grounds. That goes back to the absolutely correct point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) about adding years, months and days to a person’s life, and ensuring that those days are not lost.

Up until last November, 10,000 cancer patients had benefited from the cancer drugs fund and clinical recommendations, with a number of them receiving ipilimumab through the fund. Strategic health authority regional clinical panels are using their clinical judgment. I understand the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire about variation, but we are assured that there is consistency between areas, and if there is any evidence to the contrary, I urge her to share it with the Department so that we can pursue that.

On the cancer drugs fund in Wales, the devolved Administration have to make their own judgment about how to prioritise NHS spending, and in contrast to the UK Administration they have decided to reduce spending on the NHS.

My hon. Friend also asked about the future arrangements when the cancer drugs fund finishes. We want to find a way for patients who benefit from drugs provided through the fund to continue to do so, at a cost that represents value to the NHS and to our wider society. We are considering whether it would be sensible, after the fund comes to an end in 2014, to assess some of the drugs, including the one we are debating, under the new value-based pricing arrangements. A final decision has not yet been made on that, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend as we get to a conclusion.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the potential wider costs of cancers such as melanoma. As we develop our value-based pricing system, it is important that we ensure that those wider costs are taken into account. We want a more systematic and transparent way of working, so that interested parties, including pharmaceutical companies, charities, Members of Parliament and the general public, are clear in advance about what factors can be taken into account and what supporting evidence will be needed.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I hope that a glimmer of hope is provided by a new scheme that could allow NICE to re-appraise the drug and come to a different conclusion. We will now wait to see how NICE proceeds. It is absolutely right to use parliamentary opportunities such as this to raise awareness. It is by raising awareness that we will save lives, which is the bottom line.

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Female Employment (Scotland)

4.40 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): As you will be aware, Mr Hood, Scotland has been much in the news during the past couple of weeks, but I will focus on the real world experienced by its citizens and the new challenges that are emerging, rather than fixate on a process story that fascinates only a small minority of our population but looks set to continue for many days, weeks and months to come.

One major feature of the post-war era has been women’s increasing economic power and growing participation in the workplace. Women are better educated than ever, and girls outperform boys at school and their male colleagues at university. They now populate the ranks of middle management. More than 45% of solicitors in the UK now are women, and it is predicted that by 2017, there will be more female doctors than male. Even during the economic downturns of the 1980s and 1990s, female employment levels were not substantially dented, possibly because women dominated many low-paid and part-time jobs, as they still do today.

However, the current economic downturn has created a serious and potentially permanent shift in the jobs market. Not only has it halted women’s progress in the workplace and our economy more generally, but it risks putting it into reverse. We urgently need greater analysis and a determined political will to ensure that women, who make up the majority of our population, do not find their opportunities for advancement crushed.

The problem exists on either side of the border, but regrettably, in some cases, the position in Scotland is worse than overall UK average, as I will highlight. I have been concerned about it for many months. That is why, along with women from business, academia and the trade union movement, I called last year on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and committees at Holyrood to carry out specific investigations so that we can examine the issue in further detail.

Although there is an understandable focus on the worryingly high youth unemployment—today’s figures showed the extent of the problem—the number of women claiming unemployment benefits in Scotland increased by more than 15% between November 2010 and the end of 2011, rising from 36,300 to 42,100. By contrast, the male claimant count rose by only 1% during the same period. Our female unemployment rate is now at its highest in more than 23 years. When the Scottish Government were asked in December to comment on those figures, their response was that the rate of female unemployment remained lower than the UK average. Funnily enough, that was their response at the start of last year to the general unemployment rate: that is, until the comparison started to go in the opposite direction, when they stopped mentioning it at all.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I only regret that it is such a short opportunity to discuss this extremely important issue. Does she accept that, although there is no complacency in Scotland about any sort of unemployment, the fact that female employment in Scotland has been consistently higher than the UK average must also be taken into consideration? That must be included in the context of understanding why our female unemployment is at the level it is.

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Ann McKechin: With respect to the hon. Lady, to a woman in a low-paid job who has just been made redundant, comparative unemployment levels south and north of the border are immaterial; the problem is that she has lost her income. That is complacency and political gamesmanship. People who face job loss require a much better answer.

Dr Whiteford: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann McKechin: I am sorry, but I wish to make progress and give the Minister an opportunity to respond.

The result of this lack of action is now showing in our economy. A TUC report last month showed that long-term unemployment is rising faster in Scotland than in any other nation or region of the UK, and that Scotland has eight of the 10 local authority areas showing the largest percentage increases in long-term unemployment over the past year. Last year, more than 26,000 Scots spent their second Christmas in a row on the dole.

Sadly, it is likely that the rate of female unemployment in Scotland will increase. Women hold about two thirds of jobs in the public sector, and job reductions north of the border are occurring somewhat later than in England. Unfortunately, 2012 looks likely to be a bleak year for everyone, regardless of where in the United Kingdom they live. There are still substantial job cuts to come in the public sector, where women dominate. TUC analysis shows that an estimated 70,225 public sector jobs in Scotland will be cut between now and 2017.

Dr Whiteford: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and conscious of her time. Will she at least acknowledge that, given the concentration of women in low-paid jobs in Scotland, and the dominance of women in the public sector, the single best thing that has happened has been the introduction of a living wage in those parts of Scotland’s public sector for which the Scottish Government are responsible? That living wage, and a guaranteed pay increase for people on low wages in Scotland, will benefit women disproportionately.

Ann McKechin: I certainly agree that the living wage is an excellent way to address issues of low pay. That is why I am delighted that Glasgow city council led the way on that matter. I note that qualification, but it is regrettable that the Scottish Government have not insisted that all employees of local authorities and public agencies in Scotland—not just civil servants, who are by far the minority of public servants in Scotland—also be paid a living wage if they are on low salaries.

There is more evidence that, unlike in previous recessions, men are now more willing to take on part-time work, which again has historically been female-dominated, or work in sectors such as retail and caring. The Scottish Trades Union Congress pointed out the growing problem of under-employment in a comprehensive study in September. It estimates that, in Scotland, more than 17% of the working-age population are either unemployed or under-employed: that is, working part-time but seeking full-time employment. That equates to more than 460,000 Scots who are currently unable to access the quality full-time work opportunities necessary to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. The STUC’s latest analysis for December increased that

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figure to more than 500,000. More and more Scots must rely for lengthy periods on a string of temporary contracts, agency work and the much-abused zero hours contracts. Such working arrangements form an increasing slice of low-paid work in which, again, women are the clear majority.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments are obliged by the Equality Act 2010, passed by the last Labour Government, to give due consideration to the implications for gender equality of their policies. So far, the lack of rigorous gender impact assessment of the many complex changes made over the last year has pushed many women into substantial economic hardship. The Institute for Fiscal Studies report commissioned by the Fawcett Society last July revealed that, overall, single female households will be significantly harder hit during 2010-2015, in terms of net income loss, than their male equivalents, largely because more than 92% of lone parents in this country are women. Although the female rate of unemployment is still lower than the male rate, the impact of female unemployment can often be more considerable. For example, it has more effect on children living in single-parent households.

An analysis of the June 2010 Budget by the House of Commons Library found that women will pay roughly 72% of the net cost of the changes in taxes, benefits and tax credits set out in the Budget. The subsequent comprehensive spending reviews in 2010 and 2011 ushered in further cuts and welfare reforms that have shifted yet more of the burden on to women and families. Of the £18.3 billion a year raised through net direct tax, pay and pension changes since the 2010 election, £13.2 billion comes from women. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that, as a direct result of the UK Government’s tax and benefit changes, the average family of four will see a deduction in their income of £1,250 per annum by 2015.

Both Governments accept the argument that good-quality and affordable child care is key to allowing many women to fully access the jobs market. It should be a matter for serious concern that Scotland has the highest child care costs in the United Kingdom, and the UK Government have compounded the problem by cutting the proportion of child care costs that are covered for families eligible for working tax credit from 80% to 70%. Research published by Aviva last summer shows that, already, thousands of women have left the workplace to look after families because work is increasingly considered to be uneconomical.

In November, The Scotsman reported that the number of Scottish youngsters attending child care services has fallen after a quarter of registered crèches closed in two years. A number of holiday play schemes, out-of-school clubs, play groups and children and family centres have also shut their doors, as cuts to public services hit harder. In October, the Scottish Government launched a new fund for child care projects, but £1.5 million over three years for the whole country is grossly inadequate if we are serious about our children’s future and the ability of their mothers to work their families out of poverty.

As well as the failure to assess the impact of current policies on women over the next few years, there is also an urgent need to assess where women will be in any new economy.

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Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend think that there is a correlation between the increase in female unemployment and the increase in child poverty?

Ann McKechin: I agree with my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this area, that there is a direct correlation. It is no surprise that there is an increase in child poverty at the same time as that in female unemployment, even though both Governments have a statutory duty to make sure that they reach demanding targets. That is another good reason why this issue needs to be addressed.

We need to assess where women will be in any new economy over the next few years. That economy will apparently be less reliant on the service sector and will involve the engagement of a greater proportion of the work force in science, engineering and technology occupations, both at graduate and, just as importantly, college and craft levels. Although women make up more than 45% of the UK work force, they remain under-represented in those SET occupations. In 2010, only 12% of all SET employees were female, and the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineering professionals in the European Union, at just less than 9%. Gender segregation is especially extreme in SET skilled trades, such as electrical work, with women forming roughly 1% of the work force. It is deeply regrettable that the UK Government have stopped funding the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. That has been handed over to the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. I have nothing against either of those eminent institutions, but they are not accountable to our electorate or to this Parliament, and their fellowships are both more than 90% male.

Scotland is rightly proud of its scientific and engineering history and its strong academic reputation, but why is there utter silence apparently on the role of women? A look at the Scottish media might point us towards one of the sources of the problem. Not one of our main Scottish print titles has a female editor, and there are very few female journalists in news. The vast majority of columnists and bloggers are male, too. Even the BBC is not without fault. During last year’s Scottish Parliament election campaign, “Newsnight Scotland” ran an entire extended half-hour programme with a panel of eight men and a male presenter. That is not an exception, but too often it is the norm. In too many areas of our public life—the media being just one example—the rate of increase in female representation remains stubbornly low, and without proper focus it can easily fall back.

I am pleased that the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with the involvement of Professor Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser for Scotland, has established a working group to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for Scotland to increase both the proportion of women in the science, technology, engineering and maths work force, and the number who rise to senior positions in universities, institutes and business. The report is due shortly and I hope that both Governments will give it the attention it deserves.

As I mentioned earlier, the picture in non-graduate STEM employment is even grimmer, and I am struck by how few public agencies in Scotland have given this any attention, but, given that we have only three female council leaders out of 32 in Scotland, should we be surprised? I have been impressed by the good example

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set by the Olympic Delivery Authority in its procurement processes. It introduced a business charter for inclusion, which, as well as pushing contractors to do more, also, crucially, provided them and their employees with support and training. The charter rightly calls for diversity and inclusion to be at the heart of an organisation’s culture, including the way in which it recruits and treats its own staff. The impact of that initiative has been considerable. As of last year, more than 1,000 women were directly involved in the construction work on the site. Can hon. Members imagine if we could reach those sorts of levels with the forthcoming work on the new Forth road bridge? The question we need to ask in Scotland is: why are we so far behind the curve?

This is an example of how Government—national and local—can help to change culture and practice. I believe that even in the toughest of economic times it is not impossible to look at, first, an action plan to combat women’s unemployment, and secondly, a nationwide code of conduct in the public, private and voluntary sectors driven by public procurement to increase diversity. My challenge to both Administrations is to start working together now in 2012 for a fair work arena for women, because we deserve it.

4.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): It is a pleasure, Mr Hood, to serve under the chairmanship of a constituent. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this debate about female employment trends in Scotland. It is one of a number of debates relating specifically to Scotland that have been held recently in both Westminster Hall and the main Chamber, and such debates are welcome. Following on from some of the hon. Lady’s remarks, I congratulate Johann Lamont on becoming the leader of the Scottish Labour party, which relates to the hon. Lady’s arguments. Moreover, at the end of last year, my colleague Ruth Davidson became the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, so the political process in Scotland has some female leadership. I am sure that both ladies will bring significant influence to bear in the months ahead.

The fight against unemployment is a priority for the UK Government. We are committed to getting Scots off benefits and into the workplace. Work remains the best and most sustainable route out of poverty. The UK Government have measures in place to support all claimants to find work. These measures are not gender specific. We want women and men to get the job opportunities that they need.

Nevertheless, this challenge must be set against the context of the UK recovering from the biggest financial crisis for generations and the deepest recession of almost all major economies. The uncertainty and instability in the eurozone area, where unemployment is higher than in the UK, continue to have a chilling effect on our economy.

Despite the difficult environment, we are still trying to help women. Many of the 90,000 Scots who have been lifted out of tax at the lowest end are women. The measures that we are taking on additional child care are helping women south of the border, with Barnett

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consequentials for Scotland. At the same time, our reforms of public service sector pensions will mean that lower-paid public sector employees, including many women, will get better pensions. On top of this, the UK Government have announced new support for women’s enterprise, with funding to provide 5,000 mentors for new and existing female entrepreneurs. Similarly, the establishment of the Women’s Business Council is geared towards helping the Government to maximise women’s contribution to future UK economic growth.

I recognise that there are concerns that women are being disproportionately affected by unemployment. Fears have been raised because of the predominance of women in the retail sector, in local government employment, in the NHS and in part-time work. However, as John Philpott, the chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said last month, it has been tough for both sexes in the 2011 jobs market. He commented:

“What we do know is that the relative position of women has not so far worsened as much as commonly perceived or as widely anticipated given the high concentration of women workers in the public sector and in part-time jobs more generally.”

Labour market analysis published last month by the Scottish Government shows the trend in Scotland over the past year is for women moving out of unemployment and inactivity into employment. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), said today,

“The latest figures reflect the current challenging economic climate but also show more women entering the workforce.”

That was backed up by the Prime Minister, who told the House earlier this afternoon that 59,000 more women are now in the workplace than at the time of the 2010 general election.

Ann McKechin: Female unemployment in Scotland has increased by 25% in the last quarter, so would the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge, given the statistics that he has just quoted, that there needs to be a much more thorough analysis, so that we can get to the root of the reason why there has been such a rapid increase, whether that is likely to be a permanent shift in the job market and what sectors will be particularly affected?

David Mundell: I agree with the hon. Lady that analysis is important to getting to a full understanding of what the situation is. I assure her that the Government are not complacent in that regard.

The Government also have an ambitious agenda to reform the benefit system and to support those who are able to go back into work. The increase in female jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Scotland can be partially attributed to the change in the rules for lone parents. Most lone parents with a youngest child aged seven or over are no longer entitled to income support purely on the grounds of being a lone parent. They must now claim jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance or find work. There are plans to apply that rule to lone parents with a youngest child aged five or over from this year. Our policies for lone parents strike a balance between the right to benefit to support the family and wider responsibilities to support themselves and lift their children out of poverty when that is feasible.

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We also understand the importance of flexible working. It is the Government’s intention that the law will better support families juggling work and life, and the businesses that employ them. We are currently developing our proposals for extending flexible working legislation and will be consulting with stakeholders on how best to implement them.

Ann McKechin: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that more lone parents are coming into the job market because of changes to regulations. Will he tell us what dialogue he has had with the Scottish Government about the fact that, in Scotland, child care costs are so high? Proper, affordable child care is absolutely vital if people, particularly those on lower incomes, are to get back into employment.

David Mundell: The Secretary of State and I have had ongoing discussions with the Scottish Government on employment and wider economic issues and on how we can dovetail our policies to ensure that they work in the best way for people in Scotland. The hon. Lady clearly highlights a significant issue, which I will take up again with the Scottish Government the next time I have the opportunity to do so. I appreciate the importance of the issue that she is raising.

The UK Government recognise the issue of child care and are implementing measures geared to helping more women into work. The hon. Lady will be aware that, following the autumn statement, the Scottish Government will receive more than £500 million in addition to the sums that they had anticipated they would receive. In relation to that funding, the Scottish Government will have the opportunity to invest more in child care and skills development.

Looking forward, the integration of child care into universal credit when it is introduced in 2013 will protect work initiatives and ensure that support is focused on low-earning families. As I have said, we know how important child care is in helping mothers into work. Child care costs will be supported through an additional element in the universal credit. Support for the costs of child care within the universal credit will be made available to all lone parents and couples, where both members are at work, regardless of the number of hours they work. On average, families with children are more likely to have a higher than a lower entitlement under the universal credit.

More broadly, the Department for Work and Pensions is taking a number of measures to assist all claimants into work. The advisory support in job centres across Scotland is tailored and personalised to the individual’s needs. Claimants of both genders have access to a range of “Get Britain Working” initiatives, including work clubs, enterprise clubs, the work together scheme, work experience, new enterprise allowance and sector-based work academies. Similarly, work trials allow employers and employees the chance to try out employment opportunities.

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The Work programme is a key part of our reforms and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North knows, it went live in June. We are also helping to break down the barriers to employment through the flexible support fund, which can assist with child care expenses, travel costs and clothing costs. It also targets support to particular groups of claimants. The DWP is looking at bids for grant funding from bodies that specifically support lone parents and women with special needs, such as mental health issues.

Across Scotland, there is huge concern about youth unemployment and, obviously, a significant number of the people affected by that are female. Youth unemployment has been rising since 2004.

Dr Whiteford: Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that every young person in Scotland between the age of 16 and 19 has an apprenticeship, college or university place or training opportunity is a good thing and that it is the right direction to be moving in to tackle youth unemployment?

David Mundell: I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that I accept that many things the Scottish Government do are good. What I do not accept is the often presented premise that, if the Scottish Government do something, it is a good thing, and if the UK Government do something, it is a bad thing. We need to work together, particularly on issues such as youth unemployment.

As I said, youth unemployment has been rising since 2004 and is an issue on which we all need to take an interest. That is why I am particularly pleased that John Swinney is going to join the Secretary of State and me at a national convention to consider the issue of youth unemployment, with all other relevant stakeholders from throughout Scotland. In terms of identifying issues and concerns, we have undertaken a number of very successful events in Irvine, Hawick and Falkirk to date, and a national event will take place in Dundee in March.

We have also announced the youth contract, which will bring an extra £1 billion of extra investment into supporting the young unemployed, whether through wage incentives, additional work experience and opportunities or money to the Scottish Government. There will also be the offer of a work experience place for every 18 to 24-year-old who wants one before they enter the Work programme.

The UK Government cannot solve the employment challenges facing Scotland alone. The Scottish Government have many policy levers, with important responsibilities for education, skills, business tax and enterprise, which can be used to improve the employment situation. Scotland’s two Governments must work together to achieve this.

Question put and agreed to .

5.9 pm

Sitting adjourned.