6.20 pm

Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it was to listen to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)? It was an excellent maiden speech. As everyone in the Chamber knows, it is usually a nightmare to make your first speech in this Chamber. The way in which the hon. Gentleman delivered his speech, without showing a single nerve, justifies the reputation that outsiders from the south like me heard about in the run-up to the by-election: that he was a highly effective leader of his local council in Oldham. He is not a loss to Oldham and he is certainly a gain to the House of Commons. We look forward to his future contributions to our debates.

I read the motion very carefully and I listened to the shadow Secretary of State with great interest and growing amazement. I noticed that she was able to make her speech while keeping a straight face. It was quite incredible. Here is a motion which, if we look at the parts relating to the railways, is basically, in nice cuddly words, suggesting that we renationalise them. Many of my hon. Friends, and certainly the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton, are too young to remember the days of British Rail, but the way that history has been rewritten to suggest that everything was wonderful under that monolithic organisation is extraordinary. It was late, expensive, the sandwiches curled up at the ends, and it did not provide a fit-for-purpose rail system for this country.

I am not going to rehearse, due to the shortness of time, what has happened since rail privatisation. What I will say is that because of the private sector and the Government, there has been massive investment in our rail network. Because I am more generous than the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, I accept that the previous Labour Government began the process of reinvesting in our railways to make them fit for purpose. I would ask, however, that they be equally generous in accepting that we are spending billions and billions of pounds, from a variety of sources, to invest in building on that improvement, to make sure that we have a proper rail service. In control period 5, £38 billion is being spent.

More has to be done, of course, but we are investing in the future and in passengers to ensure that we have a proper railway. Anyone who suggests going back to a nationalised rail service is living in cloud cuckoo land and is driven by dogma, not reality.

6.24 pm

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): May I say what a pleasure it is to follow our new Labour colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)?

I will be as quick as I can. My main contention is that the cost of travelling on the train to and from my constituency on Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express services through London and the south-east, is a complete and

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utter rip off, given the dreadful service commuters have been receiving over the past few weeks and months. I stand not to make party political points; I and commuters just want answers.

I pay tribute to Transport Focus, Martin Abrams and everyone at the Campaign for Better Transport who have been highlighting the hell experienced by commuters. According to Transport Focus’s most recent passenger satisfaction survey, GTR scored worst for overall satisfaction. According to Which? it is third from bottom out of 21 services. According to Network Rail’s public performance measure for this franchise, the percentage of GTR trains that arrive at the terminating station on time is rock bottom. And Network Rail is not without blame. According to the most recent statistics—for December and January—55% of delays are attributed to Network Rail.

Members on both sides of the House who have had meetings with executives of the companies have received excuse after excuse and broken promise after broken promise, but we have seen no change whatsoever. Instead, we are given excuses about big transformation works at London Bridge causing problems, industrial relations issues, historical under-investment in infrastructure and the complexities of running a big franchise. That is all well and good, but other transport operators face exactly the same challenges and provide a better service. This company has failed to recruit drivers and failed properly to maintain its rolling stock. People deserve answers, so instead of the same old excuses, I want a proper deadline set for GTR to provide a decent service to constituents; I would like suburban and London transport rail services transferred to TfL in the medium term; and I would like to see Crossrail 2 come to my constituency. Once we get decent services, perhaps Ministers can argue that almost £1,000 for a season ticket from my constituency to London Victoria is justified.

6.27 pm

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I want to talk about the midland main line, the situation of which has been well charted, and the important reason why this project will go ahead, notwithstanding what is in the motion. The reason it will go ahead is that Derby is a centre of excellence for the rail industry and rail innovation: more than 200 companies around Derby operate solely within the rail industry. We are the best placed area in the whole country when it comes to opportunities for training, innovation, for a college—for whatever it might be. I think the Government ought to listen more carefully in terms of the opportunities for people growing up in Derbyshire who understand rail and have it in their DNA. We must get the best products, whether for Crossrail 2, Crossrail 3, HS2 or HS3, going up to Scotland, which we all want to see. I think that these are fantastic opportunities.

I will not take up any more time, other than to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on his excellent maiden speech. It was a pleasure to hear so much history, but he has got a bit of doing to do in the future as well.

6.29 pm

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I promise to be snappy, but first may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)

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on his fantastic maiden speech? It was a pleasure to be in the Chamber for it. His experience, his background, his love for his constituency and home—it all shone through in his speech. I know he will make a huge contribution to this place.

With a constituency on the border with England, one never misses an opportunity to talk about rail, yes, but about the Severn bridge tolls too, which are the subject of many questions to Transport Ministers and of many debates here. I know that this will continue until we know the Government’s plans for tolling in the future when the bridge is returned to public ownership. About 12,000 people in Newport and Monmouthshire commute to work over the bridges every day. As ably highlighted by our Front-Bench team in today’s debate, the cost of commuting has increased substantially.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only those living in her constituency who are affected, because every person who travels over the bridge into God’s own country is exploited by the exorbitant tolls, which act as a deterrent to trade and tourism?

Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank her for adding weight to the campaign to lower the Severn bridge tolls, which is much appreciated.

My constituents are basically trapped: they must either pay rising fail fares or the Severn bridge tolls. Commuters, as well articulated by our Front-Bench team, face ever-rising rail fares. Since 2010, season tickets for commuters have risen by 25%. Newport to London commuters face having to pay £2,000 a year more than in 2010, and the cost of travelling from Newport to Bristol Temple Meads has gone up by 27%—a £500 increase. Demand for these services is growing fast, yet we see no improvement in services. Trains are heavily overcrowded, and there are frequently not enough carriages, especially for those getting on at the Severn Tunnel junction in my constituency. I get that feedback every week: carriages are overflowing and constituents are often left on the platform when there is insufficient capacity to take them.

There is an alternative—crossing the Severn bridges, and this is probably the local issue that is raised with me most frequently. Since 2011, the bridge tolls have gone up by 20% for cars. This matters for my Newport East constituents, when those in full-time work have seen only a 2.4% increase in their wages. The fundamental point is that the money taken by the Severn River Crossing is protected from inflationary pressures, while my constituents’ wages are not.

Tolls on the Severn bridges are the most expensive in the UK. The Western Mail said a few years ago that they were the most expensive per mile in the world. I very much look forward to seeing Transport Ministers tackling that issue for my constituents. We need to know very soon what the Government’s plans are, as they affect the rail services or the Severn bridge tolls, as we reach the bridges’ return to public ownership in 2018.

6.32 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on his excellent speech. I am

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sure he will be joining the Opposition Front-Bench team a lot sooner than is customary—he certainly made an excellent speech.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) pretty much laid out exactly what I intended to say about investment in the railways. I can tell my right hon. Friend that I am just about old enough to remember British Rail. I remember the fact that if people were wearing a light-coloured suit or trousers, they would be dirty when they got up. I remember lice coming off the back of the chairs, and I remember carriages literally covered in excrement and never cleaned.

That was the state of the railways when they were in public hands. It was not invested in, and there can be no doubt that over these last 20 years, the standard of the railways, of the rolling-stock and of the whole thing has moved forward. We simply do not hear on the comedy circuit the British rail catering jokes that we used to hear 20 years ago, because it has improved and become a thing of the past.

On the issue of investment, when we talk about what is happening with the railways—there is still a lot of work to do, and I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are looking carefully at what happens with ticketing—we should bear in mind that we need to create more track and more rail. My city of Leeds, for example, shows that an integrated tram-train system that can use the heavy rail and operate in the city centre is vital. That will never be built by Government through public ownership. It can be built only by attracting investment from the private sector to run, operate and get it going, so that people can make cheaper journeys into the city centre than they have to make now. It can be more reliable and once there cannot be moved. I just wanted to make that brief point that investment in the railways is vital and simply cannot be delivered via public ownership, as was proved time and again under British Rail.

6.34 pm

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Ind): It was a delight to hear the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). He made an insightful contribution not only to the debate in the Chamber, but to the debate in and around Greater Manchester.

Let me make three very quick points. First, I am extremely concerned about the fact that rail fares have rocketed by a staggering 25% since 2010. Many of my constituents rely on rail travel, not least to commute in and out of Manchester and, indeed, Greater Manchester. Secondly, I am concerned about the Government’s use of the retail prices index to calculate rises in regulated fares. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he thinks that that is fair.

Thirdly, perhaps the Minister will explain to me, and to my constituents, why they pay 20% more in fares than Bolton constituents pay for a similar journey. A peak return fare from Bolton to Manchester Victoria will set Bolton constituents back £6.40, but my constituents pay £7.70 for the similar journey from Rochdale to Manchester Victoria. Why is that? Richard Greenwood, chairman of the Support the Oldham Rochdale Manchester rail lines group, has said that the fares in my constituency are “artificially high”. That level of fares applies almost

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nowhere else in the country, and I see no fit reason for it to apply to Rochdale either. Perhaps the Minister will share his thoughts.

6.36 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and I wish him well for the securing of his Metrolink extensions. A wish that I expressed in my maiden speech came true, and I hope that he has similarly good fortune.

In the brief time that is available to me, I want to inject a degree of realism into the debate about rail fares. Let me say first that whoever owns the railways, there is a balance to be struck between what the passenger contributes and what is funded from general taxation. If, as the motion suggests, Labour Members want the passenger contribution to decrease, they must either say which taxes will be increased to pay for that, or spell out which part of current spending on the railways will be cut.

The vast majority of the income from the fares that are currently paid—more than three quarters—is spent on staff salaries, and I cannot imagine that Labour Members would want those to be cut. Some of the income is spent on maintaining and improving the track—we have the safest railways in Europe, and I cannot imagine that Labour Members want to compromise that—and some is spent on investment in new rolling stock, new stations, new lines and electrification. The profit margin is tiny: 3% of every pound that is spent. That funds innovation and development in the railways, which has doubled in the last 20 years. That is the reality of the railways today.

I had hoped that we could have a more sensible debate about the new technology and innovations on the railways, but time did not permit it. The philosophical debate about renationalising the railways has obliterated the time in which we could have talked about that issue, but it is what we should be talking about.

Finally, I want to knock on the head the myth that Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe. That is simply not the case. I invite Members to look at a wonderful website, The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The man in question compares the cost of rail journeys across Europe, and Members will find that in 85% of cases, United Kingdom rail fares are either the same as or cheaper than those on the continent.

6.38 pm

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and welcome him to the House. I also congratulate him on the thumping that he gave UKIP at the by-election, which was pleasing for all SNP Members. I regret, however, the rather infantile manner in which his party has approached the debate.

I would never trust the Tories with the railways, but, frankly, I would not trust Labour Members with a train set, given the way in which they have conducted themselves this evening. The mistake that they have made in their motion is a schoolboy howler. They have accused the Scottish Government of not using a power which that Government do not have, and which, moreover, every single Labour Member—with the exception of the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton—voted explicitly,

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along with the Conservatives, to prevent Scotland from having during the debate on Scotland Bill. They almost give brass necks a bad name.

In all seriousness, there are two things that my constituents would want me to mention tonight. The first is smart ticketing. It is about time that people travelling by rail or bus, or both, were able to experience their journey right from the point of payment in a way that befits the century they are travelling in. People want to be able to use apps on their smartphones to make life easier, rather than hanging around queueing for a piece of paper to allow them to travel.

My second point, which I have made many times in this Chamber, relates to HS2. We want to see Scotland connected to London and to the great cities of the north, irrespective of our constitutional opinion, because London is our closest world financial capital. We want Scotland and London to benefit from greater connectivity. We want the United Kingdom to up its game so that we can have a high-speed network that serves the whole of the British Isles and not just a small part of them. We need to catch up with France, Spain and China and we need to take the high-speed debate seriously. Like the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I regret that we have not had enough time for a serious debate on these issues. I can only hope that we will have such an opportunity soon.

6.40 pm

Byron Davies (Gower) (Con): I should also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on a most memorable maiden speech.

Like it or not, this Government have launched the largest modernisation of the railways since Victorian times. An integrated and reliable rail service with stations fit for the 21st century is crucial to economic growth. The electrification of the Great Western line is mentioned in the motion and it has continually been spoken about in a damaging manner by Opposition Members. The Prime Minister has committed to the electrification of the line to Swansea, as have the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport. Indeed, the project was confirmed by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), only last week in this Chamber.

Under this Conservative Government, the Great Western line will be electrified all the way to Swansea. Under 13 years of Labour rule, how much of that line in Wales was electrified? Not a single mile. For all the bravado from Labour Members, they have absolutely no record in government to support their assertions. That stands in stark contrast to this Government’s record and their commitment to Wales and to my constituency.

The record of the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff speaks for itself. The integrated transport system in Wales is poor, in the sense that it simply does not exist as a fully integrated transport system. We need look no further than the bus system in Wales to see the issues that many people there face, particularly those in rural communities. When Sustrans gave evidence at the Welsh Assembly Enterprise and Business Committee in October 2015, it said of the bus sector:

“The current state of the sector is evidently not successful, as shown by the decline in bus usage compared to other areas of the United Kingdom.”

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Wales lags behind the rest of the UK on nearly every economic measure, and three rounds of EU structural funds have resulted in almost nothing in the way of major transport infrastructure projects that could really benefit the Welsh economy. However, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for initiating the electrification of the line to Swansea.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The next two speakers may have one minute each.

6.43 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): One minute will be just enough to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). I would like to thank him for a brilliant maiden speech and to welcome him to the exclusive group of by-election MPs. I also fully support any projects relating to the Middleton spur.

Ministers say that passengers need to realise that they are paying “fair fares for a comfortable commute”, but none of us has to look far in our own constituencies to find examples of run-down, overcrowded, overpriced and infrequent services. In my constituency, there is only one bus from Heywood to our major city, Manchester, where many of my constituents work and study. At peak times, the bus is overcrowded and the 12-mile journey can take up to 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Passengers were always told that higher fares would pay for improvements, but the link between fare rises and investment has been broken. Just recently, the Department for Transport made it clear that it wanted a significant expansion of driver-only operation on our trains, with no guard on board to assist passengers. That is a really retrograde step for passenger safety. I shall not take up any more time, but I would like to ask the Government and the Department to reconsider their decision on driver-only operation.

6.44 pm

Corri Wilson (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP): Transport is essential in providing people with access to work, learning, healthcare, food shops and leisure activities, especially in rural constituencies such as mine. But the reality is that the elderly, the young and the unemployed, who rely on public transport, struggle to reach hospitals, schools, jobcentres and the like. Because of cost and accessibility, most rural households are dependent on cars, and because alternatives are limited or non-existent, rural drivers are left doing more driving, spending more on fuel and paying higher fuel costs. Rising motoring costs will undermine the sustainability of rural communities and lead to increased social exclusion, with resulting declines in rural shops and services being accelerated.

Cost has a great impact on public transport, but there is a fundamental difference between mobility and accessibility. Some rural areas are already suffering from population decline, poverty and deprivation, and people there are less likely to be able to afford a car and rely on public transport. Limited public transport results in an increase in isolation and further decline—in my constituency, some villages no longer exist.

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We have already discussed the Labour party being in power for 13 years and not addressing the issue mentioned in its motion today, but a change in the legislation would enable us in Scotland to ensure the delivery of a rail service with the maximum social and economic benefits that addresses our specific needs. Instead of attacking the Scottish Government for something they have absolutely no control over, perhaps Members on both sides of this House should be applauding them for what they have achieved, despite constant Westminster cuts. Better still, they should devolve these powers to Scotland and let us get on with it.

6.46 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): As we debate the cost of travel, thousands of our fellow citizens, in all our constituencies, are in buses, on trains or on roads, in cars or on bikes. The quality of our transport system makes a difference to each of their lives every day, which is why this debate matters. That was brought home to me on the first day of this year, when I was sitting on a train on the way to Ipswich to join Labour campaigners protesting about the ever-rising cost of rail fares. Across the aisle from me, a young woman who worked in a supermarket near Ipswich station was telling her friend, glumly, about the shock she got when she purchased her ticket that morning. It had cost an extra 60p, so it would be an extra three quid a week— £3 out of not much left over. There will have been similar stories on trains and buses up and down the country. For millions of our constituents, every penny counts, and in today’s debate we have not heard enough about the problems on buses, in particular.

Let me start by welcoming the first contribution made in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). Members have expressed their appreciation before for his revered predecessor, who has quite a successor. Like many colleagues, I enjoyed campaigning in my hon. Friend’s constituency in the autumn and noted that before coming to Parliament he had already made a powerful impact on the national scene through his inspirational work leading the local council. His powerful contribution today pointed out some of the very real contradictions and weaknesses in the Government’s devolution policies.

Despite the lack of time, we heard other excellent contributions today, including those from my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who outlined the very poor services from which his constituents are suffering at the moment, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who talked about the challenges facing her constituents. What they all confirmed was what we already knew, which is that rail and bus fares have shot up since the Conservative party came to power. We all trade figures on these things, but the key one is the comparison between fares and wages: what it really costs people. The truth is that fares have risen three times faster than wages, and that is why it hurts.

There are, however, some who do not feel the pain. The Secretary of State clearly seems impervious to it. Several months ago, he said:

“More transport, better transport...Under our Conservative majority government it's happening.”

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Has he really forgotten about the broken election pledges to electrify key routes in the midlands and the north just weeks after the ballot boxes had closed? Or do the Government say that this was just paused? Is it not interesting how Governments introduce new words into the political lexicon. The word “paused” sounds so innocuous but it could ultimately be this Government’s epitaph: a country on pause.

We now have a rail investment programme delayed by years; more than two thirds of councils cutting local bus services; and more than 2,400 local authority-supported bus routes cut or downgraded. We could go on a national tour of bus shelters where there are no buses—perhaps they are paused, too.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Will he comment on the introduction of a fare increase by stealth? People expect rail fares to go up once a year on the first day back in January, but we must not forget that, a year ago in September, this Government introduced an evening peak on Northern Rail, which hit part-time workers and students in particular and caused chaos in railway stations across the north.

Daniel Zeichner: Indeed, and my hon. Friend makes a very strong point.

When it comes to buses in particular, we know that the Conservative party always talks about local decisions. The truth is that, by slashing funding to local councils, the Government are passing the buck. It is no good Government Members complaining about problems with their services, as famously the Prime Minister did, when they just troop through the Lobby imposing cuts on local councils. They really must take some responsibility.

We on Labour’s Benches strongly believe in the principle of local communities having a say over their public transport, and we have long been committed to that, but what the Government are offering for bus services is a sham. They are giving localities power with one hand while taking funding away with the other. With a 37% reduction in central Government funding to English local authorities over the course of the previous Parliament, and a further reduction of 24% to come, local authorities have been left with little choice but to cut to the bone.

For Labour, the devolution agenda seems to be little more than a front for public transport funding cuts and fare increases. As Labour Members have observed before, this is not so much a northern powerhouse, as a northern power cut. Whatever the Government spin on being in for a penny, in for a pound, it is clear that the link between fare rises and investment has been broken.

When the Government’s bus service operators grant, which is effectively used to subsidise bus services, was cut by 20% after 2010, the Department for Transport warned that small towns, and particularly rural areas, would be worst affected. It certainly got that right— they were.

What needs to be done? The answer is this: not carry on as we are. It has been fascinating to watch the delicate U-turn being carried out in the DfT as it grasps that the Treasury has finally cottoned on to the fact that we are being taken for a ride by many of the bus operators. It is an irony, is it not, that the Government are now looking to pursue Labour’s policy of bus

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reregulation? In the past, they were totally opposed to such deregulation. In fact, in the previous Parliament, they directly punished those areas that attempted to pursue bus tendering.

At the election, we promised the biggest shake-up of the bus industry in years. How astonished the operators must have been to find that, after the election, it is now a Conservative Government who are looking to learn from the positive experience in London and apply it across the country. Some of us are just a bit sceptical about this conversion, but we eagerly await the forthcoming bus legislation, and hope to see within it genuine power for local people and local authorities to have real leverage over their local services. The case for reform is incontrovertible and urgent because the status quo just is not working. Private bus operators have abandoned bus routes and services that they found to be commercially unprofitable, leaving the most vulnerable in our society stranded.

We want to give communities real genuine power to plan fares and timetables, and to reflect local needs. Although some bus operators have strongly resisted moves towards greater co-ordination, these powers are already in use in London and they are the norm in Europe. If it is good enough for London then it is good enough for the north-east, Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Cornwall, and any other area that wants them. The alternative of continuing to watch bus services uncontrollably deteriorate is no alternative at all. At the election, the Prime Minister made many promises that have not stood up to scrutiny. He promised older people that the free bus pass, introduced by Labour, would be maintained, but, as so often with this Prime Minister, it is important to read the small print. He kept the bus pass, but said nothing about keeping the bus. The number of concessionary passes has gone up, but the number of concessionary bus journeys has gone down. How useful is a bus pass without a bus? We need a better way.

6.53 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): This is only the third Opposition day debate on transport since 2010. This Government are always keen to debate transport issues in the House, so let us hope that, like London buses, two will come along very soon.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) talked about the importance of aviation. We understand how important that is for remote communities, which is why, for example, we are supporting connections between London and Dundee and London and Newquay. He accused the Government of spending more time opposing the SNP than Labour, so I will move on to the next speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) explained how Government investment is delivering for her region and, in particular, the benefits for the Birmingham area from HS2 and the capacity it will deliver.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), in an excellent maiden speech, paid tribute to his predecessor. He has a track record of delivering locally, which I am sure had a lot to do with his by-election success. He talked about the courage and determination of Oldham folk, a quality shared on

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both sides of the Pennines, and I am sure that that his sons Jack and Harry will be very proud of their dad today.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) gave us a reality check about the bad old days of British Rail. If Opposition Members were paying attention, they might want to remove their rose-tinted spectacles. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) spoke for hard-pressed commuters and I bet that if he was leading his party today he would not be contemplating nationalising the railways.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) welcomed HS2 and investment in the midland mainline. The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) highlighted the cost to communities of the Severn crossing. There was a reference in an intervention during her speech to God’s own country, but I thought for a minute it was to God’s own county.

My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) talked about Leeds, which, as we know, is the biggest European city to have no integrated transport system of its own.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) talked about how we should link fare rises to inflation, but I point out that that means inflation plus zero, which the previous Government failed to do. Whichever measure we use, it is important to note that fares will rise more slowly under this Government than wages.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), to whom I pay tribute for his work on the Transport Committee, asked a big question that the Opposition need to address, which is how they will pay for all their promises. They could not make that argument in 2015 and I suspect that they will fail again in 2020. He talked about the cost of fares and the point is often made that fares in Europe are higher than fares here in Britain. I checked out what it would cost my children to return from university for Easter. My daughter, who lives in London, can travel one way from King’s Cross to York for as little as £20 if she decides to depart at 7.08 in the morning, but as she is a student I suspect she will want to travel later. To arrive for lunchtime, she can pay £38 but she gets a discount of one third as she has a student railcard, so she can come to York for £25.10 on the east coast main line, run by Virgin. My son, who is travelling down from Newcastle, can do so for £6.90 or £9.40.

I am not sure whether, just before the election in 2010, the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury was following a tradition or setting a precedent when he left the now-infamous note saying:

“I’m afraid there is no money”.

How refreshingly honest. I thought I would follow suit and on my last day in the Department for Transport, as I packed up my personal effects before leaving to fight the election last year, having paid particular attention to the opinion polls, I concluded that a return to Great Minster House was unlikely, but hoped that my replacement would be cheered by a message. Here it is, in my hand. It reads: “There is money for infrastructure thanks to our long-term economic plan.” I am sure that that is one reason why we have had so few Opposition day debates on transport over the past five and a half years. Ours is a record of delivery compared with 13 years of disappointment under Labour.

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The Secretary of State pointed out that electrification under Labour was carried out at slower than a snail’s pace, less than 1 mile a year—or, to put it another way, Hornby delivered more electrified rail network in the time Labour was in government. The investment mentioned in my note is being delivered, with 4,000 new carriages, £38.5 billion to improve our railways, £15 billion for a proper multi-annual road investment strategy and £6 billion to address the pothole backlog we inherited. There is also, of course, high-speed rail to free up existing rail capacity for passengers and freight, shrinking the size of our country, running to Manchester and Scotland from day one. Indeed, HS2 will run to Glasgow from day one; Scottish crews will be manning trains in Glasgow from day one.

When I go to Brussels, I realise that it is our franchising model that countries such as Italy and Spain want to emulate, and British train companies are winning franchises in Germany. They can see how the competitive franchise system is delivering better services, new rolling stock, smart ticketing and more user-friendly refunds for delays.

Dame Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 213, Noes 305.

Division No. 167]


6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Chapman, Jenny

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, rh Jeremy

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

De Piero, Gloria

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Haigh, Louise

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harpham, Harry

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hussain, Imran

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lammy, rh Mr David

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

McMahon, Jim

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Murray, Ian

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Osamor, Kate

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Rayner, Angela

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ryan, rh Joan

Saville Roberts, Liz

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Spellar, rh Mr John

Starmer, Keir

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

West, Catherine

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Dame Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Holly Lynch


Vicky Foxcroft


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Sir Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Elliott, Tom

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kinahan, Danny

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Simon Kirby


Sarah Newton

Question accordingly negatived.

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Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation (Committees)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With the leave of the House, we will take motions 3 and 4 together.


That the Measure passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, entitled Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure (HC 722), be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee.

That the Measure passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, entitled Diocesan Stipends Fund (Amendment) Measure (HC 723), be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee.—(Charlie Elphicke .)

19 Jan 2016 : Column 1388

Post-SSI Support Package: Redcar

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

7.14 pm

Anna Turley (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op): As has been well documented in this House and in the national media, my constituency has been through one of the toughest times in its existence. I could debate all day with the Minister about what more I believe the Government could have done to save the Redcar coke ovens and blast furnace. I also have many outstanding questions on the future of the site and who will be paying for it. But I want to make the people who have borne the brunt of the tragedy the topic of this debate.

Some 2,200 men and women lost their jobs directly when SSI went into liquidation. Twenty-six supply chain businesses were also affected, with a further 954 redundancies. As is the case after such a calamitous economic shock, numbers continue to increase as local businesses, shops, childminders, decorators, hairdressers and many others are affected by the money being taken out of the local economy. Each of these is a tragedy. Each of these is a life that needs to be picked up, a mortgage that needs to be paid, a Christmas that had to be got through. Redcar and Cleveland Mind has had a 91% increase in mental health referrals in the past year, and we know that January and February are hard at the best of times. I therefore thought it important to stop at this point and to take stock of where we are and what is happening.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the collapse of SSI has had massive ramifications right across Teesside, and so any response that the Government may give, including Lord Heseltine’s review, has to deliver immediate and targeted support to ensure that all our constituents who are so affected have the employment opportunities that they, and our communities, deserve?

Anna Turley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scale of this has been absolutely devastating, not just for those who were directly employed, but, as I said, in the knock-on repercussions for our community.

This debate is about trying to learn lessons from the support package that has been put in place—lessons at local level and, indeed, national level. It aims to look at how the £50 million support package from the Government is being applied, what is working and what is not, and what lessons can be learned, particularly as we see other steelmaking areas in the country now facing the same tragedy as us.

Out of the tragedy has come some positive learning. The steel taskforce has been an important creation to enable multi-agency co-operation from the start. Weekly meetings have allowed local partners from the Department for Work and Pensions, the local authority, BIS, the unions, the local enterprise partnership, the local media, elected politicians and others to clarify communications processes and to get to the root of the issues and concerns. I believe that every region should consider putting together a committee of this kind that could be called on in the event of a catastrophe similar to that which we saw last year. Indeed, areas with similar high

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levels of unemployment may want to consider organising such partnerships as a standard procedure to tackle the challenges they face in employment and skills.

It has also been encouraging that national and local agencies have worked together in a way that departmental silos and local versus national boundaries all too often prevent. The National Careers Service has provided guidance and advice. The Skills Funding Agency has acted to remove barriers and increase the flexible use of its funding for SSI workers. Jobcentre Plus has worked closely alongside the DWP and BIS, allowing rapid response processes to be put in place and creating an efficient system for passing on referrals. FE Plus, a group of colleges in Teesside, has forged a close working relationship with private training providers, allowing referrals to be passed from public sector providers to private sector education providers with specialist provision.

This experience has highlighted the complex and bureaucratic nature of skills funding and provision, but it has also clearly indicated that after an initial period of shock, enabling agencies to work together at regional level has allowed many of the usual barriers to be overcome, helped particularly by the benefit of a clear decision-making body in the form of the taskforce.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on the sterling work she is doing for people across Teesside and elsewhere. My surgeries have been full of people who are contracted employees and who are not getting the same level of support as direct employees. Does she agree that barriers need to be broken down so that they can get help similar to that for direct employees?

Anna Turley: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I have met a number of contractors, many of whom have service of over 30 years in the steel industry, having worked in catering and on the site itself. They have all provided as much value to the steel industry as others, and they deserve equal treatment. I will go on to talk about one of the successful experiences that we have had. Again, I hope that lessons can be learned to make sure that there is not a two-tier system for contractors and the full-time employed.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): We sometimes overlook one important issue. This is not just about jobs; it is about the financial, emotional and physical impact on families as they wonder how they are going to pay their bills and mortgages. Does the hon. Lady think that the Government should provide help for people to get through this hard time and make sure that they can cope at a time of stress?

Anna Turley: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We pushed for the Government funding to go towards crisis loans and crisis management, and the taskforce has been excellent at putting in place support for mortgage payments and transport issues and for ensuring that people can pay their bills. I want to make sure that that is replicated when addressing the problems in Port Talbot and elsewhere and that they learn from our experience in Redcar. That is not to diminish, however, the devastating consequences of what has happened. There were huge challenges over Christmas. Many people

19 Jan 2016 : Column 1390

got through Christmas and provided for their families, but, looking ahead, we have to press on and give them the long-term help and support they need to get back into work. The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point.

One of the most important factors in the response has been the flexibility of the funding available through the support package. It ensured that people were not limited in the courses to which they had access, as would usually be the case, and that specialist and professional training ordinarily paid for by employers was now funded by Government for these priority workers. That flexibility was coupled with the relaxation of certain rules, such as the Jobcentre Plus 16-hour limit for training or education, and the fact that applicants were not restricted to just one course or to those that were relevant only to previous employment or experience, which was an issue at the beginning of the process. Such barriers would have got in the way of accessing opportunities. The DWP and BIS should look at that at a national level in order to widen access and opportunity to all.

Jobcentre Plus organised rapid response sessions just three days after liquidation, and it saw more than 2,000 people in the course of just a few weeks. It then worked with the National Careers Service to organise the subsequent individual one-to-one skills sessions, which have helped to inform training needs.

There has also been an unprecedented level of contact between colleges in my area and employers, with further education providers in my constituency contacting more than 2,500 separate companies directly. That has ensured that employers were made aware of the funding and training that local colleges had available to fill vacancies that the businesses were advertising. There have been three jobs fairs, one which took place just two weeks after the announcement, and we understand that they have filled about 200 vacancies, although the Minister may have some more up-to-date statistics.

There are also plans to engage more large-scale companies locally, particularly those that may be six months to a year away from starting up, to ensure that we shift the focus from immediate recruitment to creating bespoke training packages so that people can get the skills they need down the line, when those companies come on board and invest in our area. I want to take this opportunity to thank the countless local businesses that have got on board quickly and been extremely helpful and forthcoming in the support they have provided to those workers and apprentices affected.

Despite positive collaboration and partnership at local level, however, the success of a venture such as this can only truly be measured by the experience of those who are on the receiving end of the support. I want to set out some of the challenges we have faced so that the lessons can be taken up by Government. At an early taskforce meeting, it transpired that no agency or individual had a full and comprehensive list of all those who had been affected by the closure of SSI. The taskforce had to re-collect information on names, addresses, skill sets and qualifications. We need to ensure that data sharing is seen as an early priority in the unfortunate event of another area being affected. We also need accurate and longitudinal information on who has accessed help and support, who is in work and where that work is located geographically.

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There were also well-documented problems with accessing the central Government money announced by Ministers. It took hard work from the chair of the local taskforce to convince risk-averse Whitehall mandarins that support for apprentices and the use of the funding to incentivise recruitment did not constitute state aid. I hope that BIS has learned to be more ambitious in the way it supports enterprise than this episode has demonstrated.

Unfortunately, there have also been widespread delays in accessing training, as some of the agencies involved struggled to deal with the massively increased demand. Further education funding has been reduced by 14% in the past five years. Although the £3 million available to local Teesside colleges for courses is excellent, the challenges in upscaling rapidly to cope with the levels of demand have led to delays for those accessing courses.

For example, a constituent of mine with 31 years’ experience in the steelworks applied for training no less than three months ago. Since then, he has been passed from agency to agency and is now on the verge of missing the deadline for the next wave of training courses in February. I have received many similar concerns about delays to accessing training. I have even had cases where ex-SSI workers have been forced to attend existing college courses with 16 to 18-year-old students, which is disruptive for all parties involved. Others are on courses between the hours of 9 am and 5pm, but have been told that they must attend the jobcentre during those hours. Of course, the organisation and administrative challenges that come with dealing with thousands of requests after years of cutbacks is huge, but the human impact of such delays is tragic.

Unfortunately, despite the good work done by many jobcentre staff, numerous constituents have contacted me to raise the dehumanising treatment they have received in jobcentres. Many of these workers have never been out of work, and for many of them, as for so many in my constituency, the experience of being on the dole is horrendous. For example, we were assured originally that ex-SSI employees who claimed jobseeker’s allowance would be afforded a 13-week period of grace, which is a mechanism available to all job coaches to allow individuals with extensive experience in a particular field to have some time to focus on applying for jobs in that sector. However, my constituents—I stress, not exclusively those affected by SSI—have been threatened with sanctions if they do not apply for work in bars or retail as early as two weeks into their claim. Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about widespread problems in Jobcentre Plus. The issues about sanctions must be addressed. Sanctions should not be used as a mechanism to force claimants to apply for jobs that are not relevant in this instance; such jobs should be a last resort.

Another challenge we face is the confusions on pensions. Ex-SSI employees were left shellshocked to find that the money leaving their monthly pay packets had not in fact ended up in a pension fund. I am now pleased to say that the continued dialogue between the official receiver and the Community trade union has resulted in all the contributions—both employee and employer contributions—being received by Scottish Widows, and they are now being applied to employees’ pension accounts on a month-by-month basis. The continued weekly dialogue between the official receiver and the

19 Jan 2016 : Column 1392

Community trade union has ensured that there is continued communication and that problems on the site are worked through. I want to commend the Community union for all it has done to support its members at this difficult time.

One of the other challenges we face is dealing with the fact that a number of other companies on Teesside have made workers redundant, including Boulby Potash and Air Products, since the SSI announcement. As a result, an initiative to help people find work following the closure of SSI is being rolled out across the Tees valley. This resource hub brings together a number of agencies to provide advice and support to anyone who has been made redundant or who is out of work. Advice will be available on a wide range of topics, including CV writing, new career opportunities, interview techniques, trade union representation and money management. That is exactly the kind of learning that I want tonight’s debate to share more widely.

Another achievement has been the Insolvency Service’s decision to grant employee status to agency workers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) mentioned. We fought to ensure that the 29 workers from Jo Hand Recruitment were in full receipt of their statutory redundancy pay, holiday pay and notice pay. I just wonder how many more of these injustices are happening around the country outside the SSI spotlight.

In conclusion, we are only three months in and we still have a mountain to climb. Many people have not had the help and support they require. Our challenge is to find them and to ensure that they get the support they need to rebuild their lives. Ultimately, the challenge of bringing jobs and economic regeneration to our area is a long-term one, but given the kind of resilience and determination that has been shown in Teesside during the past few months, the challenges are not insurmountable. With the right help and flexibility from Departments and with the devolution of power and funding to local stakeholders, I see no reason why we cannot overcome this tragedy and build a bright future for our town. We know our challenges, and we are showing we can find solutions. I sincerely hope the Government will support us.

7.28 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) on securing this debate, and on placing on public record—this does not have anything to do with party politics—that undoubtedly, throughout this wholly unfortunate and sorry episode, she has always fought hard for her constituents, which she will of course continue to do. Obviously, we do not agree politically at all, but we do agree on the huge resilience and the remarkable achievements we can already see, notwithstanding the terrible closure of SSI. We are agreed about the remarkable people she represents and all that has been achieved, although there is of course an awful lot more to do.

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. In such difficult times, with the closure of a very important industry that employs a lot of people in an area where not many people live—in other words, the industry has a huge impact on the local community—or with a large number of redundancies, as we saw yesterday with the

19 Jan 2016 : Column 1393

Tata decision about Port Talbot, we must learn the lessons from our being there to support them financially and by setting up bodies to administer the money. She has quite properly highlighted several problems and difficulties. She makes the good point, although it sounds perverse, that we should always be aware that the worst could happen and that it is good to make contingency plans for the worst-case scenario.

When I went to Redcar just before it closed, a good structure was already in place. There was a good local enterprise partnership, and there were good relationships between the local council, under the outstanding leadership of its chief executive, Amanda Skelton, and local businesses, with the involvement of Paul Booth, the excellent chair of the LEP. Sadly, the community had been through it all before and this was not new territory. Because the community had experienced the mothballing by Tata, it had been through a similar experience and was prepared for the worst. There was a lot of realism and reasonableness, notably from the union leaders. I pay tribute to them, as did the hon. Lady. When the dreadful moment came, they could put things together very quickly. I remember the first meeting of the taskforce, when the spirit of togetherness was obvious. They knew what they were doing; they just needed to get on with dealing with the money.

Alex Cunningham: The Minister clearly recognises the tremendous job that has been done on Teesside by so many people, including the local authorities. She will also be aware that yesterday’s announcement affects my neighbouring constituency of Hartlepool, where 100 jobs will be lost. Has she given any consideration to what will happen to those workers, particularly in relation to the excellent package that is available for SSI workers?

Anna Soubry: I am not aware of anything in particular in respect of the redundancies in Hartlepool, but if the hon. Gentleman and those in the neighbouring community want to put forward a case, I am always willing to listen.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): First, this situation is unlike the mothballing scenario in 2010, when I was a union officer on site, because there was not a single hard redundancy in the 22-month period. Now, there is a liquidation scenario and we have seen many hard redundancies. Secondly, I have written to the Minister about extending the remit of the taskforce to encompass the whole Tees conurbation and to help other workers who lose their jobs, such as those at Caparo, Tata and Boulby in my constituency. Thirdly, this will happen again and again. We have seen it in Port Talbot, Trostre, Llanwern, Dalzell and Clydebridge. We need a national network of taskforces to see how steelworkers and other workers are being treated in different areas of the country. This cannot be dealt with in a devolved, fragmented way. It is a sectoral issue that encompasses the whole of the UK.

Anna Soubry: I do not have time to deal with all those points because I want to respond to the specific points that were made by the hon. Member for Redcar, but there are lessons to be learned. It is beholden on any community, in the event of serious job losses, to act quickly and pull it all together. Many communities do so and that was critical in Redcar.

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I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Redcar and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), and other hon. Members, for the way in which they have worked with the taskforce. I have paid tribute to Amanda Skelton and Paul Booth for the way in which they formed the taskforce almost before the dreadful news came on that Friday. As the hon. Gentleman said, at least 2,000 people were immediately put into redundancy, with all the consequences that that has for the supply chain, and many hundreds of them had not been paid for a considerable period. One reason why the taskforce was successful was that there were already good relationships between business, the council, Members of Parliament and all the other people one would expect to be there.

As a Government, we quickly put forward a financial package. In effect, there was £60 million. There was a headline figure of £80 million, but just under £30 million of that was used for redundancies, so the money that could be put into helping people get back into work was in the region of £50 million. I want to put it on the record that there was a £2.4 million safety net fund and that £1.7 million was eventually made available for apprentices. It took a bit of a fight, but we got there. There was £3 million for retraining courses, £2.6 million for a flexible support fund, £750,000 for business start-ups, a jobs and skills fund of £16.5 million, and £16 million of support for firms in the supply chain and the wider Tees valley area. There were also redundancy payments.

The hon. Lady is right to say that there is often a big problem in Whitehall. We said to those people, “We trust you to work out where the money needs to go.” However, the situation was, frankly, maddening and infuriating, and I only found out about it after she sent me a text. I do things differently, Mr Deputy Speaker. I give people my mobile phone number and say, “You contact me. You text me”, and they do! In a way it should not be like that, but it is good—we can exchange numbers later in private, Mr Deputy Speaker. The reason I do that is because of the situation that we found at Redcar. We had a group of people in the taskforce whom we trusted, and I pay tribute to all of them. They are not paid to do that, and they have worked incredibly hard. Amanda Skelton is paid to be the chief executive of the council, but she has worked like an absolute trooper and well beyond the hours for which she is paid—astonishing!

We trusted those people to put together a package and to have the funds, but we then had to go through the most bizarre set of hoops and all the rest of it, because they had to show that the package was value for money. As I put it to my otherwise excellent civil servants, this is a chief executive of a unitary authority who, on a daily basis, deals with large amounts of money and a huge budget. She is more than capable of looking at value for money, because unfortunately she has had to make lots of cuts, to reorganise and so on. In other words, I cannot think of many people who are more qualified to decide where the money should go, and who also have the responsibility to safeguard what is taxpayers’ money, but instead a system had to be followed—and Governments, of whichever colour, are blighted by too many systems and processes. We say that we will trust people, but too often we do not. However, we cut through that system—the instruction I always give is, “Get on with it. Trust these people and give them the money so that they can get on with it.”

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There is no better example of the determination of those people involved in the taskforce—and beyond in the community—to do the right thing by all those who were made redundant at Redcar than what happened with the apprentices. There were 51 apprentices at SSI, and those jobs finished on that Friday. Some of those youngsters were on three-year apprenticeships, and it had all gone. This is a lot of money to ordinary folk, but we were talking about £1.7 million. It was astonishing. People such as Paul Booth went out there and found a place for every single one of those 51 apprentices within a week. That speaks volumes about their abilities, and about the reaction from the community and businesses. We then had to get the money—bit of a nightmare—but we got it, and all 51 apprentices can continue their apprenticeships.

Anna Turley: The right hon. Lady is right about the apprentices, but there were a few weeks between them losing their jobs and being reappointed. One apprentice came to my surgery and told me that he had been to Jobcentre Plus. Despite having done two and a half years of his engineering apprenticeship, he was told that he should get a job in a bar. It comes back to the point I made earlier: there are issues with the DWP’s systems, and that is one of the main points that I wanted to raise.

Anna Soubry: Again, that is a good point extremely well made. Such things are not acceptable. Of course I pay full credit to Jobcentre Plus. I know that Ministers stand here and say, “The taskforce has gone whizzing in.” From my experience in Nottinghamshire, when Thoresby colliery closed down, the taskforce went in and it all sounded great, marvellous and wonderful. In a way, it was great and marvellous. A lot of people put a lot of effort in. What matters, however, is the advice that somebody then receives.

There was another problem that the hon. Lady will remember: people being told that they could not sign up to HGV courses. The workforce in our steelworks is almost exclusively highly skilled. It is absolutely obvious that somebody who has been working in a place like SSI at Redcar may well want to change, enhance or add to their skills by training to be an HGV driver. What did we discover? That they could not have any money to do that. The stuff of madness! After a text from the hon. Lady, we got that one sorted out.

We then had some problems in making sure that the money was delivered to the colleges. When, unfortunately, 800 jobs were going in Scunthorpe, we put £9 million in because we had learnt from the experience in Redcar. That was replicated when Labour Members came to see me about the situation in Rotherham. They made a very good argument for a package of support. One of the things the Skills Minister and I did—by way of text, if I may say so again, Mr Deputy Speaker; it got the job done—was to release the money literally within 24 hours.

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No disrespect to our great civil servants, but we cut all the corners and cut out all the nonsense. The Minister gave a direction and said, “Get that skills money sorted out, so they can have it in Rotherham,” and we did the same in Scunthorpe. That was because of the lessons we learnt from our experience in Redcar. However, the hon. Lady is right that there is more we can learn.

I think there is some good news. Over 400 former SSI workers have not yet made any benefit claim to date. We do not know why. I am hoping it is because they have got jobs, not because they have dropped out of the system.

The hon. Lady is also right about data. We always have to have people’s permission before we can share data. Nearly 700 former SSI supply chain workers are no longer claiming benefit. We hope that the majority are either in full-time work or in training. Some 166 people were employed as a direct result of the first jobs fair, which was held, as she said, very quickly in October. Nearly 900 people attended the second jobs and skills fair at the end of November at the Riverside Stadium, where more than 700 immediate vacancies were on offer.

I want to pay tribute to the noble Lord Heseltine. I know he can often be a controversial figure, but he is an astonishing person. He has the ability to bring all the people and all the organisations together. He has vision and drive. It was my idea, if there is anybody to blame—although I do not think anybody should be blamed, because he has been absolutely the right person for this. He has gone up there, and he has a vision and is knitting things together. I hope that in a short period of time we will be in a position to announce more about the future of the works at SSI and what we can do there.

I want to put it on record that 2,000 rapid response sessions have now been delivered, 2,969 people have received advice and help from the support hub, and 5,200 calls were made to the Jobcentre Plus helpline.

Anna Turley: Tonight has been about the people, but the site is extremely important too. I hope Lord Heseltine will not make any announcements without discussing with local people what they would like to see from that site, which is so important to the local economy and for local jobs.

Anna Soubry: Absolutely. One of the great joys of Lord Heseltine is that he is able to work with people. He brings people together. As I say, he has the right connections and the right vision.

It is great to have had this debate. There are lessons to be learnt. We have already learnt some of them. However, the ideal position to be in is never to have to set up a task force or to give out these sums of money in the first place. We do not want to see the redundancies that we saw in Redcar.

7.44 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).