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House of Commons

Thursday 25 April 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Transport for London Bill [Lords]

Lords message (23 April) relating to the Bill considered.


That this House concurs with the Lords in their Resolution.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]

Lords message (23 April) relating to the Bill considered.


That this House concurs with the Lords in their Resolution.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Rail Fares/Ticketing Review

1. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What progress his Department is making on its rail fares and ticketing review; and if he will make a statement. [153148]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): We are considering a range of options to improve rail fares and ticketing, and we intend to set out our findings and next steps this summer.

Chris Evans: Commuters in Islwyn will pay three times as much as their counterparts in Scotland, whose Government are freezing off-peak rail fares next year. Do this Government plan to do the same here?

Mr McLoughlin: We are looking at a wide range of options for ticketing and, as I said, we hope to report to the House on that in the summer. What we have in place for ticket pricing is exactly the same as under the previous Government.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The McNulty report identified significant costs incurred on our railways compared with those of our European counterparts. Will my right hon. Friend outline what those extra costs are?

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Mr McLoughlin: I am keen that the industry learns a lot of lessons from the McNulty report. That important report was set up by the previous Government, although it reported to us, and it has set out ways in which we need to improve the operations of the railways. However, I would point out that there are a number of tickets in this country that are cheaper than those in Europe.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that the National Audit Office has warned that higher rail fares could lead to greater profits for the train companies, why has the Secretary of State caved in to those companies by giving them permission to increase their fares by up to 5% above his so-called cap?

Mr McLoughlin: We have had this argument before. As I have pointed out to the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members, we are following exactly the same policy as the previous Government—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) is shouting from a sedentary position, but they changed it for one specific year. I would point out that the previous Labour Government planned that 70% of costs would be met by fare payers by 2013-14.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): If I try to book a train ticket from Glasgow to Sheffield, the cheapest standard single is £108. However, booking three tickets—Glasgow to Preston, Preston to Manchester, and Manchester to Sheffield—is half that cost. There is a whole host of similar examples throughout the network, so will the fares and ticketing review put a stop to such nonsense?

Mr McLoughlin: I want the ticketing review to address several issues. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), and I will look at that situation, but I also want passengers to have more clarity about how they can take advantage of some of the cheaper fares that exist.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Secretary of State look at the cost of rail travel per mile? He will know that, compared with other lines, his and my line—the midland main line, which goes through Kettering—is very expensive for rail travel per mile.

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is right to say that I know that line particularly well, and I often ask questions about it to find out what is happening over the whole rail network. However, I should point out to him that cheap deals on that particular line can be found.

Bus Travel (Young People)

2. Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to increase the affordability of bus travel for young people accessing education or training. [153149]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): The legislation which regulates the bus industry and which we inherited upon coming to office does not require bus operators to offer reduced fares for young people accessing education or training, although in many areas this is available, thanks to local

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authorities or operators themselves. However, this creates an unfair and confusing patchwork of fares. Young people deserve a better deal, including more consistent and affordable bus fares, and I am making this my top bus priority from now until the next election.

Barbara Keeley: That is a good thing, because the education maintenance allowance helped young people with travel costs, but this Government have abolished it, leaving them struggling. Many young people will have extra travel costs if they are to take up apprenticeships. Our constrained local transport authority, Transport for Greater Manchester, cannot manage to help with that. The Minister says that this is a priority, so will he review the position urgently, because it is stopping young people getting into education and taking up apprenticeships opportunities? Will he also look at putting some central costs in, because our local transport authority does not have the budget to help with this?

Norman Baker: The performance of local authorities and passenger transport executives across the country varies enormously. The education maintenance allowance was replaced by the 16 to 19 bursary fund—£180 million provided by the Department for Education. I am in discussions with my colleagues at that Department about access to education. With reference to access to work, the hon. Lady will be aware not only of the steps taken under the local sustainable transport fund to help access to work, but the initiative on which I have worked with bus operators to ensure that there was free access for some people out of work in January.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister allow transport authorities to access the better bus funding scheme so that quality contracts and quality partnerships can be pursued to give young people and others a better deal?

Norman Baker: Quality contracts were on the statute book, put there by the Government that the hon. Lady supported. It was open to them to take whatever steps they wanted, but they did not take any of the steps that she is now advocating. The two schemes are not mutually exclusive. In response to an Adjournment debate a few days ago which one of her colleagues introduced, I made it plain that if operators behaved inappropriately, it would be possible for better bus area funding to be provided under those circumstances.

Road Congestion (South Essex)

3. Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to reduce congestion on the road network in south Essex; and if he will make a statement. [153151]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Tackling congestion as a barrier to growth is a key issue for the Department. In Essex we have invested in major schemes, such as the £63 million improvement to the Sadler’s Farm junction on the A13, funded schemes to tackle pinchpoints on both the strategic and the local roads, and provided £5.3 million of additional funding for maintenance in Essex to ensure that its roads are of the highest quality.

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Rebecca Harris: We are grateful for the improvements that we have already seen in south Essex, but the Minister is aware of the long-running campaign for a third road off Canvey Island, having visited the area himself. Local residents and local business leaders in particular think the case for a third access road is now more compelling than ever in terms of growth, because of the many business developments taking place along the Thames Gateway. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State meet me and others to discuss the business case for a third road?

Stephen Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that I am well aware of her long-running campaign, and I pay tribute to her and her county councillor Ray Howard for the work that they have done on the scheme. I or my the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), would be delighted to meet her and to discuss the need for a third access road.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): My hon. Friend will be aware that Essex council has made it a top priority to press for an extra M11 junction, 7A, into Harlow. Will my hon. Friend meet me, Essex council and relevant authorities in order that we can make the case for this important junction?

Stephen Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that request. He will know that we have already committed £3 million for improvements at the A414 Clock Tower junction in his constituency in the last round of local pinchpoint funding. I will, of course, be happy to accept an invitation to meet him and his colleagues about the junction on the M11.

Road Maintenance

4. Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): What plans he has for road maintenance funding. [153152]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): The Highways Agency, which is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England, has a budget this financial year for some £750 million worth of highways maintenance, excluding the costs associated with private finance initiative projects. The Department is also providing £890 million this financial year to local highway authorities in England for highways maintenance. Funding for highways maintenance in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government.

Mr Donohoe: Across the whole United Kingdom, potholes are appearing in all our roads because of the cuts taking place. I remember my grandmother telling me, “A stitch in time saves nine.” It is for the Government to start believing that that is a good way forward for the maintenance of our roads. It is costing local government more money in compensation for cars in accidents as a result of potholes than it would for them to repair the roads.

Stephen Hammond: I would gently point out that before local authorities start suggesting that the problem is due to cuts in the maintenance budget, they should

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recognise the more than £3 billion that this Government are giving to maintenance over the life of this Government, the £200 million given in March 2011 for severe weather, and the extra money given at the last autumn statement. The potholes review has published a number of conditions that local councils ought to meet to ensure that they do indeed follow the “stitch in time saves nine” adage from the hon. Gentleman, rather than just putting a band aid solution in place.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): In Chester, potholes have been caused by the bad weather—the freezing rain and snow we have had over the past winter, which has been a bad one. What additional help can the Minister offer my local authority to help put right the damage caused by the weather?

Stephen Hammond: I would like to be able to control the weather, but of course I cannot. It is right that the Government recognise that the pothole damage has undoubtedly been caused by the weather. That is why the Chancellor announced additional funding in the autumn statement.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Will the Minister please clarify the rather confused briefing put out a few weeks ago on funding to help ease congestion on the M4 around Newport? We have had another incident this week, so it would be really useful to know what progress is being made.

Stephen Hammond: I am not sure where the confused briefing came from, but I assume that it must be the Welsh Government, because funding for the M4 around Newport is, as the hon. Lady knows, a matter for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): One of the lead stories on the BBC’s “Breakfast” this morning was about potholes. The National Audit Office calculates that it would be cheaper to repair our roads than to deal with the damage and injuries caused by potholes. Regardless of whether they are the result of the weather or the cuts, has the Minister had discussions with Treasury colleagues on trying to get additional funding to use those infrastructure projects to get the UK economy moving?

Stephen Hammond: I announced earlier the huge amount of money the Government are committing to highways maintenance. We have continual discussions with the Treasury on the money needed for that, and I am delighted that this Government’s settlement for highways maintenance has been better than that achieved by the previous Government. We remain committed to ensuring that potholes are repaired, and I remind local authorities of their obligations.

High Speed 2

5. Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What obligation will be placed on any future holder of the east coast main line rail franchise to co-operate with High Speed 2 to ensure that classic compatible train services connect the north-east and York to High Speed 2. [153153]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): Where future rail franchises interact with HS2, we will ensure that the two are complementary.

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Hugh Bayley: I welcome the Government’s decision that classic compatible trains will run on the high-speed line to Leeds and then continue up the east coast main line, but the east coast train operator might well see that as unwelcome competition. Therefore, the terms of a franchise for the new east coast train operator, whoever gets it, must include a provision that allows it to profit from getting the high-speed trains running over the east coat tracks as soon as possible.

Mr Burns: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising a valid and interesting point. He is absolutely right that that will have to be looked at. Fortunately, we have time on our side. I can assure him that between now and when High Speed 2 begins operating on phase 2 in 2032-33, this will be looked into fully in order to avoid the very problems he identifies.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): As well as connections to York and the north-east in the new franchise, it is equally important that areas such as Grimsby and Cleethorpes are served in order to aid economic regeneration. Can the Minister assure me that he will give serious consideration to a direct service to that area in the new franchise?

Mr Burns: I seek to give my hon. Friend a partial reassurance, because I cannot prejudge at this stage in proceedings what might be in any franchise document, but I can say that there will be full consultations with relevant stakeholders and others before the document is finally put together so that all the issues, desires and wish lists can be fully considered.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is the Minister aware that every year there is no high-speed rail connection between south and central England and Scotland is a year when both economies underperform? Recent studies at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto have identified that two of the world’s 40 co-called mega-regions are in the United Kingdom and that good, fast rail connections would benefit both. When will a date be set for that key infrastructure, as I am particularly keen that England should keep up with Scotland after we become independent?

Mr Burns: As the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said last October that the Government are investigating whether there should be a phase 3 for High Speed 2, from Leeds and Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh. We look forward to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends supporting us as we put forward the proposals and the legislation for establishing High Speed 2, which will bring so much benefit not only to England, but to Scotland and Wales.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The private sector has a record of significant investment and innovation in our railways and of growing the numbers of people using them. When does the Minister expect the east coast main line to return to the private sector?

Mr Burns: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in his statement to the House on 26 March, the east coast main line will return to a franchise operation.

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Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): Scandalous!

Mr Burns: Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s cry, that was, of course, the intended policy of the previous Labour Secretary of State and the previous Labour Minister for Transport. We anticipate that the line will return to a franchise operation by February 2015.

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): Will the Minister explain why he has chosen to prioritise a completely unnecessary and costly competition for the east coast main line rail franchise, which will also require him to waste taxpayers’ money on expensive extensions to other contracts, some for as long as four years?

Mr Burns: I am afraid that the premise of the shadow Secretary of State’s question is factually incorrect and misguided. The reason we are moving the east coast main line back to a franchise is exactly the same—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady should stop chuntering.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Answer the question.

Mr Burns: I am answering the question. The reason why we are moving the line back to a franchise is exactly the same as why the shadow Secretary of State’s right honourable friend Lord Adonis was going to do it when he said:

“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]

Nor do we, and that is why we are ending it.

Maria Eagle: It does not sound like the Minister actually knows what is happening on the east coast main line: 3 million more seats, best ever punctuality, lowest taxpayer subsidy, £40 million of extra profit invested and £800 million returned to the taxpayer. He should stop talking it down. Will he confirm that all of the planned east coast upgrade—all the investment that his hon. and right hon. Friends claim is necessary—will be paid for by the taxpayer? None of this investment is dependent on privatisation. The fact is that private train companies now receive more from the taxpayer each year than they pay back in, so why is he doing this?

Mr Burns: I sometimes wonder which world the shadow Secretary of State lives in. If she would just do us all a favour and listen for one minute, I will offer her an explanation. First, the premium that the east coast main line pays to the Treasury is less than that paid by the west coast main line. Secondly, if the hon. Lady looks at reliability over the latest four-week period, she will see that the east coast main line is the worst of the 19 operators. Thirdly, we have found that the operator did a reasonable job in difficult circumstances when it had to take over the direct operation, but that it has now reached a plateau. Fourthly, yes, there will be taxpayers’ money involved in investing in the east coast main line, but, more importantly, the involvement of the private sector means that we can increase, over and above the taxpayers’ money, the money that can be invested in enhancing and improving the service for passengers.

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High Speed 2

6. Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to address the effects of High Speed 2 on London; and whether he has assessed the case for Crossrail 2. [153154]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): HS2 Ltd is carrying out an environmental impact assessment on the London-west midlands phase of HS2 to look at the potential impacts and proposed mitigation measures. The aim is to consult on a draft environmental statement shortly.

The Government have made no decision on Crossrail 2, and it is currently unfunded. Under devolution, the Mayor and Transport for London are responsible for transport in London, including the route options for Crossrail 2.

Lyn Brown: I thank the Minister for that answer. Following about £1 billion-worth of investment, Stratford has an international train station but, sadly, it currently has no stopping international trains. Given that investment, Stratford should surely be a transport hub, fully interconnecting HS1, HS2, Crossrail 1 and Crossrail 2 with domestic and underground services. That would not only provide superb interconnectivity, but relieve stress on central London terminals. Will the Minister provide leadership?

Mr Burns: I always try to provide leadership, Mr Speaker. I fully understand the valid point that the hon. Lady makes, but there are consideration problems with her proposition. HS2 Ltd did consider whether Stratford should be the primary terminus for HS2 services and others. Its advice was that locating the principal HS2 terminus outside central London would not meet the needs of the majority of the passengers who will use the service or make best use of the wider London transport network. There would also be physical problems with the need to build an additional 10 platforms, given the geographic size of the site at Stratford.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): My concerns about HS2 will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend, but is he surprised at the concerns of UKIP, which, quite apart from believing that every last Bulgarian and Romanian is about to hitchhike their way to London, is opposed to HS2, whereas in 2010 it did not support just one high-speed line, but three?

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. As you will know as a politician yourself, Mr Speaker, if one makes promises, they must have some validity and credibility, and one must have the ability to fund them. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the UKIP manifesto at the last election, which you probably read more than most of us, Mr Speaker, stated that it would:

“Invest in three new 200mph plus high-speed rail lines including a new line between London and Newcastle with a spur to Manchester, a London-Bristol-Exeter line and a linking route via Birmingham”.

It really is extraordinary—

Mr Speaker: Order. We will leave it there, although I have much enjoyed it. The Minister of State has many important responsibilities and no one in this House would disagree with the proposition that he always tries,

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which he advanced a few moments ago, but one thing for which he has no responsibility is the promises and policies of the United Kingdom Independence party.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): There is a growing view that by the time the second phase of HS2 is complete, Crossrail 2 will be essential to cope with the additional passengers travelling through Euston station. Is the Minister content that last week’s revised plan for Euston addresses that problem, or will the DFT now take the sensible step of assessing fully the case for Crossrail 2?

Mr Burns: As the hon. Lady knows, Crossrail 2 is the responsibility of the Mayor of London because it is a devolved matter. However, I accept that there is a knock-on effect for other rail services that are wholly the responsibility of the DFT. The Mayor of London announced recently that there will be a full consultation process. We await that and look forward to seeing any business case or justification. Those matters will be considered in due course, but we have to go through the due processes first.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I was sentenced to two years on the Crossrail Bill Committee. HS2 is jam tomorrow; Crossrail is £6 billion now. Is not enough money spent on London proportionately at the moment?

Mr Burns: I strongly believe that there is an overwhelming case for high-speed rail in this country. Indeed, I would go further and say that we cannot afford not to have high-speed rail. I regret, as much as I suspect the hon. Gentleman does, going by his question, the length of time that it takes to establish any major project in this country, because that is not in the country’s best interests. However, it is certainly in the national interest to press ahead with a high-speed rail network throughout the country.

Road Signs

7. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce sign clutter on roads. [153155]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government are committed to reducing sign clutter. I recently wrote to English local authorities to encourage them to take action, and I have sponsored an award to encourage the reduction of sign clutter. The Department will be revising traffic sign regulations and general directions to provide local authorities with far more discretion about where and when they place traffic signs.

Pauline Latham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. On a recent visit to Vietnam, I noted that the communist Government there put up propaganda signs all over the place. Similarly, Derby city council puts up signs showing anti-Government propaganda. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money?

Mr McLoughlin: I, too, regularly see those signs, and one must wonder why we are seeing such signs around Derby city at a time when the council is saying that it

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does not have enough money for other essential services, and when it has just increased council tax. That is unlike Derbyshire county council, which also serves my hon. Friend’s constituency but has had a 0% rise in council tax. That is an important message for the people of Derbyshire about where money is being spent.

Electric Vehicles

8. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What plans he has for incentives to encourage the take-up of electric vehicles. [153156]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): The Government is committed to supporting the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, and has allocated up to £400 million for that, out to 2015, including £82 million for research and development activities, £30 million for plugged-in places infrastructure pilots and £300 million to support motorists with the plug-in car and van grants. On 19 February we also announced a £37 million package of further grants for a national recharging infrastructure, and later this year we will be publishing a document setting out our strategic approach to supporting the uptake of ULEVs.

Duncan Hames: The take-up of electric vehicles is accelerating but from low initial levels. Among those grants, would the Minister consider support for a national rapid charging network to encourage the transition to electric vehicles by motorists?

Norman Baker: Take-up is in line with our anticipation, and as is always the case with new technology, the graph shows a slow start and a rapid increase thereafter. We are seeing more rapid charging points established across the country, including by the private sector which is showing a healthy and very welcome appetite to install such points.

Rail Links (London/South Coast)

9. Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve rail links between London and the south coast. [153157]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Significant investment is currently being undertaken to improve rail links between London and the south coast. By 2018, the £6 billion Thameslink programme will be complete, providing more capacity for passengers with a new fleet of trains, and London Bridge station will be redeveloped and transformed.

Simon Kirby: Does the Minister agree with me and many other people in Brighton and Hove that the only sustainable solution for increased capacity is to build a second line?

Norman Baker: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is pressure on the existing line. It is very full up during many of the peak hours, and that also affects train performance on that line, which I know he is concerned about. I certainly think there is a case for looking at capacity issues in a novel way between London and the south coast, and the Secretary of State and I hope to take that matter forward in due course.

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Motorway Speed Limit

10. Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had on increasing the motorway speed limit to 80 miles per hour; and if he will make a statement. [153159]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Work is continuing to assess the potential economic, safety and environmental impacts of trialling 80 mph speed limits across a number of sites on the motorway network. It is important that decisions are made on the basis of sound evidence, and as part of that I have had discussions with a number of bodies.

Sarah Champion: The Highways Agency proposes to expand its managed motorways programme so that the hard shoulder between junctions 32 and 35A of the M1 will be used as a permanent traffic lane, with the scheme running 24 hours rather than at peak congestion times, as other schemes do. Does the Minister share my concern, and that of local authorities, South Yorkshire safer roads campaign, and South Yorkshire police, that that proposal, especially at 80 miles per hour, will create a real safety issue?

Mr McLoughlin: I am obviously willing to hear any representations about the managed motorway scheme that we are progressing. We have found that where we have managed motorways, we have a better flow of traffic and safer statistics overall for the use of that particular road. These are important matters and I am more than happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Lady. I assure her that we are trying to increase capacity for her constituents and other people who use that very important motorway.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): But does the Secretary of State agree that retaining a 70 mph limit on our motorways and not strictly enforcing it risks bringing the law into disrepute, and that it would be far better to have an 80 mph limit that is enforced?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend makes one of the many arguments for an increase. The 70 mph limit was set in 1965, and it is fair to say that, since then, there has been a great improvement overall in road safety, but I want to look at all those issues.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): The human cost in lives, the economic cost of infrastructure changes and the environmental impact of carbon emissions are surely all good enough reasons to rule out once and for all any increase in the speed limit.

Mr McLoughlin: As I said in the replies I have just given, I am not ruling that out—I am looking at it. The hon. Gentleman makes important arguments that go the other way. It is not a straightforward issue.

Train Stations

11. James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): What funding his Department is providing for new train stations; and if he will make a statement. [153162]

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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): In March, I made an announcement of three stations that are likely to secure funding from the £20 million new station fund—Ilkeston, Lea Bridge, and Pye Corner. I expect to make another announcement in May. The Government also provide funding to local authorities through the major local transport scheme budgets and the local sustainable transport fund. Those funds can also be used to provide new railway stations.

James Morris: Rowley Regis station in my constituency provides a vital link for commuters into Birmingham and the surrounding area, but the car parking facilities at the station have reached capacity. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Centro representatives to push forward on the vital project to expand car parking facilities so that commuters do not have to park on residential streets?

Mr McLoughlin: Recent research by the Association of Train Operating Companies shows that the number of rail journeys in and around Birmingham has increased by more than 20% in the past five years. It is one of 14 cities to record double-digit growth. In a way, I am not surprised to hear of the problems that that is causing for my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I am more than happy to meet him and Centro to discuss the matter.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): High-quality transport gateways to our towns and cities are vital in supporting regeneration and growth. Plymouth is a case in point—Network Rail’s buildings there are appalling. Given that Network Rail says that it is more reactive than proactive, what discussions is the Secretary of State having with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage development, and to encourage Network Rail to take commercial advantage of some of its sites?

Mr McLoughlin: That is obviously an ongoing, regular discussion I have with Network Rail. I will visit Plymouth in the next few weeks. That is one of the things I will look at and, subsequently, discuss with Network Rail.

Topical Questions

T1. [153170] Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Since I last addressed the House at Transport questions, I have appointed members of the franchising advisory panel. I announced in my last statement that Richard Brown will be the chairman. The other members will be Nicola Shaw, chief executive officer of High Speed 1 Ltd; Stephen Paine, managing director of UK investment banking at UBS; Martin Buck, the commercial director of Crossrail; and Michael Holden, chief executive officer of Directly Operated Railways and chairman of East Coast—[Interruption.] For the benefit of the shadow Leader of the House, Nicola Shaw is on the panel. That panel of experts will meet on a monthly basis and help provide reassurance that the franchising programme is on track, and that the correct governance will be followed.

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Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the money he has put in for the pinchpoint between the A46 and the M5. In other A46 news, a local village has discovered that fibre optic cable runs along it, and has connected some of the local homes to it. Will the Secretary of State consider asking the Highways Agency to publish information on all roads on the network that have fibre optic cable along them?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is important that we make proper use of all the infrastructure available, particularly in respect of bodies such as the Highways Agency. My understanding is that the agency makes details of the current fibre optic communication network available to any interested party, but following my hon. Friend’s points, I will speak to the agency and see whether we can do more.

T2. [153171] Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What help are the Government giving to smaller local authorities away from metropolitan areas, to introduce smart ticketing to make bus journeys more convenient and cheaper, and to get more people on to buses?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): We have seen a significant roll-out of smart ticketing, but I agree that it is more difficult for small local authority areas. The Department for Transport budget allocates £15 million to pick up on small bus operators in particular, to ensure that they are not left behind and to retain diversity of supply in the bus industry.

T3. [153172] George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State update the House on any discussions he may have had with the Mayor of London with regard to suburban railway services in the south-east?

Mr McLoughlin: I met the Mayor of London yesterday and had a wide-ranging discussion on many subjects relating to London and other areas. What I have always said is that in principle I have nothing against wider franchising, but I need to see that there is proper accountability. Discussions are ongoing.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): As we approach the spending review, will the Secretary of State give careful consideration to the need to secure funding for the extension of the Metrolink in Greater Manchester through Trafford Park in my constituency?

Mr McLoughlin: I will take that as one of many bids we will receive. I am very keen to invest in infrastructure for the long term, and various local authorities are putting forward a number of schemes. They will all be assessed and judged, and decisions will be made in the light of the resources available.

T4. [153173] Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): The Minister and the Secretary of State will know that the world’s largest financial centre is connected by the great eastern main line to some of the leading centres of research and development in the country, yet commuters and travellers can expect to use rolling stock that was unsuitable for travellers on the west

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coast main line 10 years ago. The Government have invested heavily in infrastructure. When will they be able to invest in rolling stock, too?

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): As my hon. Friend says, there is considerable interest in upgrading the rolling stock in East Anglia, and of course I have a particular interest too. My ministerial colleagues—I stress that—are currently considering what might be included in the specification for the interim franchise that will run to 2016, and our priority is, as always, improving passenger satisfaction as well as obtaining value for money for the taxpayer.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I press the Secretary of State to provide me some evidence? I started off as a supporter of HS2. I attended a seminar in this House this week that predicted that it would cost £50 billion. What is the evidence that this will be a good investment for the towns and cities of the midlands and the north?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to be questioning this. People do inflate figures. I believe that the figures, with which I have been very open with the House, remain as the figures. I believe the changes that HS2 will bring—the first new railway line built north of London in 120 years—will provide an important impetus for economic growth for the United Kingdom.

T5. [153174] Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): The A64 is an extremely dangerous and highly congested road serving businesses along the route right through Thirsk and Malton between York, Filey and Scarborough. Will it qualify for a pinchpoint scheme, and what other criteria will it need to meet?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She will know that the criteria for pinchpoint funds were set out with regard to the first three rounds. They fall under a certain financial limit and are completed by March 2015. We are in discussions on how further tranches will work in terms of the extension of the date of completion. I am convinced that given the record of the A64—one of the criteria is safety—it will be looked on favourably.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The east coast main line has returned £640 million to the public purse since 2009. Sadly, private ownership has failed the travelling public of the east coast franchise. What possible public benefit can be gained by another wasteful and expensive round of refranchising, when east coast is already where the vast majority of the public want it, in public ownership?

Mr McLoughlin: I point the hon. Gentleman to what was said by the last Labour Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) who now sits on the Opposition Front Bench. It is worth pointing out that National Express paid £185 million in 2007-08, £145 million in 2008-09 and £8 million in 2009-10, which is when the franchise ended. The way that the track excess charges were calculated was then changed, so direct comparisons are not valid.

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T6. [153175] Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): My right hon. Friend has been exceptionally communicative and has taken the time to discuss HS2 and the route with the constituencies affected, but that is in stark contrast to HS2 Ltd, which still has not responded to a letter I sent it on 22 February. Does he agree that a Government agency, such as HS2 Ltd, should at the very least be engaging more proactively with Members of Parliament?

Mr Burns: Yes, I do. HS2 Ltd’s policy is to reply substantively to all letters from Members within 20 working days. It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend did not receive a reply to his letter. I have been informed by HS2 Ltd that a response and an apology have now been issued and that its procedures for handling correspondence with hon. Members have been looked at again to ensure that this sort of problem does not arise.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): An investigation by the Liverpool Echo last month discovered that the cost of catching a bus in Merseyside has risen by two and a half times the rate of inflation since privatisation under the Thatcher Government. The cost of public transport in Merseyside is a barrier to employment and makes the labour market less flexible. Will the Minister congratulate the Echo on its work and tell us what he proposes to do about it?

Norman Baker: Sadly, bus fares have been rising above inflation for many decades, including throughout the Labour Government, from 1997 to 2010, although some of these bus fares are determined locally by support from local authorities, so the picture varies across the country. The good news, however, is that overall bus mileage is holding up. In fact, last year saw a record 4.7 billion bus journeys, the highest since deregulation.

T7. [153176] Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Many of my constituents work in and use both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which is one reason I would firmly support the expansion of both. We are awaiting Howard Davies’s report into Heathrow expansion, but would the Minister consider his Department’s investigating the feasibility of a superfast maglev line, such as that seen in Shanghai, to link these two essential airports?

Mr Burns: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It would be premature at this stage to give the sort of assurances he wants, because it is part and parcel of the whole issue of capacity in the south-east and so is a matter for the Davies commission as part of its wider inquiry into the future of airports and capacity.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): In answer to an earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the Secretary of State said that he made decisions based on evidence. Why is that not being applied in relation to the east coast franchising, given that we have had two failures of the private sector and now experience of a good service?

Mr McLoughlin: The evidence was supported by the fact that we have seen huge growth in the railways since privatisation 20 years ago. Since then, there have

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been 13 years of Labour Government, and they did not reverse it—in fact, they enhanced and pushed forward the franchising. The last Labour Secretary of State said that franchising was a good thing. I believe he was right and that passengers benefit from it.

T8. [153177] Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the dreadful congestion on the A38, particularly around the Markeaton and Little Eaton roundabouts in my constituency? It is causing misery to my constituents and Derbyshire residents.

Mr McLoughlin: I think that my hon. Friend lives close to the Little Eaton island and I live close to the Markeaton island, so we both know of the regular delays on that very important road. On the pinchpoint funds, I am pleased that we will see some improvements this month—as she will know, work has already started on preparing the site for those improvements. I have met the leader of Derby city council, and I know that my hon. Friend has met the Roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). We are looking at this issue, but it is a very big scheme.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Two weeks ago, Lord Adonis published a report on the north-east local enterprise partnerships suggesting that political consideration should be given to the extension of the Tyne and Wear metro into south-east Northumberland. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and interested parties to discuss that possibility and other possibilities for railway links from south-east Northumberland into the cities of the north-east?

Mr McLoughlin: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is calling Lord Adonis in support; other people were attacking what he did when he was Secretary of State. I am aware of the report and was in the north-east a few months ago. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss some of the important points within that report.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

House Business Committee

1. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): what progress has been made on bringing forward proposals to set up a House business committee to consider Government business as set out in the coalition agreement. [153178]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I continue to consider proposals and will be discussing some practical proposals to meet this challenge when I give evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee next month.

Simon Hughes: Both coalition parties have a commitment to transfer more power over business from the Executive to Members of the House of Commons. Given that we made a commitment in the coalition agreement that this should happen by the third year of the Parliament, may

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I have a guarantee that, in this year—2013—and in the next, and third Session, that will be done?

Mr Lansley: The House will understand that any House business committee would need to add value to our existing processes. I hope that my right hon. Friend and others across the House will recognise that we have made substantial progress in that direction already in this Parliament, not least through the creation of the Backbench Business Committee. I want to make sure that we build on that and that it is not compromised, while meeting the requirement for responsive and effective business management and recognising—as the Wright Committee did—the opportunity for the Government to secure their legislative programme.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House is overwhelmed to hear that one member of the Cabinet is interested in the views of Select Committees; perhaps the Leader of the House could have a word with the Secretary of State for Education about the merits of that. This is yet another handbrake turn and broken promise by the coalition. What is the delay? The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats supports it and the Government Chief Whip is a vocal supporter of a House business committee, so who is holding it up?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his implication. As I said in my previous answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), I am considering these proposals, discussing them with colleagues and looking at the practical issues. When I visited the Scottish Parliament during the February recess, I saw in its parliamentary bureau what is to all intents and purposes a House business committee. When one looks at how that works, Back Bench Members in this House already have considerably more influence and control over the scope of debate than Members of the Scottish Parliament. It is not about creating a thing with a title; it is about delivering the objective.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): A House business committee would timetable business in this House. Were there to be a rule that it must facilitate Government business—and given that its make-up is likely to reflect the balance of parties in this place, that it was a firm part of the coalition agreement when other things were dropped, and that we have had three years to sort it out—should there not be a firm commitment in the Queen’s Speech on 8 May?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is making assumptions about the character of a House business committee based on the Wright Committee recommendations, which are being considered by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, to which I am sure he will be giving his views. It is important to recognise that among the evidence that the Committee has already received is evidence about the impracticality of implementing the Wright Committee recommendations as first set out, not least because we have already made progress in the Backbench Business Committee.

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House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


2. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): If he will review the level of provision for cyclists who regularly commute to the Palace of Westminster. [153181]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Parliament’s green travel plan will be reviewed annually, with a green travel survey conducted every two years. As part of that, the provision of facilities for cyclists on the parliamentary estate was reviewed in 2012, in consultation with the all-party group on cycling and the parliamentary bicycle users’ group. As a result, 150 additional bicycle parking spaces were provided on the estate—a 60% increase—including 60 additional covered spaces. The House recently introduced a cycle-to-work salary sacrifice scheme for House staff, alongside the existing cycle loan scheme for staff.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman makes it sound as though things have got much better, but in practice either people have to be much stronger than I am to work the new racks in most of the covered spaces or they are blocked up by people who do not commute every day. Will he please meet regular commuters to the House to see whether we can put in place mechanisms to ensure that they have access to covered bicycle parking spaces?

John Thurso: I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would be delighted to have that meeting to discuss the issue she raises. Let me assure her that the House would certainly wish to ensure that the spaces that have been provided are properly used and available for bicycle users.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Statutory Instruments (Scrutiny)

3. Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Whether he plans to review the arrangements for scrutiny of statutory instruments; and if he will make a statement. [153182]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): The Government have no current plans to review the arrangements for scrutiny of statutory instruments.

Miss McIntosh: I am particularly disappointed by that reply. The House prides itself on scrutiny of legislation, but the weakness of the system is scrutiny of statutory instruments, whether to implement primary legislation or, more especially, to transpose EU directives into UK law. Will the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House please look carefully at allowing Members of Parliament not just to vote for or against a statutory instrument but to amend the very text of those instruments?

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Tom Brake: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know this is a matter that she has been pursuing vigorously. The issue with her proposal for statutory instruments is that the two Houses could end up amending a statutory instrument in different ways. There would then need to be a reconciliation process, very similar to a Bill handling process, so there are concerns about what she suggests. If she has not already done so, she may want to raise the matter with the Chair of the Procedure Committee.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The Cabinet Office used to give us the direct numbers of private ministerial offices. This year, we were given only the number of the main departmental switchboards. This week I had a very unhelpful experience when I tried to get some information about the progress of a regulation from a particular Department. Can—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am loth to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I must confess that I am struggling to see the precise relevance of her supplementary question to the issue of scrutiny of statutory instruments. Maybe she was coming on to it.

Ann Coffey: Yes, the regulation was one that I was attempting to scrutinise the progress of, but I could not do so because of that unhelpful experience. Will the Deputy Leader of the House look into why we are no longer given the numbers of private ministerial offices, so that Members of Parliament such as me can do our jobs in scrutinising not only the regulations that are laid, but those that are about to be laid?

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which she related ingeniously to the issue of statutory instruments. I have heard her concerns and will ensure she gets a written response to her question.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Electric Vehicles (Charging Facilities)

4. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What provision the Commission is making for the charging of electric-powered vehicles on the parliamentary estate. [153183]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): There are two charging points, which are sponsored by EDF, in the underground car park for official Government cars. There are also recharging points for electric scooters and motorcycles installed in the House of Lords areas of the Palace of Westminster. Members who belong to the Source London network may use the charging facilities provided by Source London in Abingdon car park, situated underneath Abingdon green. No further provision has yet been made for the charging of electric-powered vehicles on the parliamentary estate, although the House authorities will continue to keep this under review.

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Duncan Hames: I certainly hope that the House authorities will continue to keep the matter under review, as the vast majority of us in this place have no hope of ever being able to use the electric charge points for official Government cars. My hon. Friend may have heard Transport Ministers saying earlier that the private sector was racing ahead in the provision of electric charging points. I hope he might bear that in mind when considering whether more can be done on the parliamentary estate.

John Thurso: May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the debate taking place at 1.30 this afternoon in Westminster Hall on the Transport Select Committee’s report, “Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy”? The report contains an extremely good exposé of why the wide variety of vehicle plug-in types makes it difficult to know which to install. That is the core problem, but once the House knows what should be installed, I am sure that we will do our utmost to install it.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Member Support

5. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to ensure that the House of Commons facilitates the highest level of support to enable hon. Members to represent their constituents effectively. [153184]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House continues to work closely with colleagues on the House of Commons Commission to ensure that Members are fully supported by excellent staff and have the necessary facilities to carry out their duties effectively. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, responsibility for day-to-day pay and allowances, including pay for MPs’ staff, is now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Mr Sheerman: I have raised this matter here before with the Leader of the House. The fact is that there is something deeply wrong with the way in which the House of Commons is being run at the moment. Many Members are dissatisfied with the withdrawal of many services across the piece, in Portcullis House and elsewhere. We also know that the good staff who serve us in our daily work and who do such a good job are totally disillusioned with the way in which this place is being managed. There is a management ethos that this place should be run as a business, but it is not a business. Because of the sittings and the hours, it can never be run as a business, so let us get back to its being run by dedicated staff who should be well treated and well looked after. We must ensure that we look after them because it is essential that we should be able to do our job for our constituents and for our country.

Tom Brake: I certainly agree that the House has excellent staff, and we should do everything we can to ensure that they continue to work effectively on our

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behalf. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about a specific aspect of staffing, he might find it appropriate to raise the matter with the House of Commons Commission, from which I am sure he will get a suitably informed response.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), may I draw to the Deputy Leader of the House’s attention the fact that the service desk in Portcullis House is no longer staffed? At whatever time of day one goes there for advice or to find out the location of a meeting room, there is no one there to help. I have consulted the police in Portcullis House several times, and they have been extremely helpful, but they do not always have the necessary information. I have therefore been seriously inconvenienced in the pursuit of my constituents’ interests, and I am not alone in that. Will the hon. Gentleman take action now to restore the staffing of the service desk in Portcullis House?

Tom Brake: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but I must point out that that is not a ministerial responsibility. It is a matter for the House of Commons Commission, and I am sure that its representatives will be listening carefully to this exchange and that they will want to take suitable action.

Government Expenditure (Parliamentary Scrutiny)

6. Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): What plans he has to improve the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of Government expenditure. [153185]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The Government are keen to promote better financial scrutiny and would welcome discussions on how best that can be achieved. As Leader of the House, I hope that I can work with colleagues in the Liaison Committee and across Government to ensure that the scrutiny of Government expenditure in this House promotes efficiency and value for money in all Departments.

Christopher Pincher: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, but may I press him further and ask whether he sees a role not only for the Public Accounts Committee but for Select Committees in scrutinising Government and departmental expenditure?

Mr Lansley: I do indeed see such a role. Select Committees have a responsibility in relation not only to the policy of the Departments that they scrutinise but to the Departments’ expenditure. It is fair to say, however, that there is a variable focus among Select Committees on the extent to which they scrutinise the expenditure of their Departments, but I hope that we can increase the extent of that scrutiny through the Estimates process. Also, as a member of the Public Accounts Commission, I know from the matters that we have discussed with the National Audit Office that the NAO has already made itself available to some Select Committees to help them with that process, and I hope that we can encourage more of that in future.


7. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the Report of the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons. [153186]

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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): The McKay commission reported on 25 March on how the House of Commons might deal with legislation that affects only part of the UK. This is a very important issue, which is why the Government asked this expert commission to look at it. The report makes a helpful contribution, and we will give it very serious consideration before responding substantively.

Harriett Baldwin: I look forward to that response. I would like to know whether the Leader of the House intends to act on those proposals in the next Session of Parliament.

Tom Brake: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she has pursued this matter vigorously in recent months. Clearly, the McKay commission has produced a serious report. It continues a menu of options and the Government will want to consider the recommendations very carefully before coming to any firm conclusions.

Mr Speaker: Time is against us, but I am determined to find time for the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon).

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


8. Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): What estimate the Commission has made of the number of apprentices employed in the House of Commons supply chain. [153187]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I said in my answer of 28 February that discussions with a number of major contractors such as Royal Mail suggest that they operate apprenticeship schemes within their larger businesses, but I do not have an accurate number on how many of them are in the House. Most of the procurement exercises conducted by the House administration are subject to a legal regime imposed by the European public procurement directives, which limit the conditions that the House can impose. The House administration is committed to providing apprenticeships, paid internships and encouragement for young people from all backgrounds. The apprenticeship scheme of the Clerk of the House, to be launched in the summer, will give added impetus to those efforts.

Robert Halfon: Will my hon. Friend give strong support to the apprenticeship scheme started by the senior Clerk of the House, which will give many apprentices across the country the chance to work in the House of Commons? Will he link that scheme with the parliamentary apprenticeship scheme, which I set up with New Deal of the Mind, so that we can all work together on this issue?

John Thurso: I would be delighted to commit myself and the authorities to that support. The intention of the Clerk’s scheme, shortly to be launched, is to offer 10 paid placements of 12 months’ duration leading to an NVQ. I commend it to everyone in the House.

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Business of the House

10.37 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House make some comments today about future business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): With the progress of business now certain, a formal announcement was made yesterday evening in the other place on the arrangements for Prorogation. It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicated that I expect royal commissioners to attend the other place this afternoon to signify Royal Assent to several Bills and to prorogue Parliament until Wednesday 8 May.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that there will be a Queen’s Speech on 8 May. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, and all staff of the House for their support during this Session. We prorogue today, giving Members the opportunity to get some much-needed exercise campaigning in the local elections next week. I just hope that the Leader of the House will not be in a Conservative battle bus driven by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), because she told the House this week that Sunderland was near Bolton.

In the last few days of this Session, the Government have had to throw a series of cherished policies overboard to save their Bills from falling in the Lords. They have caved in on trying to abolish the general equality duty, on caste discrimination, on the pension age of Ministry of Defence police and fire officers, on licensing letting agents and the free market free-for-all on conservatories. In the battle over the Chancellor’s “shares for rights scheme”, they managed to spark two revolts in the Lords by two previous Lib Dem leaders and four former Tory Cabinet Ministers, including a previous Tory Chancellor. Lord Forsyth, the Thatcherite former Scottish Secretary said the scheme was

“ill thought through, confused and muddled”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2013; Vol. 744, c. 597.],

while the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell asked:

“in the old days the price of slavery was 20 or 30 pieces of silver. Is it now £2,000?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2013; Vol. 744, c. 617.]

The Office for Budget Responsibility thinks that the cost of the Chancellor’s folly will be nearly £1 billion, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that it could “foster tax avoidance”. The Chancellor’s pet scheme was saved by an eleventh-hour compromise last night, but when will he realise that it is simply wrong to put a price on people’s right to be treated fairly at work?

Reflecting on the current Session, I calculated that up to this morning the Government had U-turned 21 times, an average of once every seven sitting days. The Leader of the House has just announced another U-turn, on the House business committee. I wonder whether we shall see even more in the next Session. That may be a promise that the Government considered for the Queen’s Speech: it is probably the only target that they could actually meet. I hope that the Leader of the House will

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not mind my borrowing a well-worn phrase as a piece of advice for the Government: “You turn again if you want to”—and the sooner the better.

We now know that of the 10 original members of the Downing street policy unit only three remain, and apparently two of those are actively seeking other work. So great is the exodus that Conservative Back Benchers are complaining that No. 10 resembles the Mary Celeste, and that the Deputy Prime Minister has more advisers than the boss. Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), to come and make a statement about the Government’s policy on emergency support for sinking ships?

In a desperate attempt to reverse his fortunes, the Prime Minister has just announced that the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) is to be given a job at No. 10. The problem is that the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers think that he has got the wrong brother, and that it is the top job at No.10 that the Johnson dynasty really want. Meanwhile, sources tell us that the latest round of proposed spending cuts has caused such a backlash that Cabinet Ministers are turning on each other in a circular firing squad. They cannot even organise a firing squad properly.

On Tuesday, the Office for National Statistics released the latest public sector net borrowing figures. They were a quarter of 1% lower than last year’s—and that is only after the most blatant piece of creative accounting at the Treasury that we have seen for a very long time. We now know that the Government are set to borrow £245 billion more than they planned to borrow in 2010. That is the cost of their economic failure.

The Chancellor’s deficit reduction plan has been so successful that, at the rate he is going, it will take 400 years to balance the books. If we look back 400 years, we see that the gunpowder plot had just failed, the King James Bible was newly published, and the pilgrim fathers were preparing to set sail for north America. Can the Leader of the House promise a debate in the new Session on the abject failure of the Chancellor’s economic plan? Today’s anaemic GDP figures show that we are back to where we were six months ago.

This week the Chancellor told John Humphrys that he had shed a tear while listening to the headlines on the “Today” programme. Can the Leader of the House tell us which headlines he meant? Was it the IMF describing his economic plan as “playing with fire”? Was it the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that we were in a depression? Was it yet another ratings agency stripping us of our triple A status? Or was it the Chancellor’s poll ratings, which are plummeting among his own Back Benchers?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for, in particular, expressing her appreciation for the House service, which I share. At the end of a parliamentary Session, we should express our appreciation especially for those who support us in the carrying on of the Business of the Chamber—the Clerks at the Table, in the Table Office and in the Public Bill Office, those who look after us in the Chamber, and of course the Official Reporters. The list of those on whom we depend is very long, and we are very grateful to them.

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I am not in a position to comment on business to be conducted during the next Session, but in the current Session we have completed the passage of a substantial amount of important legislation. Some 27 Bills have been passed, including three that were carried over from the first Session to the second. Important measures were introduced, such as the Justice and Security Bill, the establishment of the National Crime Agency in the Crime and Courts Bill, individual voter registration, the new green investment bank, the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, and of course just this week the Succession to the Crown Bill.

At previous business questions, the shadow Leader of the House has asked about the publication of legislation in draft. In this Session, we published 15 Bills in draft, which is more than in any previous Session, including the two-year Session that preceded this one. To that extent I hope, we have continued a process established in this Parliament by my predecessor of ensuring that the House, the public and stakeholders have the greatest possible opportunity for input and contribution to the passage of legislation.

The shadow Leader of the House raised a number of issues. I know that the Prime Minister was thinking of the right Johnson when he engaged my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) in policy making. It is not just about my hon. Friend, but about other Government Members; there is a difference. In the Liberal Democrat party, for their purposes, and in the Conservative party, elected Members of the party democratically take part in the discussion of policy, and contribute directly to policy. Labour policy is directed to Members by the trade unions. We have it from a former general secretary of the Labour party himself, who said of the trade unions that they were

“running rings around him”

—the Leader of the Opposition—

“and soon will control much of the party.”

He says that they control the selection of MEPs. They are the piper who calls the Labour party tune. In the last quarter, Len McCluskey and Unite paid a third of the Labour party’s total income—just that single trade union. Is it any surprise that it wants to go from controlling candidate selection to controlling the policy of the Labour party and who is on the Opposition Front Bench? I am sure the shadow Leader of the House is safe, but some of her colleagues are not. In the next Session, we shall see what the consequence may be in terms of changes on the Opposition Front Bench.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In the light of the imminent end of this parliamentary Session, I gently remind hon. and right hon. Members that somewhat greater ingenuity than normal will be required if their business questions are to be in order, bearing in mind, as they will, that those questions must relate to future business of the House. Perhaps we can be offered a textbook example of the genre by Mr William Cash.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I shall certainly try, Mr Speaker.

Last Saturday, 30,000 people gathered in Stafford regarding the outcome of the Francis report on the whole Stafford hospital saga; my right hon. Friend is well aware of the tragedy. The Prime Minister has given

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his personal assurance that there will be a debate in due course. Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House prepared to make sure that it happens much sooner rather than much later?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend knows that I am very well aware indeed of the situation at Stafford and all the circumstances that led to it. He will recall that the Backbench Business Committee very importantly secured a debate on NHS transparency and accountability. In response to his questions, I have made clear my view that once we have gone beyond the interim report made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, there should be occasions in the future, when the Government make a formal response to the public inquiry held by Robert Francis, for the House to have further opportunity to debate it.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 1304?

[That this House expresses its utter condemnation of and disgust with Bernard Rowen of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Limited for his repeated victimisation of a constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, whom he has dismissed twice without any valid justification; deplores slanderous statements made by management about this constituent; calls for the immediate reinstatement of this constituent and for his victimisation to cease; further calls instead for the dismissal of Bernard Rowen, who is not fit for this publicly-funded job; further calls on the Charities Commission to investigate the conduct of this organisation; further calls on the operating partners (Community Transport Services Manager, Manchester City Council, Manchester Community Transport and Manchester Ring and Ride) to carry out a similar investigation; and further calls on Transport for Greater Manchester Committee to review its funding of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport in the light of these circumstances.]

It refers to the persecution of one of my constituents by Bernard Rowen, managing director of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd, a publicly funded charitable body. Does the Leader of the House agree that the vilification, as well as the persecution and repeated dismissal, of my constituent by Rowen is outrageous and intolerable? In the remaining time for this Session, or during the recess before the resumption of Parliament on 8 May, will he take all action open to him both to find justice for my constituent and to stop public money being wasted on an organisation whose managing director behaves like a tyrant?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the House fully appreciates his concern for his constituent. I had read the early-day motion to which he refers. Of course, this is a matter for the transport and local authorities in Greater Manchester, and I know that he has been in touch with them about the situation involving Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd. If I may, through discussions with his office, I will ensure that I draw the attention of the relevant authorities to the issue and to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Is it possible to extend the duration of Transport Question Times to an hour, because the sessions are heavily oversubscribed? During today’s Transport questions, I was unable to

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raise BBC Suffolk’s “Don’t Be a Tosser” campaign on reducing road litter, and support for such an issue deserves to be raised on the Floor of the House.

Mr Lansley: These things are considered carefully, but the allocation of time for questions is a matter for the Procedure Committee in the first instance. However, I will by all means look at the point that my hon. Friend raises and the campaign in Suffolk to which she refers.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Many Members constantly have to deal with conflict between neighbours, and one of its causes is the planting of trees that undermine nearby boundary walls, drains and the foundations of neighbouring properties. Insurance companies say that that is a matter for regulation by this House, while the House says that it is a matter for insurance companies. Will the Leader of the House—either later today or in the next Session—consider whether it would be appropriate for the House to legislate on the matter and to provide guidance so that householders no longer face difficulties caused by inappropriate trees in neighbours’ gardens?

Mr Lansley: Several of my constituents have experienced such difficulties, and some hon. Members will recall that they were debated in the House when we were considering leylandii legislation. Rather than making a commitment regarding future business, I shall, if I may, seek the views of my colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that they may respond to the hon. Lady.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): In January, a new European directive changed the rules for motorcycle licences. One of my constituents booked her test before the new rules took effect, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. She is now being made to take more expensive and time-consuming tests. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a written statement to be made on how the new EU directive adversely affects those who planned to take their test before 19 January, and is there anything that can be done about this?

Mr Lansley: I understand why my hon. Friend’s constituent might have been disappointed by that turn of events. I regret that I have to say that the answer to his question is no, because apparently neither domestic regulations nor the underpinning European legislation makes any provision for such an exemption to the requirements. I am sorry to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, and I recognise why he feels for his constituent.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Leader of the House agree that this is a time to reflect on issues that we have not addressed properly during the Session? Does he agree that one of those—I wonder whether there is any time to consider this in the few hours left to us—is the rights of women? There is an exhibition on slavery in the Upper Waiting Hall, and who would have thought that we would be told that that exists in this country today? We are now aware that female genital mutilation is reasonably widespread in this country and that women in our communities are prevented from voting. Is it not about time that we

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talked about the rights of women to education and a full life? Who would have thought that, in the 21st century, we would have to discuss such issues?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues. In the course of this Session important debates have taken place relating to a number of them. I recall in particular the time that was allocated by the Backbench Business Committee around international women’s day and in anticipation of it, focusing on violence against women and violence in conflict situations. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has raised that through our leadership of the G8. He will no doubt be aware of the many steps taken by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) to support action in relation to female genital mutilation. I share with the hon. Gentleman and many Members of the House the outrage at the extent of modern slavery in this country, as illustrated and informed by the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. I attended its launch, which the Prime Minister undertook on Monday. The all-party group and Anthony Steen have done an important piece of work in bringing that exhibition here so that we can debate those issues.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): A recent meeting was held at Middlesex university in which three speakers variously said that Israelis support the death of Palestinians, glorify in Palestinian deaths and loot the bodies of dead Palestinians. When I wrote to the vice-chancellor of Middlesex university about the anguish that such unfounded comments cause local residents, he advised that when he had intervened in the past about radical and offensive speakers, the student union had complained to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the university was fined and reprimanded. May we therefore have a debate on anti-Semitism on university campuses and how we can prevent such occurrences?

Mr Lansley: I can understand how my hon. Friend might feel about that. It is of course a matter for the universities themselves, but he might consider raising it on the Adjournment, when the opportunity is once more available, as an important subject for us to consider. In the meantime I will take the opportunity to send to the vice-chancellor of Middlesex university a copy of today’s Hansard in order to ask if he will reply to my hon. Friend and to me.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Early-day motion 1305 celebrates the work of Crick and Watson, Rosalind Franklin and others on an important day: today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of their work in Nature.

[That this House marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA; notes that the article entitled Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid was published by Francis Crick and James D. Watson in the scientific journal Nature in its 171st volume on 25 April 1953; further notes that that was the first publication which described the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA; further notes that much of the data that were used by Crick and Watson came from unpublished work by Rosalind Franklin and several

25 Apr 2013 : Column 1017 others; applauds the discovery of DNA as having had a major impact on biology, particularly in the field of genetics; and further marks one of the most profound scientific discoveries of the 20th Century.


It would be a great day for the Government to show some leadership on science and commit to holding Government-sponsored debates on major science topics so that the House can be informed and develop policy on some of the important consequences of the work of those scientists and other science disciplines—for example, the articles in the paper today about genetic editing, which is going to be an important issue in relation to food supply. Will the Leader of the House give a commitment to deliver such debates in Government time?

Mr Lansley: As a Member of Parliament representing part of Cambridge, I am only too aware of that anniversary, of the tremendous character of those discoveries, and of the work that Crick and Watson and others did. That is recognised. For example, I was directly involved as Secretary of State in securing the future of the Francis Crick institute, which I see emerging next to the British Library. I think this Government are giving leadership on science. We are investing in science, we see it as an essential part of this country’s economic future, and we are supporting it to that effect, as well as recognising that the quality of our science has a unique contribution to make for the whole world. We are determined to build on that.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Would the Leader of the House consider arranging a debate about the conflict in which insolvency practitioners find themselves when they are appointed by a bank to deal with the administration of a company that has failed owing to the mis-selling of interest rate swaps and hedging products by the very same bank? There is therefore a requirement for them to pursue a claim against the bank and the desire to remain loyal to their employer and to maintain a long-term business relationship with that bank, which requires the skills of poacher and gamekeeper simultaneously.

Mr Lansley: Yes, my hon. Friend makes a point which has been raised at business questions before. It is important to try to ensure clarity about how mis-selling claims are to be handled in order to give confidence and reassurance to small firms in particular. I will ensure that in the time available we are in contact with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills about getting an answer to my hon. Friend on that point.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): The measles outbreak is not just in Wales; we have had a steep increase in reported cases in Salford, mainly among older children—10 to 14-year-olds—who were not vaccinated in the 1990s, and I understand that about 10% of them have been hospitalised. Will the Leader of the House support my message to parents who did not have their children vaccinated when they were younger that it is absolutely vital that they take them now to be fully protected by the MMR vaccine? May we also have a statement from the Health Secretary—it would have to be today, of course—on what plans he has to boost the vaccination programme?

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Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a statement today, but I am sure that the hon. Lady and the House know that Public Health England is producing publicity to encourage unvaccinated children and young people to come forward for vaccination. Having been shadow Secretary of State from 2003, I know that on both sides of the House we were very clear that the MMR vaccine was safe. We now have vaccine coverage rates back up to record levels, which is important, but we of course have an inheritance of unvaccinated young people. If we can deal with that rapidly, we will offset what would otherwise be a really unfortunate risk from a very nasty disease.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on getting young people with special needs into work? A project in my constituency and across the London borough of Redbridge will hopefully, with the help of the parent group, Interface, the borough council and employers, have the first people taking up jobs shortly.

Mr Lansley: If I may, I will join my hon. Friend in expressing appreciation in this House for the activities of Interface, other groups and his borough council. I welcome what he does on behalf of his constituents and applaud it.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): The Lord Chancellor recently announced plans to introduce price-competitive tendering in criminal legal aid. The plans are ill thought through and will destroy the criminal justice system and the criminal law profession. May we please have an urgent debate in the next Session on that very important topic?

Mr Lansley: I cannot anticipate debates in the next Session. What I can say is that what my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and his predecessor have done in trying to secure better value and a much greater focus for legal aid is terrifically important. [Interruption.] We have a very generous legal aid system, compared with countries around the world. [Interruption.] The intention is not that we should become ungenerous, but that we must be more focused and ensure that legal aid supports those who genuinely require public support in order to undertake their cases.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I have a hunch, as I suspect does the House, that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) is seeking to equal the volume of his predecessor.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): Figures released in answer to a written question I tabled on the Safe and Sustainable review show that costs to date include over £300,000 in legal fees, £1.7 million for external communication consultants and over £6 million in other costs. That is around £8 million in total. Now we hear that NHS England plans to add to the costs by appealing the High Court decision, potentially delaying the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s report. Given that, and in the time available, is there any way we can urge NHS England not to appeal, so that we can finally get a resolution to children’s heart surgery in this country?

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Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that the Safe and Sustainable review was established independently within the NHS by the joint committee of primary care trusts and that it is being sustained by NHS England on the same basis. Those are decisions for NHS England and I, of all people, must recognise that we have legislated to give it greater independence in decision making on the basis that it must lead on clinical matters. What he has said will of course be communicated to NHS England, and it will obviously consider carefully all the aspects of value for money associated with how it proceeds.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House use his influence with the Secretary of State for Education to find out why he has not come to the House today to answer for his decision yesterday to close the Department for Education offices at Castle View house in Runcorn, with the loss of at least 220 jobs, and to transfer the work to a more expensive location, despite the Runcorn office being the cheapest location, with the lowest-paid staff, in the 32nd most deprived borough in England and Wales? The opposition to that is shared in the private sector: the Halton chamber of commerce and enterprise is opposed to the move. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to come to the House today to make a statement?

Mr Lansley: I fear I do not think it will be possible for the Secretary of State to be here today to make a statement or answer an urgent question on that. I also recall that we had exchanges on this issue at business questions, and it has been the subject of meetings that have taken place, in particular with the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who explained why the move was necessary to help secure the administration cost savings—and I must say that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has been exemplary in securing administration cost savings in his Department.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The National Assembly for Wales has now resolved to take forward the Welsh Government’s proposal to introduce presumed consent into the organ donation system. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the view of the Department of Health at Westminster is made clear through a written statement on the consideration that has been given to the impact that change will have on the increasingly successful organ donation system in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend will be aware, my personal view is that the decision the Welsh Assembly Government are proceeding with is not the right one. From the Government’s point of view, I know that the Department of Health provided evidence in the consultation that illustrated that consequences and difficulties would flow to the organ donation system in England as a consequence of the proposed changes in Wales. If I may, in pursuance of this request I will ask my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary when and how he intends to follow through on those issues and on the concerns expressed at an earlier stage.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): In a few days’ time in May, the European Union arms embargo on Syria will be up for expiry. The US Administration

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said there would be a red line if chemical weapons were used in Syria. It is increasingly clear they have been used, probably by the Syrian regime. Given that, what parliamentary accountability will there be before any decision is taken by our Government to arm elements of the Syrian opposition, which includes al-Qaeda-linked jihadists?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has regularly reported to the House on these issues, including at this Dispatch Box. What he has said when he was here is still true: these are difficult areas and dynamic situations, and as a consequence the Government are not ruling out further changes and, in discussions over the next few days with our European partners we will be discussing how the arms embargo has been amended and may be amended in future. My right hon. Friend has kept the House fully informed, therefore, and I am sure he will take every opportunity to do so again in the future.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): A few weeks ago we had a debate on the lack of accountability in the NHS and I am afraid it appears that we need another one. On 19 April, these comments were made in Computer Weekly about Sir Bruce Keogh’s decision to suspend surgery at Leeds:

“Keogh, first by requesting unverified data, then by ignoring the data's obvious faults, then by breaching usual procedure in not seeking to clarify those faults, then apparently wilfully misinterpreting that data, and then using the weight of all these errors to tell Leeds to close its heart unit, may have committed a serious breach of protocols he had helped establish.”

Why is the Secretary of State for Health still refusing to have an independent investigation into this matter?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary said in response to an urgent question about these issues. I share the Health Secretary’s confidence in the decisions that Sir Bruce Keogh took and, indeed, his precautionary approach. As my hon. Friend will recall, in a matter of days he and NHS England were able to agree with Leeds general infirmary on how to proceed in a way that offered parents and children the necessary reassurance about safety.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Today’s quarterly growth figures are truly lamentable. May we have an emergency debate during the next few hours, so that although the Government have no new policies to offer, they can at least show their concern about the situation?

Mr Lansley: Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, I think that today’s figures are an encouraging sign of how the economy is healing. We know the economic backdrop and the House is under no illusions about how difficult the economic circumstances are, not just in this country but, as the IMF has made clear, across Europe in particular. The IMF’s forecasts for this country were for a limited return to growth, but that growth was stronger than that of France and Germany. Alongside that, we have to maintain the credibility of our fiscal position and give space for an activist monetary stance. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill and related measures show that in this Session we have taken every

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possible action to promote enterprise and wealth creation, because they are the only means by which the growth we are looking for will come.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): It is said that there are three types of economist: those who can count and those who cannot. [Interruption.] I knew that hon. Members would get that eventually. Given that this morning’s GDP growth figure of 0.3% was three times the much-reported best upper estimate of the BBC, may we have a debate on BBC bias?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a debate in this Session, but some Select Committees are taking every opportunity to scrutinise the governance of the BBC, so I encourage my hon. Friend to discuss the issue with them.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Figures this week show that in the course of this Parliament, Hull will lose a total of £649 per head through local government and welfare cuts, compared with Surrey Heath, which will lose only £199 per head. May we have an urgent statement from the relevant Minister on why this Government want to penalise the most disadvantaged parts of this country?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry, but that is one of the poorest uses of statistics I have heard. One has to recognise the base one is starting from. In some parts of the country, Government grant to local authorities is very modest in the first place, while the consequences of reductions in central Government spending, which are necessary—we have to do it—are, in absolute terms, greater in those places where the original level of grant distributed was highest. We cannot avoid that simple fact. We are setting out to make sure that we are fair across the country and that the way in which grant is distributed reflects need properly.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When a suitable opportunity presents itself, might we have a debate on magistrates courts and magistrates? Figures released earlier this week show that 3.8% of offenders who appear before magistrates courts are jailed, but the figure in Northamptonshire is the highest in the country at 6.5%. Such a debate would allow me and other Northamptonshire MPs to praise magistrates in Northamptonshire, including the Kettering bench, for their effective use of sentencing powers.

Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend knows, the Crime and Courts Bill has completed its passage through the House. I would not want to encourage him to believe that the Government want to compare sentences and praise sentencing in some courts relative to others. We in this House establish the legal framework, but we rightly expect magistrates and, indeed, judges to make their own decisions, and circumstances will vary across the country. It is entirely open for Members of Parliament to act in their own constituencies, as my hon. Friend does, and to speak freely on behalf of the people they represent.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Before the House rises, may we have a statement from the Chancellor about the pitiful state of the construction industry in this country? Is the Leader of the House

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aware that the Office for National Statistics established this morning that construction output has shrunk by a tenth under this Government and that 70,000 jobs in the sector were lost in the year to last December? Do Members not deserve an urgent opportunity to find out whether the Government have any plans to deal with that dreadful situation?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman knows that construction orders were up in the last quarter and that new work is up. It is a bit rich for any Labour Member to speak about construction, because they know as well as I do, when they look in their hearts, that construction activity in this country, and house building in particular, fell off a cliff in 2008 as a consequence of the bust that the Labour Government said would never happen. We are fighting our way back. The Chancellor’s Budget set out unprecedented measures to support new house building in this country and the Government continue to spend more on infrastructure investment than the last Labour Government had planned to spend.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): During this Session, we have had debates about skills and apprenticeships, tax competitiveness, the progress in cutting red tape, and investment in transport and digital infrastructure, such as the successful rural broadband project in North Yorkshire. When we return for the new Session, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate that pulls all those things together and reviews the progress towards making the UK a better place to do business?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right. There are some very impressive schemes in North Yorkshire that demonstrate how IT can be used in rural areas. I am aware of that not least because of the way in which the telehealth and telecare systems were rolled out by North Yorkshire county council. In the year ahead, the introduction of the £2,000 employment allowance will reduce businesses’ national insurance contributions bill for employing people and stimulate further employment, we will move to having the joint lowest corporation tax rates among the G20 countries and there will be a tenfold increase in the investment allowance for businesses. I hope that it will be recognised that those measures and many others are making this country the best place to do business. In the next year, I hope that we will take every opportunity not only to add to that, but to shout about it in this country and beyond.

Mr Speaker: Miss Anne McIntosh.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): How incredibly kind, Mr Speaker.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published its draft clauses for revising the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and asked the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to report by 29 April? We stand prepared to do that, but there is the slight problem that the House is not meeting next week to enable us to adopt our formal report. Prorogation is the only time when no Select Committee can meet. I ask the Leader of the House to use his good offices to ensure that the Department does not publish the clauses formally, but awaits the opinion of the Select Committee so that

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there is proper scrutiny and we do not repeat the situation that gave rise to the 1991 Act, which has caused so much concern that it now needs to be revised.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She raises an issue of timing. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consults her. What may be done formally during Prorogation is limited, but rather more may be done informally. Clauses would not be published during Prorogation. We will wait until the new Session before proceeding, subject to what is in the Gracious Speech, with the publication of further legislation.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1310 on the plight of disabled staff working for Tesco?

[That this House is concerned by reports from disabled Tesco workers in Harlow, that they may be forced into redundancy because their existing adjustments will not be transferred to the new site at Dagenham; notes reports that one warehouseman, who has been registered disabled and received an adjustment for many years, will be expected to hit new performance targets within an eight-week trial period at the new site; further notes the anxieties of disabled workers that this may make moving to the new site effectively impossible for them, pushing them into unemployment; and therefore urges Tesco’s management to allow Harlow workers to transfer to the new site with their existing pay and their existing terms and conditions, including disability adjustments.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the closure of the Tesco distribution plant in Harlow, and there are disabled workers at risk of redundancy. One warehouseman has been registered as disabled for six years, yet he has been told that in order to transfer to Dagenham and keep his job, he must lose his disability adjustment and will be expected to hit new performance targets in an eight-week trial period at the new site. That will be impossible for him and could push him on to the dole. Will the Leader of the House urge Tesco to be more compassionate and treat all its workers fairly—disabled or otherwise—and ensure that workers who move to the Dagenham plant get the same pay and conditions for doing the same job?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend’s constituents in Harlow affected by the redundancy consequent on the changes to Tesco’s distribution facilities will be grateful to him for the way that he has represented them, not only as a community of employees, but in this instance individually. It is not for me at the Dispatch Box to urge anything on a private company in such a way, but I take the opportunity to draw what my hon. Friend has said directly to the attention of Tesco, and ask it to respond. I hope it will do so very sympathetically.

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Point of Order

11.20 am

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday it was reported that the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has been taken seriously ill. Is there a mechanism by which the House can send its best wishes to his family, and wish our fellow parliamentarian a speedy recovery?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and the answer is that he has found his own mechanism. The sentiments that he has expressed towards the right hon. Gentleman and his family will be reflected in the feelings of the whole House.

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Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Consideration of Lords message

11.21 am

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I beg to move,

That this House does not insist on its amendment 25E, to which the Lords have disagreed, and agrees with the Lords in their amendments 25H rev and 25J in lieu.

On Tuesday when we considered this issue the House agreed to two amendments to the employee shareholder clause. First, we ensured that individuals would receive written particulars to explain the employment rights that are not associated with an employee shareholder job. Those particulars will also explain the rights attached to shares that are given as part of that role. Secondly, we amended the clause to ensure that individuals had the space and time to consider whether or not to accept the job.

Yesterday, the other place agreed further amendments to help ensure that individuals fully understand what those employee shareholder jobs will mean for them—both the risks and the rewards. Individuals who are offered employee shareholder roles must now receive independent advice before they can accept the job. That advice can be given only by a solicitor, a barrister, a fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives employed in a solicitor’s practice, a certified adviser in an advice centre or—I am sure Opposition Members will welcome this—a certified trade union official. A person employed by the company, such as an in-house lawyer, cannot give that advice; it must be independent. In addition, the company must pay any reasonable costs incurred in obtaining that advice, even if the individual does not take up the offer of the employee shareholder job.

The amendments also clarify the process of becoming an employee shareholder. When offered an employee shareholder role, an individual must be given the written particulars in advance of receiving independent advice. We have also made it clear that the seven calendar day consideration period starts only once the individual has received the advice.

Those amendments confirm our intention that the new employment status is wholly voluntary. I have made it clear throughout the debates on the clause in the House and in Committee, and my hon. and noble Friend Viscount Younger has made it clear in another place, that we do not want people to be coerced into the new roles. It is important that they should agree to accept an employee shareholder job only when they understand what it means for them.

To that end, we have published guidance in draft. In response to the concerns expressed by some of my noble Friends, we have strengthened the measures by saying that there should be special protection for those on jobseeker’s allowance—they cannot be mandated to take that type of employment status. We have provided a written statement of the particulars and a cooling-off period, and we have now provided access to independent legal advice.

The shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), kept pressing me on Tuesday on what I meant when I said that we would reflect on the concerns expressed in

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the other place. The new measures are the results of such reflection. We have reflected on and met those concerns.

I pay tribute to Lord Pannick and to my noble Friends Lord King of Bridgwater and Lord Forsyth. Lord Pannick has said:

“It is impossible to see what further protections this House could usefully add.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 April 2013; Vol. 744, c. 1464.]

The House should support the further amendments to clause 27, so that it can form part of this important pro-growth Bill and provide companies and individuals with a new employment option.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Where on earth does one start with this poor excuse of a Bill? It is worth reflecting on where it all started. The Bill was a ridiculous and badly thought-out idea cooked up for insertion in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s conference speech. It has been so badly handled and so badly thought through that people from all political parties, employers and employees have united in almost universal opposition to it.

Lord Bilimoria, one the country’s best-known business men, who voted against the plan in the other place yesterday, described the policy not just as a dog’s breakfast, but as a mad dog’s breakfast. The noble Lord is a man to whom all hon. Members should sit up and listen. I do not know whether hon. Members have partaken of Cobra beer while treating themselves to a curry, but Lord Bilimoria is the man behind Cobra. He is certainly worth listening to. He said that:

“from a businessman’s point of view, this does not make sense. It is absolutely unnecessary to do this”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 April 2013; Vol. 744, c. 1450.]

The Minister referred to the concessions—that concessions have been forced out of the Government serves only to reinforce how badly thought-out the proposal was. Whether or not JSA claimants could lose their benefit if they refuse to accept job offers carrying the employee shareholder status was an obvious question. I first asked it in November, when the Government ignored it. I repeated it, and the Government said that they could not lose their benefit. When they were mauled on the point in the other place, they effectively admitted that they could. In order to get the proposal through in the face of opposition from several former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, the Government had to come to the House last week and agree to amend the guidance for Department for Work and Pensions Jobcentre Plus advisers to state explicitly that a jobseeker cannot be mandated to apply for an employee shareholder job. They should have done that in the first instance. What a total shambles.

Another issue is the advice and guidance to potential employees, and the need to ensure that they understand what they are getting into. Of course people were going to be concerned—that was obvious. If, as is the case at the moment, the law requires that people who sign away their fundamental rights on leaving employment receive proper legal advice and guidance, then of course people were going to insist on getting similar advice on entering employment. I doubt the thought even passed through the Chancellor’s mind as he pursued his ideological fixation with watering down people’s rights at work.

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Now there is a requirement for employers to pay for that advice in advance of a potential employee shareholder entering into an agreement. The point is this: these concessions are not enough and they were never going to be enough, because this entire proposal is wrong in principle. I think that most Government Members know that: it has been notable how few Government Members have stood in support of this measure.

11.30 am

During the passage of the Bill, no coherent explanation has been offered for why it is necessary to link employee ownership to people losing the fundamental rights at work that we all enjoy. No evidence has been put forward to suggest that this is what people want. The expert in this matter is the Employee Ownership Association, which has been a major influence behind the growth of employee ownership in the UK. Its chief executive could not have been clearer on this point yesterday, when he said that its membership have been absolutely clear that

“There is no need to dilute the rights of workers in order to grow employee ownership and no data to suggest that doing so would significantly boost employee ownership. Indeed all of the evidence is that employee ownership in the UK is growing and the businesses concerned thriving, because they enhance”—


“not dilute the working conditions and entitlements”—

of the work force.

Never mind the principles, all the way through the passage of the Bill, in the other place and in this House, Ministers have simply failed to convince on how it would work in practice.

I mentioned industrial relations on a previous occasion and explained that, from a practitioner’s point of view, I do not understand how it would help employee relations if, in the middle of one’s employment, an employer suddenly says, “You know what? I think I’m going to give you some shares, but in return I want you to give up your fundamental rights at work.” No explanation has been given as to why, practically, that would work. I have said that taking away people’s employment rights, such as those on unfair dismissal, will simply encourage people, when they fall out with their employers, to bring spurious discrimination claims. This measure will inevitably lead to that, and there has been no explanation of how that will be addressed.

On the valuation of shares, I have asked how on earth shares given to employees will be valued. Again, very little information has been given. In fact, the Minister in the other place, Viscount Younger, last night acknowledged that for private companies there is no traded market that enables easy valuation of shares.

There is then the issue of tax avoidance. This is the Government who say that they want to clamp down on tax avoidance. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says that to the extent that this proposal will be used, it will foster tax avoidance on a grand scale. Viscount Younger said that the Government would not allow the scheme to be used in that way yet, as we have seen all along, he gave no specific detail whatsoever on what the Government would do to prevent it.

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I want to finish by dwelling on what the Bill is all about. As the Minister said, it is called the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. We have learned that the economy has gone back to where it was six months ago and that we are undergoing the slowest economic recovery in 100 years, and the Government have come forward with this. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that the Bill promotes growth.

What of my opposite number, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills? He has been nowhere to be seen at the scene of this crime. Where has he been? He is the man who said that he fundamentally objected to the Beecroft proposals put forward by the Conservative donor, yet he is not here and the Bill will strip away people’s rights at work in a way, some would argue, that even Beecroft did not contemplate. [Interruption.] I am told the Secretary of State is in Brazil. He said last February, in his famous letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, that the Government had no compelling vision for growth and were coming forward with fairly piecemeal measures.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a very good case. It is notable not only that the Business Secretary is not here, but that no one from his party is here. It will be interesting to see, in a few minutes when we go through the Lobby, whether the rest of the invisible men and women turn up to vote, or whether they abstain and renege again on workers’ rights.

Mr Umunna: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fairness to Conservative Government Members, at least they are up front and frank about their purpose in taking away people’s rights at work and do not, while voting for measures that do that, claim to be doing otherwise. We will watch carefully to see which Liberal Democrat Members join us in the Division Lobby.

I return to my previous point: there is no compelling vision for growth in the Bill. On all the evidence, the comments that the Business Secretary made in his letter to the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister last year are just as valid now as they were then, which is why we will not support this ludicrous measure and have resisted it every step of the way.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) on the Front Bench. There is a parallel here with the privatisations and de-mutualisations of the 1980s and early 1990s, when consumers and partners—shareholders, if one likes—in mutual organisations were persuaded to give up their rights for shares, which were then sold. A classic example is Northern Rock, which had to be funded by the taxpayer to prevent it from being destroyed, and just recently came the disaster affecting the old Trustee Savings Bank, which was a mutual bank serving the country and its customers very well. It was forced to privatise and has now turned out to be an expensive disaster, a basket case that even the Co-op bank cannot afford to take on. This will cost the Government money. Again, a Conservative Government are persuading people to give up rights for shares that will last a few weeks, and then they will have lost their rights for good.

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Mr Anderson: This section of the Bill should be called, “The shoot from the lip” section, because that is exactly where it came from—a throwaway line in a conference speech by a Chancellor whose arrogance is matched only by his ignorance. It was an anti-trade union, anti-worker comment to score cheap political points by the seaside during the Tory party conference. This is a man who has decided to run a Government along dividing lines, a man whose Prime Minister’s background is summed up entirely by the fact that he was a public relations expert—and that is how he continues to run this country.

This proposal has shown yet again that the Conservative party still believes in the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It is banana-republic stuff. We are asking people to sell their rights. It is abysmal. If we asked people to sell their rights in any other part of what has become a civilised society in the 21st century, we would be laughed out of court, but the Government are serious about doing this, despite the huge opposition from everyone who really knows about it—the people in the workplace, in businesses and in the other House, who have said very clearly that this is nonsense.

The Minister said it was impossible to see what more reassurance we could want, but it is impossible for me to see why on earth we are bothering with this. This has been a complete and utter waste of parliamentary time. We have got lots of parliamentary time, by the way. We are going to be on holiday for another two weeks when we could have been discussing really serious things. The next motion is being pushed through in an hour and a half. This is just about a Tory party struggling to find a dividing line. Amendments 25F and 25G talk about “drag-along rights” and “tag-along rights”. As I read them, I was reminded of children’s hour on the television in the 1950s—you are probably too young to remember, Mr Speaker. There used to be programmes called, “Rag, Tag and Bobtail”, “Andy Pandy” and “Bill and Ben”, but we have been treated this week and over the past nine months to the “Woodentops”

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I cannot match that. Reminiscences are a strong point of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson).

I want to make four brief points. First, I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a disastrous way to make legislation. It started with a stunt, and then we got to what the Minister called “ministerial reflection”. This is not an example of ministerial reflection; it is an example of ministerial retreat.

Secondly, the Minister has said again today that this will be voluntary and that protections will be in place. There are more than 2.5 million unemployed, and it is rising. People are desperate for work and will do anything they possibly can to find a job. The pressure to take the shares or perhaps lose the job—that informal pressure—will ensure that this is not voluntary. It is like putting food on a plate in front of a hungry person and saying that it is voluntary to eat it. We will monitor this and I would welcome a six-monthly report from Ministers on how many people take up the option. It will not be a long report, as this proposal is almost dead in the water already; in fact one could probably come along with a list of the few names of those who have taken it up.