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House of Commons

Thursday 29 October 2015

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Transport for London Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Thursday 5 November.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Vehicle Emissions Regulation

1. Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): What the implications are for his Department's policies on vehicle emissions regulation and low-emission vehicles of Volkswagen Group’s use of defeat devices. [901862]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The current differences between laboratory testing and real-world emissions are unacceptable. The UK has been actively pressing Europe to address this problem, and the agreement we secured in Brussels yesterday to introduce real-world testing in 2017 is an important milestone. However, we will continue to press at EU level for a comprehensive approach on emissions testing that restores consumer confidence and delivers our wider air quality and climate objectives. In addition, we will continue our programme of support for ultra-low emission vehicles.

Holly Lynch: Volkswagen’s new CEO has said that all the affected vehicles will be fixed by the end of 2016, but the UK managing director has said that this might not be deliverable. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that he is working with Volkswagen to ensure that the affected vehicles will be fixed by the end of 2016?

Mr McLoughlin: I will be looking to Volkswagen—which, it has to be said, has acted disgracefully in this whole episode—to ensure that it lives up to the expectations that it promised originally, and we will be working to make sure that that does happen.

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Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Volkswagen has shattered trust in motor vehicle testing and that we need to move at pace to real-world testing to restore confidence among the public?

Mr McLoughlin: I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. When I appeared before the Select Committee a few weeks ago, I made that position abundantly clear. The progress we made yesterday is progress in the right direction.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The still-unfolding scandal of Volkswagen has lifted the lid on a much more widespread problem about emissions testing that was known about for a very long time. Why did not the Department act sooner to do something about it?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Lady says that it was known about for a long time. In 2001, the number of diesel vehicles sold in this country was 460,000, or 17%, while in 2009 it was 815,000, or 41%. So if it was known about for some time, it is not this Government who are culpable but the previous one.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the quest to improve air quality in our cities will be assisted by the new zero-emission-capable TX5 London taxi that is being developed in my constituency?

Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I have had the opportunity of travelling in one of those taxis. As I said, part of the answer is that we will continue our programme of support for ultra-low emission vehicles. That is very important.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Some 1.2 million cars have been affected across the UK. It is important to be mindful of the innocent drivers, as of course they all are, who are now facing a higher road tax bill and a decreased sale value. Does the Secretary of State agree that the full financial implications of this disgraceful thing that has happened should be placed at the feet of Volkswagen and Audi?

Mr McLoughlin: Motorists will not face any increase in taxes—we have made that fairly clear—but this is one of the issues that VW will have to address in due course.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Is not the reality, though, that Ministers’ statements are leaving motorists and people concerned about air quality none the wiser? Will the Secretary of State clear the air on one point, which is what happened at the EU Technical Committee yesterday? It was not just about setting a timetable for new cars to conform with existing emissions, was it? Did it not also involve an open-ended permission to breach those limits by 50%, and is not that what the UK representative voted for?

Mr McLoughlin: What was important yesterday is that we got agreement for real-world emissions testing right across the whole of Europe. That has been objected to in the past. We pressed for it in May, and I am very pleased that we achieved it yesterday. If the hon. Gentleman

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says that it is not as much as he would like or as fast as he would like, I would say that we have made more progress in six months of this new Conservative Government than was ever made by the previous Government.

Great Western Main Line

2. Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP): What assessment his Department has made of whether the Great Western main line electrification project represents value for money for the public purse. [901863]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government remain committed to delivering the vital benefits that the projects will provide to passengers. As part of the re-planning of the programme, I expect Sir Peter Hendy to ensure that the schemes deliver value for money for taxpayers and passengers.

Deidre Brock: Does the Secretary of State agree that the tripling of costs to more than £2.5 billion is quite breathtaking? Will he take the time to learn lessons from Scotland, where major capital projects are coming in on time and on budget, largely as a result of proper planning and good contract negotiation, so that further public money is not thrown away in this cavalier fashion?

Mr McLoughlin: I am always willing to learn lessons from wherever they are valid, be that Scotland or anywhere else, although I will not be looking to Scotland for advice on providing tram systems. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Lady was in a position to hear the evidence from both Mark Carne and the permanent secretary to the Department. Some of the costs of such electrification programmes have run over budget. That is not acceptable, but they are huge and very important schemes. I think that regenerating our railway system and making it modern for the 21st century is very important.

Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con): With regard to the value for money of the Great Western main line, does the Secretary of State agree that electrification is just one of the factors that makes reopening Corsham station a more viable project and one that needs to remain high on the agenda?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sure that that will remain high on the agenda as long as my hon. Friend continues to press for it. I know that she has met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), to press the case. I look forward to discussing it with the rail Minister to see whether we can help my hon. Friend to get what she wishes.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): The electrifications of the Great Western and of the valley lines are two sides of the same coin: both mean a great deal to the south Wales economy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Welsh Government counterpart on the delivery date for electrification of the valley lines, including the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line?

Mr McLoughlin: We have made money—£125 million—available to the Welsh Assembly. I have met Edwina Hart to discuss this programme, and I am also in

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regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It is, however, for the Welsh Assembly to come forward with its plans.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his confirmation that the midland main line will be electrified to Kettering by 2019. Will he assure the House that the lessons learned from the Great Western electrification will be applied to that line so that its electrification can be delivered quickly and efficiently?

Mr Speaker: That was a neat body swerve by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that his question was definitively in order—a textbook example to colleagues.

Mr McLoughlin: Was that the answer, Mr Speaker? [Laughter.] I have now forgotten what the question was.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important to re-establish the midland main line electrification programme. He will know that I use that line regularly. Lessons do need to be learned. Of course, the electrification work had already started. What is important about the Hendy work and the Hendy plan that is currently being developed is to look at the development of the whole line, because certain things can be done on the midland main line to increase speed, which is also very important.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): One of the main reasons for escalating cost is schedule 4 compensation payments to train operators. Owing to the vast sums of public money involved, is it not in the public interest to publish the amount of schedule 4 compensation payments? That money should be spent on improving public infrastructure, not lining the pockets of shareholders.

Mr McLoughlin: It is very important to make the best we can of the huge investment that we are putting into the railways overall. I am very proud of the improvements that are taking place on the Great Western railway line, of which electrification is a part. The completion of Reading station and the flyover that it provides, meaning that the line is no longer held up by freight trains, has been a major improvement, which serves the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those in the south-west incredibly well.

Level Crossing Safety (Bassetlaw)

3. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of level crossing safety in Bassetlaw constituency. [901864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): Network Rail assesses the risks at the 6,200 level crossings on main lines, with oversight provided by the regulator. The UK already has the best level crossing safety record in the EU, but Network Rail—supported by this Government, with dedicated funding—is working to reduce that risk still further.

John Mann: What a load of waffle. After the Beech Hill tragedy in Bassetlaw in 2012, Network Rail said it would get rid of all eight level crossings on the east

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coast mainline in Bassetlaw. It has had a public consultation on the schemes, but what has happened in recent months? The money has been pulled. Will the Minister and the Chancellor meet Network Rail, to ensure that the money is put back in? It is good for business, good for the economy, good for safety and good for the people of Bassetlaw.

Claire Perry: The tragic accident that resulted in the loss of life of Emma Lifsey happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Anyone who has read about it will know that it was a dreadful tragedy. After that incident, the rail accident investigation branch made four recommendations that meant that such an accident could never happen again. I have been told they have been implemented across the network, but I want to follow up on that and make sure.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the plan to close the 73 crossings on the east coast mainline. That work has been progressed, but we cannot just shut off communities that rely on some of those contacts.

John Mann indicated dissent.

Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He should do my job and listen to people campaigning to keep level crossings open. The work will happen. It is absolutely right to focus on it and we will continue to fund it. There is no shortage of money for it—£109 million will be spent on making level crossings safer.

High Speed 2

4. David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): What progress the Government have made on finalising the route for phase two High Speed 2. [901865]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): We have committed to setting out the Government’s plan for the HS2 phase two route in an update to the House before the end of this year.

David Mowat: I thank the Minister for the time he and his officials have spent with me recently to discuss the Golborne link. The initial justification for the link was a proposed depot in Wigan, but that depot will now not be located in Wigan. The only justification that remains is the 10 minutes saved by train journeys north of Wigan. Will the Minister confirm that if that standalone link north of Manchester goes ahead, it will be subject to a separate business case so that we can examine its business case review?

Mr Goodwill: We are certainly considering all the recommendations made by Sir David Higgins in his report, “Rebalancing Britain”. Sir David believes that the link to the west coast mainline is needed sooner rather than later. The alternative, which would mean linking to the west coast mainline at Crewe, would mean upgrading the west coast mainline to take on the additional services. That could be costly and disruptive. Indeed, it would incur those dreadful words “Replacement bus services” for many weeks.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I beg the ministerial team for a moment of sanity on HS2? The latest evaluation says that, with the hidden

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costs, the cost will rise to £160 billion for a country that cannot even keep its national health service running. Is it not about time that we look at this in a ruthless manner and tell Lord Adonis, who calls himself the godfather of HS2, to get his act together? Let us stop this nonsense and invest in things that really work.

Mr Goodwill: That is not what Lord Adonis was saying when he was Secretary of State for Transport. I am very pleased that Lord Adonis is engaging with this Government in delivering massive infrastructure improvements. The question the hon. Gentleman needs to ask himself is: what is the cost of not progressing HS2? It is about the capacity and the great cities of the north, which are crying out for that additional capacity and the wealth it will bring to the north.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Of course, HS2 should have started in the north. On phase 2, may I also appeal for sanity from the Government? Will they review the hybrid Bill process and the cruel and unfair compensation scheme? The hybrid Bill process for phase 1 has been convoluted, impenetrable, protracted and painful, not just for the MPs on the Committee, but, more importantly, for the people affected by the project. It is ironic that we are using such a snail-like process for something that is supposed to be high speed. The hybrid Bill process is not fit for purpose. We should modernise it and bring it into the 21st century.

Mr Goodwill: I pay tribute to those Members who have doggedly sat on the hybrid Bill Committee and listened to petitions in such an admirable way. Many of the petitions did not reach the Committee, because we managed to reach agreement beforehand. On the question of building HS2 from the north first, it will still end up in London, whichever end it starts at. It is between Birmingham and London that the capacity is needed as a matter of urgency.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): Will my hon. Friend meet me and a delegation from Erewash Borough Council to discuss its proposals to mitigate the impact of the route for phase 2 of HS2 on local residents and businesses, especially in and around Long Eaton?

Mr Goodwill: We have not finalised the route, so it might be premature to have that meeting. As I have said, we will update the House before the end of the year. At that point, it will be very appropriate to meet a number of communities up and down the line of route.

Public Transport Accessibility (Disabled Passengers)

5. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on increasing access to public transport for disabled passengers. [901866]

11. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on increasing access to public transport for disabled passengers. [901873]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): We have made significant progress on increasing access. By the end of the year, we expect around 75% of rail journeys to start or end at a step-free

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station. That is an increase from around 50% when the Access for All programme started. That programme will deliver 151 step-free routes at stations this year. On the buses, only 57% met accessibility regulations in 2009-10. That number is now nearly 90% and rising.

Susan Elan Jones: I know that every Member of the House will want to congratulate the friends of Chirk station on their sterling work and the Labour Welsh Government for the massive investment in that station, which means that it will be totally accessible to disabled people from the end of next month. Many of us are very concerned, however, about the slashing of funding for the Access for All programme by 42%. It is a basic programme that provides ramps, lifts and the like. Will the Minister tell us why the Government are doing that and why they have not changed their mind?

Andrew Jones: I am aware of the installation of the new footbridge at Chirk station, which will vastly improve the facilities there, but I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says. The Access for All programme has been a great success. We are building on the success of the programme that was launched by the previous Government. So far, £386 million has been spent and about 1,200 stations have benefited from smaller-scale improvements. To build on the success, a further £160 million of funding has been allocated in the last year, which will extend the scheme to a further 68 stations.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the Minister will join me in congratulating Northumbria University on its new chancellor, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you. To get to Newcastle, the chancellor has to propel herself up the impossibly steep footbridge ramp at Eaglescliffe station, which is treacherous in difficult weather. Network Rail says that it cannot afford to put in a lift. Is that the result that the Government expected when slashing the Access for All grant by 42%?

Andrew Jones: Baroness Grey-Thompson is an extremely impressive figure and the university will benefit from her involvement.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Not if she can’t get there!

Andrew Jones: Of course she has to get there and I will look into the case of Eaglescliffe station.

The point remains that the Department for Transport is committed to ensuring that disabled people have the same access to transport services and opportunities as other members of society. That is why we are fully backing the Access for All programme and rolling out more disability access to buses. That is a measure of its success. The programme has generated a positive response. Research at stations that have benefited from the programme has found that passengers with mobility impairment have a better travelling experience as a result, and that goes up among those who have wheelchair issues.

Mr Speaker: We are all now better informed.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): The Minister will know that about 60% of disabled people live in a household without a car and that disabled people use buses 20% more than others. He will also know that

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since 2010, 70% of local authorities have cut funding for bus services. We know that more cuts are on the way, like those that were announced in my county this week. Does he understand what impact those cuts will have on disabled people? What proper assessment has he made of the potential impact on disabled people?

Andrew Jones: First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. I am acutely aware of how important buses are for disabled people, as well as for other communities. That is why I have been a great champion of the bus industry. Of course, the implications for all bus users are considered when budgets are planned.

Rail Electrification

6. Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme. [901867]

14. Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme. [901877]

16. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme. [901879]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Since 2010 my Department has overseen the successful delivery of 50 miles of electrified track. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) construction is under way between Ealing Broadway and Acton mainline stations, to remove slow-moving freight trains off the line and enable high-frequency electric Crossrail trains to service her constituents from 2018. From Paddington and through her constituency to Bristol and on to Cardiff, Network Rail has installed around a quarter of the 14,000 piles needed to turn the centuries-old Great Western line into an electric railway fit for the 21st century.

Dr Huq: Will the Secretary of State ensure that electrification of the Great Western main line goes ahead on time, along with other improvements on the route, to deliver quickly the benefits for passengers into Paddington? My constituents cannot wait until 2019 and the start of Crossrail for the extra services that are so badly needed.

Mr McLoughlin: I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s constituents cannot wait until 2019—they waited for 13 years between 1997 and 2010 with nothing happening.

Andy McDonald: Teesside has had a hammering in this place over the past weeks, but we are a resilient bunch and nothing demonstrates that better than the magnificent victory at Old Trafford last night. We are top of the league on the electrification taskforce list for the connection between Northallerton and Middlesbrough. Can the Secretary of State indicate when we might expect progress on that important economic development?

Mr McLoughlin: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman because I, too, am a football supporter—I support Derby County and any team that plays Manchester United—and his team has done incredibly well. He makes a fair point, and Network Rail uses a huge

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amount of steel, which helps his constituency. I will look into his point and write to him once I get the results of Peter Hendy’s re-plan.

Mr Hanson: The Chancellor of the Exchequer visited north Wales in July and said that he will “look at” the case for electrification of the line from Crewe to north Wales. Will the Secretary of State define what “look at” means, and say whether it will mean look at and deliver, or just look at?

Mr McLoughlin: It means that I will take no lessons from someone who, between 1997 and 2010, supported a Labour Government who managed to achieve the great amount of electrification of 10 miles—13 years, 10 miles. We will certainly look at electrification as that is the way forward for the railways, and I will consider that along with other plans for control period 6.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): As I witnessed again last Monday, passengers travelling between Bolton and Manchester are frequently squashed like sardines on that line. Will the Secretary of State update the House on how engineering works on the line are coming on, and particularly the reboring of the tunnel at Farnworth?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is right about what we need to do. Farnworth tunnel has had problems but it has now been completed, and that will help to increase capacity on the line. The changes and increased capacity that my hon. Friend rightly wants for his area will take place, and I pay tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly on the Farnworth tunnel, which is now running on time.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I welcome the unpausing of work on electrifying the Midland mainline. As most of that work will slip into the next control period, will the Secretary of State ensure that the line through Langley Mill and Atherton is also electrified? That project has a robust business case and will improve the resilience of the whole line and services to my constituency.

Mr McLoughlin: As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend heard evidence a few weeks ago from the chief executive of Network Rail. His point about looking at all the lines as a total is important, and I will bear his comments in mind.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I very much welcome the news that the electrification of the trans-Pennine route is now fully back on track. Will the Secretary of State say what new improved benefits the new scheme will bring to commuters in west Yorkshire?

Mr McLoughlin: We are looking at substantial improvements in linking up the main cities in the north—between Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. What we are planning will bring more seats and capacity. It is absolutely essential that that is got on with.

20. [901883] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): In response to an earlier question, the Transport Secretary rightly pointed out that other line improvements are required in addition to electrification on the midland

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main line. Will he therefore update the House on progress in finalising the funding for all those improvements, including those at Market Harborough, to which the Government are committed?

Mr McLoughlin: We have covered £38.5 billion of investment in Network Rail over this control period. We are looking at ways in which other funding can be made available.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): It was reported this week that due to the delay to the Great Western electrification programme taxpayers could be paying £3 million a week for trains that cannot move anywhere, or that they might have to foot the bill for fitting diesel engines to electric trains. Will the Secretary of State tell us who is to blame for this fiasco? Is it Network Rail for the delay to the work, is it the Department for Transport for signing the contract in the first place, or is it simply a symptom of the privatised structure of our railway that causes the kind of fragmentation that makes disasters like this frankly inevitable?

Mr McLoughlin: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. He talks about privatised railways leading to this kind of disaster. This is a great example of somebody who has not held ministerial office, or who has just been in opposition, being able to forget everything that happened in the past. I remember, however, what the Labour candidate for Mayor of London, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), said:

“one reason we are able to invest record sums in our railway service is the revenues that the franchises bring in and the premiums that they pay”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 430.]

We are seeing record investment in our railway because of how we are running it. At the time it was fully nationalised we saw a declining railway, a useless railway, a railway that was not fit for purpose—something the Labour party wants to go back to.

Network Rail

7. Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Network Rail. [901869]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I meet regularly with senior officials of Network Rail to discuss a wide range of key issues facing the company. Recent meetings have majored on Sir Peter Hendy’s review of the control period 5 enhancement programme.

Chloe Smith: Will the Secretary of State reiterate the Government’s commitment to the recommendations of the Great Eastern main line taskforce, which brings benefits to all counties on its route? Will he ensure that Network Rail delivers the necessary improvements to track in East Anglia in CP5 and CP6?

Mr McLoughlin: Yes. I am very glad to say that we have been able to issue the invitation to tender in relation to the East Anglia franchise, something on which my hon. Friend has been very persistent. Services to Norwich in 90 minutes and services to Ipswich in 60 minutes form part of that tender. She is right about the other improvements we need to look at as well. She can take my assurance that I will raise them with Sir Peter Hendy when I meet him later today.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with Network Rail regarding the electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester line that passes through Widnes and Warrington?

Mr McLoughlin: I think I need a bit more direction on what the actual question is. There has been electrification of the line between Liverpool and Manchester, which is very welcome. We now have electric trains running on that line and there will soon be more. If the hon. Gentleman has a more specific point, perhaps he would like to write to me.

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): During the great storms in the west country in early 2014, we found our main line route to Cornwall floating in the sea. The peninsular rail task force put together three proposals, including the Okehampton link. Have any conclusions been reached? It would add huge benefits to our economic potential in North Cornwall.

Mr McLoughlin: I well remember the situation at Dawlish. I also remember the valiant way Network Rail worked to restore that link. It did an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances, so even at this stage I would again like to add my thanks to all the people who worked on that scheme to restore the link. My hon. Friend is quite right about the taskforce that the peninsula group has brought forward. We are looking at its report and will have further comments to make once the re-planning of CP5 is undertaken by Sir Peter Hendy.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The very welcome creation of the National Training Academy for Rail will help to plug some of the skills shortage, which is behind many of the delays to electrification, but does the Minister share my concern that the proposed 40% cut to the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will undermine the academy’s ability to deliver on the skills shortages?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the academy at Northampton, which I visited a few months ago and which my hon. Friend the rail Minister opened just a few weeks ago. It will play an important role in upskilling, but it is not just about upskilling the state; it is about upskilling the whole industry and bringing it together. That is one reason I asked Sir Terry Morgan, the chairman of Crossrail, to co-ordinate an apprenticeships programme right across the transport sector.

Skills Development (Infrastructure Programmes)

8. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to support skills development to help deliver the Government’s transport infrastructure programmes. [901870]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): On 21 August, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the appointment of Terry Morgan, the chair of Crossrail, to develop a transport and infrastructure skills strategy. The strategy will help ensure that the transport industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time to deliver the Government’s unprecedented programme of transport infrastructure investment.

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Stephen Metcalfe: I was recently fortunate enough to visit Prospects college of advanced technology in Basildon, which has created a unique partnership between engineering and construction companies to train the next generation of skilled technicians. May I invite my hon. Friend to look closely at its model and perhaps even to visit PROCAT, with a view to widening that range of opportunities across the whole country to give our young people the skills they will need to deliver our plans?

Andrew Jones: I will certainly look at the approach taken by PROCAT, and I would like to visit, because it is vital that colleges and universities work in partnership with employers to ensure that young people get the skills the industry needs. Skills are particularly crucial within the transport sector, as more and more skilled people are required. I will also highlight the work of PROCAT to Sir Terry Morgan as he develops our skills strategy.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The road haulage industry is an important element of the transport infrastructure, as it contributes to the smooth running of the economy and helps the Government to drive up exports. This week, it reported a recruitment shortage of 54,000 drivers, which is likely to increase because of the ageing population. What discussions has the Minister had with the Business Secretary to ensure that young people are encouraged to take up the opportunities available within the transport road haulage industry?

Andrew Jones: The industry has a responsibility to bring new people in, but I am aware of the recruitment challenges it faces. There is also a retention issue. I have met with the industry several times and will continue to do so. It is most important that this critical industry brings people into it. Without our logistics industry performing at a high level, our country would grind to a halt in a couple of days.

Plymouth Airport

9. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What progress his Department has made on assessing the viability of reopening Plymouth airport. [901871]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Chancellor announced in the March 2015 Budget report that

“the government will commission a new study into the possibility of reopening Plymouth Airport.”

I am keen to determine the final form and scope of the study, and how best to take it forward.

Oliver Colvile: As my hon. Friend knows, Plymouth will be the focus of global attention in five years when, during the Mayflower 2020 celebrations, we commemorate the date the Mayflower set sail to found the American colonies. Does my hon. Friend agree that if these celebrations are to be a major tourism success, it is important that people can get to Plymouth, and that this means improved roads and railways and better air links?

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Mr Goodwill: Well, that new colony certainly worked out well.

My hon. Friend is right that investment in infrastructure is vital to the economic development of the south-west, which is why we have committed £31 million to improving the resilience of the Great Western route. We have already heard about the £40 million used to fix Dawlish and the long-overdue investment in the A30 and the A303, which have long been the scourge of tourists and business people travelling to the south-west.

Cross-channel Transport Links

10. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to ensure that cross-channel transport links remain open. [901872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Recent improvements to security measures include fencing, additional security guards, dogs, and improved CCTV and thermal imaging cameras. In addition to these measures, the French Government have committed very significant police resources to the Calais area.

Karen Lumley: On my summer business tour, I met lots of exporters in Redditch having terrible trouble getting their goods into Europe. Can my hon. Friend assure me and Redditch businesses that his Department is doing everything possible to ensure that my businesses prosper in the future?

Mr Goodwill: The channel link is certainly vital to the whole UK economy, and particularly to the haulage industry. I was recently at Folkestone and saw some of the problems at first hand. In particular, there were issues with regard to just-in-time delivery of parts for the motor industry, steel rails produced in Scunthorpe that are exported to the continent, and lobsters produced in my constituency that travel in trucks across to customers in France and Spain.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): This summer the M20 through my constituency was closed for 32 days. I am grateful for the attention that the ministerial team is giving to solving the problem. Will the Secretary of State update me on the progress being made to avoid a repeat of this summer’s closure next summer?

Mr Goodwill: The key to preventing any recurrence of the problems we have had this summer is sorting out the issues in France. I am pleased to say that the MyFerryLink industrial dispute has been resolved, so we do not have that additional problem. The Government put in place a contingency plan at Manston, which would have relieved the problem further. It is certainly important to look at how to improve the situation when, for whatever reason, we have disruption on the channel.

Airports Commission Report

12. Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on the Airports Commission’s final report, published on 1 July 2015. [901874]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I have had no representations on this particular topic, but I look forward to a productive engagement with all the devolved Administrations on this subject.

Peter Grant: The Minister may not be aware that as part of the very expensive lobbying campaign undertaken on both sides of the airport expansion debate, passengers using Scottish airports are being deliberately targeted in an intense scaremongering campaign, trying to persuade us that if the decision goes the wrong way, Scotland will be cut off from the rest of the world. That is clearly just scaremongering, as that is not going to happen. Depending on how the decision goes, it has the potential to bring significant benefits to Scotland, but also the potential to cause significant damage to Scotland. Will the Minister give an assurance that when the time comes he will make representations through the appropriate channels to ensure that all Members can play a full and equal part in the debate?

Mr Goodwill: I have to say that the representations I have received from Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland underline the importance of having good connectivity to international routes, which may be brought about through additional runway capacity in the south-east. Indeed, we have already provided some help to the Dundee service to allow passengers to reach the capital, albeit not to a hub, in that way.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that expanding Heathrow and connectivity with Scotland and the Scottish airports is one of the best things we could do to strengthen the United Kingdom?

Mr Goodwill: The Government will make an announcement in response to the Airports Commission’s report in due course, but I think it would be premature to make any additional comment at this stage.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): In his statement on the Airports Commission, the Secretary of State for Transport promised a decision before the end of the year. On the subject of regional airports, we agreed at that time about the commercial, economic and social connectivity that is required. The Secretary of State referred to

“the slots needed by Scottish airports and other airports that have lost them, and I hope we can address that. I want to reflect on that point while considering the whole report.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1486.]

Does he still agree about the importance of this development for Scotland’s regional airports such as Inverness and Dundee, and has there been any progress in his thinking on a review of route development and public service obligations?

Mr Goodwill: I have always made clear the importance with which I view local airports and regional international airports and how big a part they play in the economic development of areas, particularly in Scotland. We need to look at aviation as a whole. Certainly the representations I receive stress the importance of connectivity—whether it be through Amsterdam, Schiphol, Paris, Frankfurt or indeed to slots that may become available in the south-east.

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Drew Hendry: Given that recognition of the importance of this issue, will the Minister confirm that any decision on the development of a third runway at Heathrow or development at Gatwick would not have to go through an additional stage in the legislative process? With a veto on Scottish MPs suggested by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), an assistant to the Scottish Secretary, what will the Minister do to make sure that this subject will be “delivered from EVEL”?

Mr Goodwill: I think it would be premature to enter into that particular discussion. I am always in favour of jumping one’s fences when one reaches them.

21. [901884] Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): How many of the 47 recommendations ignored by the Airports Commission would have benefited Scotland, and would those recommendations have increased the number of domestic flights, unlike the Heathrow option, which would decrease it?

Mr Goodwill: One of the concerns that I have picked up around the country, outside the south-east, is that owing to the pressure for slots at both Heathrow and Gatwick at peak times, connecting flights coming in from other parts of the country are always an issue, and we are well aware of the acute need for that issue to be addressed.

Railway Upgrading (South-west)

13. Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): What progress his Department has made on upgrading and enhancing the railway in the south-west. [901875]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): We are making significant progress in upgrading and enhancing the railway in the south-west by investing in track and stations, upgrading and delivering new trains to carry more people on faster journeys, and, as we heard earlier, improving resilience to ensure that the region can stay connected.

Kevin Foster: The Devon and Cornwall peninsula rail task force recently published its interim report on a 20-year plan for Devon and Cornwall’s railways. Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s primary aim is to secure the resilience of the Great Western main line through south Devon, and that any other options that are considered will be additional measures, not alternatives?

Claire Perry: I have the report here, I have read it, and I am happy to confirm that the other options would indeed be alternatives, not replacements.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What impact will the delay and cost overruns affecting the electrification of the Great Western main line have on the investment that the Minister has just mentioned?

Claire Perry: I am so sorry, Mr Speaker. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to repeat his question?

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Mr Speaker: The Minister was busily chuntering away to her colleague, with scandalous disregard for the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr Bradshaw: The Minister should actually listen to questions, rather than talking to her colleague. My question was this: what will be the impact of the cost overruns and delays affecting the electrification of the Great Western main line—from which we in the south-west are not benefiting beyond Bristol—on the investment that the Minister has just trumpeted?

Claire Perry: I apologise, Mr Speaker. I misspoke in my previous answer, and I was reassuring myself about that. I want to make it clear, if I may, that the new routes will be additional, not alternatives, to the main line.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that an enormous amount of investment is taking place in the south-west: investment in resilience, and in the new, faster AT300 trains. I wish he would get behind the Government’s attempts to connect this vital region, rather than keeping on shouting about things.

East-West Rail Line

15. Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): What progress his Department has made on re-opening the east-west rail line. [901878]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I will try to get it right this time, Mr Speaker.

I am sure my hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the first section of the east-west rail line was opened on Monday. It will allow people to travel from Oxford Parkway to London Marylebone, and will give them alternative opportunities when they make that vital journey.

Iain Stewart: I welcome the new Chiltern service, which will run along the first stage of the east-west line. There is a strong business case for that service, as there is for the project as a whole. Will my hon. Friend do everything she can to ensure that the Hendy review does not delay East West Rail as a whole?

Claire Perry: I most certainly will, and we shall know more in a few weeks’ time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and to other Members whose constituencies are along the route: they have left us in no doubt about the importance of the east-west rail link.

Topical Questions

T1. [901887] Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): 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 Question Time, I have seen at first hand the work that Network Rail is doing as a result of the Government’s £38 billion investment in the railways. That includes the £44 million regeneration of Manchester Victoria station, which will finally make it a station of which Manchester can be proud—in 2009, it was voted the worst station in Britain—the £750 million rebuilding of Birmingham New Street, which is transforming a station that is at the heart of

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Britain’s rail network, and the reconstruction of the Farnworth tunnel, which will allow electric trains to run from Manchester to Bolton and on to Preston. Once completed, it will allow diesel trains to be used on other routes in the north-west, providing over 30,000 more seats per week and helping to build a northern powerhouse.

Mr Betts: You will be pleased to learn, Mr Speaker, that I shall not begin by referring to Sheffield Wednesday’s impressive victory over Arsenal the other night. [Laughter.] What I will do is refer to Sir David Higgins’s report, in which he describes transport links between Sheffield and Manchester as a matter of national concern, and as probably the worst links between any two major cities in Europe.

Will the Secretary of State seriously consider two proposals? The first is that HS3 should link not merely Manchester and Leeds but Manchester and Sheffield, and the second is that serious consideration should be given to the building of a road tunnel under the Pennines. That is the only serious way in which to link Sheffield and Manchester without damaging the national park.

Mr McLoughlin: I agree that more needs to be done to improve the links between Sheffield and Manchester, and I very much hope that when we announce the new franchise for both TransPennine and Northern Rail we will go some way to meeting the demands for that. The two projects the hon. Gentleman specifically talks about are huge projects. Work is being done at the moment by Colin Matthews on whether a tunnel is the right way forward, and we will expect more updates on that by the Budget of next year. I do understand the hon. Gentleman’s points on HS3 and the infrastructure commission will look at them.

T6. [901892] David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Figures released by the Department show that the Severn bridge is currently generating about £78 million-worth of profit over and above the cost of maintenance of that bridge. Does that not go to prove that as soon as it goes back into public ownership on 1 April 2018, there is a great opportunity for this Government to slash the tolls on the bridge—bring it down to under £1 per car —and still have enough money to pay for the maintenance of it?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): The toll levels are currently set by the concessionaire, Severn River Crossing, to repay the construction, finance, maintenance and operations costs. We are expecting the costs to have been recovered early in 2018, and at that point the concession will end and the crossings will revert to the UK Government. We are currently working on what the future of tolling might be. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said and I will keep him updated on progress.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): We will shortly hear whether the north-east plans for local oversight of bus services are recommended for approval. We on this side of the House have always supported Labour’s councillors on Tyne and Wear, including when they were subjected to appalling abuse over this issue. I welcome the Minister’s late conversion to the cause of bus tendering, but does he agree that the powers in the buses Bill must be available to all communities that want them, including in rural and isolated areas?

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Mr McLoughlin: May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? She knows what is going to come next: I have been doing this job for a little over three years and this is the fourth shadow Secretary of State I have seen. Shall we just say we will see whether there are more to come?

The hon. Lady sort of asserts that she knows what is in the buses Bill. Considering that it has not yet been published, I am interested to know how that has been achieved, but the simple point is—we are being very open about this—that there will be extra opportunities for areas where elected mayors are put in place, and they can take advantage of them.

Lilian Greenwood: I was hoping for a straight answer to a straight question, but let us try again. With more than 2,000 routes lost or downgraded and fares up by 25% since the last round of spending cuts, will the Secretary of State today rule out any plans to slash support for buses even further in the forthcoming spending review?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not in a position at this stage to announce what the spending review will be. I am afraid that the hon. Lady, like every other Member of the House, will need to wait until the spending review is announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25 November. I hope that is a very straight answer.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to the many defects of the Type 317 rolling stock that operates on the West Anglia line, there occurred this week a case of a train stopping—screeching to a halt—between Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth apparently for lack of air? Does this not suggest that more importance should be attached to awarding the franchise to the bidder that can bring forward the most solid assurances for new rolling stock?

Mr McLoughlin: I will make inquiries into what my right hon. Friend has just informed me about. I do not know about the specific case, but I can assure him that I will do by later on today. He is absolutely right about the need to improve the rolling stock availability and that is one of the things I hope the invitation to tender on the line will do.

T2. [901888] Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): What measures is Network Rail taking to ensure that skilled rail jobs no longer appear on the tier 2 shortage occupation list?

Mr McLoughlin: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, of the huge amounts of steel bought by Network Rail, the vast majority—some 95%—is bought from UK production, but if I have understood his question wrongly, perhaps he could write to me and I will write back to him.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The Secretary of State mentioned the great success of the Norwich in 90 campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). As he will know, Worcester is just six miles further from London than Norwich is, as the crow flies, and 15 miles further away by car, yet it

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regularly takes my constituents more than 150 minutes to reach the capital by train. Will he do everything he can to lean on Great Western and Network Rail to get our service down to under two hours on a regular basis?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): My hon. Friend and other Members—including the one my officials like to call “the MP for Witney”—have campaigned extremely hard on this very issue. There is a lot of work being done on finding ways to improve journey times, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest there is a lot to be done. We have started the work on delivery.

T3. [901889] Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): Rail commuter routes into Manchester are soon to lose trains to London Midland, raising memories of the TransPennine Express rolling stock debacle, which cost taxpayers £20 million and led to some services being downgraded. The Secretary of State had the opportunity to prevent the loss of TransPennine trains, but he chose not to use it. Did he have a similar option in the latest case? Is not this yet another example of fragmented railways letting passengers down?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman talks about franchising letting people down, but I think he should just wait and see what comes out of the two franchises involving TransPennine and Northern. It is worth remembering that in 2004, when that franchise was last let, it was let on a no-growth basis. That is what the last Government thought about the northern powerhouse and the services that were required in that area. That is not the way in which this Government are approaching it, and I invite him to see what announcements we will make shortly.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Will the Minister give me an assurance that the new stations fund will be accessible to applications from all councils? As she knows, the proposal for a new station at Haxby in my constituency has one of the strongest business cases anywhere in the north of England, and my constituents would benefit hugely from such a station.

Claire Perry: I would be delighted to review that matter with my hon. Friend. The new stations fund announced in the Budget is of course open to all applicants.

T4. [901890] John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Sheffield city region, now strengthened by Derbyshire Dales, is a real hub for manufacturing in the rail industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that this presents a real opportunity for forward planning to get the manufacturing companies together to prepare bids for HS2?

Mr McLoughlin: Much as it causes me pain, I will agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that the companies in the Sheffield and Derbyshire areas, as well as other companies, are in a position to take advantage of HS2.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Pendle residents are concerned about the state of local roads across our area. Given that the Government have made £6 billion

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available for pothole repairs, how can we encourage local authorities to deliver the repairs that we all want to see?

Andrew Jones: We are providing local authorities with financial support amounting to a record £6 billion between now and 2021 for highways maintenance. We are also encouraging them to look at the way in which they manage their programmes, and 85% of local authorities in England have now signed up to the highways maintenance efficiency programme. This is how we are supporting councils. We are talking about a significant investment here: it is enough to deal with 18 million potholes per year, and it is making a difference to the quality of our road network.

T5. [901891] Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The port of Newport is the second largest steel handling port in the United Kingdom and it is likely to suffer grievously from the current steel closures. What has the Minister done to assess the consequential job losses in transport and elsewhere as a result of the Government’s neglect of the steel industry? Will he persuade his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to end his policy of gifting British jobs to Chinese workers?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): As the Minister with responsibility for ports, I am all too aware of their importance in getting exports out of our country and getting imports in. Yesterday I was at the port of Bristol, which is going to benefit from developments in the nuclear industry, which will be partly financed by the Chinese, and I am going to Felixstowe later today to see the developments there.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The Government’s commitment to dual the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston and improve the Chowns Mill roundabout was warmly welcomed by east Northamptonshire residents. Will the Minister now update us on that work?

Andrew Jones: I shall have to check the immediate progress on those schemes and write to my hon. Friend.

T7. [901893] Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Many of my constituents rely on the No. 44 bus to get to Southport hospital, but the service has been axed as a result of cuts by the Secretary of State’s Department. He talked earlier about the opportunity of having directly elected mayors, but is it not the case that if the cuts continue, the additional powers will be meaningless and of no help to my constituents or to anybody else?

Mr McLoughlin: I want to see an expansion and a widening of services to all our constituents, which is why the Government are supporting record transport investment in this Parliament.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): There are swathes of motorway that are under a 50 mph restriction. There is a 20 mile stretch of a 50 mph zone on the M62 and M60, with people working on a very, very small section of that road. Will the Minister tell the Highways Agency that the work should be done for the convenience of the road user and not of the agency?

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Andrew Jones: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Long stretches of roadworks frustrate drivers, especially as they near completion. I have raised that matter with Highways England and challenged it to deliver its work in sections that are shorter in length and over a shorter period of time. It has undertaken to do so by reducing the length of works to between a third and a half of their current size and by having more intensive and longer hours of working, including more night-time and weekend working.

Mr Speaker: If the Minister can get it sorted out, who knows, he might be carried aloft in the House.

T8. [901894] Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In an earlier answer, the Minister referred to linking up the great cities of the north, but again did not refer to Hull. Given that we have had the pausing and the unpausing of the electrification of several routes, when will the Secretary of State give the green light to the privately financed initiative to electrify the line all the way to Hull?

Mr McLoughlin: I do apologise to the hon. Lady. I am at a slight disadvantage because of your rulings, Mr Speaker, because if I were to mention all the great cities in the north, I would be ruled out of order.

Diana Johnson: There are not that many.

Mr McLoughlin: Well, I think there are a number of great cities in the north. I am very proud of those cities, but if I named them all, I would get into trouble. I fully accept what the hon. Lady says about the importance to Hull, which is why I have been able to move forward with some of the infrastructure investment for the A63, which is very important for her area. As for the extra money we gave to take the scheme that she is talking about up to GRIP 2, I am awaiting further reports on that particular scheme.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, there was an important point of order from a Plaid Cymru Member in which he pointed out how excellent the Transport Department is in answering questions compared with the Treasury, which is very poor. Has the Secretary of State been contacted by the Chancellor to find out how it is done?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sure that that is meant to be a helpful question. In the run-up to the spending review, it is not.

T9. [901895] Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): As a chartered engineer and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, I was horrified to learn that software engineering had apparently been used to cheat legitimate regulation and possibly undermine public health. The Secretary of State has criticised Volkswagen, but what discussions has he had with the professional bodies, the Minister of State for Skills and the automotive industry to ensure that this sort of dark engineering has no place in our cars?

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Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. As far as that matter is concerned, industry across the piece is very embarrassed by what has happened, and I am pretty sure that it will take proper action to ensure that the right regulatory measures are taken.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Could my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress is being made to bring Crossrail 2 through Harrow and Wealdstone station?

Mr McLoughlin: We are out to consultation, and I would have expected my hon. Friend to say what a great job we are doing as far as Crossrail 1 is concerned, However, as I have come to learn in this job, no sooner have we completed one major infrastructure project, than people are always talking about the next one. I am glad that he is in a position to talk about Crossrail 2, because it means that Crossrail 1 is being built.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Last week, the British Airline Pilots Association wrote to the management at Loganair, which operates air services throughout the highlands and islands, about its concern that aircraft are being returned to the line despite being unserviceable. It said:

“In some cases aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety and in others have restrictions placed upon them which render the aircraft effectively unusable in our operating environment.”

These are lifeline services to some of the most economically fragile communities in the country. What can the aviation Minister do to ensure, either through his Department or the Civil Aviation Authority, that our local communities can retain full confidence in these crucial services?

Mr Goodwill: I regularly meet BALPA; indeed, its general secretary, Jim McAuslan, is a good example of how unions can work with Government to promote their members. Safety is our top priority for air travel in the UK, and all our airlines have to meet strict safety maintenance requirements. Compliance with these requirements is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority. I understand that the CAA is aware of Loganair’s recent difficulties, but is satisfied that the company is operating safely and maintaining its aircraft in accordance with the necessary safety requirements. The matter will, of course, be kept under review.

Mr Speaker: We have overrun, but I want to hear a brief inquiry from a member of the Select Committee. I call Mr Martin Vickers.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): In recent weeks, passengers on the Cleethorpes to Manchester rail services have had to put up with regular cancellations due to driver shortage. Passengers do not care whether that is the company’s problem or ASLEF’s. Will the Rail Minister use her good offices to sort the matter out, please?

Claire Perry: I would be delighted to do so, or to try to do so. This is why the new invitations to tender and franchises have customer service and passenger experience right at their heart.

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Business of the House

10.36 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 2 November—Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Tuesday 3 November—Second Reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by the remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill.

Wednesday 4 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, including on policing.

Thursday 5 November—A debate on a motion relating to the Government’s stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland and the future of UK banking, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the dog meat trade. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 6 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 November will include:

Monday 9 November—Remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.

Tuesday 10 November—Remaining stages of the Trade Union Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 5 November will be:

Thursday 5 November—General debate on funding for schools.

Mr Speaker, you and colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the November recess at the end of business on Tuesday 10 November and return on Monday 16 November. I should add that during that period we expect a visit from the Indian Prime Minister to this House and I hope that those colleagues who are around and able to be involved will be part of that visit.

Chris Bryant: Yesterday, Sepp Blatter confessed that FIFA’s award of the 2018 World cup to Russia had been decided long before England put in its bid, and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport grilled World cup sponsors on their complacent complicity in Blatter’s kleptocractic rule. May we have a debate as a matter of urgency on the sink of corruption that is FIFA? British taxpayers and football fans have been diddled out of millions, so surely it is time that we rescued the game from the clutches of these dodgy spivs.

Talking of stitch-up jobs, can the Leader of the House explain something he said yesterday? Referring to the rapid review by Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, the second Baron Strathclyde, of the privileges of us the Commons, the Leader of the House told Members:

“It is absolutely essential that we do not rush this”—[Official Report, 28 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 355.]

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and, for that matter, that we should not “rush headlong into change”. However, Lord Strathclyde unfortunately undermined the Leader of the House by telling the “World at One” yesterday that this would all be done and dusted by Christmas. How can that possibly be right? If there is an issue, should not the House be debating it? Or will the Leader of the House just admit that this is not a review at all? It is a FIFA-style stitch-up, isn’t it?

I am not sure whether the Government have got over their little tantrum about losing the vote in the Lords on Monday, but I note that the Chancellor has said several times now that he will make substantial changes to his plan in the autumn statement on 25 November. The Leader of the House will know that the autumn statement is precisely that—a statement and no more. It does not do anything legislatively. So I ask him again, because he did not answer last week: will he allow a three-day debate on the effects of the autumn statement this year?

On Tuesday the chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs Council, Sara Thornton, and Craig Mackey, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said that if the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer get their way with the police budget, it will be the end of the era of bobbies on the beat. Is that something for the Conservative party to be proud of? Some 12,000 front-line police officers have already gone since 2010 and it looks likely that more than 20,000 more officers will be lost by the end of this Parliament. We shall devote our Opposition day debate next week to that. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary herself answers the debate so that we can take her to task?

May we have a debate on the ministerial code of conduct? Previously the code has made it clear that there is an

“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations”,

but last week it was revealed that the Prime Minister has insisted that that should be ditched. The former Conservative Attorney-General has said:

“It is impossible to understand why this change has been carried out”,

and Paul Jenkins, the former head of the Government legal service, quite extraordinarily broke cover to accuse No. 10 of

“contempt for the rule of international law”.

Surely to goodness a Minister’s word is still his bond when he signs a treaty, or does the Prime Minister cross his fingers behind his back when he negotiates with EU leaders and signs treaties? And why on earth was the code of conduct issued in a written ministerial statement to the Lords and still not to the House of Commons?

Many parts of this country, as Members around the House have said, still have terrible mobile telephone coverage. Last year the Government had to withdraw their poorly drafted electronic communications code that was intended to deal with the “not spots” around the country. In their manifesto they promised to bring in a new electronic communications code as a matter of urgency, but I note that there is still no sign of it. Can the Leader of the House tell us when it will appear? Mobile phone coverage is now every bit as much of a public utility as water and electricity, so will the Government get a move on?

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I confess I am a little worried about the Chancellor’s state of health. He looked really pale earlier this week, I thought. He has, dare I say it, something of the night about him. With Hallowe’en upon us, can the Leader of the House reassure us that the Chancellor will be staying home on Saturday night when it is dark? It is one thing to scream along with “The Amityville Horror” or “Psycho”, but quite another to encounter the Chancellor in a dark alleyway. His form of trick or treat, after all, is to suck family finances dry.

Talking of Hallowe’en, in Scotland it is a time for guising, when people go around disguised in fancy dress. Has the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) not exposed the fact that however hard the Prime Minister has tried to dress up the Tory party, hugging the gays and marrying huskies, the truth is that compassionate Conservatism is dead? All that is left is a fake skeleton costume.

I see that we shall be debating a motion next Thursday on the dog meat trade. I wondered whether this was a debate on the dog’s breakfast that the Chancellor has made of the tax credits fiasco, but I gather that today is when we select the Westminster dog of the year. My deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), has an extremely badly behaved Rottweiler, Sam, and I wish Sam well in the competition. I gather that the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) has two dogs called Boris and Maggie, and that he found that Boris’s behaviour improved considerably when he had him castrated. Will the Leader of the House pass on this advice to the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and all the other candidates for the Conservative party leadership?

Chris Grayling: I start by delivering some good news to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) who, sadly, is not in his place today. I should inform the House that you, Mr Speaker, after receiving positive feedback, have authorised that the new alphabetical groupings trialled in the Division Lobbies during the September sitting be kept in place for the rest of the Parliament, so the new warm relationship between the Fs and the Gs will continue. Speaking as a G, I can say that the line is moving much better than before, although I have had one or two complaints from those between the As and Fs. In overall terms the system has worked well and we will continue it.

I associate myself with the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House about FIFA. The hon. Gentleman spent a lot of time working very hard when he held the shadow Culture, Media and Sport brief—I am reliably informed that he was slightly disappointed to move from it—so he knows very well how shocking the developments at FIFA have been. There is absolutely no excuse for what has taken place. It is utterly scandalous. I commend everyone involved in pursuing the investigation to the stage we have now reached. It looks likely that prosecutions will follow, and rightly so. It is vital that the game, which is watched around the world and a beacon to many young people, should be absolutely clean and that those who have left it besmirched by corruption should feel the full force of the law. I completely agree that change is absolutely essential.

With regard to the Strathclyde review of the House of Lords, I repeat what I said yesterday: there will be a full statement to this House about the review panel’s terms

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of reference and composition when Lord Strathclyde is ready to publish those details, as is right and proper. He will take the time that is necessary, given the scope of work he intends to embark upon, and he will make clear shortly how that will work.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about tax credits, I remind him that for the autumn statement we will be using exactly the same procedures that operated in 13 years of Labour government. Now that they are in opposition, Labour Members seem to want to change how this House works, but it was all very convenient for them when they were in government. We will continue to operate as we have done, debating issues fully. We have already had extensive debates on the tax credits issue, and no doubt we will have more.

On bobbies on the beat, let me remind the Labour party about one simple fact: under Conservative leadership in the coalition Government and under this Government, crime has fallen. Yes, we have had to take some difficult decisions, and yes, there are difficult challenges facing the police, but crime has continued to fall. That proves that change can happen without adversely affecting the effectiveness of our public services.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about the ministerial code. I will simply say that under the new ministerial code, Ministers are still required to uphold the law.

Chris Bryant: Oh, hurrah!

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman says hurrah, and we would expect that from him. The situation will not be different under the new ministerial code.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the electronic communications code and the work of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Let me remind him that the former Secretary of State, who is now the Business Secretary, secured a deal to ensure £5 billion of investment in mobile telephony in this country. We are a Government who do things. We do not just publish documents; we secure new arrangements and deliver improvements. That will continue.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Chancellor’s health and suggested that he looked pale. I must say that over the past few weeks, since events in the Labour party back in the summer, those of us on the Government side of the House have watched with interest the pale faces on the Opposition Benches, the huddles of pallid people asking themselves, “How do we get ourselves out of this mess?” My worry is for the health of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, not the health of the Chancellor, who I can assure him is on great form.

The hon. Gentleman reminded the House that this weekend is Hallowe’en. My sympathies today are with the children of the Rhonda. I simply hope that he is not planning to go trick or treating this Saturday night. Imagine the horror of a person—a small child, perhaps—answering the door and discovering that the hon. Gentleman was out trick or treating in his constituency.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): Kamal Foroughi is a 76-year-old joint British-Iranian citizen. He has been held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for more than four years on charges of alleged espionage, and his health continues to deteriorate. His son and grandchildren are in the Gallery today. They have a simple message:

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“Please let Grandpa come home.” Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate his case and others where simple human compassion demands their immediate release?

Chris Grayling: I extend my very good wishes to my hon. Friend’s constituent’s family here today, and to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on the case. Given the obvious urgency of the case, I will make a point of ensuring that it is communicated to my colleagues in the Foreign Office immediately after business questions, and I will ask them to respond to him as quickly as possible.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I am sure that this morning his thoughts, like mine, are very much with the school community of Cults academy who are tragically mourning the loss among their pupils. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) was a pupil at Cults academy. Particularly for those who represent the north-east, it was quite an appalling tragedy that we witnessed yesterday.

It is day four of the great war of the nobles, and it is starting to get ugly as this House sees the battle of the Tories versus the Lords. The Tories have unleashed their not-so-secret weapon, codenamed Big Boy, to go down to the House of Lords, in all his aristocratic splendour, to sort it out. He is going to emasculate the House of Lords to ensure that it never does anything like this again. He can do this because the House of Lords is without a shred of democratic legitimacy; it represents absolutely no one. I am certain that the Tories will get their way on these particular issues. I am sensing a real desire among Conservative Members to deal decisively with the House of Lords. I am beginning to sense that they have had enough of the unelected Chamber down there with its forelock-tugging barons, earls, lords and baronets, dancing around like Santa Claus and having a stake in this democracy. I appeal to Conservative Members to join us on this. If we are not going to have a report by Christmas, let us have a proper inquiry to look into the role of that place in democracy and ensure that it is dealt with decisively.

We get the Scotland Bill back in a couple of weeks’ time. I am disappointed to see that only one day is set aside for its remaining stages and Third Reading. We had four days in Committee in this House where not one amendment was accepted, even though they were backed by every single Member of Parliament who represents a Scottish constituency other than the sole Conservative. The Secretary of State said that he would be spending this period reflecting and would try to bring back a series of amendments that kept the Bill in line with what was promised in the vow and with the true purpose of the Smith commission. Surely we need more than one day when we are considering such issues.

This is the first business questions in which I have the opportunity to speak as a second-class Member of this House. [Interruption.] Yes, exactly that. I am sure that the Scottish people are watching what is going on just now. I am fairly certain that the Leader of the House has recognised the sheer anger that has been caused in

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Scotland about our Members of Parliament—Scotland’s Members of Parliament—having a diminished status. “Don’t leave the Union”, they said, but the minute we get our backsides on these green Benches our status is diminished. We still have no idea how this is going to work. We have the Housing Bill on Monday. Is that going to be subject to an English veto, and if so, how will that work out for my hon. Friends?

We are very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for backing the call by SNP Members to get rid of the ridiculous concept of the conference recess. It is absurd that we break and abandon our business to participate in associations of voluntary organisations. I ask you to use your considerable authority to ensure that the summer recess period covers the school holidays of all parts of the United Kingdom and is not exclusively for English Members of Parliament.

The Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House will no doubt be guising, as we say, on Saturday. A new tradition has been taken up by the children of Scotland where they go out disguised as Conservatives, because they are such a rarity in Scotland. The problem is that when they turn up at people’s doors they create real fear in their beholders. They have very little chance of securing any sort of trick or treat when they go out as Conservatives, that is for sure.

Chris Grayling: I have a confession to make. Until last week, I had not heard any of the work of that distinguished band, MP4, of which the hon. Gentleman is a great part. I had not realised what a great showbiz performer he is. I pay tribute to him; the music is excellent. He brings a bit of that showbiz performance to this House, with a little bit of faux outrage and theatre. He showed a chink of something different a couple of weeks ago when he started to say nice things about the House of Lords, but he is very much back on his usual form today. I know where he is coming from, but we are concerned to do the right thing for our constitution and our democracy. I am very confident that under the good guidance of Lord Strathclyde we will be able to find a resolution to the current problem.

There was also a little faux outrage on the Scotland Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows—the Law Society of Scotland has emphasised this—that we are delivering what we committed to. Of course, I would not expect a group of politicians whose mission is to secure independence for Scotland to do anything except express faux outrage, but I am absolutely confident that we, as a party and as a Government, are delivering what we promised.

If ever there was an example of that little bit of showbiz and faux outrage that the hon. Gentleman brings to the House it was on the issue of English votes for English laws. He describes himself as a second-class citizen, but he will never be a second-class citizen. Interestingly, having heard all the arguments he has made with great flamboyance during the past few weeks, I can remind him of what he said on 14 October 2014:

“I sympathise totally with English Members. Of course they should have English votes for English laws…we respect English Members. They have every right to demand exclusive rights to vote on England-only legislation.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 212.]

The hon. Gentleman brings flamboyance to debates in the House, and I admire him for that, but he has a habit on occasion of delivering slightly mixed messages.

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As regards the Conservatives in Scotland, the people who have reason to be scared this autumn—come Halloween and, indeed, the weeks ahead—are those in the Labour party in Scotland, because they have been done over in their own areas by the SNP and we intend to do them over as well. They are the ones in true danger when it comes to the elections next May.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence quality standard on autism calls for waiting times between a referral and an initial appointment for assessment to be no longer than three months. Currently, the targets are not being met across the country. May we have a debate on research from the National Autistic Society showing that the wait from initially raising a concern to diagnosis is, on average, three and a half years for children and five years for adults? That is very important because every Member of the House has approximately 1,000 people in their constituency who suffer from autism and the long waiting times are pushing people to avoidable crisis points.

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. All of us, as constituency MPs, have direct experience of the challenges that families with an autistic child face and of the importance of doing everything we can to give those children the best possible opportunities in life. I pay tribute to those in my own constituency, particularly at Linden Bridge school, who do fantastic work in this area. I am sure that hon. Members from across the House share her interest and her concern that we do the best we can in this area. I know that that view is shared by the Secretary of State for Health, for whom this is an important issue. I will make sure that her concerns are raised with him, and I encourage her to keep bringing this matter before the House through the different channels that are available.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Do the Leader of the House and the Government not think that looking once again just at the House of Lords is like looking at one wheel on the bicycle, while not looking at the other wheel and the Executive who drive it? Should we not have a comprehensive review of how to bring this institution into the 21st century as a legislative body?

Chris Grayling: There are many different views about how all our constitutional arrangements should work. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is engaged on such matters at the moment. Its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), is hard at work looking at our constitutional arrangements, and I am sure that the Select Committee will come forward with interesting ideas in due course.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): As you know, Mr Speaker, the credentials of the current UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expire next week. As the membership of the new delegation is the responsibility of Parliament, not of the Government, will my right hon. Friend make time next week for the House to express its opinion?

Chris Grayling: I am obviously aware of the motion on the Order Paper. I would say to my hon. Friend that I have no doubt the House will give this matter careful consideration. The point of having a Backbench Business

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Committee is of course to ensure that time is available to Members who are not in the Government to allocate time for debate. I am sure that he would be able to make his point to the Committee.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. The Backbench Business Committee has two debates on Thursday—one is on the Government’s stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the second one is on the dog meat trade. For the avoidance of doubt, the second debate is about the trade in dog flesh, as opposed to selling tins of Winalot or Pedigree Chum. Will the Leader of the House give the Backbench Business Committee an early indication of whether there is any possibility of time in the week beginning 16 November for Backbench Business Committee debates?

Chris Grayling: I cannot yet give that undertaking, but I expect there will be time available in most weeks. I have no particular reason to believe that time will not be available during that week, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that we have not yet finalised the business for it. He is picking interesting subjects for debate and I think they will command great attention, particularly the dog meat debate, given that the Westminster dog of the year competition takes place today. That is a sign of the concern in this House about the welfare of dogs, and most people in this country do not support the dog meat trade at all.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Communications received by Members this week seem to suggest that some members of the public have been misled about the true nature of proposed new clause 7 to the Finance Bill, on which we voted on Monday, and the true position of this House in relation to the European Union and VAT. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House that makes clear the true position, and what does he plan to do to counter the occasional misrepresentation of the business of this House?

Chris Grayling: Members have raised that concern with me over the past couple of days, particularly the fact that the Public Whip website gives no clarification of the nature of a Division. I have listened to colleagues and I intend to write to the website, asking it to provide a degree of explanation for Divisions on such issues.

The debate was about principle, not substance, and it is not possible, under the current treaty arrangements, for this House to decide to cut VAT to zero. That decision has to be taken in Brussels, but there is strong interest in securing change. The campaign that has grown off the back of that vote is utterly unacceptable. It is completely unacceptable for third party groups to misrepresent the vote as being a vote against a zero rate for tampons. I think that most Members support the principle of a zero rate for a product that is clearly not a luxury. The Financial Secretary gave a commitment in the debate that he would raise the issue in Brussels; indeed, we have done so. It is not acceptable for third party pressure groups to misrepresent the votes in this House. They give the impression that they are simply left-wing groups attacking the Conservative party and that they are not making legitimate points.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that in response to my proposed new clause 7 the Financial Secretary promised to negotiate

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at European level to achieve a zero rate of VAT on women’s sanitary products. However, he did not commit to a timetable and he did not say that the issue would be placed alongside the Prime Minister’s other core demands in the forthcoming EU renegotiations. Will the Leader of the House give Government time for a ministerial statement confirming that women’s rights are not a second-class issue on this Government’s European agenda?

Chris Grayling: Women’s rights are never going to be a second-class issue for this Government. The Labour party was in power for 13 years and did not secure any change on this front that would have brought the rate down to zero. [Interruption.] That is all very well, but since Monday’s debate the Vice-President of the Commission has said the Commission is willing to consider the issue, so we are already taking a step in the right direction after that debate. If a Minister gives a commitment to this House, they will follow it through.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Devolution is obviously something we all aspire to, and my county and the districts of Somerset certainly want to embrace it. One of the problems, however, is the lack of understanding of what we can and cannot do with devolution and of the way in which we can embrace it to make sure that the money follows it from the centre. It is fantastic and we want to do it. May we have time to debate the issue so that a clear message goes out to districts, counties and unitaries on how they can get involved in maximising their return for their taxpayers?

Chris Grayling: That is a really important part of what the Government are seeking to do. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach. There will be different settlements in different parts of the country, depending on the circumstances, including the geography and the local economy. The Chancellor and other Treasury Ministers will be here on Tuesday for Treasury Questions, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make his point to them. There is a great opportunity for counties such as Somerset to be involved in devolution deals that give them greater control over matters that affect their area. I hope that everyone in Somerset and in other parts of the country will engage in the process, which gives a real opportunity to local authorities and local communities.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Given the difficult financial circumstances that the NHS finds itself in, is it not time for a debate on a national tariff for in vitro fertilisation, given that clinical commissioning groups are paying fees as varied as £2,500 and £6,500 a cycle?

Chris Grayling: My view is that we have a choice within the NHS: we can either devolve responsibilities to local practitioners or keep every decision at the centre. The moment we say that we do not like differences between areas because different local CCGs take different decisions, all the decisions will start to be centralised again. I have always believed, certainly in my own constituency, that local decisions should be taken by local doctors. That is what happens as a result of the reforms that we made and I would be very reluctant to reverse it.

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David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on the future of the House of Lords in the near future, purely and simply because of events this week? I have worked on a proposal that was welcomed by Members from all parts of the House in a Westminster Hall debate.

Chris Grayling: I have no doubt that we will have such a debate in the near future. I encourage my hon. Friend to talk to Lord Strathclyde as he does his review, the scope of which will be set out shortly. I suggest that he take any ideas he has for change to the noble Lord, who will certainly want to hear the views of people in this House.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): We have another business statement and the approach of another parliamentary recess, and there is no indication whatsoever that the Government intend to seek a mandate for military intervention in Syria. Is it not patently obvious that there is no consensus and no appetite across the Chamber for another ill-thought-through military adventure? Instead, may we have a statement on the diplomatic, political and financial initiatives that might contribute to bringing peace and stability to that benighted country?

Chris Grayling: There will be no debate about military intervention in Syria unless we have an intention to intervene militarily in Syria. The reason we have another business statement without a reference to such a debate is that no decision has been taken to intervene militarily in Syria. Of course, should such an event occur, we will come to the House and it will be discussed fully. We have debated the diplomatic actions in and around Syria extensively in recent weeks. The Prime Minister comes before the House each week and the Foreign Secretary comes before it regularly. There will be plenty of opportunities to continue to debate how to address what is an impossibly difficult situation to which all of us desperately wish to see a resolution, but it is difficult to see a path to that resolution, given how complex the situation is.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I feel sure that the Leader of the House is a “Downton Abbey” fan and that he will have been as alarmed as I was by Lord Grantham’s haematemesis two weeks ago. Fortunately, Lord Grantham is recovering well. However, the British Society of Gastroenterology points out that survival from upper gastrointestinal bleeding in this country lags behind those countries with which we can reasonably be compared. May we have a debate on how we can configure endoscopy services in this country to bring us up among the best in Europe, rather than among the worst?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a very important point in his customary light-hearted yet serious way. I did not see that particular scene in “Downton Abbey”, but the descriptions of it were eye-catching to say the least. His comments today are important and I will ensure that they are communicated to my colleagues in the Department of Health. I know that they will listen carefully to somebody with his expertise in the medical arena.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly led on the issue of FIFA, which he described as a “sink of

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corruption”, but football is still the beautiful game. Will the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, join me in paying tribute and wishing a happy birthday to a former Darlington player, Arthur Wharton, who was the first black professional footballer in the world? We are very proud of him and he is an adopted son of Darlington. Will the Leader of the House join me, the Football Association, FIFA, UEFA, the Professional Footballers Association and the Football League in wishing him a happy birthday?

Chris Grayling: I happily join the hon. Lady in doing that. From a personal perspective, the beautiful game is slightly tarnished after the penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford last night. I pay tribute to her constituent and to all the black players who were pathfinders in the game and opened it up to a generation of young people. I would like to see more black coaches in football in this country. That should be a priority for the game. I congratulate her constituent on all that he did to contribute to the sport.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): My hard-working constituents who use Kingston and Surbiton stations are forced to pay for zone-6 tickets, although logic and fairness dictate that those stations should be in zone 5. Twenty-three stations in London are in zone 5, yet they are further away from their London terminus. I know there are other re-zoning campaigns in London, but ours is certainly the most compelling and I invite the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on the zoning of stations in London.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend’s campaign may be the most compelling in London, but the campaign to get Epsom station into zone 6 is outside London, and I judge that to be equally important. My hon. Friend and I have regularly drawn anomalies in the zoning structure to the attention of Transport for London and the Department for Transport, and I hope we can make progress with that. Our constituents hope to see such progress, and I commend my hon. Friend’s important work. I know that people in Kingston are looking forward to him succeeding in due course.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): This week saw cross-party support for a series of proposals to open up the family courts, which successive Governments have promised to reform. Will the Leader of the House permit a debate on how we can break open the cartels that surround the family court system?

Chris Grayling: Having been Justice Secretary I am aware of and sympathetic to that issue. My only caveat is that we must be careful. Deeply distressing stories are heard in the family courts, and we must not open them up in a way that exposes family heartache to the tabloid media—I have always been cautious about that. Equally, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is no real reason for the closed environment that exists around family courts. That is a matter of concern to the Justice Secretary, and there is cross-party interest in what he is doing. He will be in the House on Tuesday, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise that important point.

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Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my right hon. Friend knows, I am running a campaign to save the hedgehog. Will he urge all right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that safety measures are in place for Guy Fawkes night next Thursday?

Chris Grayling: I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the hedgehog and there has been a distressing fall in our hedgehog population over the past decades. When I was a child we could find a hedgehog in almost every garden, and people would feed them outside their backdoor. That does not happen now to anything like the degree that it used to, and I say to all hon. Members—and anyone listening to this debate—that bonfire night is a real danger for hedgehogs. If people drive round the country they will see large piles of wood that have been set up for bonfires next week. It is all too easy and common for hedgehogs to find refuge in those bonfires, and I ask anyone who has set up a bonfire to double check before they light it and ensure that no hedgehog is nesting inside. We cannot afford to lose any more.

Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Young people are being killed on our streets, and tragically there have been two youth deaths in my constituency in as many months. That is not isolated. A boy was stabbed to death in Aberdeen; there were shootings in Hackney and Salford, and even machine-gun fire in Willesden. That has to stop, but with the Government continuing to cut front-line services, young people are turning to crime and violence in bigger and bigger numbers. Is it time for an urgent debate to consider how all parties can work together to stop the rise of youth violence?

Chris Grayling: Knife crime and knife murders are a blight on our society, and I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) about the tragic events in Aberdeen yesterday. Fortunately, such things are rare in this country, but that makes them even more shocking when they do happen. I send my heartfelt condolences and good wishes to the family involved, and to all those in the school for whom this experience will have been deeply traumatic.

On the streets of London, any death through knife crime is one too many. We have taken measures to toughen the law on carrying knives, and it is important to support organisations that try to move young people away from crime and carrying a knife—organisations such as the Jimmy Mizen foundation that Barry and Margaret Mizen set up in the wake of their son’s death do a fantastic job.

The number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time has continued to fall for a number of years, which is a great step forward. Our challenge with crime in this country is that of people going round and round the system and reoffending, but it is good news that fewer young people are entering the justice system for the first time—long may that continue.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): British farmers who successfully apply for environmental improvement grants are being told that unless they put up billboards indicating that the money came from the EU they could lose part or all of the grant. The United Kingdom is a net contributor to the EU, so is this not akin to me

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taking my money from my bank to do home improvements and putting up a billboard saying, “Thank you, Barclays”? May we have a statement from an agriculture Minister to say that we will resist the desecration of the British countryside by EU propaganda?

Chris Grayling: This country’s countryside is among the most beautiful anywhere in the world and I sympathise with my hon. Friend for not wanting to see additional signage clutter detracting from its natural beauty. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions are next Thursday, so he will have the opportunity to put his point to a Minister directly. We should keep our countryside pure and natural.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): Will the Government make a statement or have a debate in Government time on employees’ pensions in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission? The Leader of the House will know that the commission made a decision to close the final salary scheme in December 2014, but only started consultation with trade unions in June this year. Does he agree that commission staff are working harder than ever owing to the centenary commemorations, and that cutting their pensions while the director general gets a 50% pay rise is completely and utterly inappropriate?

Chris Grayling: I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making. A whole range of organisations have had to take difficult decisions about final salary pensions, given the very welcome—but challenging for pension fund trustees—increase in life expectancy. I will make sure that the concerns he raises are passed on to my ministerial colleagues.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Following the comments made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and your excellent article earlier this week, Mr Speaker, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate and a vote on whether the House should continue to have a conference recess, or whether the political parties should pull their finger out, sort themselves out and organise their conferences at weekends, like the Scottish National party do, to enable this House to continue to sit? By having such a debate and a vote, we would be able to work out which MPs believe they should be doing their job in this House and holding the Government to account.

Chris Grayling: There is growing interest in this area in this House, particularly given the fact that there are perhaps slightly fewer Liberal Democrats than there used to be for their conference week. This matter has been raised with me through the usual channels. Of course, conference bookings by the principal parties take place some years in advance. I do not rule out change in the future, but this is something that needs to be dealt with quite carefully.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I am pleased to hear that there will be a debate on policing. I am, however, somewhat concerned at the lack of reality in the responses given by the Leader of the House to questions on policing. In Enfield, we have lost 150-plus

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of the uniformed presence on our streets and have seen a 22% increase in violent crime in the past year. I think there is a connection between those two facts. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, when the Government come to this House to present their debate on policing, they face the facts as we face them in our communities and constituencies?

Chris Grayling: I can only reiterate what I said earlier. The most recent figures in the British crime survey, which indicates people’s experience of crime, show that notwithstanding some of the difficult challenges police forces have had to face up to, crime around the country is continuing to fall. I still believe there is scope for police officers and police forces to deliver new ways of working that bring down costs without affecting the front-line support they provide to our communities.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Labour-run Kirklees council has written off £850,000 in section 106 cash allocated to improve local infrastructure by house builders and developers. Can we have a debate on how such appalling situations are seeing our local communities lose confidence in the planning process?

Chris Grayling: I am aware of the issue my hon. Friend’s local authority has faced, and it raises questions about credit control and bringing in money when it is due. Local authorities have the power to set timelines, and even to get money in advance, for the section 106 payments they receive. Obviously, this is a matter of concern, and it might be that processes need to change, so I suggest that he raises it directly with the Department for Communities and Local Government, perhaps through an Adjournment debate or at the next time Question Time.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Will the Leader of the House share his current understanding of when proposed legislation in respect of the Stormont House agreement will be introduced, and will the Government consider referring the draft Bill for legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses, given that it will deal with the sensitive issue of legacy, on which there has not been due consultation with victims—for a variety of reasons and excuses—and seeing as Parliament has been asked to legislate in lieu of the Assembly?

Chris Grayling: I will certainly discuss that with the Secretary of State. Of course, we have been involved in detailed discussions with all the parties in Northern Ireland, and those discussions continue. I hope the measure will be ready shortly, and clearly we will bring it to the House as soon as we can, but I will make the Secretary of State aware of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I was delighted to hear about the visit by Narendra Modi on 12 to 14 November, and I am pleased there will be an opportunity for Parliament to receive him properly. The visit takes place between the November recess and the Hindu new year. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains a happy, peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year, and can we have a statement on the Floor of the House about the trade deals and educational and other arrangements that will be made during that great visit?

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Chris Grayling: I absolutely echo my hon. Friend’s happy new year wishes. I hope that everyone in those communities has an enjoyable, relaxing and successful set of new year festivals. I wish them all well. No doubt, you and I, Mr Speaker, will wish to keep the House fully informed about the arrangements for the visit, which we are looking forward to enormously. India is one of our longest-standing allies and the world’s biggest democracy. This is a great occasion for our country.

To digress slightly, last night my hon. Friend and I were guests at an awards ceremony for the London Tigers, a sports club that does amazing work across London with young people from all different communities. It is appropriate for us to place on the record our appreciation to that club.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): First, may I associate myself with the call from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for a debate on the lack of provision for families in which someone has autism?

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that the recent news of greater diversity in the boardroom, especially with respect to women, is welcome but that we need to go much further. May we have an early debate on diversity? Should this House not be an exemplar? Has he looked at the photographs in the corridor behind the Speaker’s Chair of the 64 people who run the House? They are all white and there are very few women.

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree about the need for and desirability of diversity. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman said about the photographs, however, I think we have made great progress over the years. There is a world of difference between what the House looked like in 2001, when I was first elected, and what it looks like today. Clearly, however, we need to gee along the recruitment processes a bit, and he will be aware that the Prime Minister this week set out plans to have name- blind applications in the public sector. I think that is right, and other employers are doing the same. I want the House to reflect society in all its workings.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): The plan for a station at Edginswell, the first new station in Torbay for decades, is progressing well, with a large amount of funding already secured. Can we have a statement on when the next tranche of new station funding will be available so that we can bid for it and complete the project?

Chris Grayling: Unfortunately, we have just had Transport questions, so my hon. Friend will have to wait a little before the Secretary of State is back again. I am sure, however, that his comments will be noted. If we look around the country now, 20 years after the privatisation of our railways, we see new railway lines opening—this week saw the start of a new service from Oxford to London on the Chiltern line, which would never have happened in the days of British Rail—and new stations opening, yet we have a Leader of the Opposition and a Labour party that think we would be better off renationalising the whole thing. They have no idea what consequences that would have for our railways; it would be disastrous. As things are now, we are seeing innovations of the kind that my hon. Friend set out—and long may that continue.

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Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Last week, the Prime Minister said that he did not want anyone reliant on food banks, yet this week, the Work and Pensions Secretary told the Select Committee that he planned to station job advisers in food banks. Is it right for extreme food poverty to become an accepted element of DWP national planning? May we have a debate on this proposal and on the plight of the starving poor?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady has got this plain wrong. I remind her that the use of food banks in this country is much lower than in Germany, for example, and it is simply not true that food bank usage can be linked to Government policy. Surely if we have people who are in need of food banks, we should be helping them into work to lift themselves out of poverty. Making sure that jobcentre advisers are aware of what is going on in food banks seems to me sensible, as we try to help those people do better with their lives.

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): It was an honour recently for me to present certificates to some of the 1,500-odd graduates of the National Citizen Service scheme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real Government success story, and will he allow time for a debate on how to roll this out to more people, year on year?

Chris Grayling: I think this has been a huge success story. The Prime Minister has brought many things to government, but this is one of those that will have the most lasting impact in this country. It is growing, developing and proving to be a great success. It is changing the lives of young people in different parts of the country, bringing together young people from different backgrounds in a way that can only be positive for the future. Long may it continue and grow.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The shadow Leader of the House was right to raise the issue of the ministerial code. May we have an urgent statement on who made the decision to change the code, the reasons for doing so and why international obligations were removed from it, when it was settled custom and practice for this country?

Chris Grayling: Given that the ultimate owner of the ministerial code is the Prime Minister and he is here before the House for questions every week, there will be plenty of opportunity to ask him that if the hon. Lady wishes to do so.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On page 29 of today’s Order Paper there is a motion about the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Unusually, it goes on to page 30, because it is signed by 58 right hon. and hon. Members from all the major political parties. It commends the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who has spent years there. He was elected as chairman of the European Conservative group. Will the Leader of the House not only welcome this motion, but put it on next week’s Order Paper? As there is no House business committee, we rely on the Government to bring forward this excellent motion. Will he welcome it and bring it forward?

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Chris Grayling: I have certainly spotted the degree of support for this particular motion, and I am aware of the desire to debate it. There is quite a lot of time allocated through the Backbench Business Committee for debates in this House. I know my hon. Friend is going to return to the issue of the House business committee shortly, but there is a very simple avenue available if he wants to get a motion such as this one debated. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, which is that avenue, is sitting over there on the Opposition Benches.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): The Leader of the House may be aware of the case of 26-year-old Tara Hudson, a trans woman who has been sentenced to serve her prison sentence in a men’s prison. The good news is that I have heard today that she is being moved to a women’s prison. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow a statement to be made to clarify the procedures for the sentencing of trans prisoners?

Chris Grayling: I am aware of the case. These are often very difficult issues, and they are typically dealt with by the Prison Service or the judiciary. Detailed decisions thus tend to be outwith the remit of Ministers. I know that my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice will always want decisions of this kind to be taken carefully and sensitively. Those colleagues will face the House for questions next Tuesday, and I am sure that they will listen to the hon. Lady’s concerns then.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we please have a debate on how to tackle cybercrime? I have received complaints from constituents in the past, and there is another report in today’s Bury Times about one of my constituents having received one of the very convincing and genuine-looking emails that purport to come from one of our high street banks and ask for personal details. Such e-mails could very easily mislead people and cause them to be defrauded.

Chris Grayling: This is indeed a matter of concern. A number of worrying cases have been highlighted in recent weeks and months, in which people have lost large chunks of their life savings to some pretty complex and sophisticated scams. The message that we in the House should send to everyone is “Be more than ultra-careful about how you respond to emails, and be more than ultra-careful about how you respond to apparent requests to transfer money to different accounts.” The House should return to this matter regularly, and should send the public—the people whom we represent—the message that there are criminal groups out there who are trying to rip them off all the time.

Chris Bryant: That lot over there!

Chris Grayling: I ask my hon. Friends to keep bringing the issue up, because it is very important to do so.

I hear the usual sedentary chuntering from the shadow Leader of the House. This is a really serious issue. On television earlier this week, I saw a woman who had been swindled out of £35,000 by a gang who had persuaded her to go to her bank and transfer the money to a different account. It is not a laughing matter.