Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con): Is it not important to empower our councils to make decisions in accordance with their own landscapes? I, for example, have a medieval walled city in Berwick and

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a cobbled town in Alnwick. Interesting work has been done in many French towns. In some, parking is permitted on one side of the street for two weeks in the month, and then for two weeks on the other side, which means that emergency vehicles can always get through. The communities have adapted, there is a rigor to it and people do not break the rules because they understand that they support the flow of everyone who needs to use the pavements and roads.

Simon Hoare: I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend, who has given me an awful lot of support on the Bill and is a huge supporter of Guide Dogs. She makes her point well. Through local consultation and accommodation, these things can be resolved so that nobody is disadvantaged and social inclusion and mobility can be put at the heart of everything we do.

It might be helpful if I mention some of the organisations supporting the Bill: Guide Dogs; the Local Government Association, which is fed up with all the conflicting guidance from different Departments and geographically narrow traffic regulation orders, which cost between £3,000 and £3,500 but which are not really doing the job; the British Parking Association—it might just be a drive to get more customers into its car parks; the Campaign for Better Transport; Age UK; Living Streets; the National Association of Local Councils; Whizz-Kidz; the RNIB; Sense; Civic Voice; Cabe Design Council; Keep Britain Tidy; Transport for All; the Macular Society; the National Pensioners Convention; the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners; Deafblind UK; and SeeAbility. That level of support, from organisations that have thought about the Bill and decided to support it, indicates the wide range of potential beneficiaries.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) rose

Simon Hoare: I will give way to my hon. Friend, who kindly sponsored the Bill with me some months ago.

Bob Stewart: I rise as a sinner. I am guilty. I have been brought before the beak and charged £60 for parking outside my house in Kingston. I was guilty. I hope that the Bill, which I sponsored, will pass, so that I will know in future, from road signs, that I should not park outside my house.

Simon Hoare: Heaven rejoices when a sinner repenteth. I am certain that my hon. Friend’s confession, in perhaps the most public place to make a confession, will have the angels tuning their harps even as we speak.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Simon Hoare: It is not another confession, is it?

Kevin Foster: No, thankfully not. Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention from our hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) raises an important point about the confusion in the current legislation? In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, there is one set of parking legislation, which is hard to enforce, even where communities have chosen to ban it, while in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), there applies the sort of legislation we are trying to introduce here. Would it not be fairer to motorists and communities to have consistency across England?

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Simon Hoare: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will know that almost identical provisions have existed in London since 1974. I am advised that the London boroughs association would go to hell kicking and screaming if anyone proposed any relaxation or change to the parking guidance that has served London and her boroughs so well all these years.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill might raise expectations that cannot be realised? For example, Dorset county council says it cannot afford to fund a 20 mph speed limit outside Twynham school on Sopers lane, where a student was knocked down and injured on a pedestrian crossing earlier this year. If it cannot even afford that, how will it afford to implement the complicated measures in the Bill?

Simon Hoare: I disagree with my hon. Friend that these are complicated proposals; I think they are anything but complicated. As we all know, local authorities choose to prioritise different areas, and we are both lucky enough to reside in and represent constituencies in the area of a finely run and Conservative-controlled county council.

I return, however, to the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). It would be up to local authorities whether to use the legislation. If they decided not to, for cash, political or ideological reasons, there would be no obligation on them so to do, and they would continue to rely on the police—or police community support officers, if they so wished—to treat the matter as a criminal offence and to issue tickets and fines through that process. That is the important point. This is not a coercive Bill; it seeks to address, in a pragmatic and sensible way, an issue that is recognised by many people in this House and the organisations I listed earlier.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill and all those, including my constituents in Kingston and Surbiton who have long campaigned for this measure—

Bob Stewart: It was Kingston that fined me.

James Berry: I know. I am glad to see my hon. Friend’s parking fines going towards reducing our council tax bills. Will my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) confirm that the Bill reaches a sensible accommodation between motorists and the long list of organisations he mentioned, and, more importantly, a localised accommodation that could, if done properly, be right for all areas of the country?

Simon Hoare: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A local authority could decide to deal with the matter on a ward-by-ward basis. It could run pilots. It is an iterative, organic process, not a fixed one. I will leave him and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) to sort out the repayment of the fine.

I know that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but I think these are powerful: 97% of blind or partially sighted people have encountered problems with general street obstructions, and 90% of them have experienced direct trouble from a parked car. I have been sent a vast

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number of photographs—it goes to show, particularly after this week, that social media can actually be social—of vulnerable and elderly people, mothers and disabled people walking into busy carriageways to get around parked cars. I had an email from a lady who was in a mobility scooter who literally got stuck: there was one van parked in front of her and, before she realised it, another behind her. There was no dropped kerb, and she sat there for an hour and a half, because although she could just about bounce her vehicle down the kerb, there was no guarantee she would be able to bounce it back up on the other side. I say in all common decency, and as a motorist myself, that if only a little extra thought was given to these matters, legislation probably would not be required, but we are all too much like St Augustine, and therefore we often err where we should not.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that this problem is particularly acute on pavements around schools, especially primary schools, where obstructed pavements not only force buggies into the road but obstruct pedestrians’ view and prevent them from crossing safely?

Simon Hoare: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and as this debate continues the clear and tangible benefits are seen to be ever wider and ever clearer.

I turn now to the discussions I have had with the Department for Transport since we published the Bill. I do not think this is always the case with Departments and private Members’ legislation, but I want to put it on record that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), and the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), have been phenomenally helpful and courteous to me. That may come as a unique note in the Official Report. I also want to put on record my debt of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is a huge supporter of Guide Dogs and who advised me as a new and rather wet-behind-the-ears Member of this House on how best to proceed if there was not a mutual meeting of minds between me as the sponsor of the Bill and the Department affected—in this case the Department for Transport, as the Bill would amend the Road Traffic Act 1988.

It is unfortunate that a meeting of minds has not been achievable during those discussions. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has convinced me of both his sincerity in dealing with the issue and, in general terms, his firm and clear commitment to improving the rights of the disabled and the vulnerable with regard to transport and mobility. It was on that basis, following a conversation with my hon. Friend the Minister, that I wrote to him on 26 November setting out what I thought was a good proposal to move forward if, even in the dying days of our discussions, a meeting of minds was not achievable.

I have set out to the Minister that a round table discussion would be convened by the Department early in 2016, to be attended by organisations such as Guide Dogs, the Local Government Association, Living Streets, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and myself, to discuss the concerns that triggered the Bill and the

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current situation. The Department has agreed to sponsor evidence-gathering to provide a sound basis on which to determine how best to proceed in addressing the issue, either by legislation or regulation. That would be undertaken at the expense of the Department for Transport. Following the commissioning of that evidence-based research and greater clarity on what I believe to be clear already—that the situation is a little hazy and the rules a little confusing and conflicting, although, as I have said, we have been unable to achieve a meeting of minds—that initial round table would convene to chew over the findings of the research and plot a way forward.

On 1 December, my hon. Friend the Minister replied to me to say:

“However, improving access for disabled people is a key priority for me and I would like to thank you and Guide Dogs for raising this issue. Although Government cannot support your Bill, I am prepared to convene a round table next year to discuss this issue and envisage that it might include”—

I have mentioned some of those involved—

“to inform the questions we will consider in the research. After which, and in the next financial year, I am also content for my Department to undertake some work to examine more closely the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime and the likely impacts on local authorities. I would also be content to report back to the round table on the outcome of that work.”

There are two ways, as I understand it, to try to achieve progress on what I think is seen collectively across the House as an important issue. One way is to ram our heads against the wall, to find ourselves faced with the overpowering might of the Executive and the Treasury Bench, and to come away with a headache and a badge that says, “A1 for endeavour, gamma minus for success”. The other way—this was the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, for which I am again grateful—is to sit down with the Department. Predicated on the seriousness with which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has been dealing with this and the assurances he has given, that has certainly given me food for thought.

In the time remaining, I would be very interested to hear—obviously at your discretion, Mr Deputy Speaker—the views and considerations of colleagues on both sides of the House.

12.55 pm

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Mine will be but a short contribution to the debate. I would like to put on record the thanks of very many Members to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) for bringing forward this Bill and raising an incredibly important issue that affects the day-to-day lives of so many people, especially those who are blind or have visual disabilities.

I have received representations from a number of constituents on this issue, as have many of us, but I was struck in particular by what one of them said, a gentleman by the name of Ian Stewart Jones who began lobbying in one of our local newspapers. He said:

“I suggest…people contact their…MPs…so we can put an end to this very selfish practice.”

That is quite interesting, because many people who park on pavements do not see it as selfish. It is sometimes the easy thing to do. For those of us who are not very good at parking—or, rather, who are atrocious at it—it sometimes seems the best option, as we choreograph

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our little vehicles into what we think is the best and easiest place to park, so it is interesting to see that word “selfish”.

We can imagine the difficulties that many people face because of this practice, and I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman quote the sheer number of organisations that support his Bill. I did not take them all down, but they include the RNIB, Guide Dogs, the National Pensioners Federation, Living Streets, the Local Government Association and so many more, so it is fair to say that there is already a wide consensus in civic society and in the representative groups he listed that support the Bill.

I appreciate that there will now be further consultation, discussion and the like, but I would like to put on record a plea that this measure not be forgotten, because I was very struck by that description of parking on pavements as a selfish practice. I can imagine it is also a very demeaning practice for people who want to get on with their day-to-day lives, but who face being knocked over and having to bump against vehicles—who face the general degradation that, quite frankly, most of us would not put up with for even 20 minutes. I therefore urge Ministers and all Members to recognise this as an important and serious Bill. We often talk in this place about equality, diversity, equal chances and all the rest of it, and this Bill is at the heart of what we mean by that. It is a practical manifestation of it. Whatever happens at the next stage, I urge that it not be forgotten. In one form or another, the Bill needs to proceed.

12.58 pm

David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con): I am very pleased to be speaking on this topic because, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), whom I thank for bringing it to the House, a couple of months ago I was invited to take part in a walk where I was blindfolded, given a white stick and led by a guide dog around Northampton market square. It was a route I have taken throughout my life, but it was a real education to do it without the sight that I have become so used to throughout my life and which we all take for granted.

I depended very much on the dog that was guiding me around the market square, but I had not appreciated how different everything around me would be—the cobbles on the pavement beneath me and the cars that were parked, frankly, where they should not have been, which would not have mattered had I been able to see. I was grateful to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Northampton and the Northamptonshire Association for the Blind for giving me that opportunity.

As someone with a background in local government, I know that issues to do with parking, pavements and cars are often brought to us. It is difficult to see how we can make certain changes, because lots of residents want to have access to cars, parking and their homes, as we have heard. However, this does need to be looked at. I am glad to hear that it is being taken seriously by the Department for Transport; I am grateful for the update provided on the round table next year; and I look forward to seeing further developments.

1 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on bringing forward this Bill to

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deal with an issue that should have been addressed sooner. It is right to harmonise across the country the arrangements and enforcement policies that have been in place in Greater London for a very long time.

Every council and every individual sees the abuses of pavement parking on a daily basis. It can be very costly: pavements can crack when cars go on to pavements; the dropped stone kerbs and footings on the pavements can be damaged; and even landscaped areas can be damaged, which has not been mentioned so far.

How can we police this in the future? A reasonable form of future policing would involve something along the same lines as a parking ticket. Provision would need to be built into the new laws that enforcement is not fielded out to these ANPR—automatic number plate recognition—processing companies, because those cowboys will move on straightaway to find another little loophole that they can exploit to the hilt.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Let me provide some clarification. It has been stated that parking on the pavement is a criminal offence. If a council uses its powers to ban pavement parking on particular streets, it can be enforced by those councils if they have civil enforcement powers. About 95% of local authorities do have those civil enforcement powers.

David Morris: I thank the Minister for that interjection. He is correct in everything he says, but these powers are very costly. Their enforcement can range from £1,000 to £3,000, so we need to look at finding a means of enforcement on a cheaper scale, as well as on a fairer scale. I believe that any legislation to address this problem should exempt councils from bringing in these “spy-in-the-sky” companies, which would cause not only more problems for individuals, but an absolute headache for any legislative process that we introduce.

I have nothing more to say other than to wish my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset well and to thank the Minister for listening to parking issues not only on this occasion, but many times in the past.

1.2 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I first congratulate the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on bringing forward the Bill and on introducing me to the concept of a child at heel—not something of which I have had much experience.

Where drivers may or may not park is an issue that confuses drivers who find the current law applied inconsistently; frustrates local residents who suffer inappropriate parking; causes misery to people with disabilities and visual impairments who find pavements blocked; and is a subject on which I know many campaigning groups have worked very hard, and I pay tribute to them. Some of them were listed earlier and it is an impressive array of campaigning organisations, as well as the Local Government Association, the British Parking Association and, according to research, more than three quarters of councillors across the country.

That has helped to inform the view on the Opposition side of the House, and we broadly support the proposed measures, although we, too, believe that there is more work to be done. We want clarity for motorists and

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accessible pavements for all, but we also want to be sure that the Bill will not simply substitute one bureaucratic burden on local councils with another.

Everyone is affected by parking on pavements, which were clearly not designed to bear the weight of cars. Pavement parking can cause obstruction and damage, such as cracked paving and tarmac, and needs to be properly managed. The cost of maintaining damaged pavements can be significant, adding an extra financial burden to councils already faced with deep funding cuts and stretched to breaking point.

As we have heard, vehicles parked on pavements are an issue particularly for vulnerable pedestrians—especially for older people, families with pushchairs, wheelchair users and people with visual or mobility impairments. Banks of parked cars can also force cyclists to swerve into dangerous traffic flows, which can be especially dangerous on narrow roads. With the levels of congestion we have in our country, it seems unlikely that these problems are going to disappear, and we need better legislative intervention.

Let me first address the state of the current pavement parking laws outside of London, which to any independent observer may well seem both illogical and impractical. As has been pointed out, the current law is inconsistent across the country and it is inconsistently applied. Although pavement parking is legal, it is actually illegal to drive on to the pavement, whether with the intention to park or not. The ambiguity in the law means that most local authorities, as we have heard, struggle to enforce restrictions.

As the law stands, my understanding is that local authorities are able to prohibit parking in specific areas by issuing a traffic regulation order. Since 2011 local authorities are no longer compelled to obtain permission from the Department for Transport to issue traffic regulation orders, but the process is still time-consuming, taking up to two years, and it must go through a period of extensive consultation. Furthermore, it is estimated that the average cost for each traffic regulation order is between £1,000 and £3,000, a not inconsiderable sum.

Some tell us that local authorities outside London already have wide-ranging powers to prohibit pavement parking, but when one looks at the attempts of some local authorities to discourage pavement parking, they can be described only as inventive in some cases. They include installing guardrails, planting trees and strategically placing bollards on pavements, and I understand that there is even Government guidance on non-legislative methods to prevent pavement parking. These methods are sometimes farcical, and they are not always effective. As the LGA points out, such physical barrier schemes may simply transfer the location of a parking problem to another nearby area.

This is not a new problem. As long ago as 2006, the Transport Select Committee said:

“The Government must grip the problem of pavement parking once and for all and ensure that it is outlawed throughout the country rather than relying on the use of individual Traffic Regulation Orders on specific streets and local Acts to impose a ban.”

The Committee also called for reform to end

“the confusing patchwork approach across the country”.

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We are close to celebrating a decade since the Transport Committee said that. What we want is a Bill that will create a new system, such as the one suggested in this Bill, under which local authorities would be able to apply for exemptions from pavement parking bans on a street-by-street basis rather than applying to prohibit parking in specific areas.

This is already the experience in London for the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, which has had a general prohibition on pavement parking since 1974. I understand that pavement parking is also banned in Exeter through a byelaw, but the use of byelaws to address pavement parking is, I am advised, no longer approved. The fact that pavement parking bans have worked in these areas is an encouraging sign that a ban could work on a national scale, ending the regional disparity and the “patchwork approach” mentioned by the Transport Select Committee.

We recognise that the implications of the Bill need to be gone through with a fine-toothed comb, and we need to acknowledge that with different issues in different part of the country, a one-size-fits-all approach would probably not be appropriate. That is why we would need assurances that the process to exempt locations will be far less complex than the current process of issuing a traffic regulation order, and that all options for change, including reforms to an opt-in system, will be properly considered.

We must ensure that local authorities will not be saddled with unnecessary financial and administrative burdens. Historic cities struggle with modern volumes of traffic, as we have heard. In my city of Cambridge and others such as Oxford and Durham, large numbers of narrow streets could necessitate numerous exemptions from a ban on pavement parking. We would need to know that the process would not create a bureaucratic nightmare. Perhaps in such places councils could apply for larger areas to be exempt from a pavement parking ban, circumventing the tedium and cost of a street-by-street approach.

Clause 3 makes reference to “a fair increase” in the level of fines that local authorities could levy, subject to a consultation led by the Secretary of State. This is certainly a concern for the Opposition. We do not want to see drivers unfairly penalised. If the Bill is to be considered further, this point must be addressed.

In conclusion, we all recognise a need for far greater clarity and that the issues surrounding pavement parking should not continue to be shunted aside. I am very pleased that the hon. Member for North Dorset has brought forward the Bill, and we want to ensure that progress is made on the issue. Although we are slightly disappointed that the Government have chosen not to support the Bill proceeding further, we welcome the fact that there will be further discussions. We hope that we ultimately end up with legislation that will help local authorities to make decisions about parking more simply, with reduced costs, and that we will be able to protect vulnerable pedestrians and all those who use our roads and pavements in our country.

1.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) for the way

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in which he introduced his Bill, and for his clear concern for the safety and free movement of pedestrians. Having tried and failed to encourage a Patterdale terrier to walk to heel, I was very pleased to hear that he had had more success with his own children.

Disabled people, older people, and people with young children in pushchairs are particularly concerned about this issue, but the House should be in no doubt that I share his concern for the well-being of all pedestrians. I have been out and about in Scarborough wearing blacked-out glasses and observed some of the problems caused by, in particular, restaurants putting tables on the pavement. That is a perennial problem.

It is clear from what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) that a number of complications would need to be ironed out before the Government could act, and given that many local authorities are under the control of his party, and other parties, I think it important for us to encourage authorities to engage fully.

Vehicles parked on a footway or verge where such parking is not permitted can cause serious problems for many groups, including people in wheelchairs and those with visual impairments. Indiscriminate pavement parking does more than cause problems for the movement of pedestrians, as it may also damage the verge or footway, and the burden of repair costs normally falls on the local highway authority. High-quality pavements are important in enabling people to get about as part of their everyday lives and participate in their community.

My hon. Friend’s Bill has inspired some valuable and interesting debate; let me now offer the Government’s views.

There is currently an historic ban on footway parking by all motorised vehicles throughout London, except where it is expressly permitted by local authorities, and the Bill seeks to extend a similar prohibition on footway parking outside London. It is worth noting, however, that in many cases London councils permit limited footway parking, which is indicated by relevant signs, including a broken line on the footway prescribing the limits of footway incursion by vehicles. That is because local authorities need to take account of all road users when making decisions on footway parking restrictions or allowances.

In some streets, footway parking is in practice inevitable to maintain the free passage of traffic to meet the needs of local residents and businesses. It would not be possible to drive a refuse wagon, let alone an emergency vehicle, down some narrow streets if that were not the case.

Local authorities must address such issues to ensure that a fair and balanced approach is taken to all residents and road users, and it is therefore right for them to decide where footway parking should be permitted. I should make clear that all authorities outside London already have full powers to introduce bans on footway parking wherever they see fit. That can be done by means of a traffic regulation order, under powers contained in the relevant sections of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The restrictions must be indicated by traffic signs that have been authorised by my Department.

David Morris: Obviously legislation and regulations already exist to prevent pavement parking, but the process is very costly. Is there any way in which we could amend the offence to make it cheaper for councils to act accordingly?

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Mr Goodwill: We heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge that some local authorities could prescribe zones, but if there were a ban on all footway parking, the cost associated with relief from that ban on certain streets would fall on local authorities. It is the flip side of the same coin.

I understand that the traffic regulation system is considered by some people to be a barrier to the wider provision of an effective footway parking system, but do not entirely accept that. Despite the cost, local authorities make many traffic regulation orders each year for a variety of traffic management purposes. An average authority makes perhaps 50 permanent orders a year. In practice, local authorities are responsible for both parking policy—deciding where parking may or may not be permitted—and parking enforcement.

In addition to direct footway parking bans delivered through traffic regulation orders, there are the yellow line road markings. Vehicles should not park at all where there are double yellow lines. Upright traffic signs indicate when parking restrictions are in operation when they are placed in conjunction with single yellow lines. Those restrictions apply from the centre of the road all the way to the back line of the highway, including the footway—which could mean the fence line of a field, or a length of residential garden walls.

There are also several ways of preventing footway parking that do not involve regulation, including the use of physical measures such as the erection of guard railings, bollards, high kerbs, cycle racks, seating and planters. Decisions on whether to use such measures must be made by local authorities, on the basis of local circumstances and site layouts. Their use does not require traffic orders or signing, and can therefore be a relatively quick means of restricting vehicle access, as there is no need for a formal order-making process. Of course, we would still encourage local authorities to consult those likely to be affected as a matter of good practice. Such measures also have the advantage of being self-enforcing, thereby cutting down on the resources that are needed to ensure they are complied with.

I recognise, however, that the needs of disabled people must be taken into account, and that careful planning of physical measures is required to ensure that they can get about safely and independently. We must not forget that some people with mobility problems need to park close to their homes, and that that may sometimes require pavement parking. We would not want people with serious mobility problems who had been accustomed to parking outside their homes to be forced to park two or three streets away. Local authorities have the power to ban vehicles from parking on the footway, and the Department for Transport’s guidance to local authorities makes clear that during the appraisal of its parking policies, an authority should consider whether footway parking is problematic in any part of its area. If it is, and if that is not covered by an existing traffic regulation order, the authority should consider amending the existing order or making a new one.

Introducing a national ban on footway parking outside London would change the way in which local authorities decide where and when footway parking would be allowed or prohibited. It would be a change to the current system but would not introduce a new power, as local authorities already have that power; and it would not be without new cost burdens for local authorities. They would have

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to remove any existing local prohibitions, taking down signage, and then review every road in their areas to establish where limited footway parking should still be allowed, to avoid congestion, before going through the process of passing resolutions, putting down road markings, and erecting appropriate signage.

If the Government were to propose any such legislation, I would not wish us to do so without undertaking a full and impartial impact analysis, evidence-gathering exercise and consultation, in order fully to understand the legal implications and the costs that might be imposed on local government of changing the existing system when powers to ban footway parking already exist.

As I explained at the outset, we share my hon. Friend’s concern for the safety and free movement of pedestrians. Improving access for disabled people is a key priority for my Department. Although the Government cannot support the Bill, I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), has agreed to convene a round table next year to discuss footway parking issues, and has also agreed that the Department should undertake some work to examine more closely the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime, and the likely impacts on local authorities. I cannot commit myself to any further action without a firm evidence base and the collective agreement of my ministerial colleagues, including those in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Nevertheless, I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw his Bill.

1.18 pm

Simon Hoare: I am grateful to the Members on both sides of the House who have participated in the debate. I am particularly grateful for the support from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South

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(David Mackintosh), given that, before entering the House, he was the leader of Northampton Borough Council.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) that I am, at this stage, content to accept the assurances of the Department and the Minister. However, she should rest assured, as should the organisations who have signalled support for the Bill, that I—along with, I believe, colleagues in the House—will be holding the Department’s toes to the fire next year in order to make progress.

I am afraid that I neglected earlier to include my thanks to Fergus Reid, Clerk of Private Members' Bills, who has been incredibly helpful to me.

People often wonder why a Member has introduced a Bill. I shall let the House into a little secret, with apologies to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who has heard this one before. In the last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) has received the birth certificate of a guide-dog puppy, which has been named after him. I thought that calling a dog Andrew was rather sweet. In actual fact, they have called it “Jones”. I was rather hoping that if we make some progress on this, the Guide Dogs might name a dog after me, because I rather look forward to its owner shouting across a crowded playing-field, “Hoare.”

I should also report the thanks of my three daughters, Imogen, Jessica and Laura, who I do not think ever thought they would get so many mentions in the House on a Friday morning.

Based on the assurances and undertakings I have had both in writing and in person from my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box and his colleague, all of which underline the point of the complexity local authorities face in this area, I propose to withdraw the Bill and therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.

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Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill

Second Reading.

1.21 pm

William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I thank colleagues from across the House who have been able to join me today in support of this, my first private Member’s Bill. I am very pleased the House has been able to give a significant portion of time to debate this Bill this afternoon. At one point I feared that may not come to pass when I was allocated the third slot in today’s proceedings. I have discussed with colleagues outside the Chamber how that would have been a disappointment, as not only do I believe this is an important and valuable Bill, but I also believe it is right that it should be given proper debate in the Chamber this afternoon.

Its subject is miscarriages of justice and the gathering of evidence and information to assist in such cases. We have already had two Second Reading debates today, led by my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and although their Bills had different fates, we have had two excellent debates, and like an actor waiting in the wings, I watched with a mixture of enjoyment and trepid anticipation.

So I present to the House the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill. If enacted, it would extend the powers of the CCRC to obtain information and evidence, testimony, documents and other material which would assist in its proceedings of appeal and review cases where a miscarriage of justice is believed to have taken place. In essence, it would allow the CCRC to obtain such information from a person other than one serving in a public body, as it is currently restricted to doing. This new measure would apply to private-sector organisations, persons employed by, or serving in, private companies, and private individuals. If passed, it would strengthen the CCRC’s ability to overturn wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice, and improve further our system of law and order, which is rightly the envy of the world.

I intend to lay out my proposal of support for the Bill in three sections: first, to set out the context of the Bill, what it seeks to achieve, and the workings of the CCRC at present; secondly, to detail what the Bill does and how the amended law would work in practice; and, lastly, to explain why I believe this Bill is necessary, and how it would improve justice in our country. May I also say at the outset that I hope to encourage a strong debate, and although our time is limited, colleagues are more than welcome to make the odd intervention?

I shall lay out for context, the background to the Bill and the journey I have been on to get here today, and the current working of the CCRC. I was very fortunate to be drawn in the ballot of private Member’s Bills in my first year as an MP. I never imagined when I was elected to this place just seven months ago that I would be standing here leading my own debate on a piece of primary legislation.

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Following my selection in the ballot, while discussing with colleagues potential topics for my Bill, I decided I wanted to be involved in securing a piece of legislation that would do some good, make a real difference in people’s lives, and improve the justice system.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend on his choice of Bill. Is he aware of the words of Richard Foster, chairman of the CCRC, to the Justice Committee?

“you can be confident that there are miscarriages of justice that have gone unremedied because of the lack of that power”,

Does my hon. Friend agree?

William Wragg: I entirely agree. This is a vital amendment to the law, allowing the gaining of private evidence to assist in those cases of miscarriage of justice. My hon. Friend is right to raise that.

The CCRC was set up in 1997, following the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, to investigate possible miscarriages of justice. It was the world’s first publicly funded body to review alleged miscarriages of justice, set up in the wake of notorious mishandled cases such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six—two high-profile cases of two groups of men, both convicted and imprisoned for connections to bombings carried out by the IRA in the 1970s.

Both sets of convictions were found, after repeated appeals, to have had serious breaches in the due process, irregularities in police evidence and, in the case of the Six, serious accusations of police brutality. All the men spent between 10 and 20 years behind bars before their convictions were eventually quashed after being ruled “unsafe”.

The royal commission reported in 1993, which led to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Although none of those may be a household name, as anyone who has ever been subject to a miscarriage of justice will attest, it is a deeply damaging experience and the CCRC is often victims’ only opportunity of salvation.

Before turning to the new powers, I must first explain how the CCRC operates under its current powers. The CCRC currently has the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and to refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its jurisdiction was extended to the armed forces by the Armed Forces Act 2006 to cover courts martial and the service civilian court.

Parliament established the CCRC specifically to be a body independent of Government, and although sponsored by, and funded through, the Ministry of Justice, it carries out its operations completely independently. The commission investigates convictions on application by the offender or, in a case where the offender has died, at the request of relatives. It has special powers to investigate cases, and to obtain information which it believes is necessary to review a case. If the CCRC concludes that there is a “realistic prospect” that the Court of Appeal will overturn the conviction, it can make what is termed a “referral” and send cases back to court so that an appeal can be heard.

Applications are free to make to the CCRC and defendants cannot have their sentences increased on account of having made an application for review.

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In principle, cases should only be examined by the CCRC where all other routes of appeal have failed. Only in “exceptional circumstances” may the commission consider cases which have not previously been appealed. However, as the commission usually deals with cases which have already been appealed once, if the commissioners are to be able to send cases for review it is usually on account of some new evidence or legal argument that has come to light.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this important Bill. As I understand it, the Bill would bring the private evidence position of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in England and Wales into line with the position in Scotland. Would he like to reflect on that?

William Wragg: My hon. Friend is correct. The equivalent body in Scotland has the full powers to subpoena private evidence, whereas the CCRC does not have those powers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That might have been an oversight in the 1995 Act, but he is right to make that point at this juncture.

The subject of the Bill hinges on what is commonly referred to as section 17 powers. Currently, section 17 of the 1995 Act gives the CCRC the power to require public bodies and those serving in them to give the commission documents or other material that may assist it in discharging its functions. That includes police, local councils, the NHS, the Prison Service and so on. It should be clear how all such bodies could and do serve as vital sources of evidence in such appeal cases. As I said to my hon. Friend, the CCRC currently does not have equivalent powers to get those materials from private organisations and individuals. The Bill contains provisions that would allow the CCRC to do so.

The House should be aware that the current working arrangements and effectiveness of the CCRC were the subject of a dedicated inquiry by the Justice Committee in the previous Session, as my hon. Friend mentioned. The impetus behind the legislation comes directly from recommendations of the Committee’s report from the inquiry, which was published in March 2015. I am grateful to have the support of several current and previous members of the Justice Committee. The Committee’s thorough inquiry ran for two months and collected evidence from legal academics and others.

Julian Knight: My hon. Friend mentions the Justice Committee. Is he aware of comments of the former Chair of the Committee, Sir Alan Beith, who said:

“There has been a failure by successive Governments to grant the CCRC an obvious and much-needed power to require private bodies to disclose documents to it…We could see no good reason as to why it has not been introduced, considering it has universal support”?

William Wragg: My hon. Friend anticipates a remark I was about to make and is absolutely right to quote the then Chairman of the Select Committee. To answer what Sir Alan said, I stand here today with such a new criminal justice Bill. I hope to put right the failure of successive Governments to which he rightly referred.

I am delighted that the Bill has such widespread support from both sides of the House, including from experts in the fields of law, justice and home affairs. The

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co-signatories and supporters of the Bill may in themselves have grabbed the attention of fellow Members, given that they are drawn from diverse corners of the House, spanning a chasm of political and ideological opinion. They include solid figures of the traditional right such as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), as well as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and the shadow Chancellor. Supporters of the Bill are hardly the most natural political allies.

As well as having supporters of diverse political colours, the Bill has the support of those who have a wide range of experience, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), who is a criminal law barrister, and the long-standing Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The Bill enjoys the support of both current and past members of the Justice Committee, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) and the aforementioned hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), whose names are listed as contributors to the Justice Committee’s excellent report. As hon. Members will observe, the report is slightly larger than the shadow Chancellor’s more recent preferred reading material, but I will not be tempted to throw it towards the Minister.

The reason for the wide basis of support is not that, in my first six months in this place, I have become an adept and charming schmoozer of parliamentary colleagues and someone who is able to win over a diverse range of unlikely comrades to my cause—far from it. I hope the reason for the wide basis of support is that its merits are clear. What the Bill seeks to achieve is good and necessary. The motivations for legislative change were endorsed unanimously by the all-party Justice Committee from the previous Parliament.

It will be of benefit to the House if I outline what the Bill does and how its implementation would work in practice. The Bill would insert new section 18A into the 1995 Act so that the CCRC can obtain a court order requiring a private organisation or individual to disclose a document or other material in their possession or control. The court will be able to make an order only if it thinks that the document or other material might assist the CCRC in the exercise of its functions and investigations into miscarriages of justice when there is

“a realistic chance of a conviction being overturned by the Court of Appeal”.

As with the current power to require material held by public bodies, the new disclosure requirements will apply notwithstanding any obligations of secrecy or other limitation disclosure. That will mean that companies will not be able to use excuses such as the Data Protection Act to deny the CCRC information, as the CCRC has previously experienced. It will also mean that when information carries security classification, including restricted and secret information, that will also not be able to cited as a reason for non-disclosure. That could be particularly important in cases of court martial, with which the CCRC has been involved since the Armed Forces Act 2006.

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Even after the Bill is enacted, the CCRC should always attempt first to obtain information voluntarily before reverting to court order.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): Will my hon. Friend clarify what safeguards will be in place to prevent abuse of these new powers?

William Wragg: The key safeguard is the fact that there must be a court order, with that judicial oversight. That should give assurance to all Members of this House that the appropriate safeguards are in place in the Bill.

Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill. In seeking to ensure that the provisions of the Bill apply to England and Wales and, potentially, Northern Ireland, does he agree that the very similar provisions that have been in place in Scotland for 18 years have not resulted in any record of abused power or privacy invasion?

William Wragg: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which is very helpful. We can use Scotland as a case study. Similar powers have been in force, as he says, for nearly two decades and there has been no recorded abuse of them.

I should state for clarity that the provisions of the Bill will extend to England and Wales and Northern Ireland, as, as we have discussed, Scotland has its own measures in place. The Bill does not contain any provision that gives rise to the need for a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales.

I want to elaborate now on why this change in the law is necessary. When I visited the CCRC’s headquarters in Birmingham, I saw how the section 17 powers were used. They are an essential tool in the commission’s work. Provided that the power is exercised reasonably, the CCRC’s ability to obtain public sector information is not restricted by any obligation of secrecy or limitation on disclosure. The power extends, for example, to information relevant to national security and to personal information held by the police, by the Crown Prosecution Service, in previous court material, by the NHS, by Government Departments and so on.

The commissioners have also explained to me that the absence of a power to obtain material from the private sector has often hampered their efforts. When material relevant to the CCRC’s work is held outside the public sector, the commission relies on requesting voluntary disclosure by the individuals or organisations with control of the material. Although voluntary disclosure is not uncommon, increasingly organisations regard themselves as unable to assist the CCRC as a result of statutory restrictions on the disclosure of information. Even where voluntary disclosure is made, that will often be after protracted negotiations have caused lengthy and expensive delays in the case review process.

One such example is with solicitors firms, which one would have thought would be amongst the most co-operative of sources. However, that is not always so. In the past the commission has seen a good level of co-operation in respect of its requests for case files from solicitors who represented applicants at trial and/or on appeal. In part, that co-operation has been thanks to

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the relevant professional codes of conduct. In more recent times, however, and perhaps owing to increasing pressures on legally aided defence firms, the commission has faced greater difficulties. It is often readily apparent that requests from the commission are placed at the bottom of a solicitor’s list of priorities. On occasion the commission has also been forced to enter protracted negotiations about who bears the cost of transferring the materials in question. The commission tends to encounter four typical situations that, as a result of its lack of power in relation to the private sector, operate to the applicant’s disadvantage. These are, first, the inability to obtain information from a private individual; secondly, the inability to obtain information from a private sector organisation; thirdly, partial information is provided, or a summary of information, which the commission is not in a position to scrutinise or verify; and fourthly, the information sought is obtained, but protracted negotiations with the private sector create lengthy delays in the case review process.

In the brief time remaining to me this afternoon, I shall deal with concerns expressed to me by Members and offer them reassurance. On privacy, I want to address up front one of the principal concerns that Members may have about the extension of the powers—the concern that the proposed power will be an intrusion into the lives of private individuals. Although consent and privacy are to be valued, where information, even of a personal or distressing nature, could make the difference between a person’s incarceration or freedom, it is right that the information should be requested, subject to due process and provision of strict safeguards.

Members should know that there are significant safeguards in place, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South when he intervened. The Bill provides for judicial oversight of the process. The CCRC could compel a private individual or organisation to provide material only by order of the court. All the same safeguards that currently operate in relation to section 17 disclosures would also apply, and the commission agrees that such a process would be appropriate. The main safeguard against improper intrusion is judicial oversight. As specified in clause 1(1), a person will only be obliged to provide the CCRC with that information subject to the order of a Crown Court judge.

A second area of foreseeable objection is cost. Although the Bill has no financial implications, and will not impose any financial costs or charges directly on the CCRC or private bodies, Members may be asking themselves whether the new power could place an unjustified financial burden on private companies—for example, will the power be damaging for small businesses? The best answer to this question is to look at the equivalent power as it operates in Scotland. The Scottish commission advises that there has been only one case in 15 years where a request to inspect material had led to contested proceedings in court.

Let me recap the main reasons why I believe the Bill deserves the support of the House today. First, this important power to request privately held information is currently lacking and hampering the important work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The limits placed on the CCR by its governing statute can hinder its working practices and limit its ability to help victims who may be factually innocent. The chairman of the CCRC, Richard Foster, has said on the record that he is

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confident that there have been miscarriages of justice that have gone unremedied because of the lack of this power. It is impossible to tell in retrospect whether the outcomes of any cases would have been different had additional information been made available, but I hope I have made it clear how that gap is a problem that should be fixed going forward.

In addition, this power has been lacking and wanted for a long time. The CCRC has long complained of this weakness and, as I said earlier, the Justice Committee, after a thorough inquiry, said that there has been a failure by successive Governments to right the situation. The time to right it has come. The Bill is the direct implementation of an unambiguous recommendation of the Justice Committee in the previous Parliament. The proposed new powers are supported across the board, as evidenced by the list of sponsors of the Bill.

Finally, we must consider the human aspect in this debate. Although the British system works well for the vast majority of cases, mistakes do occasionally happen. Prisons are not nice places. They are not supposed to be, which is why we use them as a criminal deterrent. However, imagine the compounding of that experience when someone has been convicted of a crime and sent to prison, when they know that they are innocent of that crime. They are victims themselves, and there are countless cases of people wrongly convicted who, due to the psychological pressures of their miscarriages of justice, end up taking their own lives, after protesting their innocence, and sometimes while still locked up in prison.

Members who have heard me speak in the Chamber before will know that, as I am a former teacher with a history degree, they are unlikely to escape without at least one reference to history. It was the great British legal thinker Sir William Blackstone—considered the pre-eminent English scholar of and most authoritative speaker on common law in his day—who said on the matter of miscarriages of justice:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”

I do not quite agree with that sentiment, because I believe that it would be better if both numbers were closer to zero, and the role of our justice system, and the place of the CCRC within it, is to shrink those numbers. However, I think that it is apt to quote US President Jimmy Carter:

“The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens.”

Who is more helpless than those who have been wrongly convicted and failed by our justice system?

1.45 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): My comments will be brief, because the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) has set out the case for the Bill and its contents very clearly. The Opposition will support this modest but important Bill. I very much hope that the Government will respond positively to what we have heard today and indicate that they will support it.

As the explanatory notes make abundantly clear, the Bill will extend the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s power to obtain documents and other material so that it can acquire them from a person who is not employed by or serving in a public body. In other words, it will extend

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the commission’s powers to include private organisations and individuals. As has already been said—it is worth emphasising—this situation already exists in Scotland. As a shadow Scotland Office Minister, I think it is excellent that the House is learning from the good example that has been set in Scotland—almost a case of devolution in reverse, hopefully.

The proposal is particularly important as far as the Forensic Science Service is concerned. The Opposition’s view is that the Forensic Science Service was unnecessarily privatised, but that is now the case. There was no difficultly when it was a public body, but it is now in the private sector. It is important that the current unnecessary delays and wasted resources are eliminated so that there is a smooth process when it is necessary to access critical information in certain legal cases. That is precisely what the Bill will do.

We have the important report from the Justice Committee, which stated in clear and unambiguous terms that

“it should be a matter of great urgency and priority for the next Government”—

meaning the current Government—

“to bring forward legislation to implement the extension of the CCRC’s powers”.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Hazel Grove said about his discussions with the CCRC. Again, I very much hope that the Government will take on board its informed professional comments, as well as the hon. Gentleman’s. I hope that the Bill will receive Government support and become law in due course. The Opposition will support it.

1.48 pm

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): The rule of law is the bedrock of our society. Relied on at home and aspired to abroad, it is one of the things that defines what it is to live in this great country: to be free under the law. But even in the UK the rule of law can be undermined, and the principal way in which that can happen is miscarriages of justice. The most famous among them trip of the tongue of any student of criminal law: the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven and Judith Ward. It is inevitable in a justice system that relies on humans—police officers, prosecutors, judges and juries—that human error and improper motive will creep in. Thankfully, that is rare, but the risk cannot be eliminated in every case.

We maintain the integrity of the justice system as a whole by having a robust system for dealing with miscarriages of justice. There can be no doubt that our Criminal Cases Review Commission does vital work, but it needs tools to do its job, key among which is the power to obtain disclosure. Under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, the commission has the power of disclosure against public bodies. The Bill seeks a modest extension of that power to private bodies and individuals. Quite why private bodies and individuals were not included in section 17 is a mystery. Even to the extent that there were ever a justification for that limitation, it has long ceased to hold good. The exclusion of private bodies is an anomaly that is neither justified nor justifiable today. The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) provides a modest extension to end that anomaly and make sure that the CCRC can, with the consent of a Crown court judge, obtain all the disclosure it needs.

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The absence of that power is no imagined difficulty. The briefing note provided by the commission for this debate gives a number of examples of situations where it has not been able to obtain disclosure, and a number of examples of private organisations that it would wish at times to obtain disclosures from. Banks, shops, news agencies, private health clinics, charities, campaign groups and law firms are all private bodies.

Julian Knight: Does my hon. Friend agree that, should this Bill be enacted, its very existence will make it more likely that private companies and individuals will co-operate fully and without delay when they receive a request for information from the CCRC?

James Berry: My hon. Friend is right. The knowledge that the CCRC will obtain a court order if a request for voluntary disclosure is refused will certainly provide encouragement where needed. All the private bodies I have listed may have that one piece of information that will establish that someone serving a prison sentence has been wrongly convicted. The chairman of the CCRC himself has said that

“you can be confident that there are miscarriages of justice that have gone unremedied because of the lack of that power”

to obtain disclosure from private bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove has promoted this Bill to end that unacceptable situation and I thank him for doing so. The Bill deserves the unanimous support of this House.

1.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) on bringing this important Bill before the House and on his excellent speech. I also thank those other Members who have spoken in support of the Bill, including the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who spoke on behalf of the official Opposition.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission performs a vital function in our justice system. When thinking about criminal justice, we tend to focus on the front end and concerns that the processes involved in bringing criminals to justice and ensuring that victims are properly supported are as effective and efficient as possible. Sometimes we tend not to focus on the times when those processes go wrong—when, for whatever reason, someone is convicted who was, in fact, innocent. The purpose of the CCRC is to ensure that those people have someone to turn to who will thoroughly investigate and consider their case and, if there is a real possibility that their conviction would not be upheld, refer their case to an appeal court. I know that Members will agree with me about the importance of the commission’s investigations, and that it should have all the powers it needs to inform them.

The commission’s counterpart in Scotland—the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission—was established with the power to compel both public and private organisations to provide it with the documents or other material necessary to its investigations. The Bill’s provisions would put the CCRC for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the same position. To avoid confusion, I should point out that the term “person” in the Bill should be read as covering a body of persons corporate

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or unincorporated. That means that the measure covers all natural and legal companies, including companies and partnerships, except those serving in public bodies.

In practice, when the Scottish commission notifies a private sector body or individual that it wishes to inspect relevant material, a reminder of the statutory power to make an application to court is usually sufficient to secure voluntary compliance. The Scottish commission advised us that there has been only one case in 15 years in which a request to inspect material has led to contested proceedings in court.

Hon. Members may have seen the Justice Committee’s 12th report of the last Session, to which colleagues have referred, on its inquiry into the Criminal Cases Review Commission. One of the Committee’s most urgent recommendations was that the commission should have the powers that this Bill will give it. It argued:

“The extension of the CCRC’s section 17 powers to cover private bodies is urgently necessary and commands universal support.”

The absence of a power to obtain material from the private sector has often operated to the disadvantage of applicants to the commission. The problem has become more acute in recent years. The difficulties are best illustrated by some examples from cases that have been reviewed by the commission. The first example relates to a media organisation. Shortly after trial, a newspaper published an interview with a complainant in a rape case. It was important for the commission to establish whether she entered into negotiations to sell her story prior to giving her evidence. It could be argued that the defence was unfairly deprived of an opportunity to cross-examine her regarding her motives for making the allegations. In a case where the conviction rested solely on the complainant’s testimony and credibility, this was particularly important. Despite repeated communications with the relevant journalist and the legal department of the newspaper, no response was received and the issue could not be resolved.

The second example involved an organisation in the banking sector. In respect of a serious fraud investigation, considerations of customer confidentiality were cited in response to the commission’s requests for information, despite the commission providing assurances about how the information would be handled and disclosed. The assertions made by the applicant could not be proved or disproved.

The third example demonstrates the problem as it relates to companies that have no direct involvement or interest in a case. In a drug importation case, the commission sought timetabling and cargo information from a ferry company. In the event, the company volunteered the information, but the commission could not have compelled it to do so. If the information had not been obtained, the commission’s overall decision on the case would have been less robust.

Companies sometimes refuse to provide details of employees. For example, in a murder conviction, the commission contacted a bank to seek the employment details of a former employee, a witness at trial, as the information was directly relevant to the credibility of the employee’s testimony at trial. After long correspondence, the police liaison officer for the bank agreed to provide the information requested, although there was no obligation to do so. However, the decision to co-operate with the commission was expressed as being only because the employee had left their employment in the bank.

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In the past, the commission has seen a good level of co-operation in respect of its requests for case files from solicitors who represented applicants at trial and/or on appeal. Such requests are supported, as necessary, by waivers of legal professional privilege. In part, this level of co-operation has been thanks to the relevant professional codes of conduct that apply to solicitors. However, in more recent times—perhaps owing to pressures on legally aided defence firms—the commission has faced greater difficulties. It is often readily apparent that requests from the commission are placed at the bottom of a solicitor’s list of priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove made that point.

Files held by social services, schools and the NHS have been obtained and examined by the commission under the provisions of section 17 in other cases. However, the complainant in one case under review had been referred to a private sector counselling clinic, and despite lengthy correspondence, access to the private counselling records was denied. The significance of this information in relation to the complainant’s credibility and the safety of the applicant’s conviction remains unknown.

Charitable bodies such as the Samaritans, ChildLine and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children often hold vital information relevant to commission reviews, particularly in cases of intra-family sexual abuse. Such organisations may agree to assist when the consent of the individual concerned is obtained. If consent is not forthcoming, such organisations will generally decline to provide the commission with the information on the basis of confidentiality.

Campaign groups sometimes hold information vital to the progress of a review. In one case, a miscarriages of justice campaign group had gathered witness statements that were of apparent relevance to allegations of police misconduct. The organisation failed to respond to repeated commission requests and the statements were not obtained. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in any event, but the statements may have provided useful additional support.

It is only right to acknowledge that the overwhelming number of private individuals approached by the commission agree to be interviewed, but some simply refuse to assist. The reasons for refusal are manifold. Some individuals do not wish to be bothered and are indifferent concerning the outcome of the commission’s

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investigations. Some may be hostile to the commission. Some come from gangs and may be reluctant to talk to the commission for fear of reprisals.

A key aspect of the commission’s work is the re-examination and retesting of material from crime scenes. With the abolition of the Forensic Science Service, such material will be held by private companies and may not be available to the commission. We therefore need the Bill.

The final example relates to the experts who appear as witnesses at trial. Many of them keep personal notes in addition to their professional notes and reports. Forensic medical examiners may receive information or notes from victims of crime during the course of their examinations. Short reports and second-hand accounts within NHS files are generally provided to the commission as a result of section 17. The original contemporaneous notes of interviews recorded by clinicians are not. That type of information is private rather than public, and the commission therefore cannot require its disclosure. The Bill will change that.

The commission will not simply be able to demand information or documents from private organisations or individuals. The Bill will require it to apply to the Crown court for an order, which will ensure that it can use the power only when a judge agrees it is necessary for the carrying out of its functions. We intend, once the Bill has received Royal Assent, to ask the criminal procedure rule committee to make rules of court that will ensure that, where appropriate, the court holds an inter partes hearing, giving the private organisation or individual the opportunity to make their case as to why disclosure should not be required.

The Government support the Bill because we believe that the provisions are necessary and that the terms of the Bill will ensure that the powers are used appropriately and proportionately. I therefore commend it to the House.

2.2 pm

William Wragg: I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend the Minister and the Opposition Front Benchers for their support this afternoon. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

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Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill

Second Reading

2.2 pm

Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

“Whether it’s tackling crime and anti-social behaviour or debt and drug addiction; whether it’s dealing with welfare dependency or improving education outcomes—whatever the social issue we want to grasp—the answer should always begin with family.”

So said the Prime Minister, and so it is.

As I am following my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), a former history teacher, I feel that it is incumbent on me, as a former French teacher, to look to Paris, where climate change is being debated. The world needs to recognise that some very necessary changes must be made to safeguard our greatest natural asset for generations to come. I put it to the House that the family is the social fabric of our world and that we, likewise, need to safeguard that social fabric for the next generation and the next.

Why is the family so seminal? It is in the family that we find identity, wellbeing and esteem. It is in the family that we learn right and wrong.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Hear, hear!

Caroline Ansell: Thank you kindly. It is in the family where we thrive. The family are the best carers, the best nurturers and the best teachers.

I am so proud of my country. We lead the world in so many ways, but one of the ways in which we lead it is a cause of deep disappointment and huge concern to me: internationally, we are fourth in terms of family breakdown. Let us look at the cost of that breakdown to the person and the child who has experienced it. According to the Centre for Social Justice, they are more likely to grow up in poorer housing, leave home at an earlier age, have more behavioural issues, report more depressive symptoms, become sexually active earlier, become pregnant and a parent earlier, leave school with fewer qualifications, and leave school earlier. A conservative estimate of the financial cost—£46 billion, which equates to the entire spend of the Scottish Government—shows us that family breakdown costs and costs. That is why it is so right that family policy has its place.

Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, we have seen excellent innovation, with new support for relationships, re-recognition of marriage in the income tax system, shared parental leave, the troubled families initiative, and now a new, ambitious programme around house building—excellent. A particularly important moment in the development of the Government’s family policy came in August 2014, when the Prime Minister addressed the relationship summit and announced the introduction of the family test. He said:

“The reality is that in the past the family just hasn’t been central to the way government thinks. So you get a whole load of policy decisions which take no account of the family and sometimes make these things worse. Whether it’s the benefits system incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work—or whether it’s excessive bureaucracy preventing loving couples from adopting children with no family at all.

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We can’t go on having government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family.

I said previously that I wanted to introduce a family test into government. Now that test is being formalised as part of the impact assessment for all domestic policies. Put simply that means every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.”

The Prime Minister’s speech was followed in October that year by the inauguration of the family test guidance produced by the Department for Work and Pensions under the sterling leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The family test guidance has now been in place for over a year. It is a milestone, an anniversary—perhaps not a coming of age, but a good point at which we could look at this prism of the family test and its impact on policy.

In that light, a whole host of questions have been put to Departments. They ask the Minister how many of his or her Department’s policies have been assessed against the family test and what steps have been taken to publish the outcome of such an assessment. I regret to say that the answers to those questions have been rather limited. In many instances, the response was that the guidance urges only a consideration of publication, and therefore no publication had followed. There have been good examples of the assessment in relation to the Childcare Bill and the Education and Adoption Bill. However, the potential within the family test is as yet unrealised.

Therefore, my Bill looks to give the family test more authority, more influence, and more reach. Clause 1 defines the family test. Clause 2 introduces the central component of the Bill by making it a statutory obligation. Clause 3 applies the test to all Departments. Of particular importance given the perhaps as yet limited understanding of how the test has had an impact, clause 2 requires that the assessment be published.

Clause 4 requires that an assessment be made as to whether the family test should be applied to local government, given that so many of those policy decisions touch on family life. It also makes provision for the Secretary of State, through regulation, to subject any other public body to the family test as they see fit. Clause 5 provides greater clarity on the policy objectives that inform the family test, requiring the establishment of indicators for the Government’s work in promoting strong and stable families.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Nobody supports the family more than me, and my hon. Friend is arguing her case well. How does she avoid this becoming an apple-pie and motherhood Bill? How does she avoid adding more and more regulatory burdens on the Government, as on a Christmas tree? If the Government have any sense at all, surely they will instinctively produce Bills, regulations or whatever, to support the family and the nation. That is good sense and good governance.

Caroline Ansell: I thank my hon. Friend for that fair comment. We do not want to increase regulatory compliance or render this Bill another checklist for Governments and policy makers to establish. The environmental impact assessment might have started out life in the same guise, but it is now inherent to our thinking and therefore second nature to policy makers.

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I believe it is important to bring this issue to the fore, so that it informs policy makers and is deliberately made explicit in that process. History shows that Bills can have unintended consequences that impact on family stability, so this provision is important.

This is not a pass and fail test; it is more the opportunity to understand what the impact of a policy on families could be. It is a prompt to mitigate potentially negative effects and maximise positive effects, and we want it to be used in a genuine, meaningful and practical way to benefit families. It is not a blunt instrument to criticise policy.

I hope that the Government will welcome this Bill and look on it as a recognition of the work that they have instituted, and as a means to progress that and raise it to a new level. I thank all community groups and organisations that backed the Bill. The list is too stellar and too long for me to do justice to it in the time available, but I thank them for their contributions, and more broadly for everything that they do across their communities and in our country to promote family stability, with everything that means for people’s life chances. That is central to everything that family stability means.

I know that we cannot legislate strong families into being, but we can ensure that legislation in no way undermines those families, and only strengthens them. I believe that the future of our society rests on that.

2.13 pm

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) on bringing forward this Bill and on calling on the Government to make the family test a statutory requirement when taking account of the impact on families of new laws and policy. If the Bill is passed it will

“require Ministers to carry out an assessment of the impact of Government policies on families by giving statutory effect to the family test; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to make a report on the costs and benefits of requiring local authorities to carry out equivalent tests on their policies; to require the Secretary of State to establish, and make an annual report on, indicators of and targets for the Government’s performance in promoting family stability; and for connected purposes.”

The family test introduces a family perspective to the policy-making process in England and across Departments. It will ensure that Ministers and Departments identify in advance, and make explicit, the potential impacts of policies on family relationships.

We support the family test, but as the hon. Lady said, its implementation varies across Departments. In response to a topical question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said:

“The family test is routinely applied and considered when all policy is developed. Government policy as a whole has to go through a series of checks”.—[Official Report, 21 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 945.]

He said that one of the things the Government do is apply the family test. However, that is not borne out by the evidence.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne said that there are good examples of the family test being used, and she gave the Childcare Bill as one of them. When it was

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introduced in the Lords, it stated that parents who worked more than eight hours a week would qualify for 30 hours of free childcare. With a sweep of his pen last week, the Chancellor increased the threshold to 16 hours, thereby removing 1.4 million families from eligibility. If that is an example of the family test working well, I would not like to see where it is working badly.

Some training and awareness-raising does appear to have taken place in Departments, but so far no published outcomes have been seen. Relate, the Family and Childcare Trust and the Relationships Foundation have said that it is important that there is a transparent and routine process through which the Government’s record on supporting family relationships can be assessed. They say that it should be more than just the sum of multiple family test assessments, and should include reliable and holistic data.

Those organisations, which support the Bill and call for an annual report on the Government’s progress in meeting the objectives of the family test, want reliable and holistic measures to be put in place to make assessment possible. They believe that should be possible, and that it should be done on a statutory basis, and we share that aim.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne on introducing the Bill, which is a useful step forward. Along with organisations such as Relate, the Family and Childcare Trust, the Relationships Foundation, the Association for Family Therapy, Grandparents Plus, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, Unison, 4Children and many others, the Opposition support the Bill and wish it a fair wind.

2.17 pm

The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) for her interest in the family test and welcome the focus that the Bill puts on that test and on family stability, both of which are key priorities for the Department and the Government both now and in the future. Although I welcome the spirit in which the Bill has been introduced and some of the comments that have been made, I recommend that the House opposes it for the reasons that I will set out.

Family stability is at the heart of the Government’s approach, and families are the foundations of society—not only because, as my hon. Friend highlighted, the estimated cost to Government of family breakdown is as much as £46 billion a year, but because strong and stable families can hugely improve our children’s life chances. We know that to build a stronger society we need to support families, and by focusing on the family we can create better outcomes for our children and wider society. We cannot afford to overlook the importance of the family as a basic building block in a successful and stable society.

We know that children who grow up in workless families have much lower life chances than those brought up in working families. As my hon. Friend highlighted, the Prime Minister announced the family test in August 2014, rightly citing his commitment to family stability and recognising its significance in policy development. The Department for Work and Pensions has been working across government to aid the implementation of the test. Although that cross-Whitehall approach will inevitably

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take time to embed, the new policy’s impact on family functioning and stability is being measured. We are starting to see its impact on early policy development, which we believe will have positive ramifications and outcomes for families in future.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): How does the test apply to the policy on stamp duty penalties that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement? That policy means that a married couple will be penalised if they buy a second home, but a cohabiting couple will be able to buy two homes without any penalty.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend raises important points. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor highlighted what more he is doing to enable families to get on to the housing ladder. Housing contributes to a stable foundation in family life, particularly for young families who are starting out.

Sir Edward Leigh: The Minister mentions young families. Young families must be able to have a choice. If a young mother wants to stay at home to look after her young children, which is entirely natural, the family often suffers under the tax and benefit system. That is why we brought in the marriage tax allowance. Will she confirm that, although the allowance is quite low at the moment, the Treasury is open-minded about increasing it gradually over the years and making it more effective? That will not just save marriages, but help people who are married and bringing up young children.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The marriage tax allowance is a good example of the Government’s commitment to families. As he says, the Treasury supported the introduction of the policy. It is a good, positive contribution and a step forward in support for families.

Placing the family test on a legislative footing, however, runs the risk of turning the test into a tick-box exercise across Government Departments, when our ambition is to work across government with Departments to embed the benefits of thinking about policy from a family perspective at all stages of policy development, not just complying with legislative requirements.

There are many areas, some of which have been highlighted by my hon. Friends, where the Government are focusing on supporting families, beyond introducing the family test. We mentioned the marriage tax allowance, which will benefit over 4 million couples. We have the ever-expanding troubled families programme, which helps families where no adult in the family is working, children are not attending school, and some family members are involved in crime or antisocial behaviour. The troubled families programme has gone a long way to helping local authorities, stakeholder and third-party community groups, organisations and their partners to develop new ways of working with families to achieve lasting change.

The hon. Lady mentioned childcare. We are doubling the amount of hours for free childcare to 30 hours for three and four-year-olds. We have committed to childcare support for disadvantaged two-year-olds. The tax-free childcare policy will benefit families with children, and give parents more choice and flexibility with their childcare arrangements.

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The proposal to introduce indicators for family stability is being addressed, as my hon. Friend highlighted, through the Government’s life chances strategy. The new life chances measures will focus on the number of children in workless households and on the levels of educational attainment. We are so focused on the life chances measures and family stability indicators, because we are no longer committed to chasing what we consider to be arbitrary targets. They were the focus of previous Governments’ policies and approach. Our focus is on the root causes of family breakdown—worklessness and poverty—and not just the symptoms.

The Government are committed to introducing a new and strengthened approach to tracking the life chances of Britain’s most disadvantaged children. Evidence suggests that frequent and intense child-related poorly resolved inter-parental conflict has terrible and negative outcomes for children. Couples with children experience greater levels of stress during separation. It is that negativity that affects the outcomes of children. For families that separate, evidence suggests that good relationships between parents and positive involvement from both parents in a child’s upbringing have long-term beneficial outcomes. These are the areas on which we are focusing.

As I have said, we are clear that strong families give children the best start in life and that good measures can help Government to formulate policy across Departments and drive action where it is most needed. It is worth highlighting where we can work with other Departments. I have already mentioned educational outcomes, and naturally we are working with my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary to raise educational attainment and improve life chances. In this way, we can also tackle areas of social justice and provide support for families or individuals who have experienced debt issues, addiction or alcohol or drug misuse. A combination of those factors can have a negative impact on families and result in family breakdown.

We have also committed to introducing a wider set of non-statutory indicators, including a measure of family stability, and we are engaging with experts in the field, third-party stakeholders, partners and specialist organisations to ensure we strike the right balance and develop policy that is in line with the most up-to-date research and the most robust evidence. We already measure family stability as part of the social justice outcomes framework, which reports the proportion of children living with both birth parents at birth and then every year until they are 16.

We discussed many of these measures, particularly those on life chances, during our deliberations on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, under which we are introducing two statutory measures—on children in workless households and children’s educational attainment —to drive action on improving children’s life chances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has committed to introducing a life chances strategy setting out indicators on the root causes of child poverty, including family stability, as well as on problem debt and addiction.

I have touched on many areas in which the Government are supporting families. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne spoke about relationship support and the impact of family breakdown. In the last five years, the Government have invested about £38 million in relationship support services, but this is increasing, and

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we are investing about £8 million in relationship support provision in the 2015-16 fiscal year to provide support for couples and parents and to encourage the take-up of face-to-face, telephone and online relationship support services.

The marriage tax allowance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) mentioned, demonstrates the dynamic nature of Government policy and the way we are working across Departments on family stability to provide the right support, whether for children or parents, including relationship support. We are using existing indicators as well. The NHS—so again working across government—is providing early intervention and education, and we are piloting relationship education in perinatal classes to prepare expectant couples for the changes that having a baby will bring to their relationship.

We are providing guidance and training for health visitors on spotting signs of relationships in distress and how to respond. We have had many debates in the House about the role of health visitors and how we can elaborate on that through the provision of guidance and support for new parents. All new parents recognise the challenges of being a first-time parent. We are testing ways of maximising the role of local authorities in providing family-centred services with a focus on supporting and strengthening couples and co-parenting relationships as well.

My Department has a strong track record and is working actively with local authorities to strengthen the services they provide to couples and co-parents in families by providing extra funding and, importantly, expertise for the 13 local authorities in our local family offer trial. We are exploring ways to expand that approach and encourage local authorities to take that leadership role at a local level in supporting people in the community and promoting greater family—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Monday 7 December.

Business without Debate


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March 2016

4 Dec 2015 : Column 680


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 January 2016.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 January 2016.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March 2016.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 January 2016.


Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 22 January 2016.

off-patent drugs Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (6 November), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed onFriday 29 January 2016.

Representation of the People (Young Persons’ Enfranchisement and Education) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (11 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 29 January 2016.

4 Dec 2015 : Column 681

East West Rail

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

2.32 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am delighted to have secured this debate. My reasons for doing so are to re-emphasise the importance of the east-west rail project to regional and national infrastructure, and to urge my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues at the Department for Transport to do all they can to deliver the project as soon as possible in the light of the Hendy review.

Let me first explain the scope of east-west rail. This is not a new line, but a project to restore the old varsity line between Oxford and Cambridge, via Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford, with a spur to Aylesbury. Much of the line already exists. Part of it is used as a freight line, part of it already has local services running on it and large parts of the old infrastructure are still in place, if mothballed.

The line was not closed by Beeching, but declined in the 1970s, when it became faster to travel between Oxford and Cambridge by going through London, rather than taking a slow, diesel multiple unit winding its way through such wonderfully named places as Swanbourne, Verney Junction, Claydon, Launton and Wendlebury Halt. East-west rail is not, however, a misty-eyed rail enthusiast’s scheme to evocate a bygone age of rail travel, in the style of that wonderful Ealing comedy “The Titfield Thunderbolt”. Rather, it is about creating a fast, modern rail link between some of the fastest growing towns and cities in the country and adding a vital link in the nation’s strategic transport infrastructure.

The positive case for the east-west rail scheme is currently being refreshed by an independent analyst. I have seen the draft report by Rupert Dyer of Rail Expertise Ltd. His refresh of the evidence for the western section of the project concludes that the new business case continues to produce a strong financial case for the project, with the core scheme delivering a benefit-cost ratio of 4:1 and some of the incremental options delivering much higher results of up to 40:1. The benefits of the project to my constituency and neighbouring constituencies cannot be overestimated.

Dyer’s draft report states:

“East-West Rail will open up new travel and employment opportunities in the main conurbations of Oxford, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Bedford and communities along the line.”

The wider economic benefits have been reviewed and found to have increased significantly since the initial scoping of the project. The Dyer review suggests that the south-east’s regional gross domestic product will increase by £135 million per annum with the core scheme and £268 million per annum with the enhanced scheme.

The east-west rail project is vital to improving the transport infrastructure of the area. Many who have ever driven west from Milton Keynes along the A421 and the A34 will know that it can be a very miserable experience. The economic and environmental costs from that congestion should not be underestimated. Without east-west rail, the area will become increasingly congested and that will impair the aspiration to develop the Oxford-Cambridge arc for economic growth.

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On the section between Oxford, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford, some 120,000 new homes and a similar number of new jobs are planned over the next few years and will be underpinned by the line. In my own area of Milton Keynes, we have some 20,000 housing permissions over the next decade or so. That will underpin our business growth and it will be important for tourism and new housing.

Mr Speaker, in his capacity as the Member for Buckingham, which adjoins my constituency, has pointed out that the Aylesbury Vale district council is currently working on its local plan, which will ultimately require the delivery of over 30,000 new homes by 2033. East-west rail is imperative to support that. Similarly, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) has reminded me that 18,500 new jobs and 30,000 new homes are being developed in Bicester in her constituency.

This is not just a transport project; it is essential to delivering other Government policy objectives. I contend that it will help to deliver some of the Government’s broader transport objectives. I am not expecting the Minister to comment on this, but if London Heathrow is chosen as the airport for expansion in the south-east, east-west rail will provide a direct rail link from many towns and cities. That will not only enhance the economic case for Heathrow, but help to mitigate concerns about environmental pollution from additional road traffic movements to an expanded Heathrow.

This is important for High Speed 2, too. With the link from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury and then into London, we would create an additional relief line between Milton Keynes and London. Should Euston, in its redevelopment for HS2, require some line closures, that additional relief line would help to link in services in the interim period.

On HS2, which I support, there is a wider political point. Many people in Buckinghamshire object to HS2 because they see no benefit from the project but suffer considerable disruption as a result of it. I have always been strong in arguing that the Government’s transport investment is not just about HS2; it is a substantial investment in the classic rail network. It is therefore important to demonstrate to people in Buckinghamshire that we are going to deliver this project as soon as possible, so that they, too, can see the benefits of investment in our infrastructure.

The line will also increase the nation’s capacity to transport goods by freight, which we all want to see, both on a north-south line and going east to west. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) has asked me to urge that, although we are talking about the western section today, hopefully, we will see progress on restoring the line between Bedford and Cambridge as soon as possible and that will follow in later control periods.

My final point on the wider transport infrastructure is that this project will be a key element of passenger connectivity across the whole network. Some 41 of the 46 principal towns and cities in this country will be directly connected by rail, either without a change or with just one change of train. That will be a long-term sustainable improvement in our rail infrastructure across the country.

There are enormous benefits from the scheme—both locally and nationally. I welcome the significant progress already made in delivering the project. Indeed, the first

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section has already been opened: my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened the Oxford to Bicester section a few weeks ago. The new chord to the Chiltern main line allows an additional service from Oxford to London.

It was announced today that Network Rail had appointed its partners to deliver the next phase of the scheme. An alliance of four equal partners—Network Rail, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail—will construct phase 2, linking Bicester and Aylesbury to Bletchley and Bedford. The alliance is currently working on the outline design and construction programme. Once that initial segment of the work is complete, the alliance will consult with the Department to agree on a final design and construction timetable and costs. It aims to submit an application for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 in the autumn of next year.

However, despite that welcome progress, a number of concerns have been expressed recently about some slippage in the timetable as a result of Sir Peter Hendy’s review of Network Rail’s control period 5 investment programme. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments about that review, but I support it as a way of ensuring that the Government’s record investment in our railways is delivered in a robust and achievable way. That said, I do not want a well-advanced, deliverable and vital project to suffer undue collateral delays as a result of overruns elsewhere in Network Rail’s programme.

It was feared that this project, which was initially due to be operational by early 2019, might be delayed by between three and seven years, but I understand from conversations that I have had with Ministers and the East West Rail consortium that that worst-case fear will not be realised. I welcome the assurances that I have received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Rail Minister that east-west rail will happen. I also welcome the assurance in Sir Peter Hendy’s report that significant development of east-west rail will happen in control period 5. What I seek today is an assurance that the Department will do all that it can to ensure that construction of the project can start in CP5, and will be completed as early as possible in CP6.

My understanding is that there is a very healthy and positive working relationship between Network Rail and the East West Rail consortium. The Network Rail delivery team is among the best that it has. I suggest to the Minister that, if its members can be unleashed as much as possible and are able to respond as positively as possible to the offers from the consortium, the project can be accelerated as much as possible. If there are concerns about the capacity of Network Rail to deliver all its envisaged programme within the timescale that is envisaged, I would ask whether it would not seem odd if one of the best teams, working on one of the most beneficial projects, was unduly delayed because of slippage in projects elsewhere.

I hope that I have demonstrated the value of the project to my local area, to the wider region, to the Department’s strategic transport priorities, and to the Government’s wider objectives. I urge the Minister to do all that he can to encourage and facilitate all the players in the scheme to get on with the job as quickly as possible, so that we may all reap the benefits as quickly as possible.

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2.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on securing the debate. I share his enthusiasm for east-west rail, and very much want it to become a reality.

East-west rail is a transformational project to rebuild the railway between Oxford in the west and Bedford in the east. It will also connect Aylesbury with Milton Keynes. Part of the project will use disused railway routes, and part of it will upgrade or double- track lightly used or mothballed sections of railway. It is a missing part of the railway jigsaw connecting the great western, west coast and midland main lines.

The project is being built in two parts. Phase 1, between Bicester and Oxford, is being built as I speak; phase 2, between Bicester and Bedford, is being developed. Trains operated by Chiltern Railways started running on the first part of the railway on 25 October, with two train services an hour from London Marylebone to the brand-new station at Oxford Parkway. Two stations have been completely rebuilt, at Bicester Village and Islip.

That was the first new rail link between a major British city and London in over 100 years. Together with Chiltern Railways, we have invested over £320 million in east- west rail phase 1, and in September 2016, when the infrastructure works west of Oxford Parkway have been finished, services on this route will be extended into the centre of Oxford, where it will connect with the Great Western main line.

Phase 2 of east-west rail will connect Oxford and the Great Western main line with Bletchley, the west coast main line with Aylesbury and the Chiltern main line and Bedford for the Midland main line. It will allow faster journeys between these locations than is possible by car today. It will stimulate economic development and new housing across the region. The project includes a new station at Winslow and new platforms at Bletchley.

This project is complex and challenging. In particular a lot work is needed to the structures, such as bridges, and earthworks along the route. As part of the project we expect Network Rail to do the following: build or renovate 18 bridges over the railway; modify or close over 75 level crossings; and build 22 new footbridges and subways across the railway.

The new railway will be capable of operating at 100 miles an hour. It will also be electrified, enabling faster, lighter and greener electric passenger trains to run. As well as providing a new route for passenger trains, east-west rail will provide a corridor for rail freight.

East-west rail is a challenging and ambitious project. Network Rail’s current cost estimate for phase 2 is high. We want to reduce this cost as plans mature and scope options are looked at in more detail, taking the risk out of the scheme. None the less, I would like to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to delivering east-west rail.

These are challenging times for the rail industry. In June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced that important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme were costing more and taking longer. He announced the steps he was taking to put things right. On 25 November my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to Britain’s vital transport network as part of our wider spending plans.

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Sir Peter Hendy’s report on delivering the rail investment strategy was published at the same time. The Secretary of State has accepted Sir Peter’s report, subject to a short period of consultation with stakeholders, such as the East West Rail consortium. No infrastructure schemes have been cancelled. Electrification of the TransPennine and midland main line has already resumed following a brief pause. The Government have confirmed their commitment to delivering east-west rail. Work on this has continued without interruption while Sir Peter’s review has been carried out.

We included this project in our 2012 rail investment strategy following the convincing case put forward by the East West Rail consortium of local authorities. One of the strengths of this project has been the close working relationship we have had with the consortium and the help and support it has been able to provide. I am pleased that the consortium has been able to play its part in the development of the delivery plans and welcome its continued support in the future.

Following Sir Peter’s review, funding has been identified in control period 5 to continue development of east-west rail and secure the necessary planning powers to enable the project to be completed. Network Rail is continuing to work on its plans for east-west rail phase 2. It expects to have developed a single option for the scope of east

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west-rail in a considerable level of detail by late 2016. When this work has been completed, we will be in possession of much better information than we have now. This will enable us to make an informed decision and set out clearly the timescales for delivering east-west rail.

As part of these next steps, I urge my hon. Friend and all the interested local partners such as the East West Rail consortium to continue to help to take the project forward. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important topic, which I know is of considerable local interest. It is now time for Network Rail to get on with the job and to develop a detailed plan for east-west rail that we can all get behind. As I said at the start, the Government are committed to seeing east-west rail built.

This Government have prioritised infrastructure investment. A 50% uplift in investment compared with the last Parliament demonstrates that we really mean business. Projects like this are becoming a reality and contributing to the long-term economic plan that got such a resounding endorsement at this year’s general election.

Question put and agreed to.

2.49 pm

House adjourned.