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Lynne Featherstone: I shall come back to tax. I am coming to the response to the report. There was a freedom of information request, which was answered in the same way—that advice to Ministers is exempt from FOI. However, I will come on to what the Secretary of State is proposing to do, in due course.

In terms of tax, which I have now lost the sheet about—I shall come back to that as well. I am sorry; I have managed to juggle the sheets and where I have put down that one I do not know.

Ms Abbott: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lynne Featherstone: Let me progress, because as hon. Members have seen, it is better to let me speak all in one go.

The information on tax has come to hand. Almost all large supplier contracts are awarded following an open and competitive tender process under standard HMG rules. DFID clearly states in the invitation to tender terms and the contract terms that the supplier is responsible for meeting its requirements for Government tax. If a company is found not to be meeting its tax requirements, it will be excluded from tendering for future DFID contracts. The amount of tax that an individual supplier pays will depend on its corporate structure. For example, one of our suppliers has advised that it is set up so that it pays tax in the countries where it operates. That is an argument that it has made, but as I said, if a company is found not to be meeting its tax requirements, it will be excluded from tendering for DFID contracts. Right now, we are looking at the way in which a number of corporations pay tax—not particularly in DFID but across the board. That is at the top of everyone’s agenda because we all think that it is unfair and inappropriate.

The questions raised by the Opposition were mainly about value for money and whether the money going to suppliers where there is an administration fee is well spent or is creamed off. That was the inappropriate—I hope—language used by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Our new Secretary of State has made it clear that this is a top priority and has further increased the focus on it in the Department. As well as lowering the threshold at which projects come to Ministers for approval from £40 million to £5 million, the Secretary of State is reviewing DFID’s use of contractors to see how we can improve value for money. She has taken action, further to having brought down from £40 million to £5 million the threshold at which projects must have ministerial approval, by introducing new controls so that ministerial approval is now needed for all supplier contracts worth more than £1 million. She is writing to our top suppliers to reinforce to them the importance of ensuring value for money in their work for DFID. She will also meet them to tell them that the Department will look for even better value for money when deciding to award new contracts in future. Our suppliers will have to show that they are not in it only for the money; we want evidence of their commitment to poverty reduction and to the cause of development assistance.

The Secretary of State is also taking steps to introduce tougher monitoring of the performance of supplier contracts, to enable us to review value for money throughout contract delivery and take action accordingly. Instead of having wide gaps in the contract, we will be able to

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bring up issues at any point and as often as necessary. We will look carefully at our future outsourcing strategy, including the choice of delivery channels and our make-or-buy decisions. The hon. Lady asked about what we do in-house as opposed to what we contract out.

Ms Abbott: The Minister has been generous in giving way. I want to remind her of a point I made: concerns about the efficacy of aid are not confined only to the TaxPayers Alliance in the UK. A New York Times bestseller by Dambisa Moyo, a Kenyan former Goldman Sachs trader, called “Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa”, points to £1 trillion of development-related aid over 50 years and little to show for it. I am pleased to hear about what the Secretary of State is planning, but if she does not move forward as the Minister indicates, there is a danger that scepticism here will be matched by scepticism abroad and the weakening of the international commitment to aid.

Lynne Featherstone: There is no weakening of our commitment to aid. It is important to send that message loud and clear. I do not agree that there is little to show for aid; the hon. Lady prays in aid a book. Even Opposition Members will agree that since the coalition came in, a vast amount has been done to ensure value for money, such as the multilateral and bilateral aid reports and the review work we are doing now.

The hon. Lady mentioned the report on schools programmes in Nigeria. In a sense, the report seems to demonstrate that we spent all this money and have very little to show for it—that is the link I am making—but it was a very limited inquiry. The team visited only 1% of the schools, most of which were in only one state, and they did not take into account the most recent evidence of the projects’ progress. We will obviously review the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.

On that point, I want to say something more generally about the millennium development goals, one of which was about getting children, particularly girls, into primary education. It was a simplistic goal, but it sure focused the world’s attention. Of course, enrolment has been successful, but development is more sophisticated and complicated than that, because it also requires completion, and it requires us to ensure that children learn while

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they are in school. When the millennium development goals came in, we all said, “We will put a proportion of our money into that.” The programmes are now much more sophisticated and we look at development more broadly. We will obviously look at the report and at what happened in Nigeria.

The whole world has grown up in terms of aid; it is no longer about giving money in the traditional, old-fashioned way to starving poor people, but about working in countries to enable them to become sustainable and look after themselves. That is the point of development aid. To say that we have little to show for the work we are doing is an insult.

Ms Abbott: I did not say that, the writer said it.

Lynne Featherstone: Whoever said it, it is an insult to the work going on to change people’s lives, deliver on the ground and make future prosperity sustainable.

The private sector is part of the solution. A growing economy that can lift its people out of poverty, as well as the technical assistance that more developed countries can offer, is important.

Sir Tony Cunningham rose—

Lynne Featherstone: I will not give way, because I am coming to my peroration.

In conclusion, contractors can perform an important role supporting the delivery of programmes that make a difference on the ground. They can, and do, deliver impressive results, often in incredibly challenging environments, but we look to them to do more. If they read the debate, they will know that they need to think about how they bid, knowing that our focus will be even sharper and our demand for value for money even greater. Our demand that they put more emphasis on how they will encourage local people along their supply chain to bid for work for them and for us is important. I am adamant that we will strive to maximise value for money, results and impact in every possible way. I am acutely aware of how important that is to those whose lives we seek to improve, as well as to UK taxpayers.

3.55 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Thameslink and Crossrail Contracts

4 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Howarth.

Bombardier is the last train-making company left in the United Kingdom. We have got to this state, frankly, if we go back into relatively recent history, because of the privatisation of the rail industry, which has led to an unco-ordinated approach to the procurement of trains and much short-termism. The train manufacturing industry in this country is left hanging in the balance.

As a result of the Government’s decision last year to appoint Siemens as the preferred bidder for the Thameslink contract, 1,440 jobs at the Derby Bombardier factory were lost. Some 1,600 remain, and 12,000 people work in the supply chain in the rail industry, which accounts for some 900 companies. Bombardier is therefore still a significant player, even though it is the last remaining train maker in the UK.

I want to set out what I believe have been fundamental errors in the Thameslink procurement process. I also want to make the point—I hope the Minister agrees—that it is not too late to correct those errors. I hope, too, that he will give an assurance that the mistakes made in the Thameslink process will not be repeated in future contracts, particularly in the Crossrail contract that is due to come up in the next few years.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not want to look forwards, rather than totally backwards, and be positive? Does he not agree that further contracts, such as for Crossrail, are coming up, and that we should be careful not to jeopardise that by ranting on too much about the past. We should look forwards for Bombardier and ensure that we do everything, on a cross-party basis, to get it the contract for Crossrail.

Chris Williamson: Of course, we need to look forward, and I shall come to that, but it is also important to look backwards for a while, because it is not too late for the Government to do the right thing. There are problems with and delays in the Thameslink contract, so it is appropriate to take that historical context into account.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate, which, as chairman of the all-party group on the Thameslink route, I particularly welcome. When he looks back, will he consider the previous Government, who designed the tendering process, and acknowledge the role that they played in this fiasco?

Chris Williamson: There is clearly a problem, and whoever is responsible is, in a sense, not really the point. I accept that there were clearly faults with the process designed by the previous Administration, but in taking account of the comment made by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), it is important to look forward, while also acknowledging the impact of what we have seen over the past 18 months or so.

Time is short, so I will try to motor along. I have a lot to say, and I want to give the Minister an opportunity to respond to my points. I was about to make the point

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that we were told 18 months ago that preferred bidder status for the Thameslink contract had been conferred on Siemens. Before the 2011 summer recess, I was told by the then Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), that the contract would reach financial close by the end of that year. She said that the Department could not countenance any further retendering of the process, because that would build in far too long a delay, which would impact on the infrastructure project. However, here we are, some 18 months later, and we do not seem to be that much closer to a final decision or the financial close on the award of the contract.

In answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, said that the DFT is now looking

“to secure financial close early in the new year.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 1005W.]

That will be well over the 18 months and getting on for two years, so I am not sure that the arguments made in the first instance hold any water.

I have several questions that I hope the Minister will respond to if he gets the chance. Is he confident that the timetable will not slip yet again, because it has slipped time and again? Will he explain why the forecast date continues to slip, which is rather curious and which I do not understand? Will he tell the House whether he or the Department is aware of any problems with the proposed deal? Is the slippage caused by Siemens asking for more time, or are the delays caused by problems in his Department? Will he confirm that there will be no further slippage in the time scale? In which month in the new year will financial close eventually be reached? Will it be spring or earlier?

I want to go through some of the series of errors in the Thameslink tendering process, if I may. The contract is clearly a Government one, but the DFT has not managed it as though it were. Furthermore, the tender evaluation was discriminatory. The EU’s Commissioner for the single market, Michel Barnier, has said that, as far as the Commission is concerned, the Thameslink contract is being undertaken by a contracting authority; in other words, it is a Government contract. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, no less, has said that the consequence of the process

“was bound to lead to the outcome it did.”

The fact is that the Department is bound by regulations. As this is a Government contract, regulation 23 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 is relevant. It stipulates:

“Subject to paragraph (2), a contracting authority shall treat as ineligible and shall not select an economic operator in accordance with these Regulations if the contracting authority has actual knowledge that the economic operator or its directors or any other person who has powers of representation, decision or control of the economic operator has been convicted of any of the following offences”—

including, among others—

“(a) conspiracy within the meaning of section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977… ; (b) corruption within the meaning of section 1 of the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889… or… ; (c) the offence of bribery”,

as well as various other offences.

Paragraph (2), which is referred to, states:

“In any case where an economic operator or its directors or any other person who has powers of representation, decision or control has been convicted of an offence described in paragraph (1), a contracting authority may disregard the prohibition described there if it is satisfied”—

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this is the key point—

“that there are overriding requirements in the general interest which justify doing so”.

I would be grateful if the Minister explained what “overriding requirements” led the Department to disregard the fact that Siemens has fallen foul of sub-paragraphs (b) and (c)—in other words, corruption and bribery. I believe it is common knowledge that it has been found guilty of those offences in America and in its home country, Germany.

Siemens AG is part of the Cross London Trains consortium, so the Department should have taken into account its obligations as set out in the regulations. Let me stress that I have nothing against Siemens per se, but I want to ensure that the law is applied appropriately and that the best interests of the United Kingdom, and of my home city and constituency of Derby, are served by the Government’s decision.

On the discriminatory nature of the matter, the process of evaluation is separated into four distinct component parts, or stages, which do not seem to be related to each other, and each part has to be satisfied in its own right. Once a bidding company has passed a stage, that stage is not referred back to, and it seems not to have any relevance to the next stage. I say that the process is discriminatory because, as experts agree, credit ratings are the key to the decision at the fourth, most important stage of the evaluation process; the quality of the product and the deliverability of the trains are utterly irrelevant. That process gave Siemens an unfair commercial advantage because it had a superior credit rating. The Department for Transport should urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to terminate the process and retender it on the basis that it was discriminatory and unfair.

Another reason that the Department should consider terminating the process and starting again is that a number of civil servants who were suspended over the west coast main line debacle were also involved in the Thameslink process—that was confirmed in responses from Ministers to written parliamentary questions that I tabled. That also flags up another significant question mark over the validity of the decision to award the contract to Siemens.

Will the Minister give an unequivocal guarantee that Crossrail is being taken forward correctly? Are the obligations placed on contracting authorities being observed by his Department and by Transport for London? Will he confirm that the Crossrail tender evaluation criteria will be non-discriminatory and will not give an unfair financial advantage to any bidder based on their credit ratings? Moreover, will he assure us that the socio-economic factors have been included in the Crossrail invitation to tender, and if they have, how have they been included? Will he give us some information in relation to the proposed eVoyager contract, which is also really important to the future of the Bombardier factory in Derby?

Will the Minister put in place an independent inquiry to consider the workings of the Department for Transport with regard to the procurement of trains? From what we have seen over the past 18 months or so, it seems pretty obvious that there has been a problem with the way the Department for Transport approached the process.

I have further questions for the Minister. What alternatives are being considered if Siemens is unable to reach financial close? In response to a written parliamentary

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question, the Minister said that the Department was assessing other options in the event of it being unable to reach financial close with Siemens. What are those options?

Dr Offord: In the next few moments, I will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to catch his breath and focus on some of his comments. He has presented an eloquent case for his constituents, and I would not take that away from him. None the less, I hope he agrees that I present an equally valid case on behalf of my constituents, who want a speedy resolution to the Thameslink project. That project is vital to them as it runs through the constituency.

The hon. Gentleman started by saying that there were flaws in the process. So far, he has identified issues that he considers unfair; perhaps he is questioning their validity and clarity.

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): Order. An intervention should be just that, not a mini-speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is coming to the close of his intervention.

Dr Offord: Of course, Mr Howarth. My point is that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) has not identified any flaws in the tendering process. Will he address that matter, before the Minister rises to speak, by describing those flaws?

Chris Williamson: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not followed my contribution, because I outlined what I consider flaws in the process. First, this is a Government contract and it has not been treated as such; it has been treated differently. Secondly, it is discriminatory, because it gives an unfair advantage to one of the bidders for the contract. The Government are under an obligation to ensure that there is a level playing field for bidders for such a significant contract, especially when the unfair advantage is given to a foreign competitor against our own British-based train-making company. Those are the flaws. Regrettably, we do not have time to go into further detail. If we had a longer debate, perhaps we could do so. I hope that the Minister will deal with those specific points.

Let me return to the final few questions that I have for the Minister; I hope he will give them some attention. If the Department for Transport is unable to reach financial close with Siemens—there seems to be a large question mark over that—will Bombardier, as the reserve bidder, be automatically awarded the contract? Do alternatives that the Department is considering include allowing Siemens to build the trains and other organisations to provide the funding and finance? If Siemens fails to deliver on the Thameslink contract, will it be excluded from further bidding for the Crossrail contract? We deserve a response to that question, because there has clearly been a significant delay in the process. It would be inappropriate if Siemens were allowed to bid for another contract if it were unable to deliver on this one.

If Siemens is eventually awarded this contract, will the Minister give a commitment and assure us that we will not see a repeat of what happened under the Intercity Express Programme contract? In that case, the Bombardier consortium and the Hitachi-led consortium put in bids on one basis under the original tendering process. After preferred bidder status was conferred on the Hitachi consortium, there was substantial and significant

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change to the design of the IEP contract trains. That seems unfair, because, as I understand it, the design is now very similar to the offer that could have been delivered by Bombardier in the first instance, although it was not allowed to put that alternative design forward at that point.

Time is short and the Minister has only 11 minutes left, although there are still quite a few questions that I would like to ask. I hope he can answer some of my questions, especially the one about considering putting in place an independent inquiry to look at the workings of the DFT in relation to the procurement of trains.

4.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Thank you very much for calling me to speak, Mr Howarth. I will do my best in the 10 minutes or so available to try to answer as many points as I can.

First, I welcome this debate on Thameslink and Crossrail, two schemes that are of great importance to this country’s rail industry and, more widely, to supporting growth and jobs. I know that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) has been an active campaigner on behalf of Bombardier, which is natural, as it is situated in his constituency and city, and the company of course plays a key role in Derby’s economy. I am pleased to respond to this Adjournment debate on a subject that I know is of great importance to him and his constituents. I am especially pleased to do so in the week after Southern announced that it intends to exercise an option for 40 new Electrostar carriages from Bombardier, which I am surprised he did not mention.

Let me start by saying that rail is a success story and this coalition Government is committed to continuing to invest in the success of rail. Since the 1990s, both the number of passenger miles and passenger journeys on rail have nearly doubled. In the same period, use of rail freight has expanded by more than 60%, and in the past decade we have seen significant increases in passenger satisfaction and train punctuality. However, this Government requires, and is driving, even more improvement. We are investing £18 billion in this spending review period alone on a programme of rail improvements as large in scale as anything seen since the 19th century.

In Derby, the Department for Transport is investing in transport improvements, including investing £4.9 million from the local sustainable transport fund; more than £2 million from the better bus area fund; more than £8 million in highway maintenance and pothole repairs; and more than £9 million as part of the integrated transport block. We have also provisionally approved a £4.4 million contribution to a replacement road-over-rail bridge over the Derby to Birmingham railway line.

Thameslink is an urgently needed programme that will provide additional capacity for key London commuter routes and relieve overcrowding on the London underground. It includes major infrastructure works at key London stations, including the complete modernisation of London Bridge station and the procurement of next-generation rolling stock. In time, it will include changes to franchise arrangements to support delivery of the service.

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Thameslink is already making a difference to passengers. Farringdon and Blackfriars stations have been transformed, platforms along the route have been extended to support new 12-car services, and enabling works have begun on the reconstruction of London Bridge station and its approach tracks. I take this opportunity to commend the industry, and especially Network Rail, for the work that has been done to upgrade Blackfriars, which was unique in scale and difficulty. I saw that work at first hand and thought that they did a fantastic job.

As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, there have been delays in awarding the Thameslink rolling stock contract. The Thameslink train order is a significant investment and the detailed contract terms need to be right, so that we can meet the demanding customer and performance requirements of this next-generation rolling stock. The contract places much greater responsibility for the train’s performance in service on the train manufacturer and maintainer than has been the case traditionally. That is the right thing to do, and given the size of this order, it takes time to get the detailed contract documentation completed. The Government is confident that it is very close to final agreement of these commercial arrangements, and we expect to be able to conclude the associated documentation by the end of this year.

As the hon. Gentleman stated, we recently revised our target date for achieving financial close to early in the new year. Of course, agreement on financing has to come after agreement on commercial arrangements, and we have to allow a proper period for the rating agency and banks to perform their due diligence. As he will appreciate, the lending environment remains challenging for all projects. Notwithstanding that background, Siemens remains confident that the funds can be secured for Thameslink.

Members will know that the Government has recently paused existing franchise procurements, including for the new Thameslink franchise, while reviews take place of the serious errors that were uncovered on the west coast main line franchise competition. The Government is wholly committed to learning the lessons from that episode, but Members will appreciate that I cannot pre-empt the findings of the independent inquiries looking into those matters.

Regarding train fleets, however, I am quite clear that the key features needed by the new Thameslink trains are those that support the demanding performance requirements needed to operate a high-frequency service through the central core between Farringdon and St Pancras of up to 24 trains per hour in either direction. Those are very different train performance requirements from those needed by trains on other routes operated by Southern. Hence, a different train fleet is required for Thameslink.

There has been some question whether there will be sufficient electric trains from the existing Thameslink programme to support all the announced electrification schemes; I think the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue in parliamentary questions. Let me be clear that the Government’s electrification programme covers both regional and commuter services, alongside long-distance, high-speed services for passengers and freight. The existing Thameslink rolling stock will be cascaded to regional and commuter lines, the very uses that it was designed to be suitable for. Overall, there is sufficient cascaded stock available to meet the needs of the electrification

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programme. We are working with our industry partners to ensure that that rolling stock is made available in time for the electrification of the routes.

Thameslink is also good news for jobs. The rolling stock contract will support the creation of an estimated 2,000 jobs in the UK, supporting manufacture of train components, construction of depots and subsequent maintenance of the new fleet of trains.

Chris Williamson: Will the Minister give way?

Norman Baker: I will give way shortly.

In addition, at the peak of construction activity, we expect an additional 3,000 people to be employed directly on the Thameslink infrastructure works as a whole, with as many people again employed in related jobs in the wider community. I am happy to give way now to the hon. Gentleman, but he asked me a lot of questions and left me only 10 minutes to respond.

Chris Williamson: I beg the Minister’s pardon, but will he concede that the 2,000 jobs that he referred to a few moments ago would be created whoever won the contract, including Bombardier?

Norman Baker: Of course—I am absolutely happy to accept that. I welcome new jobs wherever they are created in this country. These are train-related jobs that help both the rail industry and the wider economy.

At this point, I will try to answer some of the questions that the hon. Gentleman put. Some were related to the past, and I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) that the hon. Gentleman’s speech was largely about the past, rather than the future.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about Siemens and read out extracts from the legislation relating to the position that he thinks applies in this case. I should make it clear that for convictions to give rise to the requirement to exclude Siemens plc from the Thameslink rolling stock project, those individuals involved in the activities that resulted in convictions would need to be in a position of power, representation, decision or control of Siemens plc. The Department investigated the position at the pre-qualification stage and was satisfied that that was not the case. Consequently, we can reiterate that the Department does not consider there were grounds to exclude Siemens plc from the Thameslink rolling stock contract.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Crossrail, of course, as he looked to the future. Before discussing Crossrail, I should finish talking about Thameslink by referring to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon in an intervention on the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend’s point was that Thameslink was largely done and dusted by the time that this Administration came to power and, to use the phrase that I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence used at the time, when he was Secretary of State for Transport, all he did was “open the envelope”. That is the consequence of that particular process.

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Moving on to Crossrail, the £14.5 billion Crossrail project will create vital new transport infrastructure to support economic growth. The project will deliver a 74-mile railway; 13 miles of new tunnels under London; new, expanded or upgraded stations along the Crossrail route; and a new fleet of trains. When the project is complete, Crossrail services will run from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbeywood in the east. For the millions of people who will use its services, Crossrail will deliver faster journey times and better connectivity, while reducing overcrowding on other services. Overall, it will provide a 10% uplift in London’s rail transport capacity. Crossrail is not only great news for passengers, but good news for the economy, as it will support growth and the UK’s long-term competitiveness. Crossrail will provide 14,000 jobs at the peak of construction and is predicted to facilitate employment growth of up to 30,000 jobs by 2026.

The Government, working with Transport for London as its co-sponsor, established Crossrail Ltd as a single-purpose delivery body for the Crossrail project. Crossrail Ltd is responsible for procuring the many contracts needed to deliver the project, the largest of those being the contract for an initial order of around 600 new carriages—the exact number is a matter for the bidders—and a new depot at Old Oak Common. The contract is expected to be worth in the region of £1 billion and is likely to include options to allow TfL to expand the fleet in future years to accommodate demand and respond to possible changes, such as High Speed 2. The procurement of Crossrail’s rolling stock marks the beginning of Crossrail’s transition from Europe’s largest engineering project to an operational, world-class railway. These will be modern, high-capacity trains that replace many older, inner-suburban trains that run into Paddington and Liverpool Street.

Our priority is to deliver that new railway, which so many people are looking forward to, on schedule and to ensure that we do so as efficiently as possible, with value for money for the taxpayer and future fare payers always in mind. We are clear that we want to secure the right train at the right price to deliver the benefits of Crossrail to London and the south-east. The only way to achieve that is through a strong and fair procurement policy. Four bidders—Bombardier, CAF of Spain, Hitachi and Siemens—submitted first-round bids by the deadline of 29 October. I have no knowledge of what is in the bids, but I hope that Bombardier, along with the other bidders, has submitted a strong, competitive bid that meets the exacting requirements of Crossrail. I am sure that the hon. Member for Derby North would like us to follow proper EU procurement policy and rules.

Those first-round bids are being assessed by Crossrail Ltd. It expects to be in a position to shortlist bidders next spring, so as to move to the next stage of the competition. It is hoped that a preferred bidder will be announced later next year, with the project moving to financial close in 2014. The first train is expected to enter service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield—the first section of the Crossrail route that will be operated by TfL—in 2017. The full Crossrail service is expected to be fully operational in late 2019, with the central tunnel section opening in advance of that.

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Welsh Language (Non-devolved Departments)

4.30 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Howarth. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss Welsh language provision in non-devolved areas. Before we enter into the substance of the debate, it is worth taking a quick historical overview of the development of Welsh language policy and rights in Wales. After all, it could be argued that until 1967, few rights were afforded to the Welsh language, a situation that has been tremendously transformed subsequently.

The Welsh Language Act 1967 was welcomed. It conferred upon the Welsh language and Welsh speakers certain rights that did not previously exist. My father-in-law would still say that one of his claims to fame was that he was involved in the first ever Welsh Language Society protest at Pont Trefechan back in 1963. I emphasise that there have been significant changes.

Today, I want to concentrate on the Welsh Language Act 1993, which was a tremendous and significant step forward, and on the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which is moving the 1993 Act forward positively in many areas. However, I have some concerns that I want to articulate today, and I hope that the Minister can respond to and lay to rest some of my concerns.

The 1993 Act was a significant breakthrough for the status of the Welsh language in Wales. It was a cross-party effort, and there is no doubt that we owe a degree of gratitude to my predecessor in the Conwy constituency, Wyn Roberts, now Lord Roberts. He, with the support of the leaders and members of all political parties in Wales, ensured that that Act came into being with the support of the vast majority of the population of Wales. Far too often in the past, the language has been a divisive issue. A success of the 1993 Act was to introduce some rights for Welsh speakers without in any way creating a feeling that they were being imposed on non-Welsh speakers in Wales.

Another huge success of the 1993 Act was the creation of the Welsh Language Board. In a spirit of cross-party co-operation, it was initially chaired by Lord Elis-Thomas, a previous Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. There was a time when the board, working under the 1993 Act, moved the agenda forward quite significantly. The first concern about its future and possible changes to 1993 Act came in 2004, when a bonfire of the quangos was announced by the then Welsh Government. It was an ill-thought-through, back-of-the-envelope decision in relation to many public bodies in Wales, not least the Welsh Development Agency, the abolition of which many of us still believe was a huge mistake. Comments were made at the time that the Welsh Language Board would in due course be dissolved. That did not happen for a long time, because the legislation was far more complicated than had been envisaged. However, part of the “One Wales” agreement in 2007 was that there would be a new Welsh language Measure, which came into being in 2011.

My concern about the 2011 Measure relates not so much to the content, which I believe to be fairly reasonable and to be moving the agenda forward in reflecting the fact that we have an increasingly bilingual Wales. The number of young people in the valleys, Cardiff and

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south Wales who take advantage of Welsh medium education has increased dramatically, and we should welcome that. The 2011 Measure looked at and tried to respond to those changes, but there were concerns, expressed at the time by some members of the Conservative party and by members of the Welsh Language Society, that some of the changes in that Measure had been rushed through and were possibly ill considered. Whether that is fair or not, my significant concern today relates to the impact of the 2011 Measure on the operation by non-devolved Departments of their Welsh language policies and working in partnership with the Welsh Language Board.

We are aware that the provisions of the 1993 Act do not apply to Crown bodies. It was based on a process of good will and co-operation. While not all non-devolved Departments co-operated and played the game, as it were, in the way that they should have, the vast majority did. Looking at the work of the Department for Work and Pensions and of the Treasury, there are examples of good effort and good will in trying to provide services in Welsh. They were neither perfect nor always to the satisfaction of many people in Wales who would have liked those services to be of a higher standard, but Welsh language schemes were in place in those Departments, and they were monitored for compliance by the Welsh Language Board. There was a relationship between the board and the non-devolved Departments, which seemed to create some accountability and acceptance that there was, first, a need to provide services through the medium of Welsh when they were demanded and desired and, secondly, an understanding that there would be a degree of compliance to ensure that the Welsh language schemes adopted were implemented.

I speak with some experience, because before I was elected, I was, on numerous occasions, responsible for Welsh language compliance visits on behalf of the Welsh Language Board, so I express an interest in the field. One of my funniest experiences happened when I conducted an overview of the services offered by the Post Office through the medium of Welsh. One of the things that we had to undertake was a mystery customer effort to see to what extent the Post Office offered services in Welsh. I turned up in a village not far from Monmouthshire where, as agreed in the strategy adopted for the compliance report, I asked for six first-class stamps in Welsh. The postmaster immediately turned round and said, “Aha, mystery customer.” Obviously, they were quick to spot the fact that not many Welsh speakers would turn up in a post office in Monmouth.

It should also be noted that, before I was elected, I came down to London on more than one occasion to conduct a compliance report on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, on the way in which the tax credit system was not succeeding in delivering Welsh language forms to people who were trying to adopt, and trying to work through the medium of Welsh when making claims. While there was non-compliance on that occasion, it reflected more on HMRC’s computer system than on its willingness to try to make the system work. I therefore bring a degree of personal experience to the table.

We had a relationship with non-devolved areas and a system of compliance and working together. A relationship was being built and developed, and it ensured that there was understanding of the need for non-devolved Departments to deliver services in Welsh.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I do not want to show my age, but I served on the Standing Committee that considered the 1993 Act. I confirm that Lord Roberts of Conwy played a huge part in getting that Bill through, and we need to thank him for that.

The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point. I found that, in the old days, Home Office documents, however large, were translated into Welsh. That is not the case now. If his point is that we need to get some better co-operation between our friends in Wales and the people here, I am fully with him.

Guto Bebb: That is the intention of this debate. It is to examine what sort of co-operation is now required and how that can be moved forward. My concern is the extent to which the Welsh Assembly, when it looks at how it can legislate, has concentrated on devolved areas, and possibly the baby was thrown out with the bath water in relation to non-devolved areas.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to associate myself with an issue that I have previously raised in the Chamber. We know that we had a pretty close escape with the ballot papers for police and crime commissioners. It is vital that the commitment to bilingualism is as great here in Westminster as it is in Cardiff. That is what my hon. Friend is asking for, and I fully support what he is doing.

Guto Bebb: I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention.

My specific concerns relate to the fact that I represent a constituency where about 40% of the population are first-language Welsh speakers. I would be the first to admit that not enough of those constituents who are first-language Welsh speakers demand services in Welsh, but there have been occasions since I was elected in May 2010 when I have communicated by letter with various Westminster Departments to highlight concerns about the non-provision of services through the medium of Welsh. In response, I again received examples of willingness to co-operate, but it is worrying that a Department stated in a letter quite recently that it is willing to co-operate through its Welsh language scheme and that it will consult the Welsh Language Board on how that relationship may be further developed. I wish that Department good luck, because the Welsh Language Board, as we well know, has been abolished.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Section 43 of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 is extremely important. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, were the Secretary of State for Wales to give a statement of intent to do so, there would be no barrier to ensuring better Welsh language services in Whitehall Departments? Will he also join me in calling on the Secretary of State to give his section 43 consent?

Guto Bebb: The hon. Lady jumps ahead of me, because I will mention section 43 later in my speech, but, yes, it is an important part of the legislation.

There are concerns, because some of the services offered to the people of Wales by non-devolved Departments are crucial. We all know how important the benefits system is, and we all know the pressures faced by constituents who have to go through the Atos

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health care system, and for them to be able to do that in the language of their choice is important. The Department for Work and Pensions has made it categorically clear that anyone wishing to undertake such a review through the medium of Welsh can do so, but we need to ensure that we hold the Department not only to its good intentions but to its promises.

Some of the other services offered by Westminster Departments are also crucial for the recognition that the language has equal status. In that respect, I congratulate the Department for Transport, which has recently given the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency licensing contract to the Post Office. As I said, I have been involved in the compliance efforts of the Post Office, which is an organisation that works extremely hard to ensure a bilingual service. Having those DVLA forms available in both languages in post offices across my constituency and across the constituencies of other hon. Members is a major step forward.

Why do I raise the issue now? We are in a transitional period and are slowly moving from the Welsh language schemes that existed under the 1993 Act to the new system of standards. Obviously, for those standards to be imposed on non-devolved areas, co-operation is needed between the Secretary of State for Wales and the newly created Welsh Language Commissioner. I have concerns, because we need that co-operation to be strong, but it needs to work both ways. I am quite confident that there is good will, and that willingness to work exists in the Wales Office, but I want to ensure that that is put on record today.

As the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) stated, one of the key points is that the 2011 Measure categorically states that the Secretary of State can ensure that there is an agreement for services to be provided by Ministers of the Crown in Welsh, where that has been discussed and developed in a co-operative fashion. I would argue, therefore, that we need to ensure that that process is addressed and articulated in the open, because transparency is always a good thing if there is some concern that that is not being provided, or that there is a lack of understanding of the requirement. The key issue is the lack of understanding of what can and what should be expected of the non-devolved Departments. I have no doubt that co-operation will be forthcoming from the Wales Office. We have seen that the intention is to work with the Welsh Language Commissioner, and I am sure that the Minister will confirm that my understanding is correct, but I will wait for his comments.

It is also crucial to state that, in addition to co-operation and agreement from the Secretary of State for Wales, we need to address the Welsh Language Commissioner being a post and an organisation created by the Assembly. We need the credibility that the Welsh Language Board used to offer as a board established by an Act of Parliament. That credibility will be forthcoming if there is a positive and strong working relationship between the commissioner and the Secretary of State for Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales should not simply sign off an order and leave it at that; there should be an ongoing process of co-operation between the Welsh Language Commissioner and the Wales Office. I ask the Minister to comment on any developments and discussions on the way in which such co-operation might happen.

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If we accept the argument that there is a need for the Wales Office to be involved in the way in which the Welsh Language Commissioner and its powers are implemented in relation to the Welsh language, and I think we do, we have to ask the key question who will scrutinise that involvement. It is perfectly clear and correct that the Welsh Assembly will scrutinise the work of the Welsh Language Commissioner. That is what I expect to happen. The Welsh Language Commissioner is a body created by the Welsh Assembly, so it should be accountable to the Welsh Assembly. If the intentions behind the 2011 Measure are to be realised by co-operation and co-working between the Wales Office and the Welsh Language Commissioner, there is a question about who will scrutinise that work.

It is important that all Departments are held to account. We often hear the claim that the Wales Office has much less to do now than it did previously. This is one area where the Wales Office should be leading the charge, but there is a need for scrutiny. Have there been any discussions with, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) on the possibility of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs taking an interest in scrutinising potential co-operation between the Welsh Language Commissioner and the Wales Office? There should be accountability in the performance of any duties that affect the public. We are all clear that accountability for devolved areas will be undertaken by the Welsh Assembly, but there is a role for the Welsh Affairs Committee in monitoring the work undertaken by the Wales Office in partnership with the Welsh Language Commissioner, if that is the way forward.

I have raised my concerns because I see a disconnect between the aims of the 2011 Measure and what is happening on the ground. I do not claim that the 1993 Act was perfect, but I am concerned that the way in which it had bedded in and reached the point where it was accepted by most of the non-devolved Departments may be lost. If we lose that, it would be to the detriment of Welsh speakers in all parts of Wales, not least in my constituency.

I believe that the structures can be created in partnership between the Wales Office and the new Welsh Language Commissioner, but that has to be open and transparent, and subject to accountability through scrutiny by elected Members here in Westminster. I can see no better way of doing that than through the offices of the Welsh Affairs Committee.

I look forward to the Minister’s response.

4.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

It is also a pleasure to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) defend the Welsh language, as he does like no one else. He has a fantastic reputation as a defender of the Welsh language, and he comes from a constituency that has an illustrious history of producing defenders of the Welsh language. I recall his maiden speech, shortly after he was elected in 2010, in which he paid tribute to his constituency. He mentioned Bishop William Morgan, who, of course, translated the

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Bible into Welsh in the 16th century. He paid tribute then, as he and other hon. Members have today, to Lord Roberts, who comes from his constituency, for his fantastic work in defending the Welsh language.

This afternoon is a good opportunity to update hon. Members on the work of the Wales Office across non-devolved areas to deliver services in the Welsh language. My hon. Friend spoke of the significant breakthrough that was the Welsh Language Act 1993. In fact, the Act was a milestone in the modern history of the Welsh language, and of course it established the Welsh Language Board to promote the language and gave Welsh speakers the right to speak Welsh in court proceedings.

The Act also obliged public sector organisations that provide services to the public in Wales to treat Welsh and English on an equal basis, and to implement Welsh language schemes for carrying out some or all of their business in the Welsh language. Importantly, the Act enabled the Secretary of State for Wales to choose whether to adopt a Welsh language scheme for any Crown body, which, of course, includes Departments of the UK Government. Most, but not all, Government Departments introduced Welsh language schemes in respect of their services in Wales, and in so doing agreed to be subject to the same compliance requirements as other public bodies subject to the Act.

Mr Llwyd: Just as a matter of information, there has been a right to use Welsh in courts in Wales since the 16th century.

Stephen Crabb: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that update. I bow to his superior knowledge of the history of Welsh language use.

In recent years, there have been a number of developments in the legal framework to support the Welsh language, as hon. Members have mentioned. The Welsh language is one of the 20 areas devolved to Wales, and the Welsh Assembly is responsible for the legislative framework relating to the language. The Assembly passed the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 under powers conferred on it in 2009 through the now infamous, tortuous and bureaucratic legislative competence order process put in place by the last Labour Government. The 2011 Measure established the independent Welsh Language Commissioner to promote the language, replacing the Welsh Language Board, and provides for the introduction of duties whereby organisations comply with statutory standards relating to the Welsh language in delivering services to the public in Wales.

The Welsh Government’s thinking in moving from Welsh language schemes, which are specific and bespoke to each organisation, to generic Welsh language standards has been to establish a more consistent approach to Welsh language service provision. Welsh language standards will replace Welsh language schemes over time, so that Welsh speakers will be clearer about the Welsh language services they should expect to receive. Organisations subject to the Measure will understand the levels of service in the Welsh language they are expected to provide, and the regulatory framework applied by the Welsh Language Commissioner will be simpler than at present.

The Welsh Language Commissioner consulted on proposed standards this summer, and I understand will shortly make recommendations to Welsh Ministers on

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what those final standards should be. The standards decided by the Welsh Ministers will be subject to final approval by the Assembly.

On the role of the Wales Office, we acknowledge from the outset that there is certainly room for improvement in the quality of Departments’ Welsh language services. As I have said, not all Departments have developed Welsh language schemes, and there have been instances in which we have been open to criticism. The Welsh Language Commissioner is, of course, a position created by the Welsh Assembly, so my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy is right to note the limitations of the post in respect of non-devolved areas.

It is important that sufficient support should be given to the Welsh language in non-devolved as well as devolved areas, and I assure my hon. Friend that the Wales Office is ready to provide the leadership and support to do so within Government. Since his appointment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has underlined the role of the Wales Office as the lead Department on Welsh language issues. Indeed, he made clear at Welsh questions last month that we in the Wales Office are fully committed to the Welsh language in non-devolved areas as they apply to Wales. We want to ensure that Departments deliver the consistently good-quality Welsh language services that Welsh language speakers need, where there is demonstrable demand for them.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that Welsh language standards would apply to Crown bodies only with the consent of the Secretary of State, but I do not necessarily share his pessimism and concerns that protection for Welsh language provision in non-devolved areas will be reduced as a result. On the contrary, the Wales Office intends to undertake a review of Departments’ Welsh language services to examine their capacity to meet Welsh language standards. We are working closely with the Welsh Language Commissioner to prepare for the review and hope to secure a secondee from the commissioner to support the work.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I applaud the action that the Government are taking. In the partnership that the Secretary of State and the Wales Office are seeking to develop with the Welsh Language Commissioner, can I ask that consideration be given to the style and mode of translation? Efforts to reduce costs sometimes lead different elements of different documents to be translated by different people in different parts of the country. That approach does not lend itself to an easy-flowing translation style, which can increase some people’s reluctance to use the language.

Stephen Crabb: That is an excellent point. It is exactly the kind of point worth making when we begin the review, hopefully after the arrangements are in place for the secondee from the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy said that he wanted positive and strong co-operation. I absolutely assure him that that is what we intend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has a close dialogue with the Welsh Language Commissioner on matters relating to the Welsh language in general and Government services delivered in the Welsh language in particular. Indeed, the Wales Office has always maintained a good working relationship with the commissioner and her predecessor body, the Welsh Language Board. That close relationship continues as we plan the review. We can only set about the task once we know for sure what the Welsh language standards will be, but we hope to be in a position to do so as soon as the final standards are confirmed.

In conclusion, I assure hon. Members from all parties that the Government are fully committed to the Welsh language, that the Wales Office is taking the lead in ensuring adequate Welsh language provision in Government services in non-devolved areas where needed and that we will consider carefully UK Departments’ capacity to meet the new Welsh language standards.

Guto Bebb: I am pleased with the response that I have heard. My concerns were not that the Wales Office was not positive about the language; they had more to do with the fact that some of the provisions of the Welsh Language Act 1993 might have been lost as a result of the change to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. Before the Minister finishes his response, will he comment on the possibility of scrutiny by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs?

Stephen Crabb: It is the duty of all Select Committees to scrutinise and monitor the activities of relevant Departments, and the Welsh Affairs Committee has the role of monitoring everything that we do in the Wales Office. I do not think that it is appropriate for me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to recommend or suggest to the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee subjects that the Committee should investigate; that is entirely a matter for the Committee itself. However, we would naturally expect and hope that some of that scrutiny work will be done by the Committee.

My hon. Friend said that he wanted the Wales Office to lead the charge. I leave him and other hon. Members here with the assurance that we will indeed lead the charge in defending and promoting the Welsh language across non-devolved departmental areas.

Question put and agreed to.

4.57 pm

Sitting adjourned.