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Jo Cox: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Offord: No. The BDS campaign rejects a two-state solution and denies the Jewish right to self-determination and statehood in favour of supporting the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Tristram Hunt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Offord: No. In fact, the BDS movement has an anti-Semitic foundation. [Interruption.] No. One of its co-founders is on record as rejecting the right of a Jewish state in Israel—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] No.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order.

Dr Offord: Indeed, reports of anti-Semitic attacks being perpetrated in Europe can be directly linked with the hateful rhetoric espoused by many BDS campaigners, and BDS founder Omar Barghouti has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Israel’s right to exist as a state of the Jewish people. But most telling of all is that the Palestinian Authority themselves do not support a boycott.

Andy Slaughter: On a point of order, Mr Streeter. [Interruption.]

Dr Offord: No.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. A point of order from Andy Slaughter. Let us hope it is a point of order.

Andy Slaughter: The subject of this debate is local government and ethical procurement. We have got so far from that subject as to be ridiculous, in my opinion.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): If the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) was out of order, I would have called him out of order. It is actually the point that has been raised by the opening speaker, so I call Dr Matthew Offord.

Dr Offord: Thank you, Mr Streeter, for your wise words.

In December 2013, Mahmoud Abbas stated that, with the exception of settlement goods, the Palestinian Authority do not support a boycott on Israel. He said that

“we do not ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”

I and my constituents welcome the Government’s announcement of new rules to curtail silly left-wing town halls and all publicly funded bodies from adopting politically motivated anti-Israel boycott and divestment campaigns.

Stephen Pound: Sorry.

Dr Offord: Apology accepted. The BDS movement says that having such interests makes companies “complicit in war crimes”, as they help to entrench the occupation and settlements. If that was the case, why did not BDS and its supporters seek a ban on British goods and services when Tony Blair decided to invade Iraq? The simple

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reason is that British goods and services had no influence over British foreign policy, as indeed academics and universities and goods and services in Israel have no influence over Israeli foreign policy.

What Labour and the Scottish National party failed to achieve in the general election—a majority or coalition Government to decide foreign policy—we will not let them seek to achieve at local level. Such policy is made in this House. There is no place for that in town halls, whose duties are simply to deliver local services and not to make foreign policy.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): I call Owen Thompson —who is not present. I call John Mc Nally.

3.3 pm

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) for securing the debate. Like other hon. Members, I am quite curious as to why the Westminster Government want to censure local government authorities for making ethical decisions on where to invest their own pension funds.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not possible to make any economic decisions that are devoid of ethical impact?

John Mc Nally: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree with him: that is the reason why we are here today—to discuss the ethical decisions that have been made by local authorities. I shall proceed as fast as I can, Mr Streeter.

The whole thing strikes me as not good practice; indeed, it could be called bad practice. I would like the Minister to explain to me the reasons for that interference by the Government with the principles, with the decisions made by trustees on behalf of local communities, who appoint tried and trusted fund managers to look after the pension funds for them. The Government are quite breathtaking in their contradictions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that he wants to start northern powerhouses; he wants to give local people more say in what is happening in their local communities. Yet he is telling them, “Sorry, you’re not going to get a say in what your pension funds do.” That is an absolute shambles of a policy, and it sounds to me as if he just made it up as he went along—for what reason, I would love to know. It would not be right to deny pension funds the right to direct their fund managers on how they want their investments to work for them. It is that local authority’s business. Local authorities alone are answerable to their communities in terms of how they want their funds to work for them.

Can the Minister explain to me and others why this policy differs from the one that I have just mentioned? The Government want to introduce powerhouses in the north of England to give people more powers, but now they are introducing this policy. I want to hear an answer on that. It sounds like an absolute and total contradiction. There is one rule for the Government and another rule for local authorities. That is absolutely and blatantly wrong.

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We can compare the Westminster Government with the Scottish Government, who take a much more considered approach, with proper regard, respect and trust for the social and environmental investments made by pension fund managers on behalf of local authorities in Scotland. My local authority in Falkirk has £1.8 billion in its fund and at this moment might well be looking at investing with the Green Investment Bank. If that bank moves away from its original purpose—God forbid—of investing in green energy, surely an authority has the right to withdraw funding from that organisation; it will need to alter its investments accordingly. And the same is true for that pension fund with regard to international developments. That statement of investment principles must be honoured.

3.7 pm

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I start by declaring an interest: both I and my wife are members of the Cheshire local government pension fund.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing this extremely important and timely debate, but of course it should not have been left to members of the Opposition to drag the Minister into a debate to explain the Government’s policy, so I hope that when he responds, he will, as my hon. Friend said, set out why he thought that it was appropriate to announce a change in policy in front of the media in another country rather than in this House, where proper scrutiny could have followed.

As well as the failure to follow any kind of proper process, I am extremely concerned by the tone that Ministers have adopted when addressing this issue. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has accused councils of adopting policies that

“undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax.”

Those are very serious allegations, but people will note that no specific examples have been given and no specific authority has been referred to. It is therefore a smear against local government as a whole. I challenge the Minister to name a single authority that has increased its council tax as a direct result of the issues that we are discussing today. If he cannot, he should urge the Secretary of State to retract that totally groundless comment and to start treating local politicians and public servants with the respect that they deserve.

Of course, when making such sweeping statements, the Minister ignores the fact that councils are having to increase council tax this year to address the damage that the Government have caused to local government and, in particular, the social care sector. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has so far failed to claim that an explicit demand from the Chancellor to raise council tax, in violation of Conservative manifesto commitments, is harming the economic security of families. That is in stark contrast to the subject matter of this debate. It is only the latest in a series of announcements that set out what this Government really think about devolution, and the contempt with which they continue to treat local government. Their policy on devolution can now be summed up in one sentence:

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“We will give you as much power as you want, as long as we get to choose what those powers are and exactly how they can be used.”

The Government have so far discussed the changes only in terms of so-called boycotts, but there is understandable unease in the sector about the wider implications for ethical procurement, which is vital if councils are to use their purchasing power to deliver wider benefits to their communities and to honour their election pledges.

Local government procures around £12 billion a year of goods and services, much of it from the UK, but some from the global supply chain. Ethical procurement can produce tangible benefits. For example, in my local Labour council, Cheshire West and Chester, the new adult social care contracts adhere to Unison’s ethical care charter, which stipulates that 80% of the workforce must be on contracted hours, not zero-hours contracts. In the domiciliary care contract, providers pay at least £7.68 per hour.

Tristram Hunt: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech, in contrast to Government Members. The point about local government is that democracy is not all focused in this place. Decisions about spending, representation and taxation can also be made at a local level. If we strip that out, it undermines the pluralism and democracy of this country.

Justin Madders: Absolutely. That is the central point of what I am trying to say today. Our local authority had all-out elections last May. Ethical procurement was one of the key parts of the manifesto commitment, and it has been delivered. I do not believe that any Member of this House would say that that is not a legitimate practice of the local authority. The council is now looking to see how it can use future procurements to encourage more employers in the area to improve the terms and conditions of their staff.

As a result of the Labour group’s suggestions, the council has decided not to use companies involved in union blacklisting. That is a value judgment by the democratically elected councillors about who they want to do business with. I am struggling to see any rational basis for distinguishing between those sorts of decisions and choices and the sorts of decisions referred to in the draft regulations. That is the nub of the matter. If local government is to have genuine autonomy, there might be occasions when people say, “I do not agree with what you are doing, but I recognise your democratic right to exercise that choice.” So I say to Ministers: resist the temptation to micromanage local government. Show us that the Government are genuine about devolution and withdraw the regulations.

3.11 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who knows more about these matters than possibly any other Member of the House, certainly with regard to Israel and Palestine. He has probably enabled us all to stay within our four-minute limit because he has asked most of the relevant questions. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who referred to my declaration

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in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last month, I was on a visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, funded by Medical Aid for Palestinians and organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding.

When I arrived in Jerusalem, the first thing I got was a call from the BBC to ask me whether I wanted to comment on the arrival of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who was due to arrive in Tel Aviv the following day to make an announcement on local government procurement. I was a local authority council leader for quite a few years and I remember lots of procurement directives and announcements, particularly on the issue of compulsory competitive tendering in those dark days of the 1990s. I do not remember any of them being made from Tel Aviv.

I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), but she presented a rather thin argument—a thin but measured argument, as opposed to a thick and unmeasured argument, which we have also heard from the other side. The idea that, for instance, London—or any local authority, particularly in our great cities—should not be able to take a view on such matters is a thin and transparent argument, especially when the current Mayor of London spends half his life touring the world, quite rightly promoting British trade and matters of that kind. This is a thin and transparent argument, and it comes from the fact that this ridiculous advice note comes out of the Conservative party press notice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield has said.

I will make just three points. First, there is a conflict between the established and well drafted Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice, which has been quoted extensively—it is very clear in its advice to businesses not to get involved in settlement trade—and the obscurity, lack of clarity and, indeed, disingenuous nature of the procurement policy note, which does not appear to say very much but hints at a great deal, mentioning things such as community cohesion and other matters of that kind, and also favouring national suppliers.

Secondly, there does not appear to be in that note—I hope the Minister will clarify this—any breach of the World Trade Organisation or European Union guidance, because there is no discrimination based on nationality, contrary to some of the almost hysterical things that we have heard today. The specific issue being dealt with in this debate and that the Minister is being asked about—it was the one dealt with in the answer to my question—relates to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We all know that the occupation is unlawful under international law and that they are not recognised by the UK and many other countries as part of Israel.

This issue should not be conflated with BDS. Different people have different views on BDS. The fact that we have labelling guidance, which the Government have maintained, allows people to make individual choices. Some may argue that it is open to public bodies or others to make such choices if they want to, or for Members of Parliament to make statements in relation to such matters, but that is a different matter from illegal settlements. Illegal settlements should not be traded with, and if local authorities wish to make such a decision, that should be open.

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Let us remember what we are talking about here: theft of land, occupation, colonisation, and the arbitrary detention of many thousands of Palestinians. Those are crimes in international law as great as anything that happened in South Africa. They are not happening within one country; they are happening in somebody else’s country. That is the reason why action needs to be taken, and it is perfectly reasonable that it is done in this way.

3.16 pm

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): I was not intending to speak in this debate, but it has been very interesting to listen to and I would like to add a few brief remarks.

In respect of the comments made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) about the Minister and the press conference at which the announcement was made—or made at least the second time—in the presence of the Prime Minster of Israel, by coincidence I happened to be at that meeting. [Interruption.] Clearly, it was not by sheer coincidence. I was not with the Minister—was what I meant to say—but with a group of MPs and Members of the House of Lords. A cross-party group was sitting in the room, so there were many witnesses of all parties. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, who otherwise made a sensible case—I do not agree with it, but it was sensible—was wrong in that respect, because various points that he and those who feel strongly in support of the Palestinians would have wished to be raised were raised at that meeting by those present, including by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). I recall important points about the peace process and specific asks about Gaza and fishing rights being raised, so that should be corrected for the record.

I want to make three brief points. First, the genesis of this debate is the BDS movement, and we should acknowledge that. There are differences of opinion. I think that BDS is unlikely to further the peace process. I personally believe that settlements are extremely unhelpful. I support the British Government’s policy in objecting to them and trying to use any opportunity, such as that meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, to try to change minds and to further that argument, but I do not think the BDS movement is at all likely to further that argument. In fact, it is likely to be totally counterproductive.

My second point builds on one from another hon. Member, which was in respect of community cohesion. That is a consideration for us as Members of Parliament. Indeed, if I were on a local council, I would like to bear that in mind, but it is worth recognising that the BDS movement has an impact on community cohesion, which is a negative one for many, particularly Israelis living in the United Kingdom and the Jewish community. Not everybody, clearly—that would be an outrageous oversimplification—but a number of those involved in the BDS movement are linked to intolerance and to anti-Semitic behaviour, and they make life extremely unpleasant for Jewish people living in our communities.

I checked on Twitter a few minutes before walking into this debate. One only has to type in “BDS” to see some very unpleasant tweets, including one that actually

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asked whether the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), was a Jew himself. It said, “Is Hancock an Ashkenazi name, because he would come up with a policy like this?” Such behaviour is totally intolerable and whatever side we on in this debate, we should recognise that and condemn it.

3.19 pm

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Ind): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who made a fantastic and important speech, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). He made a helpful speech. Both of those contrasted starkly with what I found to be one of the most disappointing speeches I have heard in the six years I have been in this place, from the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). I was disappointed with the content and the delivery.

I have four quick points to make; I will rattle through them as quickly as possible. First, I have concern about where the Minister for the Cabinet Office made the announcement, and I think the Minister should explain the situation. Secondly, ambiguity is an issue for me. The Government have said that the aim of the changes is to stop politically motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and Israel. That is despite the Foreign Office advice already outlined—so I will not go into it—by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield. There is no doubt that there is confusion, because in January the Government said they were opposed to the development of settlements in the west bank. In one breath the Government condemn the illegal settlements and in another they say that local authorities will face severe consequences should they choose to avoid investing in them. The entire advice needs to be cleared up, and perhaps the Minister will shed some light on it.

The third point I wanted to make is about the World Trade Organisation. The Government appear to suggest that local authorities could be in breach of rules, but in fact they cannot, so perhaps the Minister will provide clarity on that. Fourthly, and finally, I am concerned about local government being treated in such a way. The issue is about local democracy and the need for decisions to be made by elected members, rather than imposed by central Government.

3.21 pm

Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab): It is lovely to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

Spending is inherently political, as we can see when we think about the Chancellor, and austerity and its effect on communities. Watering down and limiting the impact of local democracy because of disagreement about Government policy is wrong. Only this week a constituent came to see me about divesting from the West Yorkshire pension fund. I will take that up on behalf of my constituent, and it is only fair that councils make their decisions ethically.

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If we are to have a nanny state that tells councils where they can and cannot invest, where will the line be drawn for procurement? I am disheartened, because Conservative Members are trying to skew the debate and turn it into an anti-Israel debate. BDS is about upholding international law. Nobody in the House is saying we should boycott Israel; what we are saying is that councils and people should have a legitimate right to make decisions on procurement.

I will not be on the wrong side of history in this House. It was a shameful patch in our history when this House voted against sanctions on South Africa. That is not how I want to go down in history. I feel that we are moving towards governing in the shadows, with people making bigger and bigger decisions without bringing them to the House and without due democratic process. A smaller and smaller group of people is making decisions that affect bigger and bigger issues. That is surely not acceptable to the House.

To raise the matter of international law again, in 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled that all states have an obligation not to provide aid to Israeli violations of international law. The question is international law, not boycotts. I feel very disheartened that Conservative Members are trying to stifle debate by bringing up the issue of anti-Semitism, and that narrative is playing out while we are trying to have an honest conversation. That is all it is about. In local procurement, should we not go green or buy fair trade? We need to stop what is happening at some point, and here is where it must stop. We cannot endorse the change, and we cannot carry on with it. I certainly will not vote for it.

3.24 pm

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP): I, too, should start with a declaration of interest, having recently visited Palestine, courtesy of Fatah UK.

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) for securing this timely debate. Thankfully, the latest procurement policy note not does not directly apply to Scotland, where procurement is devolved and the Scottish Government lead on related procurement regulations. Of course, both Scottish regulations and the regulations for the rest of the UK must adhere to the same set of underlying EU directives, and it is those that set out the limits on the situations in which authorities can exclude bidders from a procurement process.

The Scottish Government strongly discourage trade and investment with illegal settlements. Such decisions must be taken in compliance with procurement legislation. For a company to be excluded from competition, it has to have been convicted of a specific offence or committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business. One view, supported by the Scottish Government, is that where a company exploits assets in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, it may be guilty of grave professional misconduct, and it may therefore be permissible to exclude it from a procurement process.

It must never be forgotten when engaging in such considerations that local government is always answerable to the interests and wishes of its local communities and electorates. I know from my own mailbag that many local residents in Linlithgow and East Falkirk feel very strongly about this issue. There is a general presumption

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that decisions taken in their interest should be ethical where possible, and there is particular outrage that the UK Government appear to favour promoting goods from the illegal Israeli settlements. I genuinely fear that if the UK Government’s proposals effectively force local councils and other public bodies to invest unethically in areas such as the Israeli occupation or arms companies, where local opinion would have directed them otherwise, we will be at risk of serious democratic failings.

Rather than attacking local democracy, the Government should take steps to support it. An approach akin to that being taken in Scotland would be good, but at the very least a full clarification from Ministers regarding the recent guidance is essential.

3.26 pm

Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on obtaining the debate, and I thank Martin Linton, the former Member of Parliament for Battersea, for the background work he has done. I declare an interest because I visited Jerusalem and the west bank recently with a Labour delegation funded by the excellent organisation Medical Aid for Palestinians, with which I am proud to be associated. As a Front Bencher, I do not want to speak for long, but I have a particular wish to speak because of my visit to Jerusalem and the west bank.

Like many Opposition Members, I was very concerned about the nature of the announcement that has been made. I was concerned that the Cabinet Office Minister announced the proposals not in the Commons—which was in recess—but at a press conference in Israel, with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. That announcement coincided with our delegation to illegally occupied Palestine.

People’s attention has already been brought to the statement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

“Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax. We need to challenge and prevent the politics of division.”

I wish to say something about divided communities, after our recent delegation to the illegally occupied territories of Palestine. The experience that we had in the west bank clarified why some councils might want to take some action on illegal settlements. The policies pursued by the Government of Israel in allowing illegal settlements to flourish are a physical and political barrier to peace and a two-state solution.

I want to draw my brief remarks to a conclusion by asking the Minister whether he has been to the west bank and seen the Israeli settlements. Does he agree with UK Government policy that settlements are illegal under international law? Does he see any contradiction in the local authority devolution agenda when they are freeing up policy on business rates while freezing powers on pension investment and procurement decisions? Government regulations threaten councils with “severe penalties” if they fail to reflect foreign policy, but why is it so wrong to impose a ban or boycott with respect to settlements that the Government deem to be illegal?

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the point about sanctions and boycotts made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) was quite

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ridiculous? On that basis, why do we boycott Iran, Syria, Russia, individuals, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Zimbabwe? It seems to be an illogical position to take that we should not have sanctions or boycotts.

Richard Burgon: I agree with my hon. Friend that we should make democratic choice the key part of this debate but, after hearing some contributions from Government Members, I think that they are not in favour of democratic choice in relation to this matter.

These proposals are a step too far. Britain has a clear position on settlements: they are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. This is about democracy, and the proposals are an affront to democracy, choice and local power, and the comments of the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) are an absolute disgrace.

Dr Offord: Which ones?

Richard Burgon: The hon. Gentleman’s comments from a sedentary position and when he stood up to speak. His comments were an affront to local democracy.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): As we move towards the Front Bencher’s speeches, may I thank you all for your co-operation in getting us through in time for the wind-ups?

3.30 pm

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): I draw hon. Members attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I also had the fortune to go to the west bank on the Fatah UK trip that has been referred to.

When we saw that the topic for the debate was local government and procurement policy, we wondered whether it had much to do with Scotland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) noted, those matters are a matter for the Scottish Government—I shall return to that in a moment. However, it quickly became apparent—I think all parties understand this—that this is a debate not about local government, but about foreign policy. It is interesting that, rather than choosing an English town hall in which to make a pronouncement about the affairs of local authorities, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) travelled to Tel Aviv to make an announcement alongside the Prime Minister of Israel, and chose to illustrate his announcement by referring to the impact of local authorities’ actions on the settlements in the occupied territories.

Now, if we are to say—as some Government Members have suggested—that local councillors should not be having a foreign policy and should concern themselves with local matters, we might rightly ask ourselves, “What are the Ministers responsible for the UK civil service and English local authorities doing travelling to foreign countries to make pronouncements on foreign policy?” We need to understand whether this is actually a dispute among colleagues in the Cabinet and an attempt by some who disagree with the established position of the

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Foreign Office to undermine it, or whether it is a genuine confusion that has arisen. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position in his response.

We should be absolutely clear that what is under discussion here is not the state of Israel, but the activities in the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Now, I know that the Israeli Government refute the fact that the settlements are illegal, but the UN Security Council, the General Assembly of the UN, the European Union, every NGO I can think of, and our own Government regard the settlements as illegal, so I hope that we can at least agree that engagement in those activities is unlawful.

I have witnessed these settlements, and I think that when some people refer to community settlements, they still believe that they are small, little, cutesy villages that are being developed. In fact, these are massive conurbations of thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—of people, with all the infrastructure we would expect from a modern city. Although many of the settlements have been built effectively as dormitories for people working inside Israel proper, it is clear that if they are to continue, they must develop their own economy and, therefore, the capacity to develop trade and production in those areas is vital for their survival.

We need to ask ourselves a question: is it the role of public agencies in the UK to assist in that illegal process or is it right and proper that they should do something about it? I think it is entirely proper that they should do something about it. The advice of the Scottish Government is consistent with that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in saying that there is a general presumption against trade and investment in illegal settlements and telling local councils that they should make a decision on individual matters of procurement according to procurement legislation and take into account the circumstances that apply, but reminding them that when it comes to the term “gross misconduct”, which colleagues have mentioned, it is entirely right and proper to regard the support for an international illegal operation as gross misconduct.

Looking at some of these contracts, people should be advised that they need to understand whether the contract will be secure—whether the agency or company with which they are contracting has the legal right to sign the contract, and to use the resources and occupy the lands and premises that they say they do. If a local authority is being prudent and making a careful judgment about that, it is acting in the interests of the people who elected it, and that is right and proper.

I have a minute or two left, so I want to say to the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) that in his speech, which I thought he galloped through with rather undue haste—it would have been better for him to have taken some interventions, because it might have demonstrated better confidence in his own arguments—he attempted, as others have, to suggest that this is an attack on Israel. It is not. I believe in the two-state solution. I would like to see a viable state of Palestine and a viable state of Israel, but I firmly believe that the actions of this right-wing Israeli Government and their refusal to take moves to end the military occupation are putting the prospects of a two-state solution in severe jeopardy.

Dr Offord: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution because he is consistent, unlike, unfortunately, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent

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Central (Tristram Hunt), who has hurriedly left the Chamber. Does the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) not agree that the disinvestment strategy promoted by the BDS would actually lead to ending the possibility of a two-state solution, which would mean that there would not be peace in the middle east?

Tommy Sheppard: No, I do not make that connection or draw that conclusion in the slightest. In fact, I have visited the area recently and spoken to many Palestinians who are involved. They are absolutely of one mind in telling us that they want us to call for disinvestment in the illegal settlements in the occupied territories. That is their position and it is incumbent on us to try to understand, respect and advocate that position if we can.

I have limited time, but I very much welcome the fact that we are having this debate, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) secured. I welcome the attendance and the level of contribution. I do think that it is time, following this discussion, that we sought a debate in the main Chamber and devoted rather more time not just to this issue, but to the underlying aspects behind it. It is incumbent on us to do that because the overriding impression that I brought back from my recent trip to the west bank was one of desperation and despair among people who really feel that the world has given up on them. We need to show them that we have not.

3.37 pm

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I suppose I will start where the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) left off—why we are having this debate. Well, we are having the debate because my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) asked for it, and I congratulate him on that. He spoke with his typical eloquence and knowledge of the situation—eloquence and knowledge that I have been familiar with since I was a teenager listening to his speeches when he came to the Mechanics Institute in Manchester in the mid-’90s.

I have followed my hon. Friend’s career closely ever since. I think I speak for everybody in thanking him for securing the debate, but the reality is that we should not be having the debate in this Chamber; we should be having it in the main Chamber—and not on the initiative of an Opposition Member through the usual processes and channels or as a result of the Backbench Business Committee; I wonder whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh East was hinting at that. We should be having this debate because the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who announced the policy at the Conservative party conference and then again on a trip to Israel, should have given the House the courtesy of coming to the House, outlining his change in procurement policy and allowing hon. Members to question him.

I entirely appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who said that there had been a number of changes to procurement policies over the years. I do not doubt that she is right: she is a former Cabinet Office Minister and is very

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experienced, but other experienced Members know that Members on both sides of the argument have sincerely held views and those experienced Members appreciate that the issues are sensitive. Given that, the Paymaster General should have come to this House to announce the shift in Government policy and allowed us all to question him.

The hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) was lucky enough to be on a delegation with the Paymaster General in Israel. At that time, the Paymaster General may well have been happy to answer questions about what the issue meant for Government policy and for the Palestinians. Well done! We are pleased that the hon. Gentleman got that opportunity, but everybody else in the House should have that opportunity, too. That is why Members on both sides of the Chamber will want to hear the Minister answer a number of questions; it is a pleasure to see him in his place. I will not take up too much time with my remarks, because I know that Members are anxious to hear the Minister’s response. I want to give him ample opportunity to answer satisfactorily the questions of my hon. Friends and colleagues.

Robert Jenrick: When I came back from Israel, I assumed that there might be an urgent question in the House on the issue. Did the shadow Minister request an urgent question?

Jonathan Ashworth: It is not for me to criticise Mr Speaker and his team of Deputy Speakers on the selection of urgent questions. That is not in order—is it, Mr Streeter?

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Certainly not.

Jonathan Ashworth: But I have a suspicion that Members requested urgent questions.

Robert Jenrick: Did you?

Jonathan Ashworth: It is not in order to criticise Mr Speaker when he grants or does not grant an urgent question, so far as I am aware.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Would that be a no?

Jonathan Ashworth: The hon. Gentleman makes his usual witty sedentary contribution, but let us get back to the substance of the issue.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said, there has been a conflation in what the Government are hinting at about our relations with Israel. They seem to be suggesting that we need to clarify the rules on procurement because, according to them as far as we can tell, the procurement rules are not clear and we need better guidance on whether local authorities are allowed to procure and not be in contravention of the various World Trade Organisation rules. Is it the view of the Cabinet Office that the guidelines were vague and that proceedings were taken to the WTO about local authorities making decisions in contravention of those guidelines? How many proceedings have been taken?

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The reality is that this is more about politics. When the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General announced the policy at the Conservative party conference, he said that it would

“prevent…playground politics undermining our international security.”

Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield highlighted, in the briefings, the editors’ notes and the suggestions to the newspapers, and so on, councils such as Leicester City Council and Tower Hamlets Borough Council were being highlighted. Those councils were not making decisions about Israel as a nation; they were responding to the illegal settlements in the occupied west bank. It was not about the nation of Israel; it was about illegal settlements, which the Government recognise and accept are illegal settlements.

When the Paymaster General says that this is “playground politics” and that he is taking the decision in order not to undermine international security, why, as Members have said, does guidance on the FCO website talk of the risks of trade with the illegal settlements? The guidance discourages such trade, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East said. What discussions has the Minister for the Cabinet Office had with the relevant Foreign Office Ministers on this matter? If he really believes that this is undermining international security, how does he sleep at night when he sees that guidance on the FCO’s website?

As the hon. Members for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) and for Edinburgh East, our colleagues from north of the border, told us, the Scottish Government, in procurement notices of last year, or two years ago,

“strongly discourages trade and investment from illegal settlements”.

Is the Minister for the Cabinet Office saying that the Scottish Government are undermining international security? Is that really the view of the Paymaster General? Is this not about democracy at local level, as various Opposition colleagues have said, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon)? Is it not ironic that all this comes from the Government who talk of and celebrate localism and from a Prime Minister who told us:

“When one-size-fits-all solutions are dispensed from the centre, it’s not surprising they…fail local communities”?

In 2009, the Prime Minister told us that

“We’re going to trust local authorities”.

How are these decisions trusting of local authorities?

Is it not right that local councils should make such decisions and be accountable to the people who elect them? Leicester City Council, the area I represent, made its decisions in 2014—the Government always quote Leicester City Council in the newspapers—and the councillors who put those decisions to the council chamber stood for election in 2015. They were re-elected with people knowing about those decisions on trade with illegal settlements in the west bank, not trade with Israel. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) knows Leicester well.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): My hon. Friend is right; the issue is not just about the content and the context of the decision made by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Government seem to be saying that

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it is completely out of order for local government to have any regard to ethical or valid policy considerations when it comes to procurement or supply. Yet when we passed the Modern Slavery Bill in the last Parliament, this House improved the Bill and the Government, against their first position, accepted the need to include responsibility for supply chains and procurement in the Bill. How can we legislate for that in the private sector and then abolish it for local government?

Jonathan Ashworth: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I will speed up, because I know that people want to put points to the Minister and want him to answer. Will he tell us what “severe penalties” he has in mind for local authorities if they do not follow through on the regulations? Given the scepticism about what the regulations actually mean, will he answer my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and tell us whether the guidance actually changes the law in any way? Will he answer the six questions put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield?

Will the Minister confirm that the guidance is simply restating existing law that states that public bodies cannot refuse to award contracts to companies purely because of their nationality? Will he confirm whether the Government think it is still lawful for public bodies to refuse to award contracts to companies for reasons other than nationality, such as their human rights record, compliance with international law or connection with trade such as the arms trade or fossil fuels?

The Paymaster General talked about “playground politics.” Well, there are many in this House who take these issues extremely seriously and who have sincerely held views on both sides of the argument. When the Paymaster General talks about playground politics, perhaps he should look a little closer to home.

3.47 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (John Penrose): It is always good to have your sure hand guiding our proceedings, Mr Streeter. I start by joining the chorus of congratulations to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing this debate. He is right that this is an important issue. He is also right to say what it is about and what it is not about, and to acknowledge that there are sincerely held views on both sides of the broader issue. He is right to put that point up front and pay it due respect. I echo those points.

As the hon. Gentleman has asked some distinct questions, and other questions have embroidered around them, I will try to address those questions as I go through my speech. I am sure he will pick me up if I do not. I will try to make sure that he has a minute or so at the end to sum up.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

John Penrose: Briefly, but I will then have to make progress.

Sir Alan Duncan: At the beginning of his comments, will the Minister clarify an important point of fact, which is the kernel of this issue? Will the Government’s

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proposed procurement rules permit a local authority to adopt a policy against investment in, or purchase from, Israeli settlements in the Palestinian west bank?

John Penrose: The answer is that it depends; I am sorry to be a little indistinct. I will come on to the details. I hope to give my right hon. Friend a proper answer, rather than just a straightforward yes or no, because there are situations where councils will be able to and situations where they will not.

The overarching principles behind public procurement are twofold. First, public sector procurers are required to seek the very best value for money for the taxpayer. Secondly, public procurement must be delivered through fair and open competition. Public sector procurers have to follow detailed procedural rules laid down in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which implement the Government’s domestic procurement policy and wider EU and international rules, including the EU procurement directives and the WTO Government procurement agreement; a number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the GPA in this debate.

Under those obligations, our contracting authorities are required to treat all suppliers equally, regardless of their geographic origin. The regulations have recently been updated and modernised, but the basic principles are long-standing and have been in place for many decades. Any breach of the rules puts public authorities and the Government themselves at risk of breaching all sorts of laws. Serious remedies are available to aggrieved suppliers through the courts for breaches of those rules, including damages, fines and what lawyers call “ineffectiveness”, which basically means contract cancellation.

A number of colleagues have mentioned that ethical procurement has a much wider meaning than we have focused on here. We could talk about it in relation to arms firms, defence industry investment or investment in the tobacco industry. However, we have focused, perhaps understandably, on a specific example. The point is that “ethical procurement” is not a defined term—it means different things. There are many examples of how procurers take ethical considerations into account. For example, the rules allow authorities to exclude suppliers that have breached certain international social, environmental or labour laws. In addition, we already ensure that prime contractors behave ethically towards their subcontractors—for example, by requiring 30-day payment terms. That applies through supply chains, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which came into effect in 2013, placed a requirement on commissioners to consider the economic, environmental and social benefits of their approaches to procurement before the process starts.

Sir Alan Duncan: In that case, is there anything in the Minister’s list that includes the illegal origin of the products to be bought?

John Penrose: The point is that although we are clear that the settlements themselves are absolutely illegal—I am happy to clarify the Government’s foreign policy—that does not necessarily mean that activities undertaken by firms that happen to be based there are themselves automatically illegal. A separate, case-by-case decision

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must be made about whether each potential supplier satisfies the rules. I will give more detail about that as I go, if I can.

We have flexibilities in our procurement rules. Some things are explicitly ruled out—

Mr Betts: Will the Minister give way?

John Penrose: I am running out of time. I will give way very briefly, and then I will have to make progress.

Mr Betts: We are back to the point about how to distinguish between one activity of an organisation and another when deciding whether to have a relationship with it. To go back to banks, for example, it was rightly decided not to have any dealings with Barclays back in the 1980s because of its particular link with South Africa. One could not distinguish between the money it lent to South African firms and the money that it lent to other firms. How then does the Minister distinguish between the activities of financial organisations now and their treatment of the settlements?

John Penrose: I am explaining how the law is, rather than how the hon. Gentleman might like it to be. As I said, we are clear that the settlements themselves are illegal, but a firm based or trading within one of those settlements may be operating in an entirely whiter-than-white, above-board fashion in how it treats its suppliers, staff and customers. Therefore, I suggest, one cannot assume that absolutely everything done in a particular place is implicitly wrong.

There are flexibilities in our procurement rules. Some things are explicitly ruled out. Discrimination is absolutely ruled out as a matter of law and policy. The problem with boycotts in public procurement is that they may often stray over the line from acceptable ethical procurement within the rules that I have described to become an act of discrimination. The principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment underpin the UK’s whole approach to public procurement policy—we have heard examples of that from other speeches already—and are mandatory under UK, EU and World Trade Organisation procurement rules.

Moreover, public policy that includes decisions on whether to impose Government sanctions on other countries is a matter reserved for central Government. We are devolving a great deal down to local government and other Parliaments within the UK, but foreign policy, particularly sanctions against other countries, is a matter still reserved for central Government. It is therefore the Government’s position that discriminating against any supplier based on geographic location is unacceptable unless formal, legal sanctions, embargoes or restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government here.

Despite those long-standing rules, we have been concerned to learn that some authorities have decided to impose local-level procurement boycotts, which is why on 17 February, as we have heard, the Government published guidance to remind authorities of their obligations in that respect. I hasten to add that it is not an Israel-specific policy, nor is it focused on the Israeli settlements, in line with the initial remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield. It is general guidance about procurement principles, so it does not address directly or in detail any questions about procuring from Israel

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or the illegal settlements. The Minister for the Cabinet Office highlighted the guidance when visiting some technology companies during his trip to Israel to reassure them that the UK Government marketplace is open to overseas bidders, despite what they might have read elsewhere.

Of course, the WTO Government procurement agreement has its limitations. It applies only to countries that have signed up to it. Israel is a party to it, so it clearly applies to Israeli suppliers, whereas the Government do not recognise the illegal settlements as part of Israel.

Imran Hussain: I should have declared an interest earlier: I recently visited the west bank with colleagues and Medical Aid for Palestine. I am grateful to the Minister for his somewhat grey explanation of certain areas, but can he help me with this point, with which I am sure other hon. Members will agree? He has accepted that the settlements are illegal. On what basis, legal or otherwise, is he asserting that the businesses operating within those illegal settlements are operating legally? Can he explain that to me, please?

John Penrose: I believe I already have. Although it is difficult, it is entirely possible for a settlement to be illegal while the businesses operating within it are entirely within the law, treating their staff, suppliers and customers properly and so on. It is possible for both those things to happen at once.

Andy Slaughter: Will the Minister give way?

John Penrose: I must make progress. In spite of those flexibilities, local authorities must still be careful not to make discriminatory policies even where they believe that the GPA does not apply. The rules also provide mechanisms to protect authorities from dealing with risky suppliers.

To answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), I should say that authorities can take into account the legal and economic risks of dealing with particular suppliers. The rules include various grounds on which individual suppliers can be excluded from bidding, such as where the company is guilty of criminal offences, corruption or grave professional misconduct or in breach of environmental, social or labour laws and so forth. This is a key point: the rules must be applied on a case-by-case basis, company by company, rather than

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on the basis of an entire geographical area, as a blanket ban or boycott would inevitably do—that would make them discriminatory.

Local authorities have significant flexibilities and can exercise pretty wide discretion within the rules—I hope that I am answering my right hon. Friend’s question—but the rules themselves are clearly necessary to protect them by ensuring that they do not take actions that could land them and us in court. Nobody wants to waste public money on costly court cases.

I am running out of time, so I will stop to allow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield time to respond, but I emphasise that on foreign policy, we have clearly not changed our approach to the Palestinian occupied territories or to settlements around the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel. With that, although there are many other things that I would have liked the opportunity to address, I want to leave the hon. Gentleman a chance to respond. I will sit down and leave the floor to him.

3.58 pm

Richard Burden: I always thought that public procurement notes were meant to clarify procurement rules, but the Minister has just demonstrated the art of muddying them through his explanation of this procurement note. He said that the note is not Israel-specific; it just happens that the Minister for the Cabinet Office announced it in a Conservative party conference press release that was almost entirely devoted to the situation in the middle east, and then announced the public procurement note itself in Israel.

If settlements are illegal, I fail to see how trade with those settlements and co-operation with businesses involved in aiding and abetting illegality is not itself illegal. That is what the Foreign Office advice to business is about. I know that the Minister has had a problem today; for some time now, we have been trying to work out which Minister would reply to this debate. I get the impression that this is a parcel that has been passed from pillar to post.

John Penrose: We are a flexible team.

Richard Burden: Eminently flexible—with flexible rules as well, by the sound of it. My six questions have not been answered to my satisfaction, nor have the questions asked by other hon. Members. I ask the Minister to answer in writing.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

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Housebuilding: King’s Hill, Coventry

[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

4 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered proposals for house-building on King’s Hill, Coventry.

Obviously you and I have known each other for a long time, Mr Pritchard, and this is probably the first time that I have taken part in an Adjournment debate that you are chairing. I know you will chair it in a very fair manner, as you always do. If I can start, Mr Chairman—[Interruption.]

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Order. Members are not to use mobile phones in Westminster Hall and certainly not when other Members are trying to speak in a debate on behalf of their constituents. It is completely unacceptable.

Mr Cunningham: The King’s Hill area of Coventry is obviously causing quite a stir in Coventry at the moment, to say the least. In fact, at the moment the city council is debating a motion in relation to King’s Hill. The Conservative opposition put that motion down and what they are effectively saying is that King’s Hill should not be sold until the proper infrastructure is put in place. Many people will interpret that differently, although it is not for me to interpret what the Conservative motion means.

Having said that, let me take the opportunity to thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate. Over the years, I have tried to secure debates on this matter, so I thank him for granting this debate. I also welcome the Minister to the debate, because he is the Minister responsible and that demonstrates that at least the Government are showing some respect to this debate and about what happens in King’s Hill. I hope he will agree with some of the points I raise today.

The King’s Hill area is located just outside the city boundaries of Coventry, between Finham and Kenilworth, to the south of Coventry. It is designated as a green-belt area—I hope the Minister will pay special attention to that point. The proposals are for thousands of homes on this land; it is my objection to these proposals that I will outline today. For many years, I have spoken in defence of the area and, in particular, about its beauty and history. I have probably been campaigning for it to retain its present status for a good five or six years, so I have not come late to this issue; I have been involved with it for a very long time.

Over the years, Coventry City Council has come to know my views about King’s Hill. Only recently, I had some correspondence with the council about its plans for the area. My view is that the council should think again about selling the land to Warwick District Council. Essentially, that is where I differ from what the Conservative motion in the council seems to be suggesting. King’s Hill needs to remain free from development. These sentiments are not just my own; they have been echoed by local residents and by anybody who takes an interest in the history and environment of Coventry. I am disappointed that these plans have been allowed to

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progress; I am equally disappointed that I now must take my opposition to them to the Commons and to the Minister who is responding to this debate.

I will now detail my concerns about these plans. First, King’s Hill is green-belt land, and that is not a designation applied to land without reason. The land around King’s Hill is of environmental importance, as I have said, but it is also important historically. In addition, it helps to define the city boundaries of Coventry. Most importantly, it is a welcome patch of countryside on the edge of a city that over the years has lost a lot of its green space.

My next concern is about the proximity of the proposed development to Coventry itself. It is a large development of 4,000 homes. I am not opposed to the growth of Coventry, but the current situation makes no sense and is a reflection of poorly thought-out plans, which would increase the pressure on Coventry council tax payers. These plans would deprive them of green space. Coventry residents would lose out on every level with these plans and the council could find itself further overstretched. It is already suffering as a result of huge budget cuts by central Government; I have yet to see anything to suggest that that will not be the case. I believe that the alternative brownfield sites in Coventry and Warwickshire would help to resolve the housing problems.

I will now briefly detail some other aspects of the plan. A small percentage of the land at King’s Hill is owned by Coventry City Council and that would be sold to Warwick District Council if the development plans are approved. It amounts to 190 acres of the 665-acre site, or roughly 28% of the land, but only around half of those 190 acres could be developed because of Wainbody Wood and plots that are subject to agreed long leases. That makes Coventry City Council’s holding roughly 15% of the site.

The decision to sell the land is ultimately the responsibility of the council, and I have already urged it to reconsider its decision and not sell that land. I will not hide my preference that the land should not be used for development, especially when the council tax from it will be sent to Warwickshire and while it is green-belt land.

However, that is only part of the story. Over two thirds of the land located at the King’s Hill site is owned not by Coventry City Council, but by Warwick District Council, which will give or refuse the planning permission for development. Even if Coventry Council land was not sold, over two thirds of the site would still be developed if Warwick District Council gave its approval, causing the same problems that I have already described.

These plans must be viewed as a whole; to divide them up into who-owns-what misses the point. The point is to object to the plans in principle to save King's Hill, and that is why I have called on Warwick District Council to scrap these development proposals. If Warwick District Council refused planning permission, then the rug would be pulled out from beneath the entire plan.

I want to prevent all large-scale development on the King’s Hill site and not just on part of it. There is a national shortage of housing and more homes need to be built in Coventry and Warwickshire, but poorly thought-out proposals are not the answer. There are alternative sites that should be used instead of King’s Hill. They are better placed to deal with the impact of such large developments and they already have the necessary infrastructure in place to deal with thousands

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of new homes. Using those sites would be more beneficial to Coventry and Warwickshire—they are sites where council tax would be used to provide services to the residents who pay it—and these sites are not designated as green-belt land.

I have to question whether the green-belt safeguards are fit for purpose, and I also question whether Warwick District Council has fully considered the wider impact of these proposals, which aim to hit Government quotas on housing.

In conclusion, this planning decision belongs to Warwick District Council, but it will impact directly on the people of Coventry. I urge Warwick District Council to take on board the views of local residents and other stakeholders; to explore the impact of these proposals on the local area; and to speak with Coventry City Council about the issue of council tax, which I believe would be used to subsidise the development. The best option for Warwick District Council is to reconsider these proposals and to refuse planning permission for this development—an action that would stop it completely.

4.9 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing the debate. I appreciate that he has concerns about the proposals for development in the King’s Hill area, and that the issue is of considerable importance to him and the local communities he represents.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the proposals, in particular about their impact on surrounding areas. There is a fundamental disagreement between us, however. He may not have registered the fact that the Government have reformed the planning system over the past year. He noted that local authorities are looking to match housing numbers, under housing requirements, to Government quotas, but we have got rid of those quotas. The previous Labour Government had centrally run quotas through the regional spatial strategies, but there are no Government quotas or targets for housing now. The process is worked out entirely locally. The hon. Gentleman might, therefore, want to speak to his local authority to get a full understanding of that.

I note that Warwick District Council is proposing modifications to its local plan. It is right that the process is locally led. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, as a Minister with a quasi-judicial role in the planning system, I cannot comment on the detail of specific proposals or on specific local plans, but I can give more general feedback on some of the issues he has raised. Our policy rightly asks that

“local planning authorities should use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in the National Planning Policy framework.”

So the numbers are worked out by the local authority based on local need—they are locally derived.

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The local plans play a key role in building the houses we need. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is a need to build more houses—we have not done enough house building for the past 40 years—and we have ensured that local plans will have some ease in the future by asking an independent group of experts to look at how we can streamline and improve the process of producing them. I look forward to seeing their recommendations soon. I have also made clear, publicly, our determination to intervene where local plans have not been produced by early 2017, and that will help to speed up the production of the plans. The Housing and Planning Bill also makes it clear that we are sharpening the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene in local plans, and the hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that we have recently issued a consultation document to consider the criteria we will use in that intervention process.

The national planning policy framework—the NPPF—makes it clear that the purpose of planning is to deliver sustainable development, but that is not development at any cost or development anywhere. National policy sets out that planning must take account of the different roles and characters of different areas, recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, and take into account all the benefits that an area has. In respect of the historic environment, for example, local planning authorities should set out in their local plans a positive strategy for its conservation and enjoyment. Similarly, in preparing plans to meet development needs, the aim should be to minimise adverse effects on the local and natural environment.

Local plans do far more than set housing numbers; they establish areas that it is necessary to protect and set out how development will be supported by appropriate infrastructure. The NPPF emphasises that development must be sustainable and that local authorities have a responsibility to make plans to provide the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs generated by new development. Our planning guidance also underscores the importance of ensuring that infrastructure is provided to support new development and notes how infrastructure constraints should be considered when assessing the suitability of sites for development. Local authorities can use section 106 agreements and community infrastructure levies to guarantee that, and we are carrying out some reviews to ensure that we keep the process as streamlined and efficient as possible.

Mr Jim Cunningham: Can the Minister tell me exactly how the infrastructure levy would work?

Brandon Lewis: A community infrastructure levy is much more transparent than a section 106 agreement. Once a local area has adopted such a levy, any developer looking to build there knows what the cost will be. It has that information up front; the cost is pre-set by the local authority. When the developer builds, it pays the money to the local authority, and the latter spends it on infrastructure as it sees fit. The difference with a section 106 agreement is that it is negotiated on a site-by-site basis, and there is no transparency or up-front knowledge. There is a negotiation that can often take a very, very long time, and we will speed that up with the Housing and Planning Bill. Also, whatever is agreed in a section 106 agreement is normally site-specific, whereas the community infrastructure levy is money that the council itself can use how and where it sees fit.

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There is also a duty to co-operate, which requires local planning authorities to make every effort to secure co-operation on strategic cross-boundary matters before they submit their local plans for examination. We expect local planning authorities to explore all available options for delivering their planning within their planning area. It is only when that is not possible that they should approach other authorities with whom it would be sensible to work through a cross-boundary strategic planning process. Ultimately, working with neighbouring councils and working together across parties and across boundaries can enable development needs that cannot wholly be met within one area to be covered. That can be an important way forward and it can beneficial for the authorities, if they work together cohesively. The requirements of the duty provide a clear approach to enable local authorities to discuss strategic planning issues with their neighbouring authorities, to achieve positive outcomes.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the green belt. We are clear—and the NPPF makes it clear—that the green belt is a legitimate constraint on development. In the Chamber, my hon. Friends have often talked about how the green belt is important to our country, and I think that you, Mr Chairman, may have also commented on it.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Order. I am grateful for the Minister’s compliment but, for the record, while I am in the Chair I am completely neutral on all things, including the green belt.

Brandon Lewis: Well noted, Chairman. I take your comments on board, as obviously the record will.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have heard this, and if he looks back at the record, he will see that we have regularly made the point that the green belt is a legitimate constraint. It is an important part of the country’s infrastructure and the Government attach the highest importance to its protection. In fact, over the past few years we have increased it. The NPPF makes it clear that green belt boundaries should be established in local plans and can be altered only in exceptional circumstances, using the local plan’s process of consultation and independent examination. The Government do not specify what constitutes exceptional circumstances, as it is for each local authority to determine that and how much weight to attach to those circumstances.

When I visit local areas, I hear widespread support for the fact that we need to build more houses—the hon. Gentleman touched on that in his remarks—but areas often swiftly follow that with concerns about where the houses will be built. It is a credit to local authorities that they are grabbing the baton and doing

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the right thing to ensure there are the homes they need for their communities. I congratulate those that are taking clear leadership, making what can sometimes be tough decisions to deliver the housing that their local areas need.

We have given local councils the responsibility of planning to meet their own needs locally and working with local residents and neighbouring communities and authorities to meet the needs across the housing market areas. How communities have informed the strategy in a local plan will be an important consideration in the examination of that plan.

With Warwick District Council currently consulting on its proposed modifications to the submitted plan, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will continue to make strong representations to the council on the proposals and that he will express his views, as he has done today.

Mr Jim Cunningham: May I reassure the Minister that I am certainly taking the matter up with Warwick District Council? I have written to it, raising my objections. It has not yet responded, but I am sure it will at some point.

Brandon Lewis: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has done that. That is the right place to pick up the discussion and debate; it is right to make the case locally. Ultimately, we have devolved powers to local authorities, and we trust them and local people to make the right decisions for their areas and to provide the housing for their areas in the future. I have absolute faith that they will continue to do a good job in delivering that. After all, a record number of homes—more than 253,000—have been given planning permission over the last 12-month recording period. That is a really good step forward. Also, approval of development from local people has roughly doubled since 2010 because of our trusting local people to work out what is right for them in building the homes that we need in the places we need them and with the tenures we need, in a locally driven way, and that is certainly the way to continue.

Question put and agreed to.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): We could proceed early to the next debate, which will give it additional time, but out of courtesy we need to wait for the shadow Minister. As soon as the shadow Minister turns up, we will proceed straight away to the debate.

4.20 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Transport Infrastructure: Lancashire

4.30 pm

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered transport infrastructure in Lancashire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.

The Government have quite rightly made a commitment to rebalancing the nation’s economy. For many years, under Governments of different political persuasions, our economy has been too focused and over-reliant on the service sector and too focused on London and the south-east. Of course, that was not always the case. We in Lancashire are very proud of our place in the nation’s industrial history. I pay tribute to the Friends of Real Lancashire for promoting the historical borders of real Lancashire—I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) present—which boasted the two great northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool. Those two conurbations have changed beyond all recognition in the past half century and are forging ahead. Within its current borders, Lancashire also has a role to play in the important task of balancing the economy and strengthening our industrial base. I, for one, do not want to see Lancashire lose out at the expense of our larger urban neighbours—and certainly not to those “white rose” residents to the east.

The Lancashire city deal was signed by Preston City Council, South Ribble Borough Council and Lancashire County Council in September 2013. It is the second biggest city deal outside London and promises to create 17,000 homes and 20,000 jobs over its first decade. It is crucial to the whole county, and I pay tribute to all those involved in its preparation, particularly Councillor Margaret Smith, the visionary leader of South Ribble Borough Council. Some important pieces of road infrastructure were started immediately under the auspices of the city deal, including the Broughton bypass and the M55 junction. At this point I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), who worked so persistently on securing that infrastructure over the previous Parliament. The Preston western distributor road will improve access to the BAE site at Warton. In my constituency, work on the A582 is ongoing, with much of it already finished. The Penwortham bypass, for which people have been hoping for 30 or 40 years, will be finished by 2019-20. That will take a great deal of pressure off the A59 and will be a key connecting route between the motorway and local roads—a welcome development.

The key piece of infrastructure that has not yet been built but would link all the roads in the city deal region is the proposed new Ribble bridge. The most westerly and most recent bridge over the Ribble was completed more than 30 years ago. It links what is now the city of Preston with access routes to Penwortham, Leyland and the villages of west Lancashire. It becomes extremely clogged up at rush hour, and there have been terrible congestion problems when accidents or breakdowns have occurred on the bridge itself. The city deal makes provision for scoping works for the bridge. Indeed, the infrastructure plan states that it will

“define the general alignment and connections to a new bridge crossing of the River Ribble linking with the Preston Western Distributor”.

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The local enterprise partnership’s report, “Lancashire as part of an Interconnected and Productive Northern Powerhouse”, envisages the bridge as the final link in the ring road.

There are compelling economic reasons for building the new bridge. It will complete the ring road and help to connect the two parts of the Lancashire enterprise zone at Samlesbury and Warton. It will pave the way for many more homes to be built. It is an important piece of infrastructure for not only the western part of Lancashire but the whole county and wider region. The “Central Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan” proposes that the bridge should be built post 2026, but that is another decade into the future and a good six or seven years after the Penwortham bypass will be finished. The delivery of the other road schemes has been accelerated through the city deal. Can the Minister say whether it is possible for the bridge to be assessed as a nationally significant infrastructure project and the build time brought forward from 2026?

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): It is no big secret that Lancashire County Council has upwards of £430 million in reserves. Does my hon. Friend agree that releasing some of those reserves would speed up the process and facilitate the bridge being built quicker?

Seema Kennedy: Lancashire County Council is aware of the great desire for the bridge in the area. I have been having ongoing discussions with the council, and that is one of the things about which I have spoken to its representatives.

The Ribble bridge is clearly a regionally significant piece of transport infrastructure. I shall now touch on a project that, although much smaller, would bring enormous benefits to two villages in my constituency, if it were completed. For those who do not know South Ribble, the western part of the constituency comprises the flood plain of the Ribble. Thirty-two per cent. of land in the constituency is grade 1 and 9% is grade 2 agricultural land, making it the seventh highest-ranked constituency in England in terms of the proportion of such land within its boundaries. Hundreds of people are involved in the vegetable and salad industry, which is growing and reckoned to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the area.

During the winter there is the traditional farming of brassicas and potatoes, as well as some salads under glass. Such work has been going on for centuries. The vegetables used to be carried on small wagons or tractors, but of course this growing industry is now year round. Foods such as prepared vegetables and stuffed mushrooms —hard-pressed Members of Parliament might be familiar with such comestibles—are assembled. Salads, which of course cannot be grown in our country during the winter, are imported from Spain and Portugal and brought to the pack houses, where they are packed for the British consumer. The two small villages of Tarleton and Hesketh Bank in my constituency are now overrun with gargantuan heavy goods vehicles from Spain and Portugal that bring salads to the growers and take the assembled bagged items to the supermarkets.

Supermarkets demand a 24-hour service, which means that the HGV drivers cannot avoid peak times such as rush hour or school runs. The main B road through the

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two villages sees domestic and commuter traffic competing with large tractors—they are much bigger than they used to be—and HGVs. Road surfaces and pavements are under constant stress. There have been several near misses in which HGVs have overturned. It is only by the grace of God that nobody has been killed in one of these accidents. The solution to the traffic tribulation in Tarleton and Hesketh Bank is the proposed Green Lane link, which would take traffic out of the main roads through the villages and on to the A59. The link is in the West Lancashire highways and transport masterplan.

At this point I should pay particular tribute to Tarleton and North Meols parish councils, which commissioned an excellent report outlining the safety and environmental benefits that the Green Lane link would bring to those villages. I am happy to provide a copy of the report to the Minister. I must also mention a tireless local champion of the link, County Councillor Malcolm Barron, who has assisted me greatly over the past two years in understanding not only the safety and environmental imperative for the link but its absolute economic necessity in supporting our local agricultural industry.

I want to speak briefly about rail links in Lancashire. The north-south links have improved greatly in the more than 20 years that I have regularly been using the line between Euston and Preston. There is one service that takes only two hours, compared with three hours in the early 1990s. I politely suggest to the Minister that Preston is the natural next staging point for HS2. We would be happy to begin the works in the north, rather than the south.

The Library briefing tells me that by 2033 the journey time should be a mere 77 minutes using HS2, which will be another boost for investment. However, before that can happen, Preston station, which currently has only six platforms, will need considerable modernisation and expansion. I will be grateful if the Minister can expand on any plans to do such work. Although north-south connections are improving, the links between Lancashire towns and Manchester are still poor.

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): The electrification of the rail line between Manchester and Preston is very welcome, but does my hon. Friend share my concerns about the one-year delay? The line is very congested at the moment, so we need additional carriages and services on the track over the coming year until the electrification process is finished and the upgrades are completed.

Seema Kennedy: I thank my hon. Friend, who is from Bolton in the real Lancashire—the extended Lancashire area—for that intervention. Many of us have spent a bone-shaking hour travelling from Preston to Manchester. I understand that there were complications in the tunnelling works at Farnworth. The sooner the situation is improved, the better.

Such rail links result in more people taking to their cars. The A59 used to be the main road between Liverpool and York. It is my constituency’s main artery. In days gone by, there were two branch lines—one from Preston to Southport, and the other from Preston to Ormskirk. The first line was sadly completely dismantled and built over, but the second is intact. I pay tribute to the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association for helping me with my research.

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At the moment, my constituents in Rufford and Croston who wish to carry on to Liverpool have to take a diesel train to Ormskirk and then get on an electric train to continue their journey because the line is broken. That train line also goes through the village of Midge Hall, whose station was closed in the 1960s. At Midge Hall, one witnesses a scene straight out of “Thomas the Tank Engine”: the driver gets off the train and exchanges a token to drive down the rest of the line. Although it is picturesque, it is inefficient, prolongs the journey time and persuades more of my constituents into their cars. There are compelling reasons to reopen the Midge Hall station. It is estimated that if it were reopened, 80% of Leyland residents—Leyland is a town that will expand as a result of the city deal—would be within walking distance of a railway station.

Although I have concentrated my comments on schemes in my constituency, they are relevant to the surrounding areas and the whole of Lancashire. Connectivity is crucial to the idea of the northern powerhouse—the notion that northern towns and cities can conglomerate to compete with London. If that is missing in Lancashire, we will be left out of what I believe can be a great northern renaissance.

4.43 pm

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) on securing this debate. I often travel through her constituency, paying particular attention to the speed cameras in Penwortham that regularly trap an awful lot of my constituents.

The hon. Lady and I represent the same corner of Lancs. I am tempted to call it a forgotten corner because its priorities are masked by the greater priorities of and the vocabulary surrounding the city regions—Manchester, Liverpool and so on, which are part of the northern powerhouse. Laudable though such a city-focused agenda is, it risks neglecting the periphery—the areas that are not plum centre in the city regions.

I question the use of the word “periphery” in referring to this area, particularly when it is applied to the hon. Lady’s constituency and mine. A recent report pointed out that, although there are a number of thriving city regions in Lancashire—the triangle of Manchester, Liverpool and Preston—their connectivity has an important missing piece, which is a good direct rail link between Preston and Liverpool. Such a link would go through Southport, of course. It is a relatively small part of Lancashire, and its omission is to be regretted. That certainly was not the case before Beeching.

Why has that area been omitted? I have an explanation, which I hope the Minister will take in the spirit in which it is intended. There are several transport authorities in the area. Manchester has a very big, powerful one—the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee; Liverpool has the Merseytravel Committee; and then there is Lancashire, which is the problem. It is a two-tier system, and Lancashire is a very diffuse authority—it is broken and fragmented with many priorities lying elsewhere—so things get strangely omitted.

Take, for example, the Burscough curves, which I have spoken about in Westminster Hall previously. Outside the hon. Lady’s constituency and mine, there are two stations in the thriving and expanding town of Burscough

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that are literally half a mile apart. They could be joined together by a piece of track, and there is certainly the capacity to do that. That proposal, which is supported by the Ormkirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association, the organisation that the hon. Lady said helped her prepare for the debate, would link Manchester with Wigan, Bolton and Preston, and connect the Merseyrail network to the wider rail network. It would be an easy, very quick win and could be funded from the tea money from Crossrail or another big project. If those stations were anywhere but that particular corner of the north west, it would have been done. Were they in London, it would have been done 50 or 60 years ago, but it has not happened. It is a project that could be completed for a very small sum of money. It is, incidentally, going to be looked into as a feasibility prospect by the new franchiser for the northern franchise, Arriva.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about connectivity in connection with the northern powerhouse, but my constituency is very unfortunate because it will lose a connection to Manchester airport and the south Manchester business district, where many of my constituents are employed; yet paradoxically we are in the city region. There is clear evidence that the city regions of Manchester and Liverpool will be worse connected. The bit that will be worst connected is the northernmost tip of the Merseyside city region. [Interruption.] The Minister is looking at his map carefully—it is Southport.

I have another example of how things can be overlooked. There was an electrification taskforce, which the Minister served very creditably and chaired. Using objective evidence, it came up with a number of proposals, and I was delighted to see that one of them was electrification of the Southport line. It is hard to fathom what will come out of that report. I am very unsure about what action will be taken on it.

Not a lot happens in that area, although there is a lot that could be done, which would benefit communities and be relatively low-cost, compared with some of the larger projects that seem to please the Government more. Part of the problem is that the boundaries of the various transport regions are not situated in a way that helps either the hon. Lady’s constituency or mine. We are at the intersection of a number of different transport authority areas. Part of the problem is that, particularly in Lancashire, we are grappling with a two-tier system. The priorities identified by the districts are not necessarily priorities for the transport authorities.

There is a forgotten Lancashire. This area is forgotten in the vocabulary and rhetoric surrounding the city regions. I suspect that there are forgotten areas of many counties right across the country. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to ensure that this forgotten area is forefront in the Minister’s mind, if only for the fleeting 10 minutes that he takes to reply.

4.49 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) on securing the debate. I have never been known to miss an opportunity to talk about

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transport in Lancashire and, if she set us all the challenge of how often we can use the phrase “northern powerhouse” in the course of the hour, I will try to beat her.

In recent weeks, I have had multiple calls to visit the constabulary headquarters in Preston, because I am on the police parliamentary scheme, and I am delighted to hear that Penwortham will get a bypass, because I have become acquainted with the long traffic jam that snakes through it at peak hours. I would be even more delighted about the Ribble bridge, if that ever comes about, because it would speed my journey still more. However, I am conscious of wanting to avoid, even if only for the Minister’s sake, my personal wish list for Blackpool—we have only 40 minutes until the end of the debate and that would not be long enough for me to go through every bus shelter, pothole and road improvement that can possibly be dreamed up.

The point I want to draw on was made by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh): Liverpool and Manchester are forging ahead, but I am not quite certain that Lancashire has yet seen the train arrive in the station, let alone boarded it or even known its destination. A fortnight ago, we received a glossy and colourful brochure from the county council. Such brochures always worry me, because the content rarely matches the presentation. It was the council’s transport infrastructure plan and full of wonderful projects, all of which I am sure are good in and of themselves, but I still cannot get to the bottom of how in Lancashire transport projects are assessed against each other—and I have been an MP for six years.

I have scoured the documents for benefit-cost ratios and I have submitted freedom of information requests to the local enterprise partnership, to the county council and, frankly, to anyone who moves and breathes in Lancashire, trying to work out how they assess the worthiness of all those competing projects. In six years, answer I have none. The Department for Transport has developed many tools that allow projects to be appraised, but Lancashire does not seem to be able to get its act together.

I recognise that benefit-cost ratios are not the answer to everything. We cannot compare the BCR for High Speed 2 with that for a local road in my area, but we can compare apples with apples. In a county with so many different road schemes, for example, it strikes me that the tool deployed by the county council is to listen to who is shouting loudest, and then to ensure that everyone gets something, just so no MP shouts too loudly when they deign to come down to Westminster to brief us. That, to me, is not a transport strategy, but a back-covering strategy, which does nothing for systematic economic development.

I urge the Minister to use his response to explain, if possible, how he sees the systematic appraisal of schemes flowing from Transport for the North down to that local level. The first ever oral question I asked as a Member of Parliament was when we were going to get something such as Transport for the North, so the Minister deserves great credit for bringing that organisation to fruition. It will make a positive difference, but it needs to exert pressure on that median level in Lancashire, when the projects to run with are being selected—frankly, they cannot all get prizes, so not everyone will get what they want. It should not be about who shouts loudest.

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John Pugh: I concur with the hon. Gentleman’s views about Transport for the North, but is not the danger that the best prepared local authorities—by that I mean Manchester and Liverpool—knowing what they are going to do, will have disproportionate influence compared with other areas?

Paul Maynard: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, because that is largely my point—Lancashire risks being left behind. Equally, the challenge of devolution is that the responsibility of local government in Lancashire is not to get left behind. It is hard for central Government to yank Lancashire into line; they need to enthuse and equip Lancashire, certainly, but the onus is on local government to ensure that it is playing its part.

I also want to touch briefly on another aspect of public transport infrastructure in Lancashire. The last time that I faced the Minister, it was on this point—I wanted to give him some good news for once, which is that thanks to his personal intervention, I suspect, Lancashire County Council performed a U-turn. My constituents who are residents of Cleveleys, who had lost their free access to the trams, have had it restored to them. Everyone in the Fylde is absolutely delighted. Now, of course, we have the bun fight about who claims the credit. I hope that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), will forgive me if I make a slightly partisan point, which I do not normally like to do in Westminster Hall, because it is often better to be edified here. It amuses me, however, to see the Labour party seeking to claim credit for the U-turn on a decision that it originally implemented.

Labour does not want to say that the price of the U-turn appears to have been a decimation of local bus services. My constituents might have had their NoWcard restored for use on the trams, but they do not have many buses left to get on. That is a real concern in Lancashire and, frankly, I am disappointed that more Members are not present to shout about it—not least because the county council itself does not seem to have a clue what is happening.

Every month, we get a helpful email with a little leaflet attached as a PDF document, announcing this month’s bus changes. It was a fascinating read this month, because it was saying, “We don’t really know what’s going on.” I read it and I had no idea what was going on; they have no idea what is going on. I have involved the county council’s chief executive. She has forwarded my email on somewhere deep into the bureaucracy of the county council and denies all knowledge of it—no one in Lancashire seems to have a clue about what is going on, least of all the date on which the precious NoWcard will be released to all my constituents. I urge the Minister to try and persuade Lancashire to ensure that we, the representatives of the people of Lancashire, understand exactly what buses will run on 1 April, because at the moment no one has a clue.

Finally, I re-emphasise that we could all come here with long lists of desirable transport projects. I am grateful that the A585 will be improved at some future date—I hope that 2019 will be the start date—and for some of the other investments, not least the electrification of the main line into Blackpool. I could spend a whole separate debate discussing rail services from Blackpool, but I will spare hon. Members. However, I also urge that when we are comparing apples with apples, the

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new, devolved transport authorities need to ensure that they present further information to allow us to compare the relative benefits of different projects, all of which are highly appealing, but need to be judged against each other, like for like. That would aid the decision-making process and might also help to clarify what exactly Lancashire thinks its economic strategy might be in the future.

4.57 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). She made a series of detailed points well, and I am sure that the Minister was listening closely. The hon. Lady also referred to city deals and, as a Member with a city deal in my part of the world, I cannot help but reflect that they are sometimes similar to the candyfloss that I used to buy on Blackpool seafront when I was at the Labour party conference—they look magnificent and sound wonderful, but a bit further down the line they can seem a touch insubstantial. That is a word of caution.

Seema Kennedy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for attending, because shadow Ministers do not always have to come to 60-minute debates. I appreciate that. As I said in my speech, however, in the first three years of the Lancashire city deal, substantial infrastructure projects have already taken place and are making a real on-the-ground difference to road times. So our city deal is going very well.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): I do not like to correct the hon. Lady, because she is rarely wrong, but shadow Ministers do have to attend 60-minute debates; they do not have to attend 30-minute debates. I just to ensure that we get that on the record. They may attend whatever debate they wish.

Daniel Zeichner: Thank you, Mr Pritchard. I am here very happily.

I have also listened closely to the other contributions to the debate, and I have consulted colleagues who know a little more about Lancashire than I do—I come from the east of England. I have heard worries from colleagues about cuts to bus services, as we have heard this afternoon, and about old recycled trains trundling along through east Lancashire. I must say that I have also heard talk of Chorley being given insufficient mention in transport plans, but my source will have to remain anonymous.

In January this year, the Lancashire enterprise partnership argued that connectivity, in Lancashire as elsewhere, is fundamental to maximising our growth potential. Sadly, however, Lancashire’s average economic performance is more than 20% below the national average, in terms of gross value added per resident. Clearly, in order to unlock and harness the economic power of Lancashire, we need far greater and more efficient delivery of promised projects to improve transport connectivity in the region than we have had so far—delivery, not just announcements.

The Secretary of State for Transport told us last week:

“I do not think I need to encourage the Chancellor on infrastructure spending. I have been incredibly successful in securing funding for infrastructure from the Chancellor, who certainly gets the importance

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of infrastructure investment, not least in the north. Indeed, it is his policy to pursue the northern powerhouse and to take forward transport for the north. That will have a transformative effect on transport between our northern cities and is something other parts of the country are looking to follow.”—[

Official Report

, 10 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 424.]

The rhetoric is good, but the record is not so good. Despite the claims, the Government have a poor record on transport infrastructure. In 2010, they cut a huge £4 billion from the strategic road network, which created major uncertainty and saw existing schemes scrapped and delayed. Road maintenance budgets have fallen in real terms and we discovered recently that the much vaunted permanent pothole fund is yet to fill a pothole. We have bus passes preserved, but in too many cases there are no buses on which to use them, and manifesto promises to electrify key rail lines have been broken. Those are hardly the actions of a Government that certainly gets the importance of infrastructure investment.

Indeed, Britain is lagging behind other countries when it comes to delivering major projects. Embarrassingly, we are now 28th in the World Economic Forum rankings for infrastructure quality. We should be trailblazing for transport infrastructure, not trailing behind. The Government’s sluggish delivery of infrastructure projects in Lancashire aptly illustrates that failure.

In December 2014, nine new schemes to improve major roads in the north-west were announced, worth around £800 million. However, just one of those schemes has an updated cost estimate and that cost is careering out of control. Latest estimates on the Highways England website suggest that the M6 junction 19 improvements will cost between £192 million and £274 million, but in the “Road investment strategy: investment plan”, they were estimated to cost between just £25 million and £50 million. That single scheme is now projected to cost ten times as much as initially predicted.

What of the other eight schemes? When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) asked a question last week requesting the latest cost estimates for schemes announced in 2014, the question—as so often—was ducked. Will the Minister give us an update on the delivery and projected cost of those schemes now? We worry that those announcements were little more than part of a pre-election stunt. Also, the numbers keep changing. A £15.2 billion road investment strategy was announced in December 2014, yet in the Office of Road and Rail’s first “Highways England Monitor”, a different figure of £11 billion emerged. We suggest that the Government have been announcing those road plans since July 2013 and we need some action to accompany the announcements.

Transport Focus has identified that, in the north-west, car and van drivers’ top priorities for major road improvements are improved quality of road surfaces, safer design and upkeep of roads and better management of roadworks. While in both 2013 and 2015 the Government committed £6 billion

“to resurface 80% of the SRN and keep our network in top condition”,

it was reported last month that Highways England will not meet that target. Will the Minister now tell us where the billions have vanished and which projects have had to be scrapped?

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On rail, too, Lancashire and the north-west is being let down. Labour supports the extension of high-speed rail services. The Secretary of State for Transport has said of HS2:

“When we start the service from Birmingham, it will be possible to link with conventional rail routes, rather as high-speed trains currently run from St Pancras to Ashford and then beyond. I hope that the northern parts of the United Kingdom will be served by HS2 straightaway.”—[Official Report, 28 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 394.]

Indeed, Lancashire local enterprise partnership is planning to modernise Preston station as part of its HS2 growth strategy in order to accommodate HS2 trains and to reduce journey times between Preston and London from the current 128 minutes to 77 minutes by 2033 after phase 2 of HS2 is complete, but, unfortunately, we are still waiting for Ministers to confirm the route and the station locations for HS2 north of Birmingham. We were told that the route for phase 2 of HS2 would be confirmed by the end of 2014, but the target has now been deferred for at least another two years. That lack of certainty is damaging for residents, damaging for potential investment and damaging for the Government’s credibility when they profess their commitment to HS2 in the north.

We are full of questions today and we have some more. How can Lancashire and other areas in the north-west plan to benefit from HS2 when its route and station locations have not yet been confirmed? Why has that confirmation been kicked into the long grass and why are the Government letting down the north by dragging their heels?

John Pugh: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that for many people who live in Lancashire—I know he does not, so he cannot be expected to know this—HS2 is a distant dream? The improvements they would most like are some easing in getting by train from, say, Preston to Liverpool, or anywhere in east Lancashire from the coast.

Daniel Zeichner: While I recognise that it may seem like a distant dream, as far as we are concerned it is certainly an improvement on the current situation and that is why we will continue to support it.

The Government also paused the trans-Pennine electrification last year; pausing seems to be a characteristic of this Government when what we actually need is fast-forward. Furthermore, after recommencing in September, completion of the whole Manchester to Leeds and York corridor was pushed back from 2019 to 2022. Transport infrastructure improvements in the north, including in Lancashire and the wider north-west, have too often been characterised by dithering and delay. There is still no official estimate of the cost of the trans-Pennine electrification outside of the initial funding commitment of £300 million and the £92 million that has been spent so far on contracts.

In addition to delays in infrastructural improvement, Lancashire has also suffered severe cuts to its funding from central Government. Lancashire County Council has had to reduce funding of bus services from £7 million to £2 million to make £85 million in budget savings next year. The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has already referred to bus issues, but I have said it before and I will say it again: the Government

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are devolving cuts, not power. They are putting local authorities in impossible positions and keeping their own hands clean.

Paul Maynard: As the shadow Front-Bench spokesman, might the hon. Gentleman be able to help me by encouraging his colleagues in Lancashire to explain to us what the £400 million in reserves at county hall are being kept back for? When it will rain to such an extent that we will need the rainy day fund? That is our key question to the Labour party.

Daniel Zeichner: Ah, reserves—they are always quoted on all sides as the answer to every question. Of course it is for every authority to decide responsibly how to use its resources appropriately, and I do not think that Government Members can really deny that there has been a squeeze on resources.

Lancashire County Council has said that in the next five years it will need to make savings of £262 million on top of those agreed in previous budgets. It describes that as

“an unprecedented financial challenge due to continued cuts in Government funding, rising costs and increasing demand for key services.”

It states that by April 2018 it will not have sufficient financial resources to meet its statutory obligations even if it does not deliver any of the non-statutory services.

In the comprehensive spending review, the Government announced a reduction of 24% in central Government funding for local government over the spending review period. The Local Government Association tells us:

“Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light, they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”

In conclusion, those cuts alongside the uncosted deferment of major transport infrastructure projects is preventing Lancashire—and other areas—from reaching its full potential. Lancashire is rightly ambitious to unlock the potential for economic growth, but that will happen only when the Government move from their current practice of recycling announcements and actually start to deliver.

5.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) on securing the debate? I will be replying as one of those rascally white rose-types just from the east, but we will move on from that.

I am sure everyone is aware that last week we saw the publication of “The Northern Transport Strategy: Spring 2016 Report”. The importance of the transport infrastructure of the north is therefore right at the front of our minds. We have been working closely with our partners at Transport for the North, and that is our first annual update of the northern transport strategy, which was originally set out a year ago.

The report outlines the significant progress that the Government and our partners have made in laying the foundation for transformative transport projects right

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across the north of England. It sets out the next steps for projects, which include major improvements to the north’s road networks, better connecting the northern regions by rail and enhancing the passenger experience of travelling across the north using smart and integrated ticketing technologies. This is therefore a proper milestone in the Government’s plans as we build for Britain’s future, making the biggest investment in transport infrastructure in generations, starting with that £13 billion committed for transport infrastructure in the north over this Parliament and then looking into the future with the work that Transport for the North is undertaking. All of that investment will help to create a northern powerhouse, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble explained, critical for rebalancing our country’s economy. It will enable the north to pool its strengths and become greater than the sum of its parts. We are working closely with Transport for the North to deliver improvements in the short term and are making progress on longer-term projects, all of which benefit the north as a whole.

There have been a number of questions from Members in the course of this debate. I am now surrounded by papers with the detailed answers. I will get to all of them, but I will first outline some of our thinking and the progress we have made. Following the extension of Transport for the North to include all the areas in the north, Lancashire has become an integral part of TfN and its importance to the northern powerhouse is fully recognised. The northern powerhouse without Lancashire is unimaginable.

Lancashire has a £25 billion economy—one of the largest in the north of England. It has more than 40,000 businesses employing more than 670,000 people. Its key strengths of advanced manufacturing, aerospace and automotive are well known, but it also has a strong tradition in energy, higher education, professional and business services and logistics. Lancashire also has Britain’s most famous and largest seaside resort, which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) frequently mentions, although he did not do so today. Lancashire’s four enterprise zones are also at the forefront of propelling Lancashire’s future growth as part of the northern powerhouse.

We cannot create the northern powerhouse unless we have good transport and connectivity at its heart; those are key to Lancashire’s future growth. The M6 and west coast main line are vital north-south arteries. The M65 and M55 support key growth corridors both east and west, and the proximity of the great northern conurbations of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool to much of Lancashire’s population mean that improved connectivity can further strengthen Lancashire’s growth. We have recognised the importance of Lancashire’s transport infrastructure and are investing in it on a scale not seen in that part of the world for some time.

On the strategic road network, we have delivered a number of key improvements, such as unblocking pinch points at junction 32 of the M6 and junction 1 of the M55, at the A585 at Windy Harbour and at junction 5 of the M65. Our road investment strategy includes a commitment to significant further investment on the A585 to improve connectivity to Fleetwood and the Hillhouse enterprise zone and to the construction of what is sometimes called the “missing” junction 2 on the M55 linking to the Preston western distributor

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road, which we are funding through the Preston city deal and the Lancashire growth deal. The route strategy process, which will inform RIS2—our second road investment strategy—will commence in the near future, enabling Highways England to work with local partners to determine future investment priorities for the strategic road network in Lancashire.

Many colleagues have mentioned rail, and it is therefore appropriate to highlight how we are significantly improving rail in Lancashire through investment. As of last year, electric services are operating between Preston and Liverpool, and we are currently upgrading the line between Preston and Manchester to deliver faster, more frequent and less crowded journeys for passengers by December 2017. We are building the foundations for better journeys across the north.

The Farnworth tunnel, which was mentioned earlier, is a significant project. Network Rail has enlarged the railway tunnel in order to accommodate the new wires that will soon be installed for electrification of the line. The tunnel boring machine used by Network Rail was made in Oldham and is larger than the machines used to build Crossrail. Around 120 people worked on the project 24/7, moving 30,000 tonnes of material from a 270-metre long tunnel. I wanted to go and see it, but I am afraid to say that the Secretary of State, who has an interest in tunnelling, decided that that would be his particular priority. That progress is a sign of our commitment to the people of the north. We are already well under way with works on the line from Manchester to Blackpool via Chorley, due to be completed to Preston in December 2017 and to Blackpool by spring 2018.

If I may, I will take a moment to update Members on an issue that is very important to me in transport: accessibility. At Leyland station, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble mentioned, we have spent £4.5 million—including more than £200,000 of third-party funding—to provide an accessible route into the station and to each platform with a new footbridge and three lifts. Network Rail started on site last summer and the work will complete in July. The footbridge is already in public use, while work continues to complete the new lifts. That will be a significant change for the people using the station. I have looked at pictures of the work in progress, and it looks fantastic.

At a local level, we have provided funding via the regional growth fund for Lancashire to reopen the Todmorden curve. The reinstatement of that 500-metre curve through local funding and the regional growth fund has enabled the reintroduction of direct rail services between Burnley and Manchester city centre for the first time in 40 years, significantly reducing journey times. I have checked the passenger usage, and we have already seen passenger numbers grow significantly as a result of that new service. We have also supported upgrades between Blackburn and Bolton, which will support more regular services to Greater Manchester.

John Pugh: I am interested in what the Minister says about the Todmorden curve, because it shows that small-scale curve reinstallation—as I outlined in the case of Burscough—can pay dividends. He mentioned his commitment to connectivity, which I think we all

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share. As part of that commitment, will he look into the mooted change to the Southport to Manchester line? Under those new arrangements, my residents will lose any chance of getting to south Manchester and the airport; we are actually losing connectivity, rather than gaining it. That has not been finally decided, but will he look into what is happening?

Andrew Jones: I will indeed look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises, as well as all other matters that colleagues have raised. I am aware of the issue of the Burscough curves because he has explained them to me on previous occasions. As a comparison, we used the local growth fund to reinstate the Halton curve elsewhere in the Liverpool city region, as he knows. That key project shows that where local areas prioritise, we are able to provide support. I simply urge the hon. Gentleman to ensure that his LEP continues to prioritise rail investment, including that particular project.

Lancashire will benefit significantly from our plans for HS2. Phase 2a to Crewe, which will bring the project forward by six years, will result in the benefits from classic compatible services arriving in Lancashire by 2027. The completion of phase 2 will bring journey times between London and Preston down from the current 128 minutes to 77 minutes by 2033. HS2 is not being delayed, as the shadow Minister said. We are doing all we can to accelerate HS2, and later this year we will announce the potential routes from Birmingham up into Manchester and Leeds. HS2 is a critical part of rebalancing our economy.

We are supporting a significant investment programme in Lancashire’s local transport infrastructure through the city deal process, which vitally puts Lancashire partners at the forefront of determining the transport investment that they need to grow and support the Lancashire economy. The Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire city deal, which is key to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, was signed in 2013 and is worth more than £430 million to the local economy. The road infrastructure that the deal will deliver, including the Preston western distributor and the Broughton bypass, will support significant housing growth and the advanced manufacturing enterprise zone and will make Preston one of the most commercially dynamic locations in the UK.

The Lancashire growth deal, signed in 2014, is supporting a truly significant investment programme, with a local growth fund of more than £250 million allocated to the LEP to deliver its programme. That programme includes 14 local transport schemes that will see new roads in and around Preston and to St Anne’s; key maintenance projects in Burnley and Blackpool; rail improvements in Blackburn; a new tramway in Blackpool; cycling networks in east Lancashire; and improvements to the M65 growth corridor.

We are funding schemes that have been on the waiting list for years. For example, work started in January on a bypass for Broughton after years of plans that had all come to nothing. Perhaps the best example is the Heysham link road, linking the port of Heysham to junction 34 of the M6 and providing congestion relief to the centre of Lancashire. After 60 years of waiting, it should open later this year, following £111 million of support from the Government towards the total £123 million cost. I hope that time allows me to mention the near £32 million

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that we have invested in the Pennine Reach bus scheme for east Lancashire, significantly improving east-west bus linkages in the area.

Looking ahead, Transport for Lancashire, on behalf of the LEP, has produced its strategic transport prospectus setting out the transport infrastructure that it believes is needed to deliver Lancashire’s potential. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys had some reservations about the nature of that document, and particularly its print type—it is a very glossy document—but I think we should welcome the idea that local areas are taking responsibility, showing aspiration for those areas and determining what they need. That is at the heart of what Transport for the North is all about.

The document helpfully sets out interventions that have a potentially pan-northern impact and are therefore of particular interest to Transport for the North, as well as key local schemes, such as the South Ribble crossing, which are vital to local growth. I urge Lancashire partners to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by Transport for the North, devolution and growth deals to move their proposals forward.

We are seeing a significant change in the way that we handle transport. My hon. Friend mentioned that he had called for Transport for the North a long time before it was actually created. We are seeing a partnership that has brought together 29 partners locally to determine what they think is required. Transport for the North will be running the franchises on our rail network in the north, in partnership with the Department for Transport. It is from the north, for the north. We will have better decisions when they are taken as near as possible to where a service is delivered. This is a significant development in transport. The Bill to put it on a statutory basis received Royal Assent at the end of January, and we are working towards Transport for the North being set up on a statutory basis within a year.

I have been asked many questions, which I shall try to answer as quickly as I can. Let me start with those asked my hon. Friend. How are schemes appraised? All schemes appraised and promoted by the LEP should be assessed in accordance with its assurance framework. That has to be WebTAG compliant and all results should be published—he is looking sceptical. If he would like any kind of technical briefing on the WebTAG process, I am happy for that to be arranged for him—he should just let me know afterwards.

My hon. Friend highlighted the importance of bus services, and I agree; bus services are critical for local areas. However, we have managed to retain the BSOG—the bus service operators grant—in the spending review programme, in recognition of the importance that we place on protecting buses. They are absolutely vital to our network.

I turn to the points raised the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh). I am aware that areas away from our core cities feel that they may get a slighter deal from Transport for the North and devolution. People in other parts of the north have raised that issue. I simply say that it has appointed an independent chair—independent from the local authorities—ex-CBI president, John Cridland. We have discussed this issue, and Transport for the North is acutely aware of it and is determined that it should not happen or even be seen to happen. The Government are giving it £50 million over the

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course of this Parliament so that it can do its job and work with all its partners, including Lancashire, to ensure that all projects are developed in an integrated manner.

Let me address some of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble. The development of the new South Ribble crossing project is certainly an issue for Lancashire County Council. It is a local scheme. The LEP’s strategic transport prospectus identifies it as a key project. The county council says that it is examining how it could be accelerated and funded. A £12 billion local growth fund was announced in the spending review, including £475 million for large local majors, and this is the sort of scheme that could be considered a large local major. I suggest that she picks that matter up on a local basis.

We recognise the importance of HS2. It is worth continuing to highlight how much people in the north, in my estimate—not everybody, but certainly the overwhelming majority—welcome the arrival of HS2 and are impatient for it to happen. I am sure that they are pleased that we will be able to take HS2 up to Crewe six years earlier than planned. That will speed up services to Lancashire sooner. The greater connectivity that it will provide, and the greater capacity that it will inject into our network will be a great help in allowing more services, and therefore, more benefits to flow from it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) mentioned additional carriages at Bolton. As I am sure he is aware, the rail franchises included significant upgrades to the rolling stock—both the TransPennine and Northern franchises—and our new franchises start only on the first of next month, so passengers will start to see the benefits flow through in the not-too-distant future.

I cannot ignore some of the questions from the shadow Minister. The new franchises that I just mentioned will deliver new-build trains—more than 500 carriages, in fact, across the north, and that will create room for 40,000 more passengers across the region as a whole.

Potholes were also mentioned, and I should highlight that we have announced a £6 billion fund for local road maintenance up to 2021. Allocations have been given to local councils. I have the information if colleagues wish to know the allocation for their particular area. The point is that we have been able to provide some clarity for the years ahead, so that local councils can plan appropriately.

If the shadow Minister does not mind me saying so, there was a slightly churlish element to his comments. The impatience for transport delivery is obviously fair—we are all impatient. I could perhaps highlight that, after 10 miles of electrification were delivered in 13 years of Labour government, all the good schemes that we have referred to have been welcomed in the north. We need to remember that many of the councils in the north are run by the Labour party, and what we hear locally from Labour and what we hear nationally from Labour are utterly disconnected.