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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 23 October 2012

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Transport Infrastructure (Essex)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Norman Baker.)

9.30 am

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): A number of hon. Members have indicated a wish to speak. Even at this early stage, I urge a degree of self-restraint so that everyone can get in.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I genuinely welcome the interest shown by my fellow Essex MPs in the debate, which is timely. As constituency MPs, we all face many serious challenges and have strong views about the future of our infrastructure.

The coalition Government are halfway through their five-year mission to restore economic growth to Britain while dealing with the deficit, and I welcome the initiatives that Ministers have introduced to highlight infrastructure and investment—in particular the £50 billion provided through the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill, and the Growth and Infrastructure Bill as well, partly because their provisions are important to economic growth and job creation across the country.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and his Department are in the process of changing how transport infrastructure is delivered, to ensure that it meets demand, supports growth and provides value for money, which I also welcome. In recent weeks, reforms to rail franchises have been debated at length, and I wish the Minister and his Department well in the vital work being undertaken to resolve the problems with the west coast main line in particular, but also, from an Essex point of view, with the tendering process for the Greater Anglia franchise. We are keen to ensure that that franchise is not delayed, but we feel that it can go ahead only when the specification is ready, and not before; I was in discussion with Abellio last night about that very point.

Air travel and airport capacity remain high on the political agenda, with the launch of the Davies commission last month. New delivery models for investment in our roads are being examined, through the introduction of route-based strategies, all of which I welcome. Yesterday evening, I hosted an event in Parliament with representatives of Stansted airport. It was attended by some of my colleagues. From an Essex point of view, we feel that this is an exciting time for those interested in infrastructure. Essex has been neglected for far too long. The purpose of today’s debate is not just to make a plea to the Minister and his Department, but to make the case for investment. For far too long, we have not come together enough to make a collective case to Government about why we need it.

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All my colleagues know that Essex has suffered from a chronic lack of infrastructure investment over the years, and during the good times Essex was overlooked while money was ploughed into projects elsewhere. That neglect has had serious consequences for a county that is growing and growing. Over time, our roads have become more congested and dangerous, and our rail services have become far from ideal, despite the fact that our commuters contribute approximately £110 million to the Treasury annually.

In my constituency, vital plans to improve road safety on the A120, one of the 10 most dangerous roads in the country, have been dropped, and countless other infrastructure projects have been ignored. Although we appreciate that the nation’s finances are in a delicate and precarious position right now, that should be no excuse to overlook Essex for investment in transport infrastructure.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the infrastructure in Essex does not improve greatly, the burden of people driving to my constituency, which although in Essex is also in the London borough of Redbridge, and leaving their vehicles there so that they can travel on the underground, will just increase and become a bigger problem for my constituents?

Priti Patel: Absolutely. That highlights the fact that we are at breaking point where our roads are concerned. Congestion is extreme. Although we have not had the infrastructure investment—money is tight—Essex is best placed to maximise the benefits of any public money that comes into our infrastructure. If the Minister chooses to come to Essex—that is an open invitation from us all, I think—he will understand and get to see at first hand that Essex is the engine of economic growth.

Even in these challenging economic circumstances, there are about 6,000 new enterprise start-ups every year, the equivalent of one new business being created for every 300 people in the county. In 2011, there were 52,000 entrepreneurs in Essex, supporting a county-wide economy with gross value added estimated at over £28 billion. Few parts of Britain can boast that kind of culture of entrepreneurship, and with so many entrepreneurs and business people across the county it is hardly surprising how diverse the businesses are.

I mentioned earlier that we had a function last night. It was attended by many businesses as well as by representatives from Stansted airport. In my constituency, we have a pioneering and world-leading firm, Crittall Windows, which has won the Queen’s award for enterprise; the world famous Wilkin and Sons jam makers, the finest jam makers in the world; and Simarco International, a worldwide logistics company, to name but a few.

There are thousands more such outward-looking businesses. They want easier access to global markets and trading opportunities but are let down by our poor infrastructure across the county. They are frustrated by that, and also by the fact that the voice of the private sector has not been listened to enough—not just across Government but in other bodies as well, which is why this discussion is vital. We must start to listen to that voice.

Our outdated infrastructure is a considerable barrier to economic growth, and that costs firms millions of pounds. This quote from Ian Thurgood, from Wilkin and Sons, is telling:

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“A well planned and maintained road network is critical for the success of Essex businesses. Food producers such as Wilkin and Sons have to meet strict delivery deadlines for most retailers and failure to deliver on time can mean products being out of stock and ultimately delisted from sale.”

Such issues are vital for that industry, and Ian Thurgood’s sentiments are echoed across the board. Essex has a 21st-century private sector but a creaking infrastructure that is simply out of date. That is the business perspective, but of course the problem has a knock-on effect on families across the county.

Our population in Essex is approximately 1.7 million, and it is set to grow by 20% over the next 20 years. I have three local planning authorities covering just my constituency, and with Braintree district, Maldon district and Colchester borough they plan to build 60,000 new dwellings between 2011 and 2031. All those new dwellings will put more pressure on our roads—more cars—and there will be a greater demand for rail services and international air travel. There will also, quite rightly, be more people setting up their own businesses, which we support.

Essex is an attractive county. It is very close to London, and its potential is limitless. We have a world-class airport at Stansted, which serves 18 million passengers and is the fourth most used airport in the country. Some £8 million of cargo goes out of the airport, and about 200,000 tonnes are flown out to 200 destinations. The airport supports 10,000 jobs across the county and contributes £400 million to the local economy. But there is not just the airport; we have seaports as well. We have Harwich, and Felixstowe is close by, while London Gateway will come on stream soon.

Along with all my colleagues, I am passionate about the potential for Essex as a county. I want to see our businesses not just grow but do even more for UK plc. Frankly, Essex could get moving even more with greater infrastructure. Having given some background, I now want to highlight some of the key areas, particularly in my constituency, in which we have major problems and bottlenecks.

I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on the future of rail in the county. He will be aware that colleagues in Essex and across the region have come together to develop a rail prospectus covering a range of services for the Greater Anglia franchise. I believe his Department is now familiar with that document. We recently went to present the document to the Secretary of State—and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), a Transport Minister, is a signatory.

Many of my constituents are paying upwards of £4,000 a year to commute to London, and they are subject to the worst delays and a lack of seating, which forces them to stand in horrible conditions. Even though we are a business-oriented county, those people do not have access to wi-fi connections. As I have already highlighted, a significant proportion of their fares already goes to the Treasury. We are a significant net contributor to the Treasury, and my constituents and all rail users across Essex are concerned that they are simply not getting value for money.

It seems obvious that if a modest proportion of the fees paid to the Government by the train operators were reinvested in track infrastructure and new rolling stock, everyone would benefit and the service would be more

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attractive to others. Such investment is needed because, since the mid-1990s, there has been a 34% increase in passenger numbers on the Great Eastern route, which places huge demand on current services.

The introduction of a passing loop on the Witham to Braintree branch line would be a crucial investment. The branch line is currently a single track, and the Minister is familiar with our representations on that. The branch line restricts the number of journeys and the number of passengers who can be connected to Witham and the wider rail network, both to London and Norwich. A passing loop would be beneficial to constituents across the district and, of course, could unlock new capacity on the route.

Braintree district council recently conducted a study to demonstrate that, if the loop were constructed, it would deliver a cost-benefit ratio of 2.0 or more. From his work in the Department, the Minister may know that scores of that level and above are regarded as delivering high value for money; a score between 1.5 and 2.0 represents medium value for money. I hope he will give a positive indication about the issue.

I thank all my colleagues for their contributions to the rail prospectus. For many of us, the prospectus has been a labour of love that has brought us together. I pay tribute to Essex county council and the local enterprise partnership, because we have all come together for the first time to forge the prospectus and we intend to continue being strong advocates and strong voices for rail investment.

I now turn to the problems of the Dartford crossing. Just as commuters have become thoroughly dejected by the quality of rail services, businesses are gobsmacked, astounded and appalled, to put it politely, by the state of the roads and the congestion near the Dartford crossing. The crossing, of course, is important not only to Essex but to the south-east, Greater London and Kent.

As regular users of the crossing know—I declare an interest as a DART-Tag holder—the toll booths cause atrocious congestion. Journey time reliability figures, the measure that the Highways Agency uses to monitor delays, show that performance in the year to May 2012 was just 57% for southbound journeys and 60% for northbound journeys, compared with a national average of 83.5% across the motorway and trunk road network. More than 50 million crossings are made each year, and it is unacceptable that half of those journeys should face such considerable delays.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): As the representative of the constituency at the north end of the Dartford crossing, I should say that my constituents probably suffer the burden of the congestion more than anyone else. My hon. Friend refers to the congestion caused by the toll booths. We are advised that, once they are removed, the crossing’s capacity will grow by 20%. Installing free-flow tolling will cost some £100 million. Do her constituents agree with mine that, instead of spending that £100 million, we should just remove the tolls?

Priti Patel: Given the delays caused by the tolls and how much those delays cost our economy, the answer is yes. My constituents would welcome that—they really would.

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The Highways Agency has estimated that the economic cost of the delays is some £40 million, which is astronomical. That money is being taken away from creating jobs and growth in our economy.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I want to get this on the record. When the first tunnel was built by Essex and Kent county councils, and subsequently when the second tunnel was built, it was announced that, once the capital costs had been paid for by the toll, the tunnels would be free. Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps it is time to honour that pledge?

Priti Patel: I absolutely do. There is a real issue here, because that is what the public were told. The public feel cheated not only because they have to continue paying the current tolls, but because the tolls are going up. The tolls went up this month, and they will go up again in two years’ time. The public are getting an appalling service and, as I said, the cost to the economy is significant.

We have another concern about the Dartford crossing. The proceeds received by the Department for Transport have effectively fallen over the past eight years. In 2003-04, revenues from users totalled £68 million and expenditure was £14 million, which left £54 million in proceeds for the Department. By 2010-11, however, although revenues had risen to £73 million, expenditure had increased by 250% to £36.3 million, leaving just £36.7 million in proceeds for the Department. Most of the increased revenues—I hope the Minister and the Department will look into this—appear to have been swallowed up by the managing agent contractor’s costs, which have more than doubled from £12.7 million to £27.5 million. All colleagues would think that that is completely unrealistic and unreasonable. For those of us who are paying the high tolls—and our constituents are—that is simply unacceptable. Although the money raised from drivers using the crossing rose by 7% in eight years, the amount going back to the Department fell.

I recognise that the Department is working on the free flow, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) highlighted, but drivers are paying increased costs year on year. Given the compelling evidence demonstrating that the crossing is now failing to deliver value for money, and given the economic costs of the delays, we must review the entire operation of the crossing. I hope the Minister can explain where the extra tolls being paid by drivers, both this month and in two years’ time, will be going.

How will the Department spend the money and on what projects? I urge the Minister to consider the contractor costs, which I have highlighted. He may not be able to give me a full response right now, but the tolls are a physical and metaphorical barrier to growth, and the sooner traffic is able to flow freely, and the sooner costs are brought down, the better—not just for all our constituents, but for the economy of the south-east.

My constituents, and road users throughout Essex, are fed up with both the A120 and the A12. Those two roads run through my constituency, and my postbag and inbox are inundated daily with all their failures. The roads are vital economic links, but they have not been upgraded and are costing the economy huge sums of money.

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John Devall, the managing director of Essex and Suffolk Water, has commented that the

“A12 generally…is the subject of the travel news in the morning—taking over from J28 to 27 on M25, since upgrades there.”

His workers going to east London now regularly travel between 6 am and 7 am to avoid the worst traffic. Essex chambers of commerce has highlighted that the road needs to be widened and improved.

The 12-mile stretch of the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey is one of the 10 most dangerous roads in the country and needs urgent attention. We have had fatality after fatality. The A120 is a single-carriageway road that carries approximately 25,000 vehicles each day, projected to rise to 30,000 by 2027. As a single-carriageway road carrying many freight vehicles and heavy goods lorries, that section of road is simply no longer fit for purpose.

I emphasise that the A120 is part of the trans-European road network between Dublin and Brussels, which means it is used by freight vehicles and is congested. Although 6% of traffic on the county’s roads is attributable to HGVs, they make up about 14% of traffic on that part of the A120 and parts of the A12. The dangers speak volumes; I have highlighted the fact that there have been fatalities. Local residents and parish councils have campaigned tirelessly for improvements, but have been systematically let down by authorities, including regional development agencies and previous Governments. A £50 million plan to dual the road was abandoned. I implore the Minister to consider the case for investment. Privately led schemes exist already. In an era of little Government money, we appreciate that investment must be led by the private sector and business, but lots of people are working locally. We must listen to businesses’ voices.

I thank the Minister and the Department for Transport for the announcement two weeks ago committing £300,000 to Galleys Corner in Braintree, but I emphasise the dangerous nature of the road. I look to the Department and the Minister for their support in working with the county council, the chambers of commerce and the local enterprise partnerships to consider using regional growth fund money to deal with the problems on that road. I press the Government to consider how we can access European funds.

I cannot emphasise enough that, for too long, Essex’s innovative private sector has been held back by the failures of our infrastructure, frustrating businesses and preventing more jobs from being created. I hope that the Minister will take on board the points that I have raised and the areas of the constituency that I have mentioned. This is all about getting Essex moving and bringing greater prosperity and more jobs and growth to the county and, ultimately, to the United Kingdom, as well as bringing more Treasury receipts to the Government.

9.51 am

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). Infrastructure is probably too grand a word for the transport arrangements in our county. We enjoy relative prosperity, yet we have, varyingly, either no transport infrastructure worthy of the name or

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totally inadequate infrastructure. She said that we are halfway through this Government, and it is to this Government that we direct our pleas, but the situation goes back many years. Sometimes, I think that the inadequacies of the transport system in our county can be traced back to Roman times. We therefore have a great deal of catching up to do. Things are London-centric: everything goes away from London. Therefore, even counties near London have difficulty connecting places in the way required by modern business, as my hon. Friend so eloquently said.

Our principal roads are the A11, the A12, the A13 and the A127, which all go outwards from London. Only one, the M11, has been upgraded to motorway status, although the A11 still runs separately. I understand that when this country’s motorway system was first mooted back in the 1930s, the original plan was that the M11 would be a London-Norwich motorway. If that was so, the county of Norfolk has grounds for grieving that there is still no adequate connection from London to that important city in the east of England. The M11 only happened because people saw it as a way to go faster to an airport at Stansted, if one was developed.

As for cross-county roads, I can add to my hon. Friend’s story about the A120. When I first became Member for Saffron Walden, the constituency included, apart from the district of Uttlesford, the northern part of the district of Braintree, through which ran the A604, the Cambridge-Colchester road. The road was under heavy pressure, and when I tried to argue for bypasses for villages and so on, I was told, “No, no, you must understand the strategy.” On this matter, Essex county council, the highway authority and the Department for Transport were as one. The roads communicating with the east coast ports would be the A12 and then, when constructed, the Orwell bridge on to the A14. The other was the A120, connecting with the M11. That road has still not been completed, as my hon. Friend said. It is the most extraordinary situation. That was the great strategy for a cross-county route, from which everything else was directed, yet it has still not been completed.

Parts of the A130 have been improved, but in my constituency, despite the downgrading of a section to the B1008, heavy transport still ploughs through the villages of Barnston and Ford End and the parish of Great Waltham. Satellite navigation tells lorry drivers the route, rather than the signposts on the road. The road in that part of the county is totally inadequate. We do not have a complete approach to the A130, which would help communications across the county. The trouble is that schemes get mooted, talked about, designed and left to fester, leaving only blight and a great deal of heartache.

On rail services, I will not say anything about the Fenchurch-Shoeburyness line, but it appears to be the only one that has been significantly upgraded in the past 20 or 30 years. The great eastern line is certainly below its capacity needs, and the west Anglia line is the most extraordinary story of all. Successive Governments over 20 or 30 years have designated Stansted as an airport to be developed in varying degrees and have also decided that the M11 corridor is one for development. Despite that fact, one of the most inadequate railway lines of all still serves our county and beyond, running to Cambridge,

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Ely and King’s Lynn. It has the shortest stretch of four-tracking of any London terminal, not measured in inches but by a considerable degree.

Our commuters have had a rotten deal. Now, belatedly, the owners of Stansted airport have woken up to the fact that the Stansted express is not as express as it was originally and are at last demanding a 30-minute journey time, equal to the time from Victoria to Gatwick airport. Indeed, that is how it should be. We have an airport—it is not approved with enthusiasm by all my constituents, but we are realists—whose capacity can double, but our railway system serves neither the airport and the businesses related to it, nor the vast number of commuters who come from the constituencies of many of my neighbours, including my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker).

Even stations further south are suffering from the inadequacy of the line. It might be argued, “Come on, you’ve got Crossrail coming along.” Crossrail might make some contribution as far as passengers from Shenfield and other stations are concerned, but the idea that it will be the complete answer to Essex’s rail needs is nonsense, and the idea that £3 billion might be spent on it or on an extension to an enlarged Stansted airport is for the birds.

Cross-county, we have nothing. In the wake of the decision to develop Stansted airport, people would like a line reinstated from Braintree towards the airport and Bishop’s Stortford, but why would one think of spending more money to restore a line when we cannot even find the money to make existing principal lines work effectively? To the extent that we have some cross-county rail operations out of Stansted airport that could be developed, the single-bore tunnel restricts the number of trains and is currently working at capacity. How stupid is that? We need a second-bore tunnel, so that extra trains can serve from Stansted and through. Indeed, we could have more trains going to the northern parts of the east of England.

On air, I am afraid the county is deeply divided, although we speak with unity on most other things. We have two airports: London, Southend and London, Stansted. Those names tell their own story. Stansted has never been Essex’s airport. Perhaps Southend has more of a claim to be an Essex airport, but Stansted airport was never treated by its owners, BAA, as an Essex airport; it was a London airport, part of its system. Fortunately, that is about to change soon, but it is still seen—speculation has started—as part of the London airport solution. I do not believe that it can be, unless one is prepared to say that the Essex countryside should be devastated to the extent of having four runways.

Even our most ambitious business people would not believe that an airport on that scale is necessary, yet we are faced with the fact that, once again, we could be bearing the burden of solving London’s problems without any of the real benefits that might flow from it—an improved railway line and an improved road system. We are bad in this country in that when we have major developments that can be necessary in the wider national interest, we do not give people a commensurate benefit that flows from them, or even adequate compensation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham. We fail to obtain the amount of moneys required to deal with the backlog of problems that we have, so the

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quality of our transport system is inadequate. We do not have anything that could remotely be called an integrated transport system. Overall, what has happened over the years is that there has been nothing much in it for us. Frankly, there needs to be a lot more.

10.2 am

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) on setting the scene, pan-Essex, and endorse the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) regarding the west of the county. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham made a powerful case for the economic benefit of investment in the transport infrastructure for Essex as a whole. Essex is indeed an economic power base for the British economy, and more could be done if we were given support in greater transport infrastructure.

The rail manifesto for the east of England united every single MP in the east of England—no mean achievement. As far as my constituents are concerned, and as has been pointed out, they are paying way over the odds in rail fares for the service they receive. We need greater investment on the Anglia line—Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford to London, Liverpool Street—but I seek the Minister’s confirmation that the “Norwich in 90” campaign will not mean fewer inter-city trains stopping at the Essex stations of Manningtree and Colchester.

On occasion, we in Essex feel that we have been neglected and forgotten by the Department for Transport. I endorse the case that has been made for improvements to the A12 and the A120. The A120 is not in my constituency at either end, but a section of it runs along the A12, as it were, and it certainly brings A120 traffic in and out of Colchester. If my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) were here, he would make a powerful case for improvements to the A120 through the Tendring peninsula to the international port of Harwich, in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, and, indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) would for the A120, so far as it goes through that part of Essex.

We have to look at Essex as a whole. On the Thurrock crossing—I am going to say the Thurrock crossing, not the Dartford crossing, because we need to promote Essex on these occasions—it was a great disappointment that when the Queen Elizabeth II bridge was opened it was not called the Thurrock bridge. I do not see why Kent should get all the mentions.

Bad planning means, I am afraid, that Essex, and my constituency of Colchester in particular, is set to suffer even more road congestion. I draw the Minister’s attention to a proposed development on the fields of west Mile End, which the highways experts think will be okay, even though 1,600 houses will be served by the longest cul-de-sac in Britain—a one-mile cul-de-sac serving this massive estate on land of a quality that, if only John Constable had painted it, would be considered an area of outstanding natural beauty. We need new housing, of course we do. We need new sites for jobs, of course we do. However, they have to be in the right place.

Those 1,600 houses will pile even more traffic on to the road congestion around the Colchester mainline station and North Station road, which is absolutely

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ludicrous. I hope that people in the Department and in Essex county highways, and wherever else these theorists sit, will realise that in the real world it is impossible—science has proved it—to get a quart into a pint pot. To suggest that, somehow, vehicles can do the equivalent of getting a quart into a pint pot is not on.

Something that I am sure will appeal to the Minister is the fact that we have had the case made for improvements to road and rail infrastructure, but I am going to make a special plea for buses, whether they be local buses serving a community or bus networks serving surrounding villages and people across Essex. I should not forget the express coach services and the services for Britain’s first city—our tourism industry. Of course, we were a city in 49 AD, when Chelmsford was the Roman equivalent of the Little Chef on the way to London. We need to have greater interest in and promotion of our bus services. A decent bus service and all that goes with it means a proper bus station. That is for local consumption. Before Christmas, Colchester’s bus station will be shutting. That is a retrograde move in a time when we should be promoting public transport.

Cycleway provision is important and relatively low cost. One only has to go to Denmark and Holland to see how investment in cycleway provision encourages people out of their cars and on to cycles. The more we can encourage people on to safe cycle routes, the more we will ease congestion.

I shall conclude with something that I failed to interest the previous Government in, and in which I suspect this Government and Department for Transport have an equal lack of interest. The Victorians were successful, as can be seen in many of our European towns and cities and in a few parts of the United Kingdom, in producing urban tram systems, or light railways. A tram system or light railway would move us a long way forward, because far more people can be carried, in an urban environment, on trams or light railway than by continually putting more and more cars on to the roads.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham on putting a powerful case for Essex. I hope that some good will come from it.

10.9 am

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who is a fantastic champion not only for transport, but for business, in Essex.

In Harlow, we face three major challenges: reputation, skills and infrastructure. We are dealing with the first two. We now have the highest business growth in the UK, as Experian has shown. An enterprise zone is opening next year, a new university technical college is opening in 2014, and 600 more people are in work in the town, compared with January, but transport infrastructure is holding us back in three ways. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witham and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) highlighted so well, we are not getting enough investment in trains in the east of England. Secondly, Harlow lacks proper motorway entrances. Thirdly, a sense of unfairness has built up over decades, due to only a fifth of fuel duty receipts being spent on our roads. I shall consider those points in turn.

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I welcome what the Government have done to limit train fare rises. Many people in Harlow are on below-average earnings and commute into London, and could not afford some of the bigger rises that were initially mentioned. Of course, expensive rail fares have not happened overnight. Simon Carter, a Harlow resident who is also a councillor, has the ticket stubs to prove that a season ticket from Harlow to London went up by some 40% over the past 13 to 15 years, but Harlow commuters still suffer from the worst overcrowding in the country.

I recognise and welcome what the Government have done to invest in new rolling stock and to negotiate with Abellio to run a short franchise when National Express dropped out. I appreciate that Abellio has hired 100 extra security staff on the west coast main line, protected all Harlow services from cuts and smartened up our train stations, but Essex is a major engine of the English economy and our train fares are still too high, compared with the inward investment in the network. That is why I, along with my hon. and right hon. Friends, urge the Minister to consider the East Anglian rail prospectus, with targeted schemes, such as a third line in the Lea valley, and line improvements along the Stansted Express route, so that trains can get up to speeds of 100 mph. Improvements in infrastructure in the Roydon and Sawbridgeworth stations would be welcome.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: On my hon. Friend’s point about increased rail capacity through the Lea valley, we do not want to be sold short on just a third rail. For that job to be done properly, we need four rails, ideally, as far as Broxbourne. That would separate the more localised traffic from the traffic to more distant destinations, such as his constituency and mine.

Robert Halfon: Of course, my right hon. Friend is correct. He is an incredible champion for commuters across Essex.

Crossrail is estimated to have raised property prices along its line of route by about £5.5 billion, meaning that one third of the scheme’s cost has already been recouped by local home owners. This is the value that major transport projects can unlock.

I urge the Minister to expand the Oyster and other smart card systems to include Harlow commuters, because most people who commute to London from there use the London underground or London buses.

The Minister is aware, from a previous debate, that I have long campaigned for an additional junction on the M11. A new junction is critical if Harlow is to continue to grow and attract new businesses. Harlow town alone has a population of some 81,000 or 82,000, in addition to that of the villages in my constituency, but we have only one entrance to the town, which is crazy for a huge employment hub close to London. The industry is located at the opposite end of the town, meaning that lorries must trundle back and forth, almost through the town centre. Almost every day, our town faces gridlock because we do not have the extra junction.

I welcome work done by the local council on a £500,000 study into building a new M11 junction 7a, which will report in November—in a few weeks. I urge the Minister to consider that report. The case for a new M11 junction is simple: it would cost only around

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£15 million, would create jobs and growth, cut congestion and the cost of traffic, and would generally make Harlow a much better place to live. Our local enterprise partnership has secured a small amount of funding for road improvements, and I welcome some things that the Government have announced, but this is a sticking plaster. We will not solve our transport problems in Harlow until we get the extra junction.

I want to talk briefly about how our infrastructure is funded. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) has brilliantly highlighted how, unfortunately, money raised for the railways by commuters through fares is not spent in the east of England; most of it goes to other parts of the country. We must move to a situation where money raised in the region by commuters paying high rail fares is spent in the region. The same thing has happened with fuel duty. Through the 1920s, the road fund was repeatedly raided to prop up the Treasury, and from 1937 it was treated as a general tax. By 1966, just one third of the revenue was spent on roads, and by 2008 the figure was just one fifth. The proportion of fuel duty being spent on roads has shrunk hugely, but at the same time that duty has risen. Motorists regard that as unfair because they do not see any benefit from the huge sums in fuel duty tax that they pay. The same is true of train ticket price rises. How can we justify those without proper investment in our local road and rail networks?

The cost of living is the No. 1 issue in my constituency. People want cheaper travel and they want every penny that the Government take from them to be recycled back into the community. I urge the Minister to refocus the Department on extra infrastructure investment in the east of England, in our trains, motorways and road networks—a cause that is close to our hearts. We need more radical transparency, so that people can see whether fare increases are genuinely being ploughed back into their area.

I am glad that the Government have fulfilled their election pledge and stopped a second runway at Stansted airport. The answer to infrastructure spending is not to spend millions on an extra runway, but to spend that money, if it is ever available, on our roads, rail and other transport infrastructure. Stansted is running at only 50% of full capacity, so there is no economic case for a second runway. Some say that people in Harlow would benefit, but Stansted has some 10,000 employees, of whom only a few hundred come from Harlow. I am yet to be convinced that Harlow people would benefit if there were an extra runway.

The Government should look seriously at the case for a new airport, but my constituents ask me time and again for a new M11 junction and extra train capacity to London.

10.18 am

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I associate myself with the comments made by all right hon. and hon. Members about the economic contribution that Essex makes to our economy. I say to the Minister that we mention such things only because we are entrepreneurial and people work hard in their businesses. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that the conditions are right for people to take those risks and invest, and central to that is transport infrastructure. I am afraid to

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say that in recent years the wealth-creating capability of Essex has been rather taken for granted by Governments. I hope that this debate will kick-start a more engaged interest from Governments about what really needs to be done to help Essex be the best it can be.

Hon. Members have said that Essex is a powerhouse of the economy. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends forgive me for saying that Thurrock is a major powerhouse of the UK economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) mentioned the upcoming new port at London Gateway, which has the potential to create upwards of 36,000 jobs. We should remember that Thurrock already has massive port infrastructure, with the established port at Tilbury, a major roll-on/roll-off ferry operation at Purfleet and any number of manufacturing industries along the Thames, bringing in their supplies by river, including companies such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble. As I have said before, Europe’s entire supply of Fairy liquid is manufactured in and exported from my constituency.

Although supplies come in by ship and along the Thames, manufactured products have to get out by road, and that is the real challenge. We talked about the Dartford crossing, but the wider road infrastructure in Thurrock is getting close to breaking point. Every winter, mainly because a lot of people do their Christmas shopping at the fantastic Lakeside shopping centre, we often find our roads in a state of severe gridlock.

The Minister will not be surprised that I have a little wish list of projects, as my hon. Friends do. Top of the list has to be improvement of junction 30 and 31 of the M25, which is a major source of gridlock. To set the scene, that is where the A13 meets the M25 and it is the last junction before reaching the Dartford crossing and so, necessarily, a pinch point. I highlight again the frankly incompetent decision making by the previous Government, in the sense that they invested billions of pounds in widening the M25 only to send everyone to a bottleneck at the Dartford crossing—failing to fix that junction or the capacity issues. The Department has plans to investigate and to develop proposals for an additional river crossing but, if we examine that expenditure, it was poor value for money and has made the existing problems so much worse.

With Dartford the bane of many motorists’ lives in Thurrock, the Department is looking at three proposals for a further crossing, all of which in some way, shape or form go through Thurrock. Motorists in my constituency, although they recognise the problems caused by congestion, are not happy at the prospect of absorbing yet more road infrastructure. We already have severe problems with air quality, which is caused in great part by the fact that traffic is not moving enough, and road infrastructure investment could deal with that, but we are particularly concerned that we will end up with more of Thurrock being dug up to create new motorways, which would be unacceptable to many of my constituents. We need to be sure that any new crossing will genuinely alleviate congestion at Dartford, so the location is important. The arguments for a new crossing have not been made effectively at all for my constituents.

As I mentioned in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, by removing the toll barriers, we will increase capacity at Dartford by 20%. We are

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making a significant investment by putting in the free-flow tolling, but motorists are finding the additional toll punitive, and increases will happen again. I need to ask whether those tolls need to be kept at all—that case needs to be made—particularly bearing in mind that, as the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) said, the deal when the crossing was first created was that the tolls would be removed once the crossing was paid for.

My next point relates to level crossings. When London Gateway comes on stream, the commitment is that much of the freight coming into that port will be moved by rail. Obviously, there will be additional impacts on the road infrastructure as well, but there is a double whammy because we still have a number of level crossings in Thurrock, such as at Purfleet, on the London road and at Stanford-le-Hope, where the town is bisected. Some of those freight trains will be long, so when the barriers at the level crossings come down, they will slow down the traffic substantially, creating real potential for significant gridlock.

I have had a frustrating exchange of letters on level crossings with Network Rail, which seems to think that there will be no problem because the freight trains will not move at peak hours. When we are talking about road infrastructure that supports a logistics industry and heavy goods vehicle traffic, avoiding rush hour, frankly, will make no difference, because lorries already do that. We would be putting an additional significant strain on the road network, so I ask the Minister to look into the matter in considerable detail. Although, in principle, we want to move more freight by rail, we must still ensure the continuing operation of our road network.

Finally, we cannot have a debate on transport infrastructure without straying into the area of aviation. I hear clearly what some of my hon. Friends said. We seem to have got ourselves into the position of talking only about an airport that is a major international hub with four runways or nothing, but there is a good argument for the New York model of air capacity. I have some sympathy for what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said, but the one point to make about proposals for expansion at Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow is that they would all be privately funded, while the proposals for a four-runway airport in the Thames estuary would not be. We cannot, however, divorce aviation capacity from the other issues that face our county: rail capacity and road capacity. My final message to the Minister is about whether we can join all that up.

10.26 am

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): I should say that it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), but it is frustrating that my parents, having met her, think that she is the best Member of Parliament in the place. I keep pointing out to them that they ought to be a little more loyal and say second best, but they still do not take the point.

The debate has been absolutely fantastic, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who not only represents her constituency superbly but the surrounding areas and the whole of Essex—greater Essex, with Thurrock, Southend and, it appears from earlier interventions, Ilford. Unfortunately, having said

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that the debate has been good, focusing on the whole of Essex, I would like not to follow her example; I shall be slightly more parochial, touching on rail, road and air issues as they affect my constituents directly.

I have always seen the rail line from Fenchurch Street into Shoebury as something of a pipeline of money—coming from the City, bringing money backwards and forwards, whether earned or spent in London, and encouraging businesses to come into the town. I am somewhat concerned about the tender for the c2c line. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) says that it is one of the few places where money has been spent, which is entirely correct, but I am rather concerned that some of the excellent rolling stock will be removed as part of the franchising process. That process is flawed, and the Department should look at it again; it focuses too much on the numbers and not enough on service quality. Quite possibly, one and perhaps more of the four tenderers would remove some or all of the stock with air conditioning on that line. That would be bad for my constituents, bad for all the constituents down the line and bad for Essex. We have had some good news to do with rail, with the new station of Southend Airport opening, but I gently say to the Minister that to open a railway station seems to be the most difficult thing in the world to do—liaising with Network Rail and the various agencies—and it was far harder than it should have been to open that station and to help to generate growth.

Turning to roads, industrial estates in the west of my constituency can charge about 25% more than those in the east. That is not only about the time it takes to get from A to B, across Southend and out on to the various roads going into London, but about the predictability of time it takes. We have seen benefits such as at Sadlers Farm, where the work has taken far too long to deliver but is almost complete now, shaving several minutes off the time and, crucially, improving predictability. Also Southend council worked to improve Cuckoo Corner as an alternative to dualling and that has proved to operate incredibly well. Broadly speaking, we would like an outer relief road, from Shoebury, by-passing Southend; but in all candour, all alternatives at the moment would involve housing all along the side of the road, which would put congestion back into the system.

I want to mention the Dartford crossing. I accept the reprimand from the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), and perhaps we should start calling it the Thurrock crossing, branding it the Essex crossing only when we have sorted it out.

I turn to air transport. London Southend airport is in my constituency, which borders on two others. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) asked whether they are Essex airports or London airports. I and the majority of my constituents were pleased when we were able to call it London Southend airport. Essex people still get to use it, because it is not just for Londoners, but someone travelling to Canary Wharf can fly into London Southend airport, get on a train within 15 minutes and be in Canary Wharf within 40 minutes, which is much quicker than going via London Gatwick or London Heathrow. People travelling into the City from international destinations should use London Southend airport. They can clear

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customs all the way through to New York via Ireland. They can nip across to Amsterdam, which is a hub airport, and go anywhere in the world. London Southend is a real alternative to other London airports.

It would be wrong not to mention the various proposals for a larger airport in the estuary. There are many arguments against that, but if it happens, we must ensure that we get the right infrastructure and benefits, not only in Essex, but in Kent and the surrounding areas. We must go in with our eyes wide open. There are opportunities, but at the moment I cannot see a way through all the objections; if others can see a way through, we must ensure that we have the right infrastructure for Essex and Kent.

10.31 am

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) for securing this debate, which comes at an important time when difficult decisions are being made on transport spending, both locally and nationally. She made a persuasive case for investment in Essex’s transport system, and it is important that all hon. Members make the call to support vital spending on infrastructure.

In July, we debated “Once in a generation—A rail prospectus for East Anglia”, and I, with several hon. Members here today, spoke in praise of that important document. It made a serious, positive case for investment in rail services in East Anglia, and I am glad that some of those issues have been revisited today. There is no doubt that Essex has complex transport needs, and a strong rail network is vital if they are to be met, not just to improve the experience for passengers—many hon. Members described why that is necessary—but to enable greater use of rail and to help relieve the pressure on roads, as hon. Members have so powerfully described.

Essex is a vibrant county, and it makes a vital contribution to the national economy, but that contribution is dependent on a transport system that is already under enormous pressure. Passengers face unsatisfactory services, with too much congestion on the roads, and trains at or above capacity during peak times. Passengers should not have to stand day in, day out when they are paying £4,000 or more for a season ticket. The county’s population is due to grow by 10% by 2018 and 20% by 2025, so investment is needed just to keep pace with that demographic change. However, still more investment is needed to enable regeneration and to help Essex to realise its full potential.

Some specific projects have been mentioned, and I will return to future investment. We must make sure that we do not lose what we already have. Under the Government’s plans, capital infrastructure spending on transport will fall by 11% over the course of this Parliament, and future infrastructure spending has been threatened by the uncertainty arising from the botched franchising of the west coast main line, throwing the future of the Essex Thameside franchise into doubt.

In a county that contains pronounced contrasts between rural and urban communities, as well as affluence alongside pockets of deprivation, bus services are particularly important. In Basildon, which is part of the Thames Gateway regeneration project, a quarter of households do not own a car. Essex county council’s own transport strategy acknowledges that bus services connecting Harlow

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and Basildon to other towns and cities are inadequate. The 28% cut to local transport funding and the 20% reduction to the bus service operators grant are putting the bus network under strain, with at least 18 services being reduced or withdrawn in Essex since 2010.

Although this is a debate on infrastructure, as the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) recognised, we must not lose sight of the importance of bus subsidy, which is vital for sustaining a true transport network. Bus services are under pressure, but commuters are also feeling the impact of fare rises. We have heard from the Government that rail fares are set to rise by up to 4.2% in January, but that is not the whole story. The decision to reintroduce flex could lead to fare increases of up to 9.2% at a time when household budgets are being squeezed on all sides.

Passengers reasonably ask when they will see service improvements, but under the guise of the McNulty report, the Department is pushing ahead with ticket office closures, which could lead to the withdrawal of staff from Alresford, Colchester Town, Dovercourt, Frinton-on-Sea, Great Bentley and Harwich International, among other Essex stations. Those closures will hit women and those on the wrong side of the digital divide, including many pensioners.

A spokesperson from Ontrack, a passenger group in Tendring, said:

“We've already had letters from some women who travel on their own, so we know it's a real concern not to have staff at the stations”

and

“in a coastal area like this there”

is

“a high proportion of elderly people who prefer to go to a ticket office and talk to someone rather than use a complicated machine. This will put people off using the trains.”

Those threats to public transport provision should not be allowed to threaten the good progress that has been made.

The hon. Member for Witham and other hon. Members have spoken about the vital role of Stansted airport, and we should celebrate the fact that 49% of Stansted passengers arrive by public transport—the highest proportion of any major UK airport. The East Anglia rail prospectus called for public transport links to Stansted to be strengthened, and I hope that that call is listened to as we enter cross-party talks on aviation capacity. Whatever the conclusion of those talks, I hope that the decline in passenger numbers at Stansted can be reversed, because both Stansted and the growing London Southend airport have an important role to play in alleviating pressure in the capital.

Improvements to infrastructure will play an important role. We need better integration between transport modes, especially between aviation and rail. The 45 minutes that it takes to travel 35 miles from Liverpool street to Stansted is, as the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) said, far from express. I hope that the means and the funding can be found to reduce that journey time.

In some respects, the problems encountered at Stansted are representative of those of the county as a whole. Existing transport links have enabled Essex to emerge as an important driver of national economic growth, yet those same transport links are clearly in need of

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improvement. To strengthen the transport network, we must look at both funding levels and the mechanisms through which that funding is delivered.

We want to devolve transport spending decisions but, unlike the Government, we would devolve that spending to democratically accountable regional transport partnerships based on elected local authorities. That would allow Essex or East Anglia to decide their own priorities, whether improvements to congested and dangerous roads or junctions, development of tram systems or better cycling infrastructure.

The current review of the franchising process should be allowed to consider alternative models for the rail industry, including the proposal to allow local transport authorities a greater say in how services are run. In Essex, where overcrowding is the norm and passenger satisfaction rates are low, that could allow the development of services that are more responsive to passengers’ needs. Above all, it would give local transport authorities the oversight they need to lead the integration of different modes of transport.

Sir Bob Russell: Is the hon. Lady saying that all the transport problems in Essex commenced in May 2010?

Lilian Greenwood: Of course I am not saying that all the problems commenced then. I am saying that many hon. Members have spoken about what the priorities should be. I believe that the people of Essex should have a greater say in deciding what those priorities are and how spending is directed to help to tackle them.

As the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said, rail commuters in the region return substantial amounts to the Treasury, but see little return on the investment, while millions are lost each year due to the fragmentation of the industry. If the Government were serious about improving efficiency in the railways, they would look at alternative models for delivering services, instead of closing ticket offices in Essex.

The current uncertainty over the franchising model has been compounded by needless distractions that have beset the Department. It must be a source of frustration for Members here today that Government time is being taken up by the franchise fiasco, wrangles over High Speed 2 and fantasy islands in the middle of the Thames, when the time could be used to drive forward the improvements that their constituents require.

The need for improvements in Essex is acute, as today’s debate is proving. The answer is investment in transport infrastructure, both for commuter travel and to meet local transport needs. This debate is important and I am sure that the case for investment has been heard in the Department. I hope that a way forward can be found, so that Essex can develop the infrastructure it needs for the 21st century.

10.40 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I welcome the opportunity that the debate offers to discuss in detail the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), her colleagues and others have raised today on transport in Essex. Those matters fall within my portfolio, as well as those of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I will do my best to respond to all the points in as much detail as I can.

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As I am sure everybody will agree, transport is the artery of any economy. It gets people to work, children to school and food to the shops. Everyone depends on it. The coalition Government is in no doubt about the importance of transport infrastructure in supporting the economy, and we have already announced increased Government funding to deliver improvements targeted at supporting economic growth projects. By the way, I say to Hansard that the coalition Government “is” committed, because the Government is of one mind on this matter. It is a single-minded, cohesive unit on the need to deliver substantial and significant economic growth.

The Government believes that continuing to invest in the strategic road network in Essex through major upgrades to the M25 is important. Back in May, the £400 million widening between junctions 27 and 30 was completed ahead of schedule and in good time for the summer Olympics.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) referred to the M25, junction 30. As I hope she knows, we announced in May that the pre-construction development work of six Highways Agency major road schemes has been selected for funding, to maintain a future pipeline of major investment in the strategic road network. The pipeline included proposals for a M25 junction 30/A13 congestion relief scheme, and it means that that will be developed in this spending review period for potential delivery in the next spending review period.

Advancing the development work now does not, of course, guarantee that the delivery of those proposals will be funded. Decisions about which schemes are to be delivered in future periods will be taken at the next spending review by the Chancellor. In the meantime, however, some interim improvements to the junction are being funded by DP World as part of their planning obligations for phase 1 of the London Gateway port development off the A13 to the east at Corringham. Those works will be undertaken in 2013.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham raised the issue of the A12 and the A120. Of course, given the financial situation that we inherited from the previous Government, funding has been limited, and we have had to prioritise plans for future investment. As everybody will be aware following the Government’s 2010 spending review, there are no proposals for major improvements to the A12 or A120 in the Highways Agency’s current road programme.

However, in May this year we published our response to Alan Cook’s independent review of the strategic road network. In that response, we fully accepted the recommendation to take forward and develop a series of route-based strategies for the network. I am pleased to say that the A12 in Essex has been selected as one of the first locations in which we are developing such a strategy. It will cover the A12 between its junctions with the M25 and the A14 and include the A120 between Colchester and Harwich.

The route-based strategies will seek to set out what may be needed in terms of the maintenance, operation and possible enhancement of routes to keep this country moving and help support economic growth. That will help us make informed future decisions on the need and

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timing of investment in infrastructure on the network. The Highways Agency is currently working closely with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities along the route to take forward the strategy, which will be completed in early 2013.

It should also be noted that the Highways Agency is undertaking a series of small-scale improvements along the A120 this year, and that earlier this month the agency confirmed, as my hon. Friend said, £0.3 million of funding through round two of the pinch point fund for the A120 Galleys corner roundabout improvement. That scheme should be completed in 2013 and will help to reduce congestion and improve safety by widening the roundabout to encourage A120 traffic to use both lanes. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s other comments are fed back to my colleague, the Under-Secretary, who has the lead responsibility for that matter.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) referred to Norwich, and I put on the record that an A11 major road scheme is included in the programme. The massive improvement on the A11 between Fiveways and Thetford will be delivered by December 2014, so Norwich will finally get the road that it has perhaps been after for some time.

I noted that my right hon. Friend blamed the Romans for the state of the road network—I suppose that that is a bit different from blaming the previous Government—but he is right to say that we have had an historical problem with cross-country connections, going back a long way, whether on rail or road. I recall spending many an hour on the A414, as it was then, travelling from east to west across the country, prior to the M25 being built. We have seen some improvements, but I agree with the general thrust of my right hon. Friend’s comments, which was that cross-country connections are not as good as linear ones into London. The country needs to look at that as a concept.

The Thurrock and Dartford crossing was raised by Members from a number of constituencies. The Government recognises the importance of that crossing as a vital transport link for the both the national and south-east economies. The economic cost of delay is estimated to be around £40 million per annum, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witham said. We have been clear about the need to reduce the levels of congestion and delays at the crossing, which in themselves are barriers to economic growth.

The charge increases, introduced on 7 October, are part of a package of measures for the short, medium and long term to improve the performance of the crossing. The measures include: the suspension of charges at times of severe congestion, as introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) when he was a transport Minister; the introduction of free-flow charging technology; and reviewing options for additional crossing capacity in the long term.

The charge increases provide benefits to businesses, commuters and other transport users in terms of improvements in travel time. The impact assessment showed that businesses are estimated to benefit by about £104 million, commuters by about £9.6 million and other transport users by about £34.4 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham asked about contractors’ payments. I understand that the costs of operating and maintaining the crossing from 2009 were

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part of the M25 design, build, finance and operate contract. The costs are estimated and not separately paid for, and the estimates are based on methodology agreed by the National Audit Office, in which costs are evenly spread over 30-year contracts, so it is difficult to compare with historical costs prior to that date. Additionally, from September 2009, transferring the traffic officer service and meeting EU tunnel safety requirements have increased costs.

A number of colleagues raised the major issue of the tolls themselves. It is perfectly true that when a toll was envisaged, it was for the lifetime of the structure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) said. That was then changed to a charge related to congestion by the previous Government under the Transport Act 2000, and it was therefore, at that point, no longer connected to paying for the bridge.

Sir Bob Russell: Is it still the Government’s policy, as it was with the previous Government, to sell the Thurrock crossings—both the bridge and the tunnels? If so, should not the financial benefit go to the council tax payers of Essex and Kent?

Norman Baker: As my hon. Friend will know, consideration is being given to the general capacity of the crossing. We face a strategic choice whether to enhance the strategic road network at the existing crossing or to add a new link into the network, with a crossing further downstream, and I noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock on that matter. That is why we are currently analysing the relative merits of the three potential locations for the new crossing, and the findings will inform public consultation in 2013. That is a way of saying that such issues will be wrapped up in consideration of the crossing in total, and it would be wrong to isolate one instance without looking at future plans for the crossing.

On rail and rail infrastructure, I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Witham has campaigned hard for improvements in rail services in the region and for increased investment to reflect the level of fares paid, particularly by commuters. I am grateful for the recognition that the Government has taken steps to ensure that the possible increase in rail fares of RPI plus 3% has been averted. We have worked very hard on that in the Department for Transport and in the Government generally, and therefore rail fares will increase by RPI plus 1% for the rest of this Parliament. That was the formula put in place by the last Labour Government in 2004.

The issue of flex, which the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) referred to, was, I think, a little disingenuous, because flex was abolished for one year by the last Labour Transport Secretary. The intention, as shown by the paperwork in the Department for Transport, which I quoted in a previous debate, was to reinstate flex after the election. We are following the policy of the last Government in terms of both RPI plus 1% and the ability of companies to use flex while still maintaining the overall RPI plus 1% result.

Lilian Greenwood: To be clear and honest with the Essex constituents of the hon. Members here today, will the Minister confirm that the implication of the

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Government’s reintroducing flex is that some people could face increases in their rail fares of up to 9.2% in January 2013?

Norman Baker: As I mentioned, we have followed the intention of the last Government. It is also true that, with flex, some people can face an increase of zero, because flex, by definition, has fares above RPI plus 1% and below RPI plus 1%. That is the purpose of flex. By the way, I say to the Opposition spokesperson that trying to use scare tactics about the future of rail services and ticket offices does not help. We are trying to get more people on to the railways and to provide a better service, not to frighten people off the railways, as she seemed to be intending to do.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Witham will agree with me that there have been some service improvements in the region—for example, the cleaning of trains and the programme of refreshing of stations that is under way. Greater Anglia is investing in improvements to ticket retailing, additional car parking and cycle storage facilities across the franchise. A closer working relationship with Network Rail is seeing improvements in how access for engineering works is approached. That is something within my portfolio and something I have been pushing very hard, because when people want a train, they want a train, not a replacement bus service. It is expected to lead to better provision of services at weekends where large-scale closures have been the norm for a number of years. Frankly, that has to end.

I recognise the valuable work done in putting together the rail prospectus to which my hon. Friend and other colleagues refer. It makes the case very powerfully for investment in rail services in the Greater Anglia region. I can confirm that due consideration will be given to those aspirations when the Department is in a position to go to the market for a new franchise proposition.

The point about access to Stansted airport by rail was well made. It has been raised by a number of stakeholders and hon. Members and is very much on the Department’s radar as well.

The issue was raised of the link between Witham and Braintree—the branch line there. We are working with local stakeholders, who are currently developing a business case for the work. Consistent with our approach in other areas, we are happy to consider including such proposals in future franchises if a positive financial case can be made.

The good news, if my hon. Friend looks at what is happening elsewhere in the country, is that the largest rail building and investment programme since Victorian times is now being undertaken in this country. That includes passing loops and redoubling of lines in some cases, such as between Swindon and Kemble. It even includes lines being reopened, such as that from Oxford across to Bedford. There is heavy investment in rail, and it has a good economic return. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to argue in favour of investment in her area for such upgrades.

On aviation, it is pleasing to see Southend airport making great strides towards becoming a modern, 21st-century transport hub, with a new railway station and terminal, and the successful launch of commercial flights to a number of European destinations earlier this year.

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Colleagues have referred to the future configuration of air capacity. Of course, that matter will be considered by the commission. We look forward to receiving its interim report at the Department for Transport. It is probably not sensible to spend very much time on aviation, speculating about the future. However, it is true, as I think one hon. Member said, that there is unused capacity at Stansted at the moment. That situation might be improved if there were an improved train service to the station, which I think was a case being made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden.

Let me pick up some other points that hon. Members raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester referred to the “Norwich in 90” campaign and asked for an assurance that that would not affect his constituency. I can say that we all share the desire to improve services north to Norwich and the intention would not be adversely to affect existing services. In an ideal world, we would look at improved rolling stock, improved line capacity and so on. That is how we would ideally look at delivering a better service. It certainly seems to me that if we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, there is not much of a gain to be had.

My hon. Friend also raised, as did the hon. Member for Nottingham South, the issue of bus services. I put it on the record that we regard bus services as very important. The bus is a primary means of getting to work for most people. There was a recent, very healthy publication called “Greener Journeys”, which I recommend to colleagues. It identified the key link between employment and bus services—how they are two sides of the same coin. The number of people on buses has marginally increased recently, the latest figures show, and the commercial sector is holding up very well. There is an issue about subsidised services from local councils, but that is a matter for local authorities to deal with.

We are seeing a mixed picture across the country. Whereas some areas are making very few or no cuts, other areas are making swingeing cuts, but the consequence of localism is that there will be a different response from different local authorities. Therefore, bus services in Essex are really a matter to pursue with Essex county council, rather than with the Department for Transport.

Lilian Greenwood: Will the Minister give way?

Norman Baker: I will not, if the hon. Lady does not mind, because points were raised by hon. Members that I want to cover.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester also raised the issue of cycleway provision, which was right. He will know, I hope, that the current Government has produced a brand-new sum of money, £600 million—the local sustainable transport fund—which, by encouraging match funding, has now produced more than £1 billion of funding for schemes on the ground, which are now being delivered. I have that rare pleasure as a Transport Minister of both approving the funding and still being there to open the schemes when they finally arrive.

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Many of those schemes involve cycleway provision. We are now seeing a commitment to cycling—a commitment right across England—that we did not see before. That is very good news. The number of people cycling is going up in this country.

My hon. Friend also mentioned light rail systems. I can assure him that we are doing a great deal to promote light rail. I refer him to the Department’s document “Green Light for Light Rail” and the fact that we have granted extensions to light rail systems in Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham, as well as authorising a tram-train project between Sheffield and Rotherham. The current Government is very supportive of light rail.

Of course, these sorts of scheme, whether they involve light rail, bus or cycle provision or, indeed, local roads, will be handled in future to a large degree by local people through the devolution proposals that the Department is bringing forward and through the creation of local transport boards, which are accountable through local authorities. Therefore, to a large degree, these sorts of discussion in the future, I hope, will be held in Essex, rather than necessarily in this House.

Robert Halfon: Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me, the local council and the enterprise partnership, as well as the other Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), once the study by Essex council on the extra junction on the M11 has been completed, so that we can make the case to the Department?

Norman Baker: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s tenacity on that matter. He has raised it before, when I responded to a debate that he introduced. I am very happy to make my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) aware of his continued interest in the matter. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will be looking at the report on junction 7a, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow referred earlier, but I will pass on his request for a meeting and ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon replies to that accordingly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow also raised the issue of smartcard delivery and how that can be rolled out. The Department is very keen on that and I lead on it for the Department. We believe that the availability of smartcard technology can transform public transport by making it far more attractive and easier to use, as has been proven to be the case in London. We are now seeing pilot schemes across the country.

For example, in the Southern train area, we will shortly be seeing three-day season tickets being piloted with smartcard technology. We are very committed to that. The local transport White Paper, which I launched last year, “Creating growth, cutting carbon: making sustainable local transport happen”, has an objective of the majority of public transport journeys being undertaken with smartcard technology by the end of 2014, and we are on target for that.

I hope that I have dealt with most points. If there are any outstanding points, one of my ministerial colleagues or I will write to hon. Members about them.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

11 am

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the Speaker for selecting this important debate on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I also thank the Minister for coming to reply to the debate.

I will start by making three points that I want everyone here to remember. First, a staggering 4 million lives are estimated as lost due to conflict and conflict-induced poverty in the DRC. Secondly, although it is a country rich in resources, which if used properly could transform it, it is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking 187th out of 187 in the UN human development index. Thirdly, the average life-expectancy for a man is only 47 and for a woman, 50. The infant mortality rate is around one in 10.

The DRC is the second largest country in Africa by area, and the 11th largest in the world. With its population of 66 million, it is the 19th most populous nation in the world and the fourth most populous in Africa.

The DRC is a vast country with immense economic resources, although it has been at the centre of what could be described as Africa’s world war, which has left it in the grip of an ongoing humanitarian crisis. The five-year conflict pitted Government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional Government in 2003, people in the country still remain in terror of marauding militia and the army. It is estimated that the war claimed in excess of 3 million to 4 million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She mentioned Rwanda. Does she not find it extraordinary that the UK Government reinstated aid to Rwanda when, on the basis of UN information, the Rwandan Government have been aiding rebels in eastern Congo?

Pauline Latham: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The situation is difficult, because Rwanda has itself suffered terrible conflict. I understand that the money that has been given to Rwanda was not to support the Government but for humanitarian reasons.

The war has had economic as well as political implications. Fighting was fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources. That vast mineral wealth has also led to illegal exploitation.

In September last year, the DRC held its first democratic elections. Observers hoped that for the first time the Congo’s history of poor governance and rebellious factions could be put to rest. However, for those living in many parts of the country there has been no such relief.

In April of this year, a rebel military group, the March 23 movement commonly reported as the M23, was formed. It is based in eastern areas of DRC and mainly operates in the province of north Kivu. The group is currently involved in a conflict in the DRC that has led to the displacement of large numbers of people.

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On Friday, the United Nations Security Council reiterated its condemnation of and demanded an end to all external support being provided to armed groups, particularly to the M23, which has been destabilising the DRC over recent months.

Several experts currently based on the ground—for instance, the director for central Africa of the International Crisis Group—recently confirmed to the all-party parliamentary group on the African great lakes region that many facts point to a likely resumption of attacks from rebels and army in the coming weeks or even days. That has been confirmed by the M23, which declared in a statement released last Saturday to announce the new name of its military wing, the Congolese Revolutionary Army—ARC—that it expected imminent attacks from the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, FARDC.

The M23 mutiny has also contributed to a less commented-upon consequence: the increase in activities of other armed groups in other parts of the Congo, especially the Ituri region of the Orientale province and the Masisi territory of the north Kivu province. Rebel groups took advantage of the security vacuums created by redeployments of the army to M23-affected areas. Casualties since April are hard to assess precisely, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that preliminary findings from missions of the UN joint human rights office in the DRC, carried out in Masisi territory, suggested that civilian massacres perpetrated by the FDLR—the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—and the group known as Raia Mutomboki may constitute crimes against humanity.

In particular, the DRC’s eastern provinces of north and south Kivu have witnessed increased fighting over recent months between Government troops and the M23. The ongoing violence has led to an alarming humanitarian situation, marked by rape, murder and pillaging. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands people, including many who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, as well as within the DRC. Peacekeepers from the UN organisation stabilisation mission in the DRC—MONUSCO—have been aiding the DRC Government’s troops in their efforts to deal with the M23. Last week, six UN peacekeepers and a local interpreter were wounded in an overnight ambush, while returning from a patrol with 12 other peacekeepers, near Buganza in north Kivu province, after finding the bodies of four civilians.

As well as expressing deep concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian crisis in the eastern DRC, caused by the M23 and other armed groups, the UN Security Council also condemned the M23’s attacks on civilians, humanitarian actors and UN peacekeepers, and its abuses of human rights, including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence and the use of child soldiers. An M23 combatant, who recently spoke to Human Rights Watch, was candid about the recruitment of child soldiers in Rwanda. He said:

“We recruit everywhere in Rwanda and street children are very susceptible to recruitment.”

Let me very clear about where I stand on the issue. As far as I am concerned, Rwandan military and civilian officials who recruit children under the age of 15 for the M23, or any other group, are responsible for war crimes. Sexual violence is a common tragedy facing women and children in the DRC and the charity Tearfund estimates

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that 48 women and children per hour are raped in the country, mostly by armed groups as well as civilians. If that happened in this country, there would be an outcry.

The correlation between rape and the spread of HIV has been demonstrated in several cases. Some reports estimate that 20% of raped women are HIV-positive. Diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and nematode infections resulting from poor water, sanitation and hygiene are also commonplace in the area. The links between sanitation and sexual violence become apparent when, owing to the lack of access to private latrines, women face no choice but to find private places to defecate, often at night and a considerable distance away from their homes, further increasing their risk of sexual violence. The organisation War Child states that this is the

“most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”.

Those sentiments were echoed by Hillary Clinton, who added:

“It truly is one of mankind’s greatest atrocities. This country has witnessed humanity at its worst.”

Rape as a tool of war is, in my opinion, a war crime and must be condemned in the strongest manner possible by the whole international community.

There are now more than 2 million internally displaced persons—IDPs—in the DRC, the highest number within the past three years, with 1.5 million IDPs in the Kivu provinces alone. There are now more than 320,000 new IDPs from north Kivu since April, owing to the M23 mutiny alone—as mentioned in the latest UN Security Council presidential statement released on Friday, which I referred to earlier—and more than 400,000 new IDPs across the provinces since the mutiny.

Aid workers in the region claim that they have exhausted their resources and capacities and that numerous IDPs are unreachable either because they are in remote areas or for security reasons, and dealing with that would require humanitarian corridors to be set up. The global UN-led DRC humanitarian action plan is still only 47% funded. The UN refugee agency has launched an appeal for almost $40 million to cover the needs of 400,000 internally displaced people in north Kivu, south Kivu and Orientale provinces and of 75,000 refugees—25,000 in Rwanda and 50,000 in Uganda—who have appeared since the M23 rebellion started in April.

The UNHCR has warned that the situation remains volatile and that it expects further displacement this year. It fears that the number of new IDPs may reach as many as 760,000 in the coming months. The agency also said that it was particularly alarmed about the large number of human rights violations in north and south Kivu, where more than 15,000 protection incidents, including, murder, rape and forced recruitment, have been reported since April.

Given the magnitude of the new displacements, the World Food Programme has launched a new emergency operation from September 2012 to June 2013, which will assist approximately 1.2 million people in five provinces. Three weeks ago, it declared:

“We need additional funding to be able to continue to assist this very poor population. So far we have mobilised only 15% of the total cost of this emergency operation.”

UK aid to the DRC will increase from about £147 million in 2011 to £258 million a year by 2015, which amounts to £790 million between 2011 and 2015, with £176 million

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to be spent on wealth creation, £130 million on humanitarian aid and £109 million on governance and security.

In 2010-11, the DRC was the UK’s seventh largest recipient of bilateral aid and the third in terms of bilateral humanitarian assistance. In the past five years, western countries alone have invested more than $14 billion in the DRC. International aid is now equivalent to nearly half the DRC’s annual budget. As such, donors have considerable leverage over the DRC. Yet despite all that aid, nothing substantial ever seems to happen to stop the suffering of the people of the DRC.

The DRC will continue to receive billions in aid, including in humanitarian assistance, to help to relieve the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the numerous ongoing conflicts, while the lack of efforts by the Congolese Government on good governance, on structural reforms in the security sector, the army and the justice and administration sectors and on decentralisation will thwart any positive developments in stabilisation.

Despite all the ongoing work and the amount of aid being given by the UK and the international community, the DRC will not meet any of its millennium development goals. However, if the UK Government continue with their current policy, which I sincerely hope they will, then by 2015 we will without doubt fulfil the targets for the DRC, set by the Department for International Development. Those targets include delivering more for poor people by promoting economic growth and wealth creation; helping to build peace, stability and democracy; and meeting various specific targets such as safer births, clean water for 6 million people, and protection from malaria for 15 million adults and children.

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Ind): I simply want to refer to the destabilisation effect. Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the problems is that the lack of movement on the reformation of the armed services creates enormous pressures on Rwanda and Uganda to act over their borders into eastern Congo?

Pauline Latham: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He has a huge experience of this subject.

Finally, at a time of such economic hardship at home, there are those who question the purpose and the amount of aid going overseas, but this is an investment. I passionately believe that providing aid to people in such desperate conditions is morally right. It is also in our national interest to have a safer and more secure world and less suffering in such destitute conditions. It is time to move the world with us in embracing the 21st century.

11.15 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing the debate. She has shown a strong interest in humanitarian issues in this part of Africa, both before and since entering the House. She has raised some interesting points and I welcome the opportunity to debate the topic, as I share her concerns about the situation in eastern DRC, as do a number of hon.

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Members, two of whom also spoke this morning. The region has also been the subject of a number of recent parliamentary questions. The topic itself is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who is unable to be here today.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the DRC is extremely worrying. There are 2.3 million internally displaced people, up from 1.7 million at the end of last year. The strengthening and proliferation of armed groups in 2012 as the national army has redeployed to tackle M23 has led to a sharp increase in the number of attacks on civilians, including alarming levels of sexual violence, forced recruitment and other human rights abuses.

Access for humanitarian agencies to affected areas is limited. The UN humanitarian action plan called for $791 million, but only $412 million has been raised to date. My hon. Friend asked about UK aid to the DRC. As she notes, the UK is one of the largest contributors of development aid to the DRC, and over the next four years the UK will deliver significant results to the poorest and most vulnerable people. We are committed to providing a minimum of £27 million of assistance each year until 2016. We call on others to follow suit and give this crisis the attention and support it deserves.

The DRC remains one of the most challenging environments in which to deliver aid. Questions over further UK aid support to the DRC are first and foremost for my colleagues at the Department for International Development, and I will ensure that the debate is brought to their attention. I am also aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will continue to review the programme to ensure that the money is reaching the right places in the DRC while also achieving value for money for the British taxpayer.

Looking beyond the humanitarian crisis, we want a stable and prosperous DRC. The international community needs to respond to the drivers of the conflict. We therefore welcome the presidential statement issued by the United Nations Security Council on Friday 19 October. The statement condemns M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population and emphasises the need for countries to respect the principles of non-interference, good neighbourliness and regional co-operation. We want a regional solution to what we believe is a regional problem. We welcome the leadership that the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region has shown thus far. The ICGLR has achieved a ceasefire, or, more accurately, a lull in the fighting. I say that because clashes have, alas, continued. Although they are not at earlier levels, they are enough to remain a concern. The fact remains that a rebel group with external support is in control of part of the DRC. That is clearly unacceptable.

We also welcome the ICGLR’s proposals for a neutral international force to tackle armed groups in eastern DRC, though details remain to be decided, and an extended joint verification mechanism to monitor the border between the DRC and Rwanda. We urge its rapid deployment.

Ian Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Swire: No, I will continue, if I may. In a moment, I will answer the question that the hon. Gentleman put earlier.

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However, the crisis requires a sustainable political solution—something that the ICGLR has not yet been able to address in depth. The UN is working on the problem and it held a high-level meeting in New York on 26 September, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary attended, during the UN General Assembly. We were disappointed with the outcome, but it is crucial that we continue to work with the UN, with regional groups such as the ICGLR, the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, and with our international partners to ensure there is support for regional efforts to find common ground for a lasting political solution. We should not pretend that this will be a quick and painless process, but it is vital that we see progress soon, given the terrible impact of the crisis on the ordinary people of the DRC, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire described.

We want to explore what more the UN peacekeeping and stabilisation mission in the DRC—MONUSCO, or the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—can do to support efforts to find a solution, as well as fulfilling its vital and primary role of protecting civilians. In addition to working through the UN and supporting regional bodies such as the ICGLR, we will continue to maintain pressure on the Rwandan and DRC Governments about their roles.

For Rwanda, the message is that it must play a constructive role in resolving the problems in eastern DRC and stop all support for M23. That message has been given many times over the past six months. For example, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave it during a meeting with the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in July, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did the same during a telephone call with the Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs on 29 September. Our high commissioner in Kigali has reinforced the message on many occasions with a number of senior Rwandan figures.

I want to address the question put to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on the continuation of aid to Rwanda. The decision to disburse £8 million of general budget support while reprogramming the remaining £8 million to targeted programmes on education and food security took account of the fact that withholding the money would impact on the very people we aim to help. By reprogramming some of the general budget support, we signalled our continuing concern about Rwanda’s actions in eastern DRC.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not trying to make some kind of cheap political point about the issue. The point is that we are committed to helping the poorest people in the world and we believe that there are people in Rwanda who are still deserving of our support. The decision to continue that support was taken across Government.

Ian Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Swire: No, I will not.

The message for the DRC Government is that they have a major role to play if the cycle of violence in the east of the country is to be broken for good. They need to show leadership and to address, in practical ways, the underlying causes of instability in the region. A sustainable

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peace can be found only if all external support for armed groups in the DRC stops and if the DRC Government show leadership in finding long-term solutions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire rightly focused on the issue of sexual violence in the DRC and the appalling stories—those which we hear of—emanating from that part of the world almost daily. We utterly condemn the use of sexual violence in conflict, wherever and whenever it takes place. In the DRC in particular, that horrific situation persists and will leave lasting scars.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently launched a new initiative on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. We are setting up a UK team of experts who will be deployed to conflict areas in support of efforts to prevent and investigate sexual violence. The initiative will provide crucial funding support to the UN, and we will also work to help other countries to develop their capabilities to prevent and investigate those terrible crimes. I hope that the initiative will also enjoy the support of all parties in the House.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also announced, the UK will use our presidency of the G8 to secure commitments from others to tackle sexual violence in conflict. With the UK showing international leadership in this area, that is an appropriate point at which to draw my remarks to a close.

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): To enable Members to attend Prayers and Question Time, the sitting is suspended until 2.30 pm.

11.24 am

Sitting suspended.

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Post-2015 Development Agenda

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I am pleased to have secured this debate on post-2015 development goals at a very appropriate time.

The issue for debate today is what should happen to the set of international goals for development when 2015—the date by which the development goals adopted in 2000 were meant to have been implemented—is reached. Should the world community create entirely new ones? Should we incorporate the 2000 millennium development goals, in so far as they have not been fulfilled? How do the goals after 2015 relate to the sustainable development goals adopted at Rio? Do we need goals at all?

Those are important issues and this is an appropriate time to discuss them, for a number of reasons. First, the international community—states, non-governmental organisations, charities and the rest—in both richer and developing countries is now seriously beginning to address those issues. In the UK, we have a particularly good opportunity to influence the debate about the strategic approach to be adopted after 2015, because the Prime Minister has a role as the co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel, which is looking at the global development agenda after 2015. The first full meeting of that panel takes place in London next week.

The first question to be addressed is whether there should be a new set of international goals like the millennium development goals. I strongly believe that there should, although not necessarily in the same format. The idea of an internationally recognised set of targets is, I believe, a good one. Targets such as the MDGs can focus attention, action and funding, and set achievable objectives. We can see how far progress is being made in particular areas. There is plenty of evidence that the existence of the millennium development goals of 2000 did encourage the world community to focus efforts. Without them some, maybe much, of the progress would not have been achieved.

Indeed, some of the millennium development goals have been met ahead of the deadline set during the various negotiations leading up to their adoption. For example, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty—that is, on less than $1.25 a day—fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate, according to the World Bank’s preliminary estimates. That fall in extreme poverty applies in every region of the developing world, including sub-Saharan Africa, where the situation is sometimes the least positive.

The proportion of people without access to safe drinking water was also halved by 2010 and there were significant improvements in the lives of 200 million people living in slums around the world. That is more than double the millennium development goal of 100 million people having their lives improved in that way.

Other targets are on track to be met, such as the target to halt and begin to reverse the spread of TB by 2015. As for universal primary education, the overall enrolment rates of children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 58% to 76% between 1999 and 2010. Mortality rates for children under the

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age of five have fallen markedly and 6.5 million people at the end of 2010 were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV or AIDS in developing regions.

The number of children not attending school, which was 108 million in 1999, had fallen to 61 million in 2010. There has been progress and it is important to emphasise that, to answer those who suggest that there is no point in doing anything in the field of international development, that it is a waste of money and that we cannot do anything about it. We can make progress; the world community can do something if we act together.

There is no doubt that in many areas progress is slowing down, no doubt partly due to the economic crisis. Development assistance at a global level has now fallen for the first time in 14 years. In 2011 it fell by 2.7%, turning back an increase in the previous 14 years, during which the UK had, of course, been a leader. I am certainly glad that the UK has remained committed to the 0.7% target, which we hope other countries will follow.

We have reached the time to discuss what should replace the existing millennium development goals. The issue is being debated by NGOs and Governments, and our own Select Committee on International Development in the House of Commons is starting its own inquiry. It is inevitable when such debate takes place that all sorts of options will be put forward for inclusion in a new list of development goals, and it is difficult to choose between them. I am certainly not going to cherry-pick today and produce my preferred list of specific targets. Indeed, part of the reason why I was keen to secure this debate was to find out more about the Government’s thinking on these issues before the 1 November meeting, to which I have already referred.

However, I do want to suggest some main themes on which a new list or programme—whatever form the new international development agenda takes—can be based, and the reasons why. My first theme is responding to climate change and environmental sustainability. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the existing millennium development goal on environmental sustainability is arguably one where, in some areas, some of the least progress has been made overall. The second is that the extent and urgency of the threat from climate change is much clearer now than it was in 2000.

It is frequently the poor in the poorest countries who are the biggest losers from the potential effects of climate change. I do not have time to go into the detail today, but issues such as flooding and desertification come to mind. Access to sustainable and affordable energy is a big issue. There is still a big question mark about how climate mitigation and adaptation is to be financed; it is still far from settled following negotiations in Copenhagen and Cancun.

Sir Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): To emphasise the importance of climate change and flooding, I should say that I was in the Philippines earlier this year. Floods occurred in an area that had not been flooded for 50 or 60 years. The total number of deaths was between 25,000 and 30,000, among the poorest people of that area. That demonstrates the importance of doing something about climate change.

Mark Lazarowicz: Absolutely. We are seeing that kind of example in many other countries in the world. While we must always be careful of trying to ascribe

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every natural disaster to climate change, the evidence is building about the effect on countries such as the one referred to by my hon. Friend.

I would characterise the second theme that should feature in whatever development goals are adopted by the international community as equity and inclusiveness. That is to take account of the fact that general development targets can frequently fail to address the particular difficulties faced by particular sections of society. There is most obviously the need to ensure that targets take account of the biggest part of the population: women. The need for gender equality in the post-2015 framework has already been widely recognised. I would also point out that there are other sections of society that can also lose out when their special issues are not taken into account in the agenda that is developed—children, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities, to name but some of the groups.

Clearly, the answer is not to add more and more targets covering more and more sectors and groups to a list of development goals. What is needed is to ensure that there is sophistication in how broad targets are translated into specific programmes. As more countries in the formerly developing world have experienced substantial economic development, we have seen how poverty and deprivation can exist side by side with rapid economic development. That is why a sophisticated approach is important.

The third theme is tackling hunger and the causes of hunger. Again, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is a target under the existing millennium development goals and some good progress has been made. In recent years, we have seen plenty of examples where hunger and malnutrition have worsened, with famine in a number of areas in the world. As food prices rise globally, there is considerable concern that the situation will become significantly worse, not better. There is now an increasing consensus that tackling food insecurity and supporting agricultural development needs should be a major focus of common action by the world community, and that certainly needs to be reflected in whatever post-2015 agenda is agreed, however it is structured.

The most recent estimates of undernourishment from the Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that 15% of the world’s population now live in severe hunger. There has also been only slow progress in cutting child undernutrition. About one third of children in southern Asia were underweight in 2010. Of the 20 countries worst affected by food insecurity, the majority are in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia, and we have seen some very recent examples of severe problems with famine and hunger in those parts of the world. As well as tackling the immediate outbreaks of famine and issues related to hunger, it is important to have a major emphasis on agricultural development and food security. We need to provide long-term answers to the problems that will be faced by increasing numbers of people in the world unless action is taken by the international community.

Some of the themes I mention could be regarded as part of the building blocks on which we develop new goals. There is a need to break down the barriers to world trade, which is important if developing countries are to make the best of their economic potential. Everyone here will be aware of the almost imperceptible movement following the Doha round negotiations. It is 11 years

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and there is still no sign of progress. We should not forget that for many developing countries, being able to get the benefits from trade is important and one of the top priorities that the international community must seek.

Another theme that should be part of the overall picture is the need to recognise the importance of peace and security, controlling the arms trade and preventing conflict. The biggest single factor that undermines and sets back development is war, big and small, and it is a stark fact that no low-income, conflict-affected or fragile state has yet to achieve a single millennium development goal.

I have outlined a number of themes that should be part of the debate. Clearly, we also have to consider how far some of the existing MDGs have been reached and how far those that are furthest from being reached should be incorporated in a new set of goals. I am not suggesting that the five themes that I have set out should be reflected in five specific targets. Indeed, each of the themes could in itself bring forward a number of specific goals, but those themes at least set out some of the key issues for development in the forthcoming years and should be the basis from which a post-2015 agenda, in whatever form it finally takes, should be developed.

I am interested to hear what others in the Chamber consider should be the key priorities for the post-2015 development agenda and to hear from the Government how they are to take that agenda forward.

I urge the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, to play as active role as they can in setting this agenda and helping to develop it. Previous Prime Ministers achieved results on an international level because they gave the matter a high priority, and had the backing of the House and support from much of the public. I hope that the current Prime Minister will rise to the challenge of helping to set the agenda, to reflect both the concerns in this country and those that affect the international community as a whole.

We are in difficult times, but that means that there is even more of a case for fulfilling our moral duty and showing our solidarity with those who, in many cases, are the worst victims of the economic crisis that they had no part in causing. On many of the key issues of international development, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been saying the right things. The Prime Minister in particular now has an opportunity, through his role in the high-level panel, to show leadership, both at home and internationally, and I urge him to do so.

2.44 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I apologise for arriving a few moments late for this debate, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on securing this debate, which is extraordinarily timely not just because of the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the issue and the Prime Minister’s appointment as a co-chair of the high-level panel on future development goals after 2015, but because of the coincidence of roles that the Prime Minister is taking on at this time. He will also be chairing the G8 meeting in 2013, and taking on

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a role in the Open Government Partnership in which the UK should be playing a positive role in increasing transparency, particularly with issues such as transparency through the extractive industries and trying to increase accountability and transparency generally in development. It will also coincide with the historic moment when the coalition Government finally deliver on that 30-year pledge to devote 0.7% of the UK’s national wealth to international development, which gives us, at the very least, a great moral authority in talking about development issues and demonstrates that the UK, even in difficult times, has been willing to take a leadership position on development.

One of the things that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith has emphasised and that we should talk about in this debate is that the millennium development goals were supposed to be global goals. They were not just aid targets for poorer countries but targets that applied to all countries. We need to make it clear when we consider possible successors, such as sustainable development goals or whatever we want to call them, that they, too, should be global goals, which apply to rich and poor countries, developing nations, emerging economies and established economies. That is one theme that I ask both the International Development Committee and Ministers to pay attention to.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is worth while having such high-level objectives. Certainly, the objectives that we have set ourselves as a country on climate change have helped to trigger domestic action, and with this Government, we have the acceptance of the targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the carbon budgets recommended by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which have helped to incentivise the Government to deliver on energy reform, the green deal, the green investment bank, smart meter roll-out and emissions performance standards for power generating stations. They have also encouraged us to look at other issues that have been addressed in the sustainable development debate, such as the valuing of natural capital, which the Deputy Prime Minister, when he reported back from the Rio+20 summit, emphasised alongside the sustainable development goals. He said that in valuing natural capital, we were setting an important goal for ourselves as a developed economy in our use of resources and our approach to waste and growth and so on, which is important.

The Government set out an ambitious agenda on valuing natural capital in the natural environment White Paper in 2011. I am sometimes a little unsure of how we have fulfilled the potential set out in that White Paper so far and whether or not the Government now need to do a lot more in the valuing of natural capital and in ensuring that it is paid attention to. In an economic crisis, it is always easy to slip back into the idea that growth is the be-all and end-all of Government policy and that only through economic growth can we improve society. It is also easy to forget what we have been saying, which is that economic growth is not a perfect indicator of the quality of a society or of its success. The sustainable development argument is one that can help us to focus again on some of the slightly deeper questions around growth and sustainability.

I was always told in management training that objectives should be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound—but at the very least they should be SMT: specific, measureable and time-bound.

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When such objectives are set at a high level, we should not fall into what has sometimes been the trap at United Nations level of producing lots of slightly woolly, well-meaning, well-crafted and well-negotiated words that are not very specific. The millennium development goals actually achieved those things: they were quite specific; they were time-bound and measurable; as the hon. Gentleman said, they provided a marker on how different states are performing; and they led to some interesting lessons—for instance, as he pointed out, on the impact of conflict and war on achieving development goals. So the high-level panel and the new targets should be focused on delivering goals that are specific, measurable and time-bound.

The Deputy Prime Minister suggested in reporting back from Rio that there should be three important focuses for the sustainable development goals—food, energy and water—and the hon. Gentleman has referred to some of them. Many people also suggest other things that the goals should focus on. Climate change has rightly been referred to. It is crucial; the environment in which we all live and exist as a planet is the one that determines whether development is really possible. Other people have mentioned, for example, disability. Sightsavers has made the specific point to me that disability and poverty are interrelated, both in this country and in developing countries, so disability needs to be considered.

Many NGOs have made the point that human rights and social justice need to be reflected in the successors to the millennium development goals, because it is the poor who are not only most vulnerable to climate change and problems such as rising food prices and the lack of availability of food but who are most vulnerable to economic exploitation, injustice and oppression.

Noting what the hon. Gentleman said about conflict, it is perhaps important that the reduction of conflict and the achievement of peace should be reflected in the new goals. However, that leads to a slight problem and a risk that we end up with a kind of Christmas-tree approach, where everybody has contributed dozens of focused objectives and we try to have 100 priorities. Clearly, there must be some guarding against that. It has been suggested to me that perhaps there should be one overarching sustainable development goal that frames the debate and informs the other development goals. That overarching goal should focus on the poor; it should address sustainability; and it should refer to working within planetary boundaries.

“Planetary boundaries” is a really important concept that goes to the heart of what sustainability really means. Earlier today, I had a discussion with someone who I recommend to Ministers as a source of very sound and well-researched advice: Professor Melissa Leach of the STEPS—Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability—centre at the Institute of Development Studies in the university of Sussex. She told me that she did not like talking about environmental limits, because “limits” implied something that we could not go beyond, and that she preferred the term “zones of ecological stress”. I suggested that, for a politician, that phrase was not going to roll off the tongue terribly easily, but we agreed on the concept of planetary boundaries.

The idea of planetary boundaries is that in looking at development—this relates to economic growth as well—we have to be aware that not only with climate change but

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with, for example, biodiversity, water resource and other material and mineral resources, we have to work within the planet’s available resources and that, as we start to move over certain thresholds in all these areas, we enter, as she called them, “zones of stress” in which it is possible to advance development but it becomes more stressful and more difficult, and there is more tension and more conflict.

That idea of working within the planet’s resources—of observing planetary boundaries—is a very important concept for what could be an overarching sustainable development goal. However, it is very important that underneath that overarching goal we do not lose the detail and fail to address some of the issues that I have mentioned, such as food, energy, water, climate change, disability, human rights and so on.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): In that list of the underlying tools and objectives, would my hon. Friend include financial inclusion? Well-regulated savings and insurance products, for example, are very important in triggering developments to achieve other goals.

Martin Horwood: I might have to think about that suggestion. I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying and she makes a very important point, but there is a slight risk involved in considering financial inclusion. For people who are living on less than a dollar a day, the idea of savings products may be a little bit unrealistic. In framing global goals, we want to ensure that they are applicable to populations across the world.

Professor Leach talked to me about the three Ds: direction, diversity and distribution. “Direction” was the clear path that the sustainable development goals had to take. “Distribution” was looking at who gains, who loses and the social justice element of the development goals. “Diversity” was a really interesting one, in that it encompassed the idea that different countries might approach the development goals in different ways. Perhaps that is where my hon. Friend’s suggestion about financial inclusion might be brought into play. In looking at sustainability in terms of rich and developed countries, what she is saying is very important, but for some other countries the idea of financial inclusion might be a later step in the process. I recommend the three Ds to Ministers.

There are a few other points that I want to make about what form the new sustainable development goals should take. First, they certainly should be global; they should quite clearly apply to richer countries and more developed economies, as well as to the lowest-income countries.

Secondly, the goals should be steering the world to look at development within “planetary boundaries”—we might use that term. How can I put this idea in terms that might appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative side of the coalition? If we look at it as a business, we are talking about operating the world as a business within a safe operating environment that does not take us into high-risk areas. So this is about observing the limits of climate change, biodiversity and resource use.

Thirdly, the goals must be ambitious. The millennium development goals were ambitious. The fact that, as a planet, we achieved some of them but failed to achieve

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many of them has been a useful tool in identifying where we had problems and in focusing on those countries that had the greatest problems. The sustainable development goals must not be woolly; they must be as ambitious and specific as the millennium development goals.

Fourthly, the goals could follow a formula that has been used in the climate change process of the United Nations framework convention on climate change: the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities, whereby because countries will respond in wildly different ways to the challenge of new development goals, different goals may apply with different degrees of rigour to different countries. For instance, for a country such as the UK, the goals may not be so much about involving women in education or achieving greater access for disabled people, because we would fancy that we would meet such goals already, but they might be about addressing waste, consumption, having too great a focus on relentless economic growth, inefficiency in using our resources and in overstepping planetary boundaries in the way that we handle our economy.

In that respect, I commend to Ministers a policy that unfortunately did not make it into the coalition agreement but that the Liberal Democrats adopted in opposition. Alongside a climate change Act, we wanted to have a waste and resource efficiency Act that took the same kind of target-setting and framework approach to the use of natural resources and natural capital. That would fit very neatly with the framework set out by the White Paper on the natural environment in 2011, and I still commend the policy to Ministers. I think we are talking about “coalition 2.0” or something, so perhaps it is a policy that we could still adopt in the remaining years of the coalition Government before the next election.

The final point I will make about the future sustainable development goals is that sustainability must be mainstreamed within them. One of the failings of the original millennium development goals, which I think the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to, is that environmental issues were slightly pocketed in the last of the development goals and the inter-relationship between environmental sustainability, poverty, justice and development was not really fully developed in the millennium development goals. We need to see that corrected. That was the message not only of the Rio+20 summit but of the original earth summit in Rio 20 years ago. As I say, it is very important that sustainability is mainstreamed within the agenda that we are discussing.

This is a remarkable opportunity for the UK to provide leadership in this area and a remarkable personal opportunity for the Prime Minister, as co-chair of the high-level UN panel, alongside his responsibilities with the G8 and the Open Government Partnership, while the Government are delivering on the historic pledge to devote 0.7% of our national wealth to international development. I hope that the Government make the most of this opportunity and provide real global leadership on sustainable development.

2.59 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Weir, for giving me the opportunity to close the debate from this side of the House.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for securing this important debate and commend his work in the previous Government as special envoy to the Prime Minister on climate change issues. Both he and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) have stated that, as we speak about the millennium development goals and what comes next, climate change issues should feature significantly.

As we debate these issues, we face one of the biggest ever economic challenges, both at home and internationally. In that context, we must recognise that we are calling on the UK public to support international development at a difficult time, but that is the right thing to do. We are pleased that this Government are following in the Labour Government’s footsteps and continuing the commitment to increase aid to developing countries to 0.7% of gross national income—GNI. It is important to maintain that commitment.

From some of the things that the British public have done, we can see that they are hugely committed and generous where development and humanitarian disasters are concerned. During the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to help some 13 million people in need after the east Africa drought last year, about £79 million was raised. We must continue our defence against the relentless attacks that some sections of the press and a number of parliamentarians have made on international development. We must continue to argue that development provides good value for what it achieves in developing countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith and the hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed that out and highlighted some of the achievements. More importantly, with our current commitment of 0.56% of our national income, we are making great strides, and have done so over the past decade, in reducing poverty in some of the world’s poorest places. We have also reduced inequality, but much more needs to be done.

Tackling global poverty and inequality is the paramount issue of our time, and I think that all of us, across the board, agree that we must continue to redouble our efforts, even in these challenging economic times at home, to reduce poverty and inequality, whether in the poorest or in middle-income countries. We must all focus our attention on the challenges posed by poverty and inequality around the world, and by unemployment, especially among the young. In focusing on what happens post-2015, we need to give even greater priority to ensuring that people have economic opportunities—opportunities to work and to develop their own countries by making that contribution themselves.

In the developing world, more than 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, yet developing countries’ economic potential is enormous. We are already seeing signs of that in many countries, including India and China, but inequality is of great concern. We must ensure that, as we discuss what happens after 2015, we have a clear answer on how we will address the poverty of middle-income countries, which is where the great majority of the world’s poorest people are concentrated, and increasingly so. We must work with countries that are doing better economically, and help them to start to solve their own problems with our support and partnership.

We have achieved a great deal that we can be proud of over the past 10 to 15 years. I am really proud that when Labour was in government we acted as a global leader

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in international development, and I am pleased that this Government are pursuing the same agenda. The commitment to the millennium development goals was a central part of that story. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and Tony Blair, both former Prime Ministers, created the Department for International Development to ensure that development was high on the agenda of the British Government and of the international community; that we decoupled the development agenda from economic, trade and defence interests, and focused on poverty alleviation in particular; and that we maintained the commitment to 0.7% of GNI.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend care to comment on one particular policy? I think, and the Minister might confirm, that the Government have not taken up the baton handed over by the previous Government regarding carbon reporting. Does she agree that limiting carbon reporting to the top 1,800 companies is not in the spirit of the commitment that the Labour Government gave when they talked about fulfilling the millennium goals?

Rushanara Ali: I could not agree more, and I hope that the Minister takes the opportunity, as the last man standing in his Department, to answer that question. The hon. Member for Cheltenham, who highlighted his interest in and commitment to tackling climate change, will also want to hear the Minister’s answer.

On my point about the previous Government and about focusing on the future and building on the commitment to the millennium development goals, the argument was about ensuring that the international community saw tackling poverty in developing countries not just as in its economic interest, but as its moral duty. That argument must be maintained, and we must maintain, too, the consensus on moving forward and continuing to make the case for tackling poverty and inequality in the developing world.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Lady seems to be slipping slightly into the trap I described, talking about sustainable development only in terms of what needs to be done in the poorest countries. Does she accept that this is also about setting ourselves goals for resource use, carbon reduction and so on?

Rushanara Ali: I certainly did not intend to do so. I did mention middle-income countries, and I will come on to our own work and what we should be doing. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Climate Change Act 2008, which Labour introduced, is a key part of the argument that we have a responsibility on those issues, as much as on what happens in developing countries, so I completely agree with his points.