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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 6 February 2013

[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

England-Wales Transport Links

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Simon Burns.)

9.30 am

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts, and to raise cross-border travel, which is critical for Wales. It was the subject of two inquiries by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs in the previous Parliament, and, as is so often the case with such inquiries, the issue is now being revisited by the present Committee. The Government will of course have the opportunity to respond when we have agreed our report.

I shall not pre-empt that, but would mention one way in which the reports are characterised: there has been a lot of discussion of north Wales and south Wales connectivity, quite rightly, but some colleagues may empathise with me when I say that mid-Wales is often lost in the debate. However, a few Select Committee veterans are here among my hon. Friends and colleagues, and others with border constituencies will no doubt want to talk about the important issues of Severn bridge tolls, First Great Western franchise arrangements and the quest for electrification in north Wales. Should I stray intermittently into devolved matters, I apologise from the outset, but responsibility for transport is fragmented, as our report of 2009 stated, and that requires robust co-ordination between the Governments at Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

The 2009 Select Committee report said that rail

“improvement schemes are too often only evaluated on their local benefits”,

that we require greater co-ordination of rail franchises and that we have seen

“a general failure to predict increases in passenger demand and...insufficient rolling stock is available on certain routes particularly at busy times.”

Those, certainly, are characteristics of the debate about the rail line that ends in my constituency in Aberystwyth and passes through that of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies).

Arriva Trains Wales operates the Cambrian coast line service between Birmingham International and Aberystwyth. The absence of an hourly service across mid-Wales is not merely a parochial matter, nor is the loss of a direct service between Aberystwyth and London some 20 years ago. The economic benefits of connectivity, for the movement of people and of goods and services, should not be understated. The town of Aberystwyth has strategic significance. We do not hear much about the mid-Wales corridor. We hear a lot about the A55 and the M4 corridor, but there is a mid-Wales corridor, and the Select Committee made that point in another of our many inquiries—we are a very busy Committee—into inward investment:

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“We are concerned by evidence that the quality of transport links in Mid and North Wales and the connectivity between the rest of Wales and England deters overseas investment in parts of Wales.”

Part of that debate is about roads, and colleagues may want to talk about that, but I want to discuss rail and my belief that mid-Wales is being held back, which is why arrangements across the border are so critical. The local perception is that we have a second-rate service. That is not always a failure of the franchisee. Sometimes, it is a failure of political will and opportunity.

My enthusiasm on the matter led me to suggest to the Select Committee Chair that not only should we take evidence on transport matters in Aberystwyth, but we should travel there by train. Not all members of the Committee were brave enough to experience that, although some were. I salute the hon. Members for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for Swansea East (Mrs James), for their support in travelling by train. I could have written a soap opera script. We left Euston on time, to embark on our journey of four hours and 40 minutes. It was regrettable that that was compounded by a two-hour wait at Birmingham International station, as we missed the connection. There are limits on what one can do for two hours at Birmingham International station.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): A word of advice: go to Paddington. It is much easier to get to Aberystwyth from there.

Mr Williams: Sadly, in my constituency, people then have to contend with the roads—I live in the north of Ceredigion. I enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of the hon. Members for Swansea East and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, but two hours sitting there waiting is a trial in many ways.

In evidence to the Select Committee, Passenger Focus

“identified inter-franchise connections as one of the main sources of dissatisfaction with cross-border services amongst passengers.”

The report was produced in 2009, under the previous Government, so perhaps the Minister can give some good news now, but we concluded:

“At present, there is no incentive for different train operating companies to provide connecting services or to ensure that connections are maintained when there are delays.”

When we finally got on our train, the journey continued to Machynlleth, in Powys. There we had the spectacle of the four carriages being reduced to two, and passengers scurrying from the back of the train to the front, to get into carriages to Aberystwyth; otherwise they would risk a prolonged although scenic journey—but it was getting late—up to Pwllheli. Those are the realities of the service that my constituents must use.

There has, overall, in the generality of Wales, been progress since the report was produced, not least because of the coalition Government’s commitment to rail electrification in south Wales. That is commendable and necessary, and progress is being made, for which I commend the Government. A debate is emerging on rail electrification in north Wales—the arrival in the Chamber of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) is timely, as is this important debate. The Assembly Minister announced in January that he will draw up a business case for that, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the liaison and discussion

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between the Government and Assembly Ministers. However, the lack of an hourly service in mid-Wales and the two- hour wait between trains across mid-Wales is not simply a matter of mild inconvenience. It is an impediment to the area’s growth.

During its inquiry on inward investment, the Welsh Affairs Committee heard from Professor Stuart Cole, of the university of Glamorgan, that

“if Wales was to compete successfully with countries in Eastern Europe, its transport facilities had to be able to help overcome the cost differentials and distances from these markets by becoming ultra-efficient and influence competitiveness for inward investment”.

If that is a message for Wales as a whole, it is a very poignant one for mid-Wales. We heard from UK Trade and Investment officials, who said that the current transport infrastructure in Wales could act as a potential deterrent to investors. We need to make sure that existing businesses and manufacturers are not hamstrung by any impediment such as lack of development of the transport network. The pressures that that could put on the tourism sector and the all-important higher education sector in my constituency are something that I reflect on. The Wales Tourism Alliance has said:

“If we are to succeed, we must get visitors, the lifeblood of the economies of Wales, into each and every corner of our country. At present internally and cross border we simply do not have the transport infrastructure to deliver the economic potential of many of our leading destinations.”

I contend—surprise, surprise—that many of those destinations are on the west Wales coast.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The hon. Gentleman is talking about the historic under-investment in transport in Wales. If High Speed 2 —essentially an England-only railway—goes ahead and given that, despite the fact that transport is not actually devolved, Crossrail resulted in a 100% Barnett consequential, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a Barnett consequential for HS2 investment is essential, so that the Welsh transport infrastructure can keep pace with developments in England?

Mr Williams: I welcome that intervention. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall come on to that point because HS2 is of great interest to many of our constituents.

This is a historic debate. Seven years ago the National Assembly’s development committee heard evidence from the mid-Wales manufacturing group in Newtown. At the top of its list of key requirements for businesses to flourish were improved roads, rail and broadband. I would give five out of 10 for broadband but fewer marks out of 10 on rail.

What we need—there is a role for both Governments in this—is a stimulus that supports growth and creates a dynamic transport network in Wales. Much of the debate is internal and the exclusive responsibility of our National Assembly Government, but while that is appropriate, the fact that 16.4 million people live within 50 miles of the border makes cross-border services vital. Over the years of the rail franchise, we have seen strong development in that area, with Arriva Trains Wales reporting growth in its cross-border services of typically between 8% and 13%. On the Cambrian main line, which is a primary cross-border route connecting Aberystwyth

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to Shrewsbury and beyond, 900,000 journeys are made every year, and the average loading—I hesitate to use the word load to describe passengers, but it feels a bit like that sometimes—is about 125 passengers, which is slightly higher than the UK average. Although I appreciate that, in the current economic climate, there are great constraints on the Governments in Cardiff and Westminster, small, limited enhancements could bring genuine benefits to the community.

I will start with the modest aspirations. SARPA, the Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association, has called for the improved utilisation of rolling stock resources, which could bring improvements to the service at minimal increased cost. Dealing with commuter trains in and out of Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth would be a good start. For example, at Shrewsbury, there is an early arrival from Aberystwyth at 7.11 am, but the next train arrives at 9.25 am, which does not make sense for the many people who need to get to work or college by 9 am. There is a lot of demand for travel to and from Shrewsbury for job opportunities, further education and medical services that are not readily available in mid-Wales, but the current timetable does not serve that demand effectively. Since privatisation, franchise holders have been instructed by the passenger service requirement to run trains with a two-hour frequency. Operators have happily taken the subsidy offered, but little thought seems to have been given by the franchisee to providing a service that reflects the demand for travel across the border.

I acknowledged at the start of my speech that transport policy is fragmented between the Assembly Government and the UK Department for Transport, but I know that there is a healthy dialogue between the Welsh and UK Departments because the Minister convinced me of that when I questioned him in the Welsh Affairs Committee. We also took evidence in Aberystwyth from the Welsh Minister Carl Sargeant, who spoke of an emerging much more positive relationship, so I know that to be the case.

Network Rail is, however, the responsibility of the Department for Transport. I salute the work of its Welsh division—the very fact that we have a Welsh division is an important message for those of us who believe in devolution. Network Rail has undertaken extensive infrastructure work, including the building of passing loops on our line, and we acted as guinea pigs for the development of the European rail traffic management system—the new signalling system that will be rolled out across Great Britain.

I am interested, however, in the Minister’s view on why we still do not have the hourly service. I do not want to damage his relationship with Mr Carl Sargeant, but does he regret, as I do, the apparent lack of will at Cardiff? There has been promise after promise after promise. Since 1999, we have been told that we will have our hourly service, and we have now been told that, as we do not figure sufficiently high in the priorities, we will have to wait until 2015. The service would plug an important gap in the timetable and make genuine commuting opportunities possible across mid-Wales.

At the same time, the Welsh Government have tried to kick-start a market between north and south Wales, with 10 services between Cardiff and north Wales and lower passenger numbers, and many argue that the route could effectively be served by three or four trains,

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rather than the 10 that it enjoys. An hourly service is a modest aspiration. We have been promised it before, and I hope we can push further for it following this debate.

There is a more ambitious proposal for train services in and out of mid-Wales and to London, which is the re-establishment of a direct service between Aberystwyth and London. Three years ago, we faced more disappointment when the Office of Rail Regulation threw out Arriva Trains Wales’s bid to develop the direct service. I declare an interest: I spend up to 10 hours a week on the train, somewhere between London and Aberystwyth. I have rarely driven here. My wife used to be an employee of Arriva Trains Wales—and a very good job she did, too. Arriva Trains Wales’s bid was an attempt to right a wrong that had emanated from privatisation legislation, which had meant the withdrawal by the successors to British Rail of a direct link to the capital.

In 2010, Arriva Trains Wales’s bid for a twice-daily service to London Marylebone was rejected. The company stated that the bid would unlock the potential of the mid-Wales rail market and bring it in line—that was music to my ears—with that of south and north Wales. It proposed to route a line for the direct service via Shrewsbury and Birmingham International, and the latter is important because many of my constituents and those who live in other parts of mid-Wales use the airport there; it is the airport for mid-Wales. The proposed service would have continued through Banbury, West Ruislip and Wembley to London Marylebone, and plans were drawn up for timetabling and rolling stock. The Office of Rail Regulation gave as its reason for rejecting the bid a concern about the “financial viability” of the new service. There were concerns about the abstraction of revenue from the sadly now former Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway Company, and there were concerns from Chiltern Railways.

I well remember nearly 30 years ago InterCity 125s leaving Aberystwyth at 7 am. It was not exactly robust commuter traffic on a daily basis, but it sent an important signal of connectivity from a peripheral area to the rest of the country. I also remember freight being delivered on that service to Aberystwyth. I am flying the kite to the Minister, resurrecting the ghost of that service, in the expectation that he can help us, and that the Minister at Cardiff Bay is listening, too. We should at least explore the possibility of a direct service once again, and I hope that the Department for Transport and the Assembly Government will look favourably on that. The consequences of the rejection of the Arriva Trains Wales bid has been that, since 1991, Aberystwyth is one of the few towns in Britain left without a direct link to the capital.

I want just to touch on two other things; I know that colleagues want to talk about issues that affect their localities. In 2018, the Arriva Wales franchise will be up for renewal, so can the Minister clarify who has ultimate responsibility for arrival at the new franchise? Can he confirm that there are two signatures on the documentation for it? Or, is it the sole responsibility of our Assembly Government? Either way, the matters will, I am sure, be part of the Silk commission’s work when we look at the devolution of responsibility. Clarity about rail franchises will be considered as Paul Silk embarks on part 2 of his inquiry into further powers.

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I also want to talk about the historical matter of the initial subsidy agreement, which was not signed under the Minister’s watch, between the then Strategic Rail Authority and Arriva Trains Wales. There was an agreement for a one-year subsidy of £120 million, which would reduce over the 15 years of the franchise to less than £100 million. The Welsh Assembly Government, rightly within their remit, have decided to pursue a positive policy, including increasing train lengths, acquiring new trains and extending platforms, but I just wish we could see a bit more of the money in mid-Wales.

The policy resulted in the subsidy increasing, in 2012, to £140 million, and it has been suggested by some, including our Select Committee, that some of the problems with congestion and overcrowding are the result of inadequate modelling of predictions for growth in the industry. The Select Committee concluded in its 2009 report that

“overcrowding is the result of poorly designed franchises which paid no heed to industry forecasts for passenger growth.”

Consequently, the Government in Wales are paying for investment. Some have suggested that Wales is being short-changed.

Many people I talk to have a wrong perception that HS2 will directly affect train travel in and out of Wales. HS2 will have an effect. Perhaps if we get the electrification that we all want in north Wales, it will have a positive effect on travel. I am dispelling a perception in my constituency that, somehow, we might step off a slow Arriva Trains Wales train somewhere in Birmingham and hop on to a fast train and head off down to London with 40 minutes taken off our journey. Of course, that is not the reality, which leads me to question the benefits that will accrue to large parts of Wales. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr made a point about the scheme’s possible Barnett consequences.

I could go on at great length. The debate is as broad as the border is long. I could talk about so many issues, but I am keen to flag up one persistent problem: the more we talk about north Wales and south Wales, the more our constituents in mid-Wales say that we are somehow being short-changed. We are not getting the service that we need, not just for those daily trips in and out of Shrewsbury to do some shopping at Marks and Spencer, but to access the services that we require to develop our area economically.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments on north Wales, south Wales and the exclusion of mid-Wales, but does he recognise, for example, the Conwy Valley railway line in my constituency? The line links to Meirionnydd, which I define as being in mid-Wales. One of the key issues for the Conwy Valley railway line is that timetabling means someone leaving Blaenau Ffestiniog on the 7 o’clock train to Llandudno junction will miss the trains to Chester and London by four minutes. Is timetabling not part of better servicing mid-Wales?

Mr Williams: I commend the hon. Gentleman on his arrival. I am not sure whether he was here when I talked about timetabling. Franchise arrangements are slightly different in that instance, but there is a need for franchise agreements to ensure synergy between timetables, because

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one of my constituents’ persistent complaints is that we do not have the integrated approach that he and I both want.

I have used this at the end of many debates on Wales, and I say “chwarae teg” for trains in mid-Wales.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Seven hon. Members want to speak. If I allow 10 minutes for the wind-ups, there is a maximum of seven minutes for everyone who speaks. I cannot enforce the guideline, which is advisory, but it would be helpful if Members kept to it.

9.52 am

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Well done to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for securing this debate. I am sorry that I was unable to be on his marathon six-hour train journey, but he has made a persuasive case for mid-Wales, and I am sure the Minister is listening. I also thank him for giving us an opportunity to lobby on other transport matters. As a south Wales MP, I will address the Severn bridge tolls and rail, which he has already mentioned.

The Severn bridge tolls are a thorny issue. A Wales Office Minister recently told me that reports commissioned on the impact of the tolls on Wales gave a mixed picture. He may well say that, but constituents and businesses tell me loud and clear how hard they find absorbing the increased tolls each year when their pay is frozen, their hours are reduced and the cost of living is rising. I am aware of their misery, because it is a major local issue about which I am contacted as an MP. Businesses, particularly those in the haulage industry, say the tolls mean they bear a cost that competitors across the bridge do not and that they have to add that cost to their bottom line, which hits their competitiveness. A Welsh Assembly study, about which the Minister may be aware, shows that scrapping the tolls altogether would improve the economic output of south Wales by some £107 million.

For many, the light at the end of the tunnel is the end of the concession in a few years’ time. I say a few years’ time, because every time someone ventures to say the concession will end on a certain date, the duration of the concession lengthens, which is worrying to say the least. That is mild: I think the concession is becoming a farce. In 2005, the concession would end in 2016; last year, it was 2017; and it now appears to be shifting to the end of 2018. Will the Minister confirm his current estimate?

The first reason given for extending the concession was reduced traffic due to the downturn; then it was the cost of installing the card-handling system, then industrial building allowances and then higher VAT. Now, because the concession may well extend beyond 2018 into 2020, we have the mystery debt from the construction of the bridges, about which another Minister wrote to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and which might push the date further into the future. The announcement in December obtained by the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), was news to all of us on the Committee. The information was never mentioned in our recently completed inquiry. Will the Minister explain how the debt came about and why we were never told of it?

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That highlights the problem with the concession. I note that Ministers have recently been using the Severn bridge concession as an example of why private companies’ investing to improve our roads, with motorists paying tolls, is a good idea. I have heard Ministers say on the radio and on television that there are tolls on the M6. Well, I think that the Severn bridge concession is a terrible example. The concession, fixed by law years ago, allows the company to whack up the tolls every year until it reaches its target. The toll is completely inflexible, as we saw when there were calls to accept debit and credit card payments. Help for regular users, off-peak travel for businesses and the ability for car sharers to share the tab are all too difficult for the concessionaires who just care about getting the revenue. Calls from customers for any sort of flexibility fall on deaf ears, and the motorist yet again gets stung, with no protection when times are hard, as they are now.

We need something to look forward to when the concession ends. There is a niggling fear that the Treasury sees the bridges as a useful revenue stream after 2017, 2018 or 2019, or whenever the concession ends, and is looking to bank in advance the anticipated revenue from the bridge tolls. Will the Minister please tell me that is not the case?

We need to know what discussions are taking place and whether the Department is engaging with the issue now, rather than waiting until the last minute. Crucially, we need to know that not only reduced tolls, but other creative ideas such as reductions for regular users and off-peak travel for businesses are being considered.

Jonathan Edwards: Does the hon. Lady agree that, on the announcement we heard in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee that the UK Government intend to continue the tolls at their current level, following the return to public ownership because of a previously undisclosed debt, the general impression in Wales is that the UK Government are fleecing Welsh motorists?

Jessica Morden: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, the Welsh Assembly has expressed an interest in running the bridges when the concession ends, and I would be happy with that, as I suspect would many of my constituents, if it pledges in advance to reduce the tolls. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what discussions are ongoing with the Welsh Assembly Government.

The Severn tolls are the highest in the UK. It is true that we have to pay the tolls because the bridges had to be built, but the situation is now out of control. The Government stepped in for the Humber bridge and the Dartford crossing, and they ought to do the same for the Severn bridges and give us some reassurance for the future.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend that the Severn bridge in south-east Wales is seen as an opportunity for the company to fleece motorists. Is the toll not also a real economic difficulty that places the Welsh lorry and logistics industries at a competitive disadvantage?

Jessica Morden: I agree with my hon. Friend. The logistics and haulage industries, many of which are based in our constituencies, are hit hard by the toll because they cannot pass on the extra costs that their competitors do not bear.

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On train connectivity, many of my constituents travel to work in places such as Bristol. Constituents at the Monmouth end of Newport East have for years faced ill-thought-out connections, which the hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned, and a decline in the number of train services stopping from places such as Severn Tunnel Junction. A local campaign group, the Severn tunnel action group, have fought a tremendous and successful campaign to bring back many of the services that that station lost. The group has highlighted the local demand for commuter services. The station’s footfall has increased substantially recently—by about 14%—and it is ideally placed to be a major park-and-ride station, with investment.

Even after winning back services that were due to be axed, STAG pointed out that the station’s potential was not being fully realised. STAG highlighted the ill-thought-out timetable, which failed to recognise the importance of connecting commuter trains to services coming from places such as Lydney, Chepstow and Caldicot. For example, Arriva Trains Wales eliminated a service at Severn Tunnel Junction that connected to the First Great Western service and that STAG had negotiated and won back only six months earlier. The replacement Arriva cross-country service leaves Severn Tunnel Junction just minutes before the First Great Western service arrives, so passengers must wait hours for connecting trains, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned. That is not acceptable. Moreover, peak trains are often so full that passengers must stand for the whole journey or wait a few hours until the next one.

All those factors, particularly cross-border connectivity, put commuters off local train services. I ask the Minister to bear those points in mind when he talks to train operators, and perhaps to agree to meet the Severn tunnel action group—a fantastic example of a local group campaigning for rail services.

10.1 am

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing this debate on a matter that is of huge interest to me and has been for most of my adult life. I want to address specifically how we deal with cross-border links in a devolved United Kingdom. It is not just because my constituency is Montgomeryshire; I worked for a long time to develop the economy in mid-Wales with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), and one part of the strategy that we always knew was important was transport links. It was much more important for mid-Wales to have a link out than it is for England to have a link in, which lies at the root of the problem.

I was going to talk about road links, particularly two specific ones, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion mentioned rail links, I should say how important they are as well. When we discussed the Aberystwyth-Euston link, it was part of an initiative that we in mid-Wales developed. We got every organisation there to come together in a partnership and invest in the Cambrian line, because it was so important to us. Although we have lost the Aber link, we hope that the Shrewsbury-Euston link will be restored soon. I hope that the Minister will reconfirm the position on that; we have been left feeling optimistic about it.

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The hourly service that we all desperately want is now in the lap of the National Assembly for Wales. The investment in the line has been made; it now just needs extra investment in the infrastructure—the trains and the cost of the line. I am hopeful that it will happen at some stage. It has been delayed, because there is cost pressure on all forms of Government, including the Welsh Government, but I am hopeful that it will happen before too long.

The Shrewsbury-Euston line is important. Clearly, we would like the line to go to Aberystwyth, but the Shrewsbury line is key because Shrewsbury is so accessible to us. If we were confident in that line, there would be investment in car parking. Particularly as the prison in Shrewsbury is closing, I can see opportunities for that station to become a key station for mid-Wales, but the link to Euston is important. The newly renegotiated Virgin contract may deliver that.

Road links are hugely important to us in mid-Wales, and there are two that I want to speak about. One is called the Middletown bypass; it is actually the connection between Welshpool and the improved road to Shrewsbury. I am talking about half the length of that road. The same principle applies to the Llanymynech-Pant bypass, but it is much further down the pecking order, so I will base my points on the Middletown bypass.

When I was involved in developing the economy in mid-Wales in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the bypass was a key part, and we thought we had secured it. Then an Act was introduced relating to protecting the badger population, and it was suddenly found that the agreed line, which would almost certainly have gone ahead, ran through a badger sett, which delayed things at a key time in the early 1990s. The Government then, like the current Government, needed to cut expenditure, and there was a bit of a fashion to be anti-roads. At that stage, the scheme slipped back and back, although it has been resurrected since then.

The Assembly Government are enthusiastic to proceed with their part of the scheme, and would make the commitment. I do not know the exact figures, but the road scheme would probably cost about £30 million. The Welsh Government would commit about £25 million, and the Highways Agency over the border would commit about £5 million. The Welsh Government want to do it, but the Highways Agency has no priority whatever to come into Wales. There is no economic benefit, and any cost-benefit analysis will give it no priority, so the scheme cannot go ahead.

As a consequence of devolution, cross-border schemes —not just in mid-Wales; I think that there are four or five—have simply been put on the back burner, and there is no prospect that they will ever proceed. That is a massive blow to mid-Wales, because we need that road out. Anybody who has travelled from Welshpool to Wollaston Cross knows that it is the most appalling road. Drivers settle in to travel at 30 or 40 mph, because that is the way it is; they get stuck behind lorries they cannot overtake. That is not acceptable. The whole economy depends on it.

We need the Government at Westminster to recognise that it is not just the cost-benefit analysis for the west midlands that counts; Westminster must consider the impact in Wales. That applies to every single devolved service. If we do not consider the impact on Wales,

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although we do not have a direct responsibility, the post-devolution United Kingdom cannot operate with anything like the fairness or efficiency that it should.

The same issue applies to the Llanymynech-Pant bypass. That scheme is further down the pecking order, but it has been seriously considered in the past. The bulk of that scheme is in England, so I can see why the issue will be much more difficult to resolve. Again, the west midlands body will consider that scheme, as it has done, and put it right down the list. There is a big local campaign—I have been to public meetings—because anyone who travels through Pant and Llanymynech can see that it is not a modern highway. It attaches to the road to Manchester and Liverpool and the north of England, which is crucial to the economy. It is not good enough.

We have cross-border links, but devolved Britain—nobody is more committed than I am to a devolved Britain that works—works negatively in terms of cross-border roads. We must address that, not just from the Welsh side but from the English side. We all want devolution to work. We want a country whose governance operates well and efficiently, so that we can feel comfortable with it, but in mid-Wales—certainly among those who depend on its economy or are trying to create jobs there—we are furious. It is one of the biggest negatives about devolution that could possibly be created, and I think it will get worse. I hope that the Minister has heard the points that I have made and will not only address them today but ensure that they become part of the Government’s thinking.

10.8 am

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing this important debate. I know that the Welsh Affairs Committee reviewed this key issue recently, and doubtless will return to it.

Good transport links are a crucial part of the infrastructure needed to support economic regeneration in Blaenau Gwent, which is one of the most deprived county boroughs in the UK, with 24% worklessness and 17% youth unemployment, twice the Wales average. We are high in the league tables for deprivation. Having said that, in recent years, we have received investment in major transport projects that have made our valleys communities much more accessible. For example, considerable progress has been made in dualling the A465 to improve regional and national connectivity. The Tredegar to Merthyr section of the A465 is terrific, and the Cwm bypass is a big success as well. In recent years, the hourly train service from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff has been a stellar success. However, an hourly service is not good enough.

This progress has enabled access to the perhaps under-recognised advantages of Blaenau Gwent of an attractive environment—we have the Brecon Beacons national park on our doorstep—and proximity to the urban centres of Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea in Wales and, importantly, to our east, Birmingham and Bristol. We have goodish access to the M4 and, to help our economy, we retain significant capability in manufacturing.

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These geographical advantages see us well placed to take the opportunities that improved cross-border transport could bring. It is helpful that the designation of Ebbw Vale as an enterprise zone specialising in manufacturing offers us new investment potential. Already, private sector developers want to site a world-class motor sport development in the area. That is exciting. Connectivity to markets in the midlands and south Wales, and on into London, is an important element of those developers’ investment plans. However, given our economic challenges, much more still needs to be done on transport connectivity.

Lille in France is often cited as a town with a similar history of reliance on heavy industry and of decline, comparable with areas in south-east Wales, such as Blaenau Gwent. A high-speed rail link has boosted the regeneration of Lille and I think that similar good transport links could help south-east Wales and our valleys, too.

Last Easter, the Secretary of State for Transport was considering proposals for the electrification of the valley lines. I spoke to commuters on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, to hear what they thought of existing services but also to find out their ambitions for future services. Over a two-week period during the Easter holidays, we surveyed 350 passengers and gained in-depth knowledge of their concerns and ideas for improvement. Unsurprisingly, almost 70% of passengers supported electrification. I welcome the Government’s confirmation last year that all the valley lines will be electrified—that is important to the eastern valleys. However, the job now is to ensure a completion date, rather than a start date, of 2019. I hope that the Minister will confirm that date later in the debate.

Although a majority of my local commuters value their current service, they want a more frequent service, which I hope electrification will deliver. This will really open up our valley towns. However, there is also support—important in this debate—for extending electrification to Newport and then on to Bristol. Many respondents thought this a good idea.

Recently, I spoke to constituents who have a car club and together travel every day to the Ministry of Defence facility at Abbey Wood, near Bristol. Bristol now has enterprise zone status, focusing on creative and technological industries. People from south-east Wales may want to take higher-paid job opportunities, which would be available if commuting was made feasible.

The nub of the matter is that we need through trains or improved links through to south-west England from south Wales; that is crucial for the economy of Blaenau Gwent and the eastern valleys.

I hope that the Welsh Government, the South-East Wales Transport Alliance, neighbouring English local authorities—it is a shame there are not more English Members from the other side of the Severn here—and the Department for Transport will all work together, to deliver the accessible, sustainable and integrated transport system that Blaenau Gwent and all our communities on the Welsh-English border deserve.

10.13 am

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on calling this important debate. It is a

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privilege to have a UK Minister with responsibility for transport, particularly in England, here to respond to points that we make about our connectivity across the border.

The issue is especially relevant to my constituents, as Brecon and Radnorshire covers almost a third of the Welsh border with England but is relatively poorly served by transport connections between the two countries. The A44 and A438 are key east-west routes connecting Leominster in the north of Herefordshire to Rhayader, and Hereford with Brecon. It is always a bit of a disadvantage for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), because he makes many of the points that I would like to make. However, I should like to reinforce those points.

These trunk roads are the busiest in my constituency and are managed by the Welsh Assembly Government through a partnership between Powys and Ceredigion county councils, but they still require an input and funding from the English Highways Agency, to maximise the benefits of any improvements that are to be made. That can be a problem, as I have highlighted before with my Assembly colleague, Kirsty Williams, because priorities in England are continually focused on the larger conurbations. Consequently, priorities do not match up and inputs and funding are inadequate to make changes that are essential for road safety and making general improvements to our economic development.

The A483 Pant to Llanymynech bypass scheme was considered by the West Midlands Regional Transport Board as part of the regional prioritisation in 2006, in which the region considered the relative priority of major schemes in the region. The board advised that this scheme was a low priority due to its low cost-benefit score and the modest contributions it was thought to make towards economic development and housing in the area. Following the decision of the West Midlands Regional Transport Board in 2006, the scheme was reviewed to assess whether its cost could be reduced while maintaining a substantial proportion of its benefits. However, due to the route’s not being deemed a priority, that study concluded that possible small-scale solutions along the route would still offer poor value for money. Consequently, the Highways Agency was instructed by the Minister to stop developing the scheme altogether and that it could be revisited in future only if the West Midlands Regional Transport Board decided that it was a priority. Finally, in May 2012, the Government announced a series of schemes that would be developed to enable potential construction in the next spending review. This scheme was not selected and no work is currently being undertaken by the Highways Agency.

The A40, which travels through my constituency and forms a section of the unsigned Euroroute E30, has been described by the Welsh Assembly Government as

“one of the lowest standard sections of the Trans European Road Network in the United Kingdom”,

because of prioritisation discrepancies between England and Wales.

We still require a reciprocal agreement between England and Wales on bus passes. At the moment, Welsh residents can travel only on buses that start or finish their journey in Wales—likewise, English passengers. For example, consider passengers on a bus journey from Hay-on-Wye

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to Hereford. Hay is intersected by the Herefordshire border, which is also the Wales-England border, but due to bus passes being issued by Powys county council in Wales, those passengers are not able to travel to Hereford without being charged a small fee for doing so.

For many the bus is a lifeline, not only in respect of health, but for those who need to travel for specialist treatment and for jobs, and suchlike, in Hereford and Shrewsbury. My colleague in the Welsh Assembly, Kirsty Williams, inquired into this matter in 2010, asking Ieuan Wyn Jones, then Minister with responsibility:

“Will the Minister make a statement on what discussions he has had recently with the UK Government and Scottish Government about the harmonisation of the concessionary bus pass schemes in England, Scotland and Wales across the United Kingdom?”

Ieuan Wyn Jones answered:

“I have had no recent discussions with UK and Scottish Government Ministers about the harmonisation of concessionary bus travel schemes across the UK.”

I ask the Minister, have there been any discussions on this important matter?

Turning briefly to rail matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion stressed the need for better train services. I am delighted that Network Rail’s 10-year, £1 billion modernisation plan for Wales’s somewhat antiquated line is about to take place, and the £220 million electrification of the valleys line will bring a lot of benefit, but we need to make a start on the electrification of the London to Cardiff line, which will also reduce journey times to Swansea. I am pleased to see the inclusion of a scheme to re-signal the critical Marches route between Newport and Shrewsbury, which will provide train companies with the ability to run more frequent and faster trains between north and south Wales, serving a number of my constituents. I am by no means calling for a reversal of Dr Beeching’s axe of 1963, but the reshaping of the rail network in Wales will still leave large towns in my constituency, such as Brecon and Ystradgynlais, without any connection. People from those towns will have to travel 20 miles to reach a railway station.

I am sometimes told that the people living in Painscastle and Rhosgoch in my constituency take longer to get to New York than anyone living in any other part of the UK. Isolation and peripherality—if that is a word—are not only a perception for the people I represent, but a reality. Small changes, however, could make a real difference to their lives.

10.21 am

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Betts, and I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for introducing the debate. He focused on some important issues for his constituency, and I intend to focus on important issues for mine, which need to be addressed by the Government.

North-east Wales is adjacent to England and we form part of the powerhouse economy of the United Kingdom. We have some big businesses in my part of the world—Airbus, steel, paper and tourism—and my constituents work in those areas and depend on such jobs, but they also work in England, in places such as Chester, Liverpool, Manchester and Ellesmere Port. The cross-border connectivity in my part of the world is not a north-south issue, but an east-west one. That east-west link is vital

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for the development of jobs and services and of the economy of our area. In the short time available, I want to focus the Minister on four particular matters.

First, rail electrification for north Wales is an important, long-standing issue, and, to give the Government some credit, the Secretary of State for Wales is looking at it. My colleague, Carl Sargeant, who represents Alyn and Deeside in the Assembly and who the Minister knows well from previous travel to the area, is now the Welsh Assembly Transport Minister. He is developing a business case for the electrification of the north Wales main railway line. It will be a robust case that emphasises the social, economic and public benefits. I want the Minister to place on record where the Government are on the business case for electrification. What is the time scale? What co-operation and discussions are there with the Welsh Assembly on the electrification business case? How can we start to put it on the table as part of the wider discussions of rail development in north Wales?

We have good rail links to my part of the world. Over the past 15 years, we have improved the rail service to north Wales, but we still need to develop electrification to bring tourists and business to north Wales, and to ensure that we have a better, more environmentally friendly rail service in the area. That is my first challenge to the Minister.

Secondly, how does rail electrification fit with High Speed 2? I want to place on the record my support for HS2, which will bring speedier links to the north as a whole—north-west and north-east. In particular, I want to hear the Minister’s view on how to ensure connectivity at Crewe. He is planning, as part of HS2, a development at Crewe, which will be a major hub for north-west England and will improve links to Manchester airport. I put it to him that there is also potential to improve links to north Wales, speeding the traffic there and providing north Wales with a speedier link to Manchester airport, our nearest major airport hub. That needs to be looked at as part of the long-term development of HS2. I would welcome some genuine engagement with the Minister on such issues.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. HS2 in its existing spine form up the centre of England will bring improvements to people in north and mid-Wales through connections from the various parts of Wales to Birmingham and to Crewe. HS2 is a spine at the moment, but there is nothing to stop spurs running off it—given a business case, a justification and a need—to north Wales, south Wales, the south-west of England or wherever the demand is.

Mr Hanson: I am grateful for the Minister’s contribution. In the spirit of a cross-party wish to improve transport links—HS2 was discussed under the previous Government —I want the benefits of that valuable north-south link to be extended, so we can look at how to achieve connectivity with the potentially electrified north Wales line and with a better spine from Crewe, including links to Manchester airport, so that my constituents get a speedier train route to the airport through the HS2 development, which many people in my area, businesses and others, would welcome.

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I live in the town of Flint, where the main link station is on the north Wales line in my constituency, and the town council is very concerned to support rail electrification and to look at the benefits of HS2. I will report back to the council on the Minister’s encouragement. We will look at how to work on that in due course.

I also want the Minister to focus on the Barnett consequential for Wales as a result of HS2. Can he put a figure on that now? If so, what discussions will he have with the Welsh Assembly on how it might be spent?

I have a couple of quick, final points. As the Minister knows, my part of the world has a great need to link to Liverpool. I can open my bedroom window in the morning and see both Liverpool cathedrals, and I can easily drive to Liverpool on dual carriageway, but there is no connectivity by rail. The pressure put on previous Governments, and indeed on this Government, to improve the Wrexham to Bidston line, so that my part of Wales can have connectivity, is extremely significant. I hope he responds to that point in his winding-up speech, because connectivity is important to economics, jobs and our ability to attract business to help our economy to grow. It would also help the commuters of my constituency.

Finally, I support the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) in his concern about bus passes. I, too, am a border MP. We have a free bus pass in Wales and a free bus pass in England, but the two are not connected. Many of my constituents cannot understand why on one bus pass they can travel to one part of my constituency, which might be 20 miles away, but they cannot travel to Chester, which is 5 or 6 miles away. That connectivity would be useful.

10.28 am

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing the debate, because we all know that getting connectivity right across the UK is economically important.

I welcome the Government U-turn on electrification to Swansea, restoring the original Labour plans. It is a pity that we had to spend time on that discussion when we could have spent it discussing going further west with the electrification, which is obviously a direction in which I would like to see it go.

In this country, we have a real difference between east-west and north-south connectivity. I remember, when I was at school, drawing a map of the UK according to how long it took someone to get from A to B, and the elongation from east to west was clear. That is exactly the same today. I take two hours to get from London to Cardiff, which is 150 miles, and a further two hours to travel the 50 miles from Cardiff to Llanelli. The main reason for that is the change at Swansea station, which is a lot pleasanter now because we have a nice new waiting room—very much improved—but much as I enjoy the company of tourists and the families going on the boat to Ireland in the summer, in winter it can be extremely lonely, dark and open to the Swansea high street.

The real reason that puts people off coming to and investing in west Wales is not enough through trains. We must look at that and perhaps in the new franchise insist on many more through trains all the way from London to west Wales.

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The first problem we encounter when travelling from London to west Wales is Reading where, for ever and a day, there seem to be delays, problems and congestion. I hope that the Minister will look at that and prioritise the way through Reading so that we are not held up at the first point on our way westwards.

The recent wet weather saw access through Bristol Parkway limited because of flooding and the perennial problems with the Severn tunnel. I want the Minister to ensure that everything is being done to try to bring together the relevant agencies to improve flood prevention in the Bristol and Severn tunnel areas. The sort of floods we saw recently are unlikely to be an isolated event, and will be repeated.

I welcome the Welsh Government’s intention to purchase Cardiff airport. It is a tremendous opportunity to turn it around from a rather run-down business and to increase the opportunities so that people do not have to travel all the way from Wales to Heathrow with all the costs involved—often an overnight stay or high car parking charges. It will open up an opportunity for people in many areas around Wales, such as Worcester, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Bristol, to come to Cardiff airport for their flights abroad. That will depend on transport into Wales, and at the moment, apart from the M4, there is weakness in that midlands area, as the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) highlighted. There is a significant need for improvement.

When I went to the Corby by-election, it was quicker to go via London. South Wales has good links to London, and to Manchester and from there to the north and the north-east, but there is a weakness in anything that goes through the midlands. Trying to travel sensibly and as the map would suggest through the middle of England seems to be incredibly difficult, and we need a further emphasis on what can be done to make services better. The north has the trans-Pennine route, but we do not have an equivalent route from Birmingham to the east midlands, linking back into the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion. We must improve that.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Lady is making a valid point. Perhaps one of the great benefits of electrification —we all welcome it, and it is coming to Swansea—is that, as some transport experts have suggested, a case could be made for the possibility of a regional Eurostar service to Paris and Brussels. That would open up Wales to the wider European Union market.

Nia Griffith: Indeed, but for that to be successful we need many more through trains, and connectivity when we come into London so that we are not stopped half way because of difficulties in Reading, Bristol and the Severn tunnel area. I hope that the Minister will look at the matter in the round and try to improve our east-west connectivity in this country.

Mr Clive Betts(in the Chair): Order. I intend to start the wind-ups no later than 10.40.

10.33 am

Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): I will be very brief, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for securing this important

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debate, and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to it. As many hon. Members know, I have a personal interest in transport, and specifically rail. My constituency will benefit from the rail electrification all the way to Swansea and the advent of city region status, which is really important for my locality. A lot will be happening, and I thank the Government for that. However, I am a little concerned about the Landore maintenance depot, and perhaps the Minister will think about that. There is a possibility that we may not have that depot in its current shape and form for the maintenance of high-speed trains. I would appreciate an update, and any information.

The development of infrastructure in Wales has been vital to everything, and I have been involved in that since 1999 when I worked for the rail industry. Much has happened. I have looked back at previous reports of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, and many of the things we asked for have been achieved or are moving forward. That is heartening to hear and good to know. However, we keep returning to the basic problem of interconnectivity, and the joined-up writing and ideas for timetables and how to link successfully and efficiently places in Wales beyond Swansea and into the hinterland. People in west Wales and mid-Wales are equally deserving.

I am worried about the problem in Swansea because it is the gateway to west and mid-Wales. Many people have to come to Swansea, as previous speakers have said, and must change trains. One thing we know about passengers is that they do not like changing trains. It puts people off, and delays them. If we want to move forward economically in south-west and mid-Wales, we must have interconnectivity. I urge the Minister that, when speaking to his counterpart in Cardiff Bay, he puts that at the top of the agenda.

The local authorities have been working together, and the various rail groups and franchises are working together. We have seen huge improvements and big leaps forward. Working in isolation is no longer an option in the rail industry. We have seen the piecemeal break-up of the rail industry, and I am constantly amazed at how many people still refer to it as British Rail. I meet people on the train every day when I travel. I invariably travel by train because I am a great supporter of public transport, and in the eight years that I have been a Member of Parliament I have not once driven to London, but have relied on the trains. Through thick and thin, I have stuck with them.

The industry is growing exponentially and becoming more popular. We need a world-class service, which is why I was so adamant about fighting for rail electrification to Swansea. We must not be left behind. We do not want to be left behind. It is imperative to recognise the interdependency of local authorities, service providers, transport initiatives and so on, because the issue is all about the economic well-being of Wales; the economic well-being of south-west and mid-Wales. It is not reinventing the wheel. The economics and ideas are simple, but they are very important.

Tourism is a key and growing industry for us in south-west Wales. We have a wonderful product and many marvellous places that are accessed via the rail infrastructure in Wales. It is well worth coming to Wales to see them. They are world-status places, and many people visit them. I do not want them to be put off visiting Wales or—this is my horror—to have to depend

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on the car. If we want improved public transport, people must use it and have confidence in it. I urge the Minister to put that at the heart of his discussions.

When the Minister next meets Carl Sargeant at Cardiff Bay, will he discuss interconnectivity of the timetable? We have heard from the hon. Member for Ceredigion about our wonderful experience of travelling to Aberystwyth, missing a train by one minute and then having to wait two hours at Birmingham International station. It was good to be there, and I met some interesting people, but they had tales of woe about how that happens too often. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), I meet people at Swansea station who must get off the train, carrying their bags, because they are going on to a much longer journey.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend agree that if only part of the train went on, that would be a vast improvement in the service, and that we also need more carriages for the crowded parts of the route from London to Bristol?

Mrs Siân C. James: I certainly agree. When I worked for the rail industry, we had more through trains. At the time, I described it as “the thin end of the wedge”, as we contracted that service, including the regular service down to the ferry ports in far-west Wales. It is not a joke when you are travelling there. It is very picturesque, lovely, and it is great to be on the train enjoying yourself, but it is a long haul, wearisome and sometimes very frustrating for people. I do not want them to be left with that impression of Wales. I want them to have the impression of Wales as a modern country with a modern infrastructure, so that they will want to come back.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): I thank everyone for their co-operation in ensuring that everyone could make a contribution, and for getting to the wind-ups on time.

10.40 am

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing the debate, and I have listened with interest to the knowledgeable contributions by hon. Members from all across Wales.

This is an important debate, as has been said. Transport links and connectivity are not only a lifeline, but vital for business investment, thereby improving employment prospects and reducing poverty. Historically, Wales has suffered from under-investment, leading to congested road and rail links between England and Wales. It is suffering from very high tolls levied on the Severn bridge on passengers travelling into Wales only, and it continues to suffer from disputes over responsibility and fragmentation and more distant relationships between Welsh local authorities and Whitehall than with the Welsh Government.

Roads are still the main link between England and Wales, but there is heavy congestion. The M4, which is the main route, is still inadequate at key points, and it runs close to capacity, with traffic volumes expected to grow. For example, around Newport, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) knows, there are concerns about capacity, safety and resilience at peak periods. That is not the

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only area by any means, and I welcome the Welsh Assembly consultation on measures to tackle the shortcomings, and I await with interest the outcome of its appraisal of possible solutions.

As was mentioned by the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), there are also other issues. I highlight one: the A494 is an important link, but improvements to the road have only been made on the English side, so the good road stops at Wales. Co-ordination is needed on those important issues.

I turn to the Severn bridge, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East mentioned so ably. It is a vital link, but the toll has been increased above inflation to £6.20, and it only applies to traffic entering Wales. Business groups have long said that that is a barrier to much-needed investment in businesses in Wales. What are the Government’s proposals to remedy the situation and what options are they considering when ownership of the bridge returns to the UK Government? I support my hon. Friend in wanting certainty over when that will be. I believed that that would happen in 2018.

Jonathan Edwards: As the hon. Lady is aware, it is the policy of the Welsh Government, who are controlled by the Labour party, to seek ownership of the Severn bridges. Will she give a commitment today to the people of Wales that, if Labour form the next Government after the general election in 2015, those bridges will be passed on to the people of Wales?

Yvonne Fovargue: I was going to come to that point. Early discussions with the Welsh Government are essential, and there should be acceptance of the underlying principle that they should play a central role in determining future arrangements, and in accessing and utilising any future revenue streams for the people of Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire spoke about buses, which are a lifeline for many people, particularly pensioners, but the two national concessionary bus passes are not valid for pensioners who wish to cross the border from either side. They are left to rely on voluntary schemes provided by local authorities. There is also a lack of awareness about the convenience of bus routes into Wales from Bristol, despite the fact that they have a competitive price, due to exemption from tolls. Will the Minister say what is being done to address both those issues and how he will promote cross-border bus services?

I turn to rail, where there are significant challenges, as we have heard, around capacity and infrastructure. I am pleased that the Labour Administration in Wales is exploring not-for-profit models, including the co-operative mutual model, when the Wales and Border franchise, currently operated by Arriva Trains Wales, expires in 2018. I hope that that will prove a pathfinder for England. A major electrification project for the Great Western railway line to Swansea was introduced by the previous Labour Government, but put on hold by the coalition. Despite that delay on the Government line—perhaps it was caused by the weather, perhaps by leaves—that has now been reconfirmed, and the journey time from Paddington to Swansea could be reduced by 20 minutes. However, will the Minister say why the work is to start in London and not in Wales?

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As we have heard many times, closer co-operation between train companies is vital if they are to be financially viable. What is the Minister doing to promote that? Inter-franchise connectivity is a key component, as has been mentioned, and it is certainly not helpful to have companies such as Wrexham and Shropshire, which ran the cross-border services between 2008 and 2011, withdraw, as they were not allowed to stop at Virgin-run stations. It is important that franchises co-operate with each other to ensure that journeys are made with the minimum disruption and that they do not have to go through convenient stations, simply because they are operated by another franchise holder.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion will be interested in the fact that the Welsh Government have committed to a long-awaited hourly service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury—I am sure that 2015 is too far away for him—but more emphasis needs to be put on improving services to north Wales, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, and electrification is a key component. Will the Minister update us on the progress of the business plan for that?

Mr Mark Williams: Does the hon. Lady accept that the 16 years that we have been waiting for this really is too long? We were promised in the previous Assembly Administration that the money was there, that the remedial engineering work had been done and that there was no impediment to getting that service. Here we are, years on, still waiting, only to be told by a Welsh Assembly Minister that we now have to wait another two and a half or three years to have that service. That wait really is unacceptable, is it not?

Yvonne Fovargue: It certainly is an extremely long time, and the Administration have said that it will happen by 2015, so let us hope that they will advance it further and that they have listened to the pleas of hon. Members from all around.

On the HS2 connection at Crewe station and connectivity, the Government need to give proper consideration to ensuring that the benefits extend into Wales. I am pleased that the Minister intervened to give support and provide information about the electrification of the south Wales line, which needs to be progressed urgently.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I apologise for not being present for the earlier part of the debate; I was chairing another meeting. It is absolutely essential that we get fast trains stopping at Crewe. With the upgrade on the west coast main line, although many fast trains went to Manchester and Liverpool, they did not stop at Crewe, so people going to north Wales and west of that did not benefit. It is essential that we get that in HS2.

Yvonne Fovargue: My hon. Friend makes the point well that Crewe is an essential stopping-off point for Wales. HS2 needs to stop there, and there should be connectivity, so that people are not waiting for a long time at Crewe to get to Wales. I hope that the Minister will explain more fully the impact on cross-border links and say exactly how much the project will benefit Wales. Equally, it is not only about people who travel, but about freight. The Wales Freight Group was disappointing, and I hope that the establishment of the new group will invigorate the discussion and look at providing sustainable

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solutions for freight. We have heard of the problems that hauliers have had, particularly with the Severn bridge.

In conclusion, I believe that there is a general agreement that cross-border links are vital, and I am sure that no one would disagree with Carl Sargeant, the Minister in the Welsh Assembly with responsibility for transport in Wales, that good transport is critical for economic growth, social inclusion and the reduction of poverty. It is clear that roads, rail and buses all have an important role to play. Addressing any barrier to integration between England and Wales is vital, as is linking with the communities in north Wales, south Wales, and mid-Wales that have high deprivation. We are committed, in England and Wales, to achieving that aim.

10.49 am

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) on what has been her first debate as a shadow Minister in this Chamber. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing what has been an interesting, useful and important debate on transport links across the England-Wales border. He raised a number of issues, as did many other hon. Members. Sadly, given the time available to me, I will not be able to respond to all their questions, but I can give an assurance that I will write to them to answer points that I cannot deal with in the debate.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion will know, as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee—he raised this from time to time in his remarks—that cross-border links have been subject to inquiry by the Committee more than once. Its work has been extremely useful and has helped to give a greater understanding of the complexities and importance of the issue. As he will be aware—I, too, am aware, as I gave evidence to the Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), last October—it is currently considering the issue again. I look forward to the publication of its report.

The Government have made clear in the coalition agreement our commitment to a modern low-carbon transport infrastructure as an essential element of a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. We have also reiterated the importance of investment in our infrastructure, including our rail and strategic road networks, to ensure that they can support the economic performance of the country, including, equally importantly, that of Wales. Transport and travel are rarely ends in themselves. It is as a driver of economic growth that the Government attach so much importance to, and place so much stress on, investing in transport infrastructure. We consider the cross-border movement of people and goods in the context of growing the economies of England and Wales.

A positive return on investment requires a background of good governance. The hon. Member for Ceredigion will know that co-operation on and, where appropriate, the co-ordination of transport matters between the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government are important to the successful development of cross-border links, as well as to improving transport infrastructure

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and connectivity within Wales. Relationships between the Welsh Government transport group and the Department for Transport have advanced significantly, and processes have been agreed to further that. The Welsh Government and the Department for Transport enjoy a constructive working relationship that enables officials to provide their Ministers with the best advice possible to deliver on the aspirations of the respective Governments. That includes recognition of the importance of engaging on devolved and reserved issues.

On a personal basis, I am extremely pleased about what I consider—I am fairly confident that I will not be contradicted—to be the relationship that I have established with Carl Sargeant in the past five months since I have been at the Department for Transport. We speak regularly on the telephone. He has met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I look forward to having a meeting with Carl Sargeant in about a month’s time, when we will be able to discuss issues such as those raised by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) and, I am sure, a number of other issues that have emerged during the debate. I will, rather than going into some of the details of what I was going to say on the generality, seek now to answer some of the questions that hon. Members have asked.

A number of hon. Members talked about electrification. I welcome their support for what the Government are doing with regard to the electrification of the Great Western line from London through to Cardiff and on via Bridgend to Swansea and of the Welsh Valleys lines. A question was asked about the time scale. I hope that hon. Members will be pleased to know that the time scales for completing the electrification are, between London and Cardiff, 2017; between Cardiff and Swansea, 2018; and throughout the Welsh valleys, 2019.

The hon. Member for Swansea East talked about the importance of the depot near Swansea. I can fully appreciate her concerns about that. I would be grateful if she left that issue with me; I will look into it and get back to her.

Equally importantly, a number of hon. Members raised the electrification of the North Wales line. I can fully appreciate that for those hon. Members whose constituencies are along that line, that is an important thing. As they will be aware, a bid was not put in, through the Welsh Government, in the relevant control period for electrification of that line. We recognise, and I am sure that the Welsh Government also recognise, the importance of looking at that, to seek improvements in the quality of journeys and standards.

Albert Owen: The Minister is right to talk about the importance of electrification for north Wales constituencies and north Wales as a whole, but it is also important for links to Ireland, to get fast movement of people and goods to the Republic of Ireland, which is our biggest trading partner.

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Mr Burns: I fully appreciate the valid point that the hon. Gentleman makes. My understanding is that, in recognition of the importance of this matter, the Welsh Government are currently looking into it. They are looking at the requirements, the business case, a cost analysis and so on, with a view that it could be included in the next control period, control period 6, which will run from 2019 to 2024. We will have to await the outcome of their producing a business case and working with Network Rail and others to see how that can be moved forward.

The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) referred to the Bidston-Wrexham line and asked whether there could be an update on the current situation. I hope that it will be helpful if I tell him that both Merseytravel and the Welsh Government are keen to see that line electrified. However, the quoted Network Rail cost of £207 million has been considered poor value for money and unaffordable for both bodies. Merseytravel is currently considering other options to improve services on the line, which could include partial electrification. The specification, funding and management of ATW services between Wrexham and Bidston is a matter for the Welsh Government, and we are encouraging them to continue to work with Merseytravel on that issue.

A number of hon. Members raised individual, specific issues with regard to train timetables and the number of trains travelling within their constituencies and beyond their constituency borders inside Wales. My advice to all those who raised those important issues is that, as they will appreciate, the operation of the railways within Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. Where hon. Members believe that there should be improvements, I would urge them to lobby the Welsh Government and bring their concerns to their attention if they are not already aware of them.

With regard to a direct service between London and Shrewsbury, which would certainly help mid-Wales, as I think was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) and possibly the hon. Member for Ceredigion, although I am not quite so confident on that point, I have some encouraging news. As the Secretary of State announced a few months ago, as a result of the extension of Virgin carrying on with the west coast main line, it will be providing from, I believe, December of this year a direct service from Shrewsbury through to Euston.

Mr Betts, I do not want to fall foul of you by running out of time and we are coming up—to use a phrase—against the buffers. I have not been able to answer all the points made by hon. Members, but I will certainly ensure that they all get letters giving responses to the issues that they raised that we have not had time to discuss today.

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Tax Transparency (FTSE 100)

11 am

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts.

Many Members over many years have spoken eloquently in this House about the differences between tax avoidance and tax evasion and how the lines between them have become blurred. Tax evasion is clearly wrong, illegal and unfair to the rest of society, because everyone else has to pay more in taxes to make up for those who do not pay their fair share. We cannot have mob rule and many Members are very much in favour of the positive contributions that large FTSE 100 companies make to the larger overall tax take.

Just before Christmas, there was an explosion of public interest after the Public Accounts Committee named and shamed some well known companies that use transfer pricing to offset their tax liabilities in the UK—basically, to avoid paying tax. I am aware of the strong argument that UK tax authorities could do more to enforce tax payments. The Government have done a lot of work on tackling tax avoidance—so much so that I fear that the general anti-avoidance rule that will be introduced might be too severe and end up penalising sole traders and small and medium-sized enterprises more than larger companies.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important and topical debate. Does he agree that it is incumbent on us as legislators to ensure that tax legislation is robust but fair?

Stephen McPartland: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, which has been put to me in the more than 60 responses I have received from FTSE 100 companies. I agree that we need to get the legislation right, but later in my speech I shall explain how there are more companies registered in Jersey than in the whole of China, despite tens of billions of pounds of trade with that country.

My interest in tackling tax avoidance stems from a meeting I had with Christian Aid supporters in my constituency last September, when the “tax justice” bus visited Stevenage. The tax justice campaigners believe that tax dodging by international companies costs the UK about £35 billion and developing countries an estimated $160 billion a year. Many of the FTSE 100 companies that replied to me questioned the figures, but, in reality, the figures are large, irrespective of the measure used. Imagine for a moment the dramatic difference such a huge sum of money would make, if it were available to invest in public services, infrastructure and other services essential for economic growth both at home and abroad.

There is growing anger and concern about the fact that some large companies are hiding behind complex accounting rules that may be strictly legal, but are considered to be unethical by the public. The problem of the missing billions in tax is not just a problem for the UK; it is worldwide, and it does the greatest damage to poor and developing countries that cannot stand up to massive corporations. ActionAid told of a lady selling beer in Ghana who paid more in tax than the large brewer in the facility next door. That large brewer’s

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parent company in the UK declared profits of £2 billion. Governments all around the world will agree with the sentiment of greater tax transparency—I know that the Minister agrees with it—but they will struggle to introduce it, because every nation competes in the global race.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative to make tackling tax avoidance a priority when the UK takes over the presidency of the G8. He made strong references to a particular company needing to

“wake up and smell the coffee”.

I must be one of the few Members who does not have any such coffee chains in my constituency. The Chancellor, with whom I do not see eye to eye on many issues, has also agreed that aggressive tax avoidance is “morally wrong” and “abhorrent”. We have had the words; it is now time for action.

My first question to the Minister is, what plans do the Prime Minister or Chancellor have to convene a cross-Whitehall meeting with tax justice experts and campaigners to identify what a tax transparency policy would look like in practice? There is real concern and feeling that transfer pricing is at the heart of the problem, so what measures will the draft finance Bill include to create enforcement in respect of transfer pricing and put a stop to it?

As I mentioned, ActionAid commissioned interesting research in October 2011 into the use of tax havens by FTSE 100 companies. It found that the FTSE 100 companies at that time had 34,216 subsidiary companies, joint ventures and associates and that 38% of their overseas companies were located in tax havens. Ninety-eight groups had declared tax haven companies; only two groups, Fresnillo and Hargreaves Lansdown, did not. There were 623 companies registered in Jersey—a tiny island just off our shores—and despite our tens of billions of pounds of trade, only 551 are registered in China. ActionAid struggled to get the research and, like me, would like to see Companies House enforce sections 409 and 410 of the Companies Act 2006, so that information on UK-registered multinationals is more accessible to the public.

The Minister and Government have the best of intentions, but in the end, it will be up to the companies themselves to lead the way, and they will do so only if their customers—the British public—drag them kicking and screaming towards tax transparency and a fairer tax system for all. With that in mind, last November I wrote to the chief executives of all the FTSE 100 companies asking them individually whether they were willing to pledge their support for corporate tax transparency and whether they would support a new international accounting standard for country-by-country reporting.

The current international accounting standards require multinational companies to report accounts on a global consolidated basis only, which makes it incredibly difficult to know where taxable economic activities are occurring and where profits are declared. I gave the example a few moments ago of a lady in Ghana paying more in tax than a massive, multi-billion dollar, multinational company. Companies, particularly multinational corporations, move billions of pounds of profit between jurisdictions in order to reduce their tax bills, and large companies are allegedly manipulating their centres of interest through the use of holding companies, offshore accounts and intellectual property rights.

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I am not saying that FTSE 100 companies are engaged in tax avoidance or aggressive tax planning; the point I am trying to make is that whether it is tax avoidance or tax evasion, illegal or immoral, the British public and most Members believe that it is wrong and should be stopped.

A recent inquiry by the Select Committee on International Development called for

“legislation requiring each UK-based multinational corporation to report its financial information on a country-by-country basis. Such information should include the names of all companies belonging to it and trading in each country, its financial performance in each country, its tax liability in each country, the cost and net book…of its fixed assets in each country, and details of its gross and net assets in each country.”

Some of the FTSE 100 companies that replied to my letters believe that there could be greater tax transparency. All agree that they are as transparent as they possibly could be and that people would not like them to be even more transparent because it would make their accounts more unwieldy.

I look at the extractive industries, the work coming out of America on the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the proposals for EU directives on transparency and accounting, and I wonder whether such legislation could be used for our multinationals. The extractive industries are being forced down a line of country-by-country reporting with more focus on transparency, because it has been felt over many years that they have not been as clear as they should have been. Do we need a more even playing field?

The only way to resolve the problem is to introduce greater transparency. Members will be pleased to learn that, in the interests of transparency, I have published all the responses that I have received on a website: www.taxchallenge.co.uk. The responses from over half the companies are online. With the responses, I have given people an opportunity to sign a petition to demand greater tax transparency.

The responses from the FTSE 100 companies have been wide-ranging, but generally disappointing. HSBC offered to help design a tax transparency standard. BT and others welcomed the transparency initiative, but not the new accounting standard. Hargreaves Lansdown, which we now know was one of the few FTSE 100 companies not to have tax havens at the time, questioned the value that it receives for the taxes that it pays.

More positively, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s agreed that consumers are best placed to encourage companies to pay the tax that they are supposed to pay, as they can vote with their wallets if they do not think that the company is making a fair contribution to society. Capita stated that it was both interested in and supportive of the establishment of a new international accounting standard. Morrisons suggested that the Government should force all companies to disclose their corporation tax payments in the UK. Does the Treasury have any plans to do that? The refreshingly honest response from Aggreko summed up what many other companies felt—that they pay lots of tax and probably more than is needed, but that greater tax transparency is “a lousy idea”.

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John Stevenson: I understand my hon. Friend’s arguments on transparency, but does he believe that the Government should also look at how we tax companies?

Stephen McPartland: I agree. My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and has a wonderful legal mind. Many of the companies believe that they have a responsibility to their shareholders, but shareholders, to push up their returns, are interested only in the overall amount of tax that they have to pay globally. In their responses, some companies claimed that their overall tax rate is more than 45%, while others claim that it is about 25% to 28%. Although they all believe that they are as transparent as possible, it is perfectly clear that they are not being as transparent as the general public would like to see and understand.

We must move to a simpler tax system, in which it is much easier to see what is going on, and what companies have to pay in tax. I do not want this debate to appear to be anti-business or anti-FTSE 100. I am a Conservative Member of Parliament who is going to end up in the Morning Star as a result of this debate—probably the first one to do so—but the reality is that FTSE 100 companies make a huge contribution to Britain, including through the whole range of taxes that they pay. I understand that the FTSE 100 are responsible for almost 10% of the tax take in the UK, including the income tax and employer’s national insurance contributions that they collect on behalf of the Treasury.

The FTSE 100 are therefore massively good companies for the UK, and I am delighted that we have them in our country, but I want them to be a little more transparent, so that we can all have a bit more faith. As I have said, I believe that we have to lead the way in forcing them to accept the idea of tax transparency. Aggreko has said that it pays lots of tax and probably more than is needed, but that greater tax transparency was “a lousy idea” because it sees that as 500 new pages of the tax code and a great load of regulations that it does not want.

I could go on about the responses—I will if hon. Members wish—but the general thrust is pretty simple: the biggest companies in Britain believe that they all pay their taxes honestly and make a huge contribution to the economy by employing people who pay taxes. So far, most responses clearly show that they are not prepared to be proactive, and will comply only with current laws. Unfortunately, fancy corporate lawyers can blur the lines between tax avoidance and tax evasion, but that is clearly wrong, illegal and unfair to the rest of society, as I have mentioned.

I firmly believe that most employees in most of the FTSE 100, the FTSE 250 and other companies in the United Kingdom would expect their employers to pay their fair share of tax in the UK. We must start thinking about tax and tax transparency as a measure of corporate social responsibility.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I apologise for missing the first few sentences of my hon. Friend’s speech, but he knows that I am very much with him in this campaign. Has he thought of using his website to encourage shareholders of each of the top companies to raise the issue at their annual meetings and to force the issue internally, in the way

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that many green and environmental issues have been raised from within as well as through pressure from outside?

Stephen McPartland: My right hon. Friend makes a wonderful point, as he often does about tax transparency. I genuinely believe that that is an excellent way of moving forward. Many of the companies have offered to meet me, and I know that they have meetings with Christian Aid and ActionAid. Those companies are huge organisations that struggle to understand the complexity of what is going on within them.

I had a very positive response from the chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, who explained in great detail how he holds each member of his staff personally responsible for conducting its business, how he considers them to be ambassadors, and how he wants to help in any way he can to create tax transparency. There is, however, a fear that greater tax transparency will lead to greater regulation. He believes that many of the issues we are raising are already covered in the company’s accounting reports—the information is already collected—and that the question is how to go about demonstrating and sharing that information.

If we can demonstrate that there is great political will, shareholders will show great will to move the idea forward, saying, “Yes, this is important to us. It is like being green. Tax is part of our corporate social responsibility.” We will then be able to make progress. I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s suggestion and will try to promote it.

The companies that I was referring to have a very devolved and developed sense of corporate social responsibility. British customers, employees and consumers want them to create greater tax transparency. There has been a huge hoo-hah about some large, non-British companies moving their profits overseas. Those companies have had difficulty in interacting with their own customers, and one of them has volunteered to pay tax. It should not be a voluntary option; it should be a legal requirement.

My new website—www.taxchallenge.co.uk—gives hon. Members’ constituents an opportunity to sign a petition calling for greater tax transparency, so that everyone will know which FTSE 100 companies are willing to sign up for that and which are not. Every one of us can then decide individually whether the biggest companies in Britain really care about the poorest in our society, at home and abroad.

11.16 am

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) on securing this debate and setting out his case so clearly. In recent months, he has shown great tenacity on the issue, including by raising it on the Floor of the House a few weeks ago.

I want again to put on the record the Government’s view that companies must pay tax in accordance with the law, and it is crucial that they are seen to do so. Many businesses help their cause by releasing data or other information relating to their tax payments, and I very much welcome greater transparency from businesses about their tax affairs. As a Minister, I have said for

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some years that businesses need to do much more to explain the taxes that they pay and how they comply with their obligations. Such transparency can go a long way towards building greater trust between them and their customers, and might end up having commercial benefits.

Of course, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as the tax collector in the UK, has a statutory duty of confidentiality that protects the tax affairs of all taxpayers, and it is important that it continues to honour that duty. I make that point because that is one of the reasons why it is difficult for Ministers to engage in individual cases, some of which have been very high profile, because we do not of course see any information that is not in the public domain.

I want to focus on what we in this country can do to assist developing countries in collecting the tax that is due, which is at the heart of my hon. Friend’s concerns. We are committed to supporting developing countries to access sustainable sources of revenue, while balancing action in this area against costs to Government and industry. To achieve that, our priorities, which I will set out before turning to my hon. Friend’s specific questions, are capacity building; improving exchange of tax information and assisting developing countries in accessing the benefits from that; and increasing transparency, particularly in the extractives sector, to address corruption.

On capacity building, it is of course up to individual jurisdictions to make decisions on how best to run their tax systems, but the Government are committed to supporting developing countries to access sustainable sources of revenue and to collect the tax that is due. The most effective way of doing that is to provide the technical support to their tax administrations that will help them maintain sustainable domestic taxation systems.

The Government’s work with the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority, for example, has helped strengthen the accountability and efficiency of revenue collection in Ethiopia. As a result, tax collection in Ethiopia in 2011 was seven times higher than it was in 2002. Furthermore, Ethiopian customs clearance times for low-risk imports have been reduced from seven days to 10 minutes. The UK will also continue to work with international organisations such as the African tax administration forum, the World Bank and the OECD to support other capacity-building projects in developing countries.

There is increasing recognition that strong institutions are important for a country’s development. In the light of that recognition, the success or otherwise of the revenue-raising authorities in a developing country is absolutely crucial. We want to do everything we can to assist them.

Stephen McPartland: The Minister will be delighted to know that many FTSE 100 companies see capacity building, revenue building and the secondment of HMRC civil servants to developing countries as positive steps towards helping create that tax base. Many have offered to help, so I would be delighted to pass on those names to him.

Mr Gauke: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s constructive point. It is recognised that effective tax authorities are important. That feeds into political benefits as well, because a broad base of revenue raising will result

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in stronger political institutions that will be held accountable by the people of that developing country. I welcome his remarks and I know that he welcomes the measures that we are taking in this area.

Related to strengthening capacity building is ensuring that information is available to tax authorities around the world. The international tax transparency agenda, and the tax information exchange in particular, is a key tool in tackling offshore tax evasion, and we are actively promoting that agenda. Through the G20, we are providing leadership and direction in increasing tax transparency and the exchange of tax information. Through the global forum on tax transparency, we are ensuring that jurisdictions meet the international standard on tax transparency. Through the expansion of the multilateral convention on mutual administrative assistance to more jurisdictions, we are providing a mechanism to access the benefits of tax transparency, which is particularly suited to developing countries. Furthermore, our direct assistance to Ghana ensured that it was in a position to join the convention and access the benefits of exchange of information, and we look to build on that. I am confident that the sensible, considered conversations that we are having internationally, and the exchanges of information coming from them, will have a real impact on the overall tax landscape.

Extractive industries is the third area of international action that I want to highlight. This sector and the fears of corruption in it are of great concern to not only this debate, but the wider global community. My hon. Friend will therefore be pleased to hear that we are committed to greater extractives transparency through the accounting directive, which addresses civil society accountability without imposing unnecessary burdens on business. Not only do we support EU proposals to improve transparency in the extractives and forestry sectors, but we have extensively consulted representatives from civil society groups and industry to reach a position of reporting in greater detail that is proportionate with existing burdens upon industry.

I want to address my hon. Friend’s concerns about country-by-country reporting, which is a somewhat broader approach than the one that we have been taking on extractives and forestry. The country-by-country reporting model is currently being considered in the proposed amendments to the EU accounting and transparency directives. The UK supports EU requirements for extractives companies to ensure that they disclose the payments that they make to Governments—as I said, corruption is a particular concern in this sector—and that proposal will have an immediate impact on reducing potential corruption by allowing citizens of resource-rich countries to hold their Governments to account for their use of the extractives revenue received. However, we are not yet convinced of the merits of the wider model of country-by-country reporting proposed by some and neither is the OECD. We do not believe that the case has been made in terms of the costs and benefits of extending the proposals for EU mandatory requirements to report payments to Governments beyond the extractives sector and forestry. We will of course keep the matter

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under review, and it will be interesting to see how the experience of greater extractives transparency plays out.

On profit shifting, there are international concerns over whether the current international tax rules manage properly to capture the profits generated by multinational companies. It is an issue that all countries face, and we need to work together to develop the appropriate solutions. As with most major economies, the tax system in the UK is based on the internationally agreed OECD guidelines that mean that a multinational company pays corporation tax where it carries out the economic activity that generates its profits and not on its sales. We have already reaffirmed our support for the OECD work to address profit shifting by multinationals and erosion of the corporate tax base at the global level. At the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers last November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer issued a joint statement with his German equivalent calling for concerted international co-operation to strengthen international tax standards as a first step to promoting a better way of dealing with profit shifting and base erosion of corporate tax at the global level. To back that up, the UK, alongside France and Germany, has offered additional resources to the OECD to speed up progress. We will hear of that progress at the G20 meeting later this month.

My hon. Friend asked specifically what we are doing in the UK on the matter. The problem is essentially international, because the UK complies with the OECD rules, as do all other major economies. We are, however, strengthening HMRC’s capacity in the area. In the autumn statement last year, additional funding for HMRC was announced, much of which is to be focused on strengthening the transfer pricing capacity of HMRC, challenging multinationals to ensure that their arrangements are compliant with the rules that currently exist, and ensuring that tax is paid in the jurisdiction where economic activity occurs. I do not want to be drawn into individual cases, but it is clearly not acceptable for multinationals artificially to inflate the costs apparently incurred in a low-tax jurisdiction, resulting in tax not being paid on profits that should, in truth, be attributed to other jurisdictions. We are determined to give HMRC the capacity to deal with that. It is worth pointing out that HMRC’s activity on transfer pricing over the past four years, for example, has brought in some £4.1 billion. Last month, I visited one of the transfer pricing teams in HMRC and we should recognise the good work that is being done, but we want to build on that, which is why we are strengthening HMRC’s capability in this area, which my hon. Friend will support.

I hope that the Government’s actions, both domestically and internationally, also have my hon. Friend’s support. We have taken steps to address concerns and we are clearly moving to a climate of greater international tax transparency. The Government do not necessarily accept all the numbers that are cited on the loss to developing countries, but we want to strengthen developing countries’ capacity, and we are at the forefront of ensuring that we do precisely that.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Metropolitan Police Service

[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Before I call Mr Gareth Thomas to speak, let me just say that we have a cast of thousands this afternoon for this important debate. So, if I can impose a five-minute voluntary time limit to begin with—not including Mr Thomas, of course—we will see how we get on.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to Mr Speaker for allowing this debate. It is right to begin by saying that we in the House owe a continuing debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Metropolitan police. They are, in general, superb public servants, doing a very difficult and very important job extremely well.

The Met was rightly praised for its work during the Olympics and the diamond jubilee last year, but its less high-profile work—the bread and butter of policing work, through its contribution to keeping our communities safe, pursuing criminals and supporting victims—remains fundamental, and the overwhelming majority of its officers do that with considerable skill and dedication.

Nevertheless, the future of policing in London is under scrutiny, and with good reason. Under the stewardship of the Mayor of London and the Conservative party, the Metropolitan police have already seen a drop of more than 4,000 uniformed police—police constables and police community support officers—on London’s streets since the general election, a period in which all Members will acknowledge that there were major riots and growing concern about gang violence. To take just one borough—my own borough of Harrow—we lost 100 PCs and PCSOs, a cut in front-line uniformed police officers of 19%, which is one of the biggest cuts. A cut of almost 20% in the Government’s grant to the Metropolitan police, which was supported by the Mayor and Conservative Members, is the driving factor behind the cuts to police funding that are now being debated across London.

Using a choice of statistics that the characters in “The Thick of It” would have been proud of, the Mayor’s plan promises more police recruitment. However, the truth is that there will be fewer police officers and fewer PCSOs by 2015, and that police officers are likely to be significantly less experienced than now. That drop in police numbers is noteworthy of itself, but comparing the number and percentage of crimes solved reveals that the Metropolitan police saw in 2011-12 a sharp drop in the number, and crucially in the percentage, of crimes being solved. In 2011-12, 22,600 fewer crimes were solved in London than in 2009-10, and the percentage of crimes solved dropped to 21.6%.

Those figures are perhaps not surprising when cuts to the number of prosecutors available to the Crown Prosecution Service in London are taken into account. It would be interesting to hear the Minister and the Mayor of London explain how they think that the number and percentage of crimes solved are likely to rise with fewer police and even fewer prosecutors.

According to the figures that the Mayor of London has published, two thirds of London boroughs will still have fewer police officers by the end of 2015 than they

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had at the time of the last general election. Estimates for the number of PCSOs per borough have not been published, but with further substantial cuts to PCSO recruitment—some 1,100 will be cut by 2015-16, according to the Greater London assembly’s police and crime committee—it looks as though every borough will have significantly fewer uniformed police officers in total patrolling their streets by 2015 than they did in 2010.

Some people think that PCSOs are an expensive waste of time. I am not one of them, certainly not after I saw the difference that two PCSOs made to stopping trouble outside the gates of one of my major secondary schools. The head teacher said that he and members of his senior team went from being called out to deal with an incident at school closing time four afternoons out of every five to just twice in three months, after PCSOs were stationed outside those gates for the 30 minutes from the end of lessons. So PCSOs do a vital job, offering a direct reassuring presence to the public, helping to build the confidence that is necessary to gain intelligence, and—crucially—supporting the victims of crime.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I echo what my hon. Friend is saying about PCSOs. In Newham, PCSOs have certainly been valuable when incidents have occurred that could possibly have heightened community tensions, particularly around the time of the riots and shortly afterwards. Being without PCSOs would be a real problem for us.

Mr Thomas: My hon. Friend makes a very good point based on her own constituency experience. I suspect that, as I do, she feels that the cut in the number of PCSOs is noticed in her borough, as it certainly is in mine, and I suspect that it is also felt more widely across London.

By comparison with 2010, when Members last faced the people to ask for their support, there will be considerably fewer sergeants in London by 2015. Some estimates suggest that 1,300 sergeants will be axed. Inspectors and chief inspectors are also going, and superintendents’ numbers are likewise being cut. In short, the positions occupied by experienced police officers are being axed. The Mayor’s plan describes those positions as “supervisory grades”. In truth, those roles, and crucially the experience and skill mix of the senior staff occupying them, are fundamental to the effective pursuit of the criminal, the passage of the accused through the legal process and the sensitive support of the victim.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the experience of those officers who have had many years in the police is vital for the coaching and support of officers who are new to the service? I have noticed in my own constituency the difference that that coaching and support has made, particularly in areas of Feltham and Heston that suffered a large number of burglaries before Christmas. The advice that those more experienced officers were able to give to PCSOs who were on the front line was vital.

Mr Thomas: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the value that experienced police officers bring to the coaching of new recruits. It is worth noting in passing that the Mayor’s plan envisages specialist crime squads at borough level—such as local

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burglary, town centre or robbery squads—essentially being raided for staff, who will then be redeployed. So we sense that, as my hon. Friend suggests, a huge amount of vital experience is set to be lost to the Met when it is still needed.

It would be good to hear from the Minister what discussions he has had with the Mayor and the Association of Chief Police Officers staff in the Metropolitan police about how the cuts that I have described will also impact on national efforts to confront organised crime, or how cuts in the positions occupied by experienced police officers and the movement of staff from specialist units will impact, for example, on the work of Operation Trident. It certainly prompts the question how cuts in the Met will impact on its ability to support the UK Border Agency in its efforts to track down, arrest and deport illegal immigrants.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Like me, he represents an outer London borough. He has not said anything about the changes in the draft crime and policing plan to the resource allocation formula that was put in place by the previous Mayor. By 2015, my own borough will gain 117 officers compared with the number in 2011. Does he agree that changing the formula in that way is a welcome development for outer London?

Mr Thomas: It is good to have the hon. Gentleman here. However, looking at the figures between March 2010 and April 2012, I see that Croydon lost 175 PCSOs and police officers, and it experienced the same percentage cut in police numbers—a cut of 19%—as Harrow did. Moreover, the figures for 2010—just in terms of police officers for Croydon—compared with the figures for 2015 suggest that there will be a net increase of just one police officer in Croydon. Add in the likelihood of further significant cuts to the number of PCSOs, in the way that I have described, and I suspect that the reality of police numbers in Croydon will be a significant fall.

Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I just want to point out that it depends on what people’s starting point is in 2011 as to whether we end up with more or fewer police officers in Croydon. If we take as our starting point the month immediately after the riots that deeply traumatised people in the borough, we end up with fewer police officers than at that time, and the public generally view the number that we had immediately after the riots as wholly inadequate—

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr Thomas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing some particularly “Croydon colour” to the point about the number of PCs and PCSOs—a number that we will see falling in Croydon.

Gavin Barwell: The hon. Gentleman is not necessarily comparing like with like. He is comparing the number of officers that were working in Croydon in 2011, which is the basic borough command unit strength plus additional officers who were temporarily allocated, with what the Mayor is saying the fundamental borough command

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unit strength will be in 2015. If he makes a like-for-like comparison, he will find a significant improvement for many outer London boroughs. Does he welcome that improvement?

Mr Thomas: I welcome any increase in police numbers, given the significant cuts that have been made and, in truth, will continue to be made up to 2015. The figures that I cited are from a freedom of information request about the cuts between March 2010 and April 2012, and the hon. Gentleman has said nothing about whether he supports the Mayor’s decision to axe 175 posts in Croydon during that period. The figures that I gave for the numbers of police officers in 2015 and in 2010 are from evidence given to the London assembly’s police and crime committee.

As I have said, the Mayor and his staff deliberately chose 2011, because it was the lowest point for police recruitment, with a freeze on recruitment that no one was told about. With respect, the hon. Gentleman will be judged by his constituents on what has happened since March 2010, when the general election campaign started, and what the position will be by 2015, and I am afraid that they will see a reduction in the number of police officers and PCSOs in Croydon, unless there is a dramatic change before then.

Local police teams are essentially being squashed under the Mayor’s plan. Instead of each community in Harrow having at least a sergeant, three police constables and three PCSOs, there will be only one PC and one PCSO dedicated to policing each community. In my constituency, the areas of west Harrow, Rayners Lane and north Harrow, which cover four wards, will go from having 28 uniformed police officers dedicated to those communities to just eight. Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, in July last year, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, commenting on the Metropolitan police, noted the plans to cut police officers and PCSOs, as well as police staff, by 2015.

The inspectorate’s survey of whether police officers were available when they were most likely to be needed showed a decrease in the proportion of police officers and PCSOs in visible roles at key times. In an FOI request, I asked for the proportion of safer neighbourhood team staff on duty at 9 pm on a Friday at the end of November, and the answer was just 20%. Response teams were, of course, available, but I was surprised by how low the figure was. We need to be cautious with such figures because they offer a one-off snapshot, but that underlines the concern that many constituents and many Members of Parliament have about whether enough police are now available on our streets at key times.

Although the Mayor’s plans are at pains to appear committed to safer neighbourhood policing—they retain that language—in practice, it is clear that that model of policing is as good as over. There is talk in Boris’s plans of one borough-wide safer neighbourhood panel, but local ward-based panels, which enable local people to develop a relationship with the local police teams and talk through the challenges faced in their communities, are not mentioned at all. Will the Minister explain whether such forums are to be abolished?

Victim satisfaction rates in London are poor, compared to those in the rest of the country. The ambition to lift the rates is laudable, but having fewer senior and experienced police officers and lots of new inexperienced ones, along

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with less of a visible deterrent in the form of vital reassurance policing hardly suggests that a convincing plan to increase victim satisfaction is at the heart of the Mayor’s thinking on the future of the Met. The plan that is being touted around London boroughs is being aired for just one hour, and the Mayor of London himself cannot even be bothered to go and hear ordinary Londoners’ concerns around the capital. The Metropolitan police service is one of our city’s greatest assets and deserves inspired political leadership, but instead it is being asset-stripped, and our constituents will lose out.

No debate about the future of the Metropolitan police can take place without a reflection on the story of Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the failure of the investigation, because it still resonates all these years later, in part because of the continuing failure to ensure that the senior ranks of London’s police reflect the communities they aspire to serve. If recent media reports are to be believed, there is not one black or ethnic minority participant on the strategic command course, which is

“the conveyor belt for middle-ranking officers being groomed for senior-officer rank.”

I find it difficult to believe that, in the 21st century, there is not one ethnic minority candidate with the talent to be groomed for a senior command position in the Metropolitan police—not one.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Will he join me in commending the local commander in Harrow, Borough Commander Dal Babu, on all his work, and does he share my concern about the commander being one of the people not chosen to go on the strategic command course? He would have been admirably suited for the course.

Mr Thomas: I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I will come on to that point in a second.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has pledged to act on the issue. That pledge is extremely welcome, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister that he is encouraging the commissioner to be ambitious in his thinking.

My right hon. Friend just mentioned my own excellent borough commander. He was one of the Met’s few senior Muslim officers before he retired this week. Chief Superintendent Dal Babu’s story reminds the House of the ongoing need for, in his words, “radical measures” to boost ethnic minority recruitment into the Met, into its specialist units—for example, firearms and the criminal investigation department—and, crucially, into its senior ranks. During his time in the Metropolitan police, Dal Babu helped repeatedly to challenge discrimination and bias. Just one example of his work is a pilot mentoring scheme for talented senior officers. Surprisingly, however, ACPO rejected the idea of rolling the programme out more widely, to encourage more black and ethnic minority officers in middle and senior-ranking posts to be ready for higher commands. As Chief Superintendent Babu points out, there is a significant gap between our collective ambitions for a representative police force in our city and the reality. It would be useful to hear the Minister underline publicly what I believe is a cross-party view, that the senior ranks of the Met need to be much more representative of the communities of London.

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More recently, the Mayor of London announced plans to close some 65 police stations and sell them off. In my borough, Pinner police station and the front counter at the civic centre are set for closure, although I understand that there is now a question whether Pinner will be closed after all. Given that the civic centre front counter has long been manned by volunteers, I would be surprised if much in the way of revenue savings would be generated. What is striking, though, is the scale of the cuts to police stations in some parts of London. Croydon will lose five of its six stations. Barking and Dagenham will lose three of its four. Havering will lose four of its five, and Waltham Forest is set to lose four of its five. I understand that the police station in Tottenham—a visible signal of reassurance to a community devastated by the riots—is set for closure, too. What is far from clear are the rationale and criteria for each closure, particularly when the deputy Mayor has promised that, where a face-to-face service closes, it will be replaced with another such service. I ask gently, as the Minister can perhaps throw some light on this: how much money will be saved by that scale of closure, given that promise of replacement face-to-face services?

The Mayor’s plans create uncertainty about not just police stations; there has been a sharp reduction in the number of police cars available to the Metropolitan police. The car is a fairly fundamental bit of equipment for police work. According to information obtained through freedom of information requests, almost 200 police response vehicles were axed across London in the first two years of this Government—a 16% drop. I am not sure why the Mayor thought that it would be a good idea to cut by almost a third the number of unmarked and marked police cars in Haringey, which was a flashpoint of the 2011 riots.

Gang crime remains one of the most modern challenges that the Metropolitan police face. It is a huge issue in much of inner London, but it is becoming a problem in the suburbs as well. In a debate in this Chamber on 4 December, a series of Members—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), but also my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field)—pressed the Minister on the future funding of the anti-gang initiatives that are in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North noted that funding had been cut already and was likely to face further significant reductions.

The police and crime committee of the Greater London assembly has noted that community safety funding often pays for independent domestic violence advisers, who are crucial in supporting domestic violence victims to come forward. Such funding also pays for restorative justice projects, substance and alcohol misuse programmes and, crucially, programmes to divert young people from gang and youth violence. Concern about whether such funding will continue threatens to destabilise projects that have made a difference in addressing gang crime, supporting the victims of domestic violence and preventing antisocial behaviour.

I ask the Minister, as my hon. Friends did in the debate on 4 December, to clarify whether Home Office grants to London for community safety, youth crime and substance misuse will again be substantially cut back

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next year. Does the Home Office still plan to end funding to London through its ending gang and youth violence funding pot in March?

Championing the safety of constituents is surely a Member of Parliament’s most significant responsibility. The cuts in police funding, coupled with the Mayor’s half-baked crime and policing plan and further cuts to programmes that address some of the causes of crime, leave my constituents and Londoners in general less safe and more vulnerable. I urge the Government to think again.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): The wind-ups will begin at 3.40 pm. Eleven colleagues have caught my eye. We now move on to our voluntary four-and-a-half minute time limit for speeches.

2.51 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Thank you for allowing me to speak, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for securing this timely debate. We all know that for London to remain one of the best cities in the world it must also be one of the safest. London has been well served in that respect.

The Metropolitan police, although no stranger to controversies or mistakes—my hon. Friend has mentioned some high-profile concerns—is one of the best police services in the world, considering the challenges that it faces. Given the sheer expanse of the city and the ever-present concern about terrorism, the need to forge links across all communities is an important hurdle that the Met overcomes. We would all want to give great thanks to the men and women who serve in our areas.

That is all testament to the previous Labour Mayor, who invested in our police service and in policing technology; it is a testament to the previous Labour Government, who revolutionised neighbourhood policing. The resulting model for the Met that the previous Mayor and Government bequeathed to their current Tory masters was defined by three principles. The first principle was strength in numbers. The number of officers available to the Metropolitan police broke the 33,000 barrier, complemented by 4,000 police community support officers and 4,000 special constables.

The second principle is a relentless focus on the local and the very local. Community relations were forged on the ground, not just over the airwaves. New sergeants and their teams were embedded in neighbourhoods and communities, ensuring that they knew not only the faces of people serving the community, but their first names and addresses.

The third principle was an inescapable presence. The Metropolitan police had a permanent and visible presence in every neighbourhood in the capital. Whether it was an expensive or expansive police station or a local shop front, Londoners knew where to find their police on the high street, and residents and businesses felt safer for that.

As my hon. Friend has outlined so well, that model is now under threat. Those pillars are slowly being kicked away by the swingeing axe that this Government and their Mayor have taken to budgets. Where they have not

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entirely demolished community faith in policing—I shall come to concerns in Tottenham shortly—they have found a deputy Mayor who has not been present at all in the communities that he is supposed to be serving.

We have already lost 1,500 police officers and 2,000 PCSOs since the spending review. The safer neighbourhoods teams have been decimated, and a quarter of sergeants have been cut. Just last month, we found out that the Mayor has ordered the effective withdrawal of the police from our high streets. Sixty-five police stations are proposed to be closed, and the hours of more than 30 others are being downgraded. Of particular concern to me and my constituents is the fate of Tottenham police stations.

Lyn Brown: I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend’s flow about Tottenham, but may I tell him that Newham faces the same problem? Almost half of our police stations are going, and so is the police station in Stratford, which, as hon. Members may recognise, is a place of major growth and regeneration. How can someone possibly think that that is a reasonable police station to close?

Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend makes her point well. She will appreciate that constituents such as ours in Newham and Tottenham fear the closure of police stations and the hours that police stations might now be open. Concerns in complex, multicultural areas must command the Mayor’s attention, and a present deputy Mayor is needed to answer them urgently.

2.56 pm

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on securing this important debate.

Ten short days ago, my constituency was home to an appalling tragedy. A 16-year-old boy, Hani El Kheir, was brutally murdered in the street. Walking along Lupus street, Pimlico, literally a mile or a mile and a half away from here, in the early evening, Hani and his girlfriend were approached by a group of 10 to 20 youths carrying a range of weapons. When he tried to escape, he was tripped and set upon, receiving a number of stab wounds as he was attacked, one of which pierced his heart. Having completed their deed, the pack of killers left Hani bleeding in the street. The emergency services arrived swiftly, taking only five to 10 minutes to get to the scene of the crime. Medical staff worked hard, but Hani eventually died some two hours after the attack.

Hani was the only child of Pauline Hickey. As a father of two young children, I cannot even begin to imagine her anguish. She has lost the most precious gift, a son with whom she had, as she put it, an “unconditional and unbreakable bond.”

Everyone here will have read the newspaper reports of the attack, and I suspect in my constituency such attacks bring more headlines than is perhaps the case in some parts of outer London. I do not wish to repeat those reports other than to say that the witness accounts were chilling and posed questions about how such people operate in our society. I am well aware that comparable brutalities occur on the streets of Harrow, Tottenham, Hackney and Peckham that are no less a tragedy because of their location.

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All but one of the constituents who contacted me after Hani’s murder were women, and I suspect that such cases strike a particular chord with mothers, daughters and sisters who sympathise so deeply with Pauline Hickey. One of my correspondents said:

“Hani’s death is a tragic example of the escalating brutality that our young men in the area are being exposed to.”

A number of warrants have been issued across London and local ward resources have been beefed up, with weapons sweeps conducted on local estates in Pimlico and beyond. Police have been working closely with Westminster city council and information is being shared with local schools, especially with regards to the siblings of any victims and suspects arrested in relation to this high-profile case, and there have been many arrests. A big public meeting is taking place tomorrow to bring all of us together—police, council, residents and elected representatives—to discuss how we might prevent similar tragedies in future.

I have mentioned this in the House several times, as has been mentioned, but it is worth repeating that Westminster city council, under the energetic chairmanship of Councillor Nickie Aiken, who is a cabinet member, has pioneered innovative work with gangs in this city. Under the “Your Choice” programme led by the integrated gangs unit, gang members are given real choices. If they wish to leave their gang, they are helped with employment, mentoring and support. If they choose not to, serious enforcement action will be taken, including clamping down on those living in social housing who create misery for their neighbours through antisocial behaviour. I am glad to see that the Mayor of London is committed to rolling such measures out.

Many criticisms are made of the Metropolitan police, particularly in these difficult financial times. In the aftermath of Hani’s murder, I received some relating to the fact that there seemed to be a visible police presence only after the tragedy. Where had those bobbies on the beat been before? If they had been more visible, could they have prevented Hani’s murder? Those are the sorts of question coming through.

I confess that I do not recognise some of the criticisms that have been made by the two hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and, I suspect, will be made later by others among this great phalanx of London Labour MPs. [Interruption.] I felt as outnumbered as this in 2001, when I was first elected to the House. It may happen again in future.

Mr Lammy: The hon. Gentleman serves his constituents well, but I am surprised that Conservative Members from Barnet, Croydon and other places are not here to join him in this important debate for London.

Mark Field: This is an important debate, and rest assured that Conservative MPs have had various meetings on these matters with Stephen Greenhalgh, deputy Mayor of London, and with the Mayor himself.