9.34 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Today we have had a very good debate. We have had no fewer than 25 speeches and 16 maiden speeches. I shall dwell for a few moments, if I may, on some of the maiden speeches from both sides of the House today.

The first maiden speech was delivered by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), who informed us that he was a Scottish Member, though he was of Italian extraction, but that he was proudly British. We then heard from the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), and from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who said that she had a great parliamentary ambition—she hoped to be a member of the ladies tug-of-war team. We hope that she is successful in that. She neglected to mention that she used to be a Member of the Welsh Assembly as well. I should have thought that that was of note.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) say that he had a Welsh—or Celtic, as he called it—background. We went on to hear from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in a very statesmanlike speech. We heard a notable maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who distinguished herself by reciting “The Red Flag”. I hoped she would sing it as well. We had a maiden speech also from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who observed that she had characteristics similar to those of James Bond. I suggest that is because Sean Connery is an SNP supporter. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who is carrying forward the socialist tradition with great pride, if Members understand what I mean.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) and from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), who mentioned Bruce Springsteen. That honourable and distinguished cast was reinforced with the mention of Robbie Williams by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth). We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), and the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), who recommended that hon. Members bring their wallets when they come to his constituency. I am certain they will take note of that.

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The prize, if there is a prize, for the most engaging maiden speech this evening must go to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who mentioned that he was successful in being elected to this House at the fifth attempt. He must have the House of Commons prize for perseverance.

Taken together, the speeches today demonstrated the geographic and cultural diversity of the House of Commons and of our country, and the political differences that exist across our nation. The debate today also demonstrated how politics in Scotland has changed over the past 12 months. In the space of less than a year Scotland has experienced two extraordinary democratic processes—the referendum and the general election. In the general election the people of Scotland decided who they wanted to represent them in the United Kingdom. At that point I expected a cheer, but SNP Members have probably run out of breath because of all the barracking they have been giving some of us today. In the referendum, after an unprecedented national debate in Scotland, the people of Scotland decided to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Many lessons can be drawn from those two events. What is clear beyond any shadow of doubt is that in the referendum the people of Scotland voted to remain part of a family. They voted to share economic risks and opportunities with the rest of the United Kingdom. They decided to pool resources. They voted for a fair distribution of tax and spending. They voted to tackle international issues on a collective basis and they voted for common domestic concerns to be tackled co-operatively.

Importantly, the Scottish people also voted for social solidarity with people from all parts of the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) noted earlier. Today I am speaking very much as a Welshman and as someone who is proud of his identity, and indeed of his accent. I recognise that many of the concerns, hopes and aspirations of my Caerphilly constituents are shared by working people in Cowdenbeath, Carlisle, Coventry and Cornwall.

John Redwood: Can the hon. Gentleman sketch for us how Labour would have a fair financial settlement between Wales, England and Scotland? How would the block grant for Scotland be adjusted?

Wayne David: Well, we of course have an agreement—a fiscal framework—and we have a cast-iron commitment to ensuring that the Barnett formula remains in place. We have also suggested the need for a Barnett floor in Wales, in order to tackle underfunding, and I think that that principle should also be considered for the rest of the United Kingdom.

One of the key messages of the referendum campaign is that the ties that hold us together are important and real. Another lesson, however, is that there is a need for radical constitutional change. Yes, the Scottish people wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, but they also want the ability to determine their own priorities and shape their own nation’s future.

Labour, as one of the signatories to the Smith agreement, welcomes the Bill. It will make real many of the commitments made by the Smith commission, and it will take Scotland forward in a number of important

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respects, such as a new constitutional commitment on taxation and welfare. But the Bill also has its shortcomings. Scotland needs to have the ability to make different choices from those of a right-wing Government based here in London. That is why Labour will be putting forward amendments in Committee to strengthen the Bill. We want the Scottish Parliament to be unfettered in adding to UK benefits, and we want it to be able to create new benefits of its own. We will also seek to amend the Bill so that housing benefit is devolved in full.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) made a number of pertinent references to the Sewell convention and the need for it to operate effectively. Sound references were also made to the Human Rights Act, which needs careful consideration, because aspects of the devolution settlements in Wales and Scotland, and especially in Northern Ireland, are clearly based on that Act. Any tinkering with that Act by the Conservative Government, or even its abandonment, needs careful consideration of the implications for devolution.

Stewart McDonald: Given that the Scottish Parliament has voted to extend equality at every opportunity it has had to do so—something that this House cannot come close to claiming—do the hon. Gentleman and his party share my disappointment that full devolution of equality law is missing from the Bill?

Wayne David: There is already a reference to equality in the Bill, but it is one of the things that will need to be considered carefully in Committee, because the detail of the proposed legislation is important, but so too is the spirit.

Pete Wishart: I know that the hon. Gentleman is only here because there is no other Scottish Labour MP to make the speech, but does he not think that the Scottish Labour party really needs to rethink its whole approach to issues such as the Scotland Bill and to start reinventing itself in order to gain credibility in Scotland?

Wayne David: I think that it is important to recognise that meaningful constitutional change will require all sections of this House to unite wherever possible. I urge my SNP colleagues to recognise that this is not just a constitutional norm, but a way to make practical progress. I urge the hon. Gentleman to be gracious and generous in his comments, and perhaps we can have a discussion outside the House as well as in the Chamber.

When we consider this Bill in Committee, after discussions outside the Chamber as well as inside, it is important to take into account the work that the Scottish Parliament has been doing in this regard. I have been taking particular note of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the work of the House of Lords, which was mentioned earlier. It is also important that we refer to the work that has already been done by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. It is a great shame that the Government wish to do away with that Committee at a very crucial time.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his generous remarks about the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and

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the excellent job that it did on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Smith commission proposals. On the excellent list of devolved powers that are going to Scotland, is there anything in the water in Northern Ireland, Wales or England that would prevent us from having a similar list of powers should those nations within the Union feel that that was appropriate?

Wayne David: I thought that my hon. Friend might respond to the generous but accurate remarks that I made about him and his Committee. I hope that other Committees of the House will be able, in one way or another, to take forward the effective work that his Committee has done. We are naturally focusing on Scottish devolution, but devolution is a process that must encompass, in different ways, all parts of the United Kingdom. It is a principle that is in tune with the demands of the age. Devolution is undoubtedly the way forward for Scotland. It was Labour’s Keir Hardie, a Scotsman who represented a Welsh seat—he was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds)—who pioneered devolution, it was Labour that created the Scottish Parliament, and it is Labour that really wants to take devolution forward within the context of the United Kingdom and is determined to press for it, in different ways, for the whole of the UK.

First, to consider how devolution can be developed most effectively and appropriately for different parts of the United Kingdom, we need a constitutional convention, for which Labour has argued for some time. Such a convention would look at not only devolution but the interface between those sets of constitutional changes and the other consequential changes that need to be made so that we can have a modern democracy fit for purpose.

Where decentralisation has not yet come about, people throughout the country want it, and they are right. Devolution is necessary if we are to meet the challenges we face in the modern world. In the 21st century, decision making needs to be as close to the people we represent as possible. Local, regional, Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish decision making needs to be at a level that is effective, that can engage with people, and that reinforces all our people’s diverse senses of identity. On that basis, we give our support to the Second Reading of this Bill so that this House, in Committee, will have a chance to make it much better and much stronger.

9.48 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is a great pleasure to conclude today’s debate—a very good debate with a large number of contributions. We heard a large number of maiden speeches, all consistently of a very good standard.

Let me begin by saying a few words about those speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) delivered a fluent and thoughtful speech in which he covered the whole of his constituency. I think he mentioned every village—I hope so. He certainly mentioned a very large number, and if one was missed off I am sure that someone will notice.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) on an excellent speech in which she spoke passionately about childcare, the dairy industry,

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and, indeed, devolution. She mentioned that she did not have an entirely successful introduction to being a Member of Parliament in terms of the tug-of-war competition, but she had a very successful maiden speech, and I congratulate her on it.

I also congratulate the SNP Members who delivered their maiden speeches today. They may, at one level, not want to be part of this House, but they certainly made very good contributions to this House today. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) delivered a passionate speech, which embodied her point that we in this House should respect one another. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) told a moving family story. She also spoke passionately and will clearly be a strong defender of her constituents. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) delivered a fluent and articulate speech, as did the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell); I suspect that both of them will have significant roles to play in their party in the years ahead.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) delivered a strong and passionate speech, on which I congratulate her. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) made an engaging speech, winning over the House with his remarks, particularly his well-made comments about the Westminster staff and the support that they provide to new MPs.

I turn now to the Labour Benches. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) on her speech. She spoke about her background in drama and performing arts; she certainly delivered a fine performance today. She did not quite burst into song with “The Red Flag”, but she recited it. Personally, I am not sure that that is the right direction for her party to be taking, but who am I to say? The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), after much determination to arrive in this place, delivered a thoughtful speech, mentioning the success of the innovative companies in his constituency. He also discussed devolution within Cambridge, and he will be aware of the measures that the Government are taking on that.

The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) delivered an excellent speech, demonstrating a great knowledge and love of her constituency that was much appreciated. The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) delivered an excellent speech as a successor to Dawn Primarolo; as someone who has been a tax Minister for a number of years, I too know what it is like to follow in her distinguished footsteps. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) delivered a witty and engaging speech. He mentioned “Mr Smith Goes to Washington”; his was a “Mr Smith goes to Westminster” speech. As someone who also knows and loves that film, I hope that he does not engage in filibustering in quite the same way as James Stewart’s character in that film.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) delivered a passionate speech, making the case with great sincerity that her constituency is the most beautiful seat in the country. I am not quite sure that she brought the House with her on that point, but she had a pretty good stab at it. An easier case, if I may say so, was made by the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), who delivered an excellent speech highlighting

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some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation. All those speeches were excellent starts to parliamentary careers.

I also mention my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who delivered his second speech, although he sounded like a parliamentary veteran; it was a fluent speech. Indeed, given that it was his second speech, he was one of the more senior Members speaking in this debate. A similar point could be made about the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who also spoke extremely well.

This has been an excellent debate about an important matter. At times, there has been a strong sense of consent and a constructive approach, which I certainly welcome. To echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he opened this debate, I thank the members of the Smith commission, particularly Lord Smith, for helping us to take devolution in Scotland to the next stage after the referendum. Their hard work secured a consensus among all five parties, of which all participants can be proud. Implementing the Smith commission agreement will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most devolved in the world. The Scotland Bill represents the formal step by which we will make that transformation happen in full.

Alex Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gauke: I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has not spoken for a little while, so I will give way.

Alex Salmond: The Minister will know that a lot of this debate is centred on what a dispute resolution and an adjudication would look like and in what circumstances consent could be reasonably or unreasonably withheld. He has been a Treasury Minister for five years. Can he point to a single occasion when a dispute between the Treasury and a devolved Administration—there have been many such disputes—has been resolved in favour of the devolved Administration by the Treasury?

Mr Gauke: The reality, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, is that there has been a spirit of working constructively from the Government across the piece. On the particular issue of welfare, concerns have been raised about what the SNP describes as a veto. Put simply, it is not a veto. The position is that there are clauses whereby, for practical reasons, the Secretary of State needs to give consent to ensure that something is practical. That consent cannot be unreasonably withheld, and if something is unreasonably withheld the courts can declare that it has been unreasonably withheld.

Ian Murray: I hope I do not get struck by lightning for agreeing with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), but could the Minister and the Secretary of State look at clause 25, particularly subsection (3)(b), to see whether it could be redrafted to take away the ambiguity about whether or not there is a veto?

Mr Gauke: There is no veto. Our approach will be constructive throughout all stages of the Bill. I want to be clear with the House. The intention is not to block a measure in perpetuity; it is to ensure that something

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that has an impact on the Department for Work and Pensions can be done practically, because DWP has to deliver it and needs to be able to ensure that it can do so.

I am pleased to say that earlier today the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury met the Deputy First Minister. They had a productive meeting and agreed to immediately start work on the fiscal framework, which works alongside the Scotland Bill, ensuring that the Scottish Parliament has the tools it needs to manage its significant new tax and spending powers. We have agreed to aim to finalise the fiscal framework by the autumn, alongside the passage of the Scotland Bill through Parliament.

Mr Graham Allen: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gauke: I am short of time and need to make more progress before concluding.

Last year the people of Scotland made a clear choice. It is a choice that must be honoured, so it was a key commitment in this Government’s manifesto that the all-party Smith commission agreement should be implemented in full. With this Bill, we deliver on those commitments. It will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most devolved legislatures in the world. It will deliver unprecedented new powers to Holyrood. It will give the Scottish Government the tools to manage their economy and make important decisions on behalf of the people of Scotland. This Bill demonstrates our willingness and determination to ensure that we fulfil our obligations. It implements the Smith commission and I hope it has the support of Members on both sides of the House. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Scotland Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Scotland Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee

(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be completed in four days.

(3) The proceedings shall be taken on the days shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order so shown.

(4)The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table
ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

First day

Clauses 1 to 11, new Clauses relating to Part 1, new Schedules relating to Part 1

The moment of interruption on the first day.

Second day

Clauses 12 to 17, Schedule 1, Clause 18, new Clauses relating to Part 2, new Schedules relating to Part 2

The moment of interruption on the second day.

Third day

Clauses 19 to 30, new Clauses relating to Part 3, new Schedules relating to Part 3

The moment of interruption on the third day.

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Fourth day

Clauses 31 to 37, Schedule 2, Clauses 38 to 45, new Clauses relating to Part 4, new Schedules relating to Part 4

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the fourth day.

Clauses 46 to 55, new Clauses relating to Part 5, new Schedules relating to Part 5, Clauses 56 to 58, new Clauses relating to Part 6, new Schedules relating to Part 6, Clauses 59 to 64, new Clauses relating to Part 7, new Schedules relating to Part 7, remaining proceedings on the Bill

The moment of interruption on the fourth day.

Consideration and Third Reading

(5) Any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(6) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

Programming committee

(7) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to proceedings on Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(8) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

Question agreed to.

Scotland Bill (MONEY)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Scotland Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

Question agreed to.

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Scotland Bill (WAYS AND MEANS)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Scotland Bill, it is expedient to authorise–

(1) the imposition by virtue of a Scottish rate resolution of the Scottish Parliament of charges to income tax in relation to the income of Scottish taxpayers,

(2) the making of provision, by Act of the Scottish Parliament, for imposing a tax to be charged on the carriage of passengers by air from airports in Scotland,

(3) the making of provision, by Act of the Scottish Parliament, for imposing a tax to be charged on aggregate when it is subjected to commercial exploitation in Scotland, and

(4) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.

In this Resolution, ‘Scottish rate resolution’ means a resolution providing for the rate or rates payable by Scottish taxpayers for any tax year on income other than savings income, any such rate being a whole number or half a whole number or zero. —(Charlie Elphicke.)

Question agreed to.

petition

Protection of green spaces at Capstone Valley and areas around Otterham Quay Lane (Gillingham and Rainham)

Mr Speaker: I am genuinely sorry that the Chamber is marginally less packed than it previously was, but that is no reflection on the hon. Gentleman or the quality of his petition.

9.59 pm

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I wish to present a petition about the protection of green spaces at Capstone Valley and areas around Otterham Quay Lane in Gillingham and Rainham.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Gillingham and Rainham,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the importance of Capstone Valley and the green lungs east of Rainham around Otterham Quay Lane should be protected from development.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to protect these much valued important green areas.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001527]

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Inward Investment: Southend

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

10.1 pm

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Although it is a little disappointing that there is not a packed House to listen to what I have to say about Southend, from looking around the Chamber I can see that we have the quality. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Communities and Resilience on being re-elected as the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford with a huge majority, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on similarly being re-elected with a large majority.

I could not be more pleased that my right hon. Friend will reply to this debate. He is only too well aware that there are not too Members left who can recall a Conservative majority Government. He and I worked together in the constituency of Basildon. During that time, we managed to change the public perception of Basildon, and it became the magnificent town it is today. We managed to turn round some negative things: with two days to go, we stopped the closure of the accident and emergency unit; we stopped the destruction of a silver birch forest; we saved three secondary schools from closure; and we got 10,000 council houses, which had been sold, repurchased because of clay heave.

I mean this in the nicest sense possible, but I say to my right hon. Friend that now there is a Conservative Government—and we are blessed with a Speaker who believes that every Member of Parliament elected to this place is equal, and that all our voices will be heard—I am absolutely determined that this Conservative Government, whom I support, will act not only on behalf of my constituents in Southend to make it an even better place than it is, but on behalf of the country. In future, I do not expect Ministers just to pay lip service to what I am asking them to do; I expect action, and tonight is the start of the action. At the end of this short debate, I hope that my right hon. Friend will see to it that Southend is granted city status.

In the position he now occupies, my right hon. Friend is following my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), now the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), now the Chief Whip, who both responded to such debates when we were in the coalition Government. Now we are a Conservative Government, I fully expect city status to be granted to Southend. In every respect, Southend qualifies to be a city. It certainly has its own distinct identity.

Southend’s local authority has no overall control. There are 22 Conservatives, constituting far and away the largest party, and the Labour, Liberal, Independent and UKIP councillors have joined together to prevent the Conservatives from controlling the authority. Quite how that works from a philosophical point of view I do not know, but there is no doubt that the Conservative council did a magnificent job in restoring the fortunes of Southend. We enjoy excellent communication and transport links, and the A127 and A13 have been upgraded. The most recent development, of which my right hon. Friend is well aware, is the extension of the Tesco

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junction along the A127, which has had to deal with congestion caused by employees at the RBS site and the Tesco Extra store—and, now, with the presence of London Southend airport. The extension has greatly relieved the congestion in the area.

I am not sure that constituents understand the constraints that affect Ministers. Ministers cannot ask questions or initiate debates, but I have discussed a number of points with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—who is also the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—and our views on the local railway lines are very similar. For instance, c2c is absolutely magnificent. When I was the Member of Parliament for Basildon, it was known as the misery line. It is now known as the happy line, and I congratulate it on that.

However, my hon. Friend and I have some concerns about the Greater Anglia railway line. I recently made a public journey on the line with the chief executive. I was very frank with him: I said I thought it was a rotten service. The prices were too high, and the rolling stock was clapped out. I asked what he was going to do about it. The Secretary of State for Transport has now opened up a bidding process, and I understand that three companies are involved. I hope that, as local Members of Parliament all of whom enjoy, or suffer, this particular rail service—there is just one station in my area, namely Prittlewell—we shall be consulted as the bidding process continues.

If I hear another colleague say that London Southend airport is fantastic, I shall respond by saying that there is a very good side to it, but also a slightly challenging side, because the aircraft take off and land in my constituency, and not all the residents who were there before the airport expanded are entirely delighted about the increased noise. Nevertheless, I entirely accept that last year it dealt with more than a million passengers. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has flown from the airport.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): No.

Sir David Amess: My right hon. Friend must be one of the few Members who have not.

The airport now has five airline operators: Flybe, easyJet—I do not know whether Kate Moss was on a flight from Southend recently—Adria Airways, SkyWork Airlines, and Volotea. It is very popular, and it is bringing investment of all kinds into the town.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East and I are absolutely delighted that Southend United won the recent play-off and have now been promoted to the first division. I must confess that, when we were losing one-nil, the Member of Parliament for Southend West decided to leave two minutes before the end of the match. I was walking down Wembley way when I heard huge cheers, and discovered that Southend had equalised. I thought that it was too late to turn back. When I reached Stratford station, I managed to find the result on my mobile phone: we had won seven-six on penalties. That was a magnificent achievement for Southend United, and is another good reason for Southend to be declared a city.

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My hon. Friend recently had the pleasure of visiting a company called Surgical Holdings, a family run business that manufactures and repairs surgical equipment for private and public hospitals. The repair of surgical instruments saves the NHS thousands of pounds, but my hon. Friend has told me that if the company continues to expand it will save even more money for the NHS.

There has already been tremendous investment in Southend. Under the coalition Government, 310 new businesses were created in Southend West alone. We now have a magnificent £3 million conference centre at the end of the pier. The longest pier in the world, it was brought down the River Thames on sailing barges. It is a wonderful thing for Southend to have. During the marvellous years of the Conservative council under the wonderful leadership of former councillor Nigel Holdcroft and Councillor John Lamb, who is now the leader, we received £2.5 million in funding as part of the city deal—I know the Minister is well briefed on that issue—and £34.5 million for infrastructure projects as part of the growth deal, including upgrades to the Kent Elms junction and the Bells junction. We received £800,000 funding for the continuation of the roll-out of the growth hub across South Essex local enterprise partnership.

My hon. Friend and I have recently been contacted by the leader of Essex County Council. It has a proposal that is being opposed by Southend council, which believes that the focus should be on achieving the best economic result rather than organisational changes. We are still to have meetings on that issue to find out what will be in Southend’s best interest. I would certainly like to see the joint Anglia Ruskin, Southend and Rochford Business Park for medical excellence, which is in the vicinity of the airport, developed even further. This would be a major regeneration project to provide major development opportunities for innovation in medical technology.

We now have probably the best library in the country at the Forum. This is a marvellous extension of Essex University and a member of the royal family will open the building later this year. I hope that in years to come we will not just be celebrating the new year at Trafalgar Square and outside the House of Commons, but having the countdown at the Forum in Southend.

There is the problem of cliff slippage. The council has not used any Government money to tackle it. Having a picnic on the cliffs and looking across the wonderful Thames, people would think they were in the Mediterranean. The River Thames presents us with the most wonderful gift: a moving picture. If there is any way that the Minister and those in other Departments could find more private investment to deal with clay slippage, our constituents would be very grateful.

At the top of the cliff, there will be a new purpose-built museum to house securely the Saxon prince find at Prittlewell. In 2003, archaeologists excavated the site and discovered an undisturbed 7th century chamber grave beneath a mound just 100 yards from the entrance to Priory Park. This is a wonderful find. I hope the development of a new museum at the Thames will be supported by the Government. It has gained support from a number of agencies, including the British Museum, Thurrock Council and the Royal Opera House at Purfleet.

One of the many things that would make me happy as a result of this debate would a marina in Southend. Many years ago, when Norman Clarke and Norman Harris were the leader and deputy leader of Southend

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council, the proposal fell by just one vote. The last attempt to have a marina was in 2008. It would be an enormous attraction and a wonderful facility for local residents. It would provide a destination and a departure port for vessels from the upper limits of the Thames and Medway, with passages to the continent, the coast of Britain or further afield. The marina would be the jewel in the crown in achieving city status.

At the weekend, I had the privilege of attending Thames Estuary yacht club, which is an amazing development. Two years ago, it had only 130 members. Some 76 members volunteered to build this wonderful facility on the Thames estuary. The clubhouse cost £200,000, and now people are queuing up to join.

Southend pier is the most wonderful experience anyone could enjoy. It is not just about Rossi’s ice cream, cockles, mussels and winkles; it is about the wonderful experience of going out on one of the trains to the end of the Thames. It is like walking on water. Any investment the Government might direct our way further to boost the pier’s regeneration would be greatly welcomed.

We have found a shipwreck of international importance off Southend dating back to 1665. It is well preserved and second only to the Mary Rose. It was apparently part of the fleet that brought Charles II home in the late 17th century and is currently on the “heritage at risk” list. It would be great if a billionaire gave us some money to help with that investment opportunity.

Leigh-on-Sea is the most wonderful area anyone could have in their constituency. It is home to many thriving businesses, including Fancy Nancy, who is doing extremely well at the moment. However, the Leigh creek needs dredging, which costs about £200,000 to do properly. I am also slightly concerned about the activities of DP World and their effect on the Thames estuary.

Southend will be the alternative city of culture in 2017. This is going to be a much bigger event than that surrounding the official city of culture, but if we are to be the alternative city of culture it would be useful if we were actually a city. We have been recognised as a centre for excellence in terms of culture with the purple flag award, an accolade that only 31 towns and cities have received. We have a village green music festival, folk festivals and a gathering to rival the V Festival, and I pay tribute to Metal, the culture organisation, and, in particular, to David Stanley and his music project, a life-changing organisation enabling people with learning difficulties to demonstrate their great gifts. I am delighted to tell the House that they will be performing at the London Palladium, although unfortunately I have just had a phone call from Bruce Forsyth to say that he cannot be with us because it clashes with father’s day, which I think takes precedence. We will, however, have some of the Tiller Girls there. This will be happening on Sunday 21 June at the London Palladium.

Southend is getting a sculpture done by someone called Rod Steward—not the pop artist—to mark the process of Southend becoming a city. I hope his application to the Arts Council will be successful.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share with the House just what a wonderful place Southend-on-Sea is. It is probably the finest seaside resort not just in the country, but in the world. My right hon. Friend and other Ministers have the power to respond positively to what Members are asking for in their constituencies.

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If he wants to make me happy, I hope he will do everything he can to ensure that Southend receives the investment it warrants and that it is declared a city.

10.18 pm

The Minister for Communities and Resilience (Mr Mark Francois): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) on securing this debate. As he has already told the House, we have known each other and been friends for many years, so I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his knighthood and on being re-elected with such a healthy majority at the general election a few weeks ago. I am also pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) in his place. I congratulate him on his re-election. It is good to see him in good health tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has, as is customary, done an excellent job of promoting Southend, and rightly so. He listed some significant achievements of which Government and local partners can be proud. Southend is a key part of the Thames Gateway, which provides one of the biggest opportunities for investment in the UK and remains a very high priority for this Government. I am pleased to have been appointed Minister with responsibility for the Thames Gateway.

South Essex has received some significant private sector investments in recent years—for example, the £1.5 billion investment in the new London gateway by Dubai Ports, in which the Prime Minister and UK Trade & Investment played key supporting roles, and the £100 million-plus investment in London Southend airport by Stobart. They give some idea of the scale of economic growth in the area.

Specifically with regard to Southend, I believe there are many encouraging signs of a new confidence in the area, on the back of which private sector investment is already following. National arts organisations such as Metal, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West referred, are championing and helping local artists from their base in Southend, helping to drive the arts sector locally. Metal puts on the annual village green festival in Chalkwell Park, which now attracts 40,000 visitors a year—and is growing. The Forum, in Elmer Square in the heart of Southend, opened in late 2013. It is an excellent facility where residents can access the combined resources of the municipal library, the University of Essex and South Essex college libraries—a very innovative approach. The relocated Beecroft art gallery is now housed in the old library building on Victoria Avenue with the new enterprise centre—the base from which business support services will be provided through the city deal-funded growth hub.

All these are positive signs of resurgence, as indeed is the successful promotion of Southend United to league one, after winning a nail-biting play-off at Wembley. A few moments ago, my hon. Friend gave us some insight into what happened. In football terms, Southend is literally “on the up”.

The Government have also been playing their part in the city deal. Eighteen months ago, my right hon. Friend, now the Secretary of State for Communities

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and Local Government signed off the Southend-on-Sea city deal, capitalising on opportunities to increase entrepreneurship and innovation, and realise Southend’s full potential. The key ambition at the heart of the city deal is to transform the centre of Southend in order to make it a more attractive place in which to invest. Over time, the Victoria Avenue gateway to the town centre will be remodelled. The city deal will have a catalytic effect, signalling the Government’s confidence in Southend.

As part of the city deal, the Government contributed £1.8 million for the direct business support programme and over £650,000 of funding for the central library redevelopment. This is creating incubator space for up to 10 businesses at any one time, supporting over 100 jobs. It will lever in private sector investment, with over £4 million secured so far, and will provide direct business support for small and medium-sized enterprises across the south Essex area. Over 3,000 businesses have been engaged so far and over 170 assisted to improve performance. John Lamb, the Conservative deputy leader of Southend council at the time, said:

“Government is showing confidence in what we are achieving in our town”.

I know that city status is a subject close to my hon. Friend’s heart. The awarding of city status is part of the royal prerogative, and royal charters have tended to be awarded to mark significant occasions such as the millennium or royal jubilees. As with individual honours, there are no published criteria, but issues that are considered include the history of a town, its vibrancy, identity and community—all areas, to be fair, where Southend has a strong case to make. In recent years, the Cabinet Office has run competitions and sought bids, but we do not know when the next process might be, although I have to say that my hon. Friend’s intentions are now well and truly on the record. When there is next an opportunity to bid, I am sure that he and indeed our hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East will be very firmly at the front of the queue.

Building on the city deal experience, the Government have agreed growth deals with all of England’s 39 local enterprise partnerships. The South East LEP has one of the largest allocations of local growth funding—so far, £488 million has been committed through to 2021. For Southend, which remains a critical anchor at the eastern end of the Thames Gateway, the growth deal has committed £35.6 million to A127 improvements, which is on top of funding previously approved. A number of junctions along the route, including at Bell and Cuckoo corners and at Kent Elms, will be improved, and I am sure that all south Essex residents will be grateful for those improvements. The Government are also investing £6.7 million to develop the Southend growth hub and to help improve the area around the Victoria Avenue gateway to Southend, which I mentioned a few minutes ago. Growth deal expansion has also committed £3.2 million to the development of a 55-acre business park adjacent to London Southend airport, as part of the Southend and Rochford joint area action plan—the JAAP as it is known—and I pay tribute to those two authorities for their co-operation to make that a reality. I recognise the positive effect regional airports can have on economic growth and London Southend airport has certainly been a success—over 1 million passengers a year, scooping industry awards for growth and for service.

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The Government have also very recently announced the three companies selected to tender for the renewal of the East Anglia rail franchise, which includes the Liverpool street to Southend Victoria line. Those three competitors are Abellio Greater Anglia, FirstGroup East Anglia, and National Express East Anglia trains. That process will begin in earnest when invitations to tender are issued in August, and we expect the new franchise to operate from October next year, which should benefit Southend commuters travelling to London—who, indeed, do deserve an improved service.

We have already seen new private sector investments on the back of this new-found confidence in Southend: a refurbished Palace hotel, a decision just the other evening to green-light the Marine plaza development, and an exciting proposal, with significant support from the coastal communities fund of about £1.2 million, for a new lagoon. Perhaps it will also be possible to see the marina development, which I know my hon. Friend has felt passionately about for some time.

We should not rest on our laurels, but the future for inward investment remains bright. It is important as we go forward that Southend capitalises on these opportunities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor used his first speech after the election to announce a new round of devolution deals and city-county deals. This represents a further opportunity for Southend to work with its neighbours and take greater control of its own economic destiny, to build on the many advantages that it has and to work with the private sector to deliver the skills, jobs, businesses and investment that the country needs.

My hon. Friend made much of Southend’s cultural advantages and a recent report from Warwick University business school claims that nationally the creative sector is growing at four times the rate of the economy as whole, so Southend can expect to benefit from its growing specialisation in this sector.

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The attractiveness of Southend, of which the cultural offer is a key component, means that people want to relocate there, which in turn is leading to clear interest from the private sector in investing in Southend, in businesses and in new housing. These are all advantages Southend has been successful in exploiting over the past few years and we have every reason to believe it will continue to do so for the benefit of the town and its residents. They will have no firmer champion in trying to exploit those advantages than my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. He has put the Government on notice tonight that he intends to be tenacious in promoting the interests of his constituents. We already knew that, as he has been doing that for over 30 years. Nevertheless, we cannot say we have not been told.

I believe the future for Southend is a positive one. I thank my hon. Friend again for his warm words and his recognition that this Government have helped to lay the foundations for the future growth and prosperity of Southend. We can fully expect my hon. Friend and his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), to continue to keep us up to the mark in making sure Southend remains a wonderful place in which to live and work and a wonderful resort where people can take time on holiday—where they can enjoy the cultural advantages it has to offer and where they can enjoy themselves with their families.

For all these reasons, I believe Southend has a wonderful future, not least as it is represented by two excellent Members of Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

10.29 pm

House adjourned.