All 42 Parliamentary debates on 21st Mar 2024

Thu 21st Mar 2024
Thu 21st Mar 2024
Thu 21st Mar 2024
Thu 21st Mar 2024
Thu 21st Mar 2024
Thu 21st Mar 2024

House of Commons

Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thursday 21 March 2024
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
King’s Speech (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That His Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 7th November, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer:
I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.

Oral Answers to Questions

Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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1. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of bus service levels in England.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of local bus services.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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9. What steps he is taking to improve bus services in Leeds.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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The Government continue to provide unprecedented investment into buses. Since the pandemic, we have announced more than £4.5 billion of support for bus services in England outside London, including £1 billion recently reallocated from HS2 to improve services in the north and the midlands through Network North. Bus passenger journeys in England increased by 19% to 3.4 billion in the year ending March 2023, and we are seeing patronage increase in some areas.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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It has been three years since the Government published their national bus strategy, but we are still waiting for the promised guidance on what constitutes “socially and economically necessary” bus services for which local authorities can provide subsidies. While we wait, people in Stapleton, in my constituency, are having to walk a mile to get to a bus stop to catch a bus to the city centre, because First Bus says it is not commercially profitable to run a service through Stapleton and there is no money to subsidise it. Last July, a Minister told me that guidance would be issued in this Parliament, which is clearly close to coming to an end. When will we see that guidance?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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We particularly want to try to assist the hon. Lady and her local authority with the finances. The West of England combined authority receives £1.1 million every year through the bus service operators grant to subsidise socially necessary bus services. It has also been allocated in excess of £1.2 billion in city region sustainable transport settlements 1 and 2 to deliver transport infrastructure, which includes the bus infrastructure the hon. Lady requires.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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As a regular bus user myself, I recognise it when people in rural Devon tell me that some buses fail to appear, meaning they miss connections with trains as a result. The services are well used by college students. Unreliable bus services not only affect the productivity of the college students, but of their parents who are then called upon to help the students make the journey to college, curtailing their working day. What can the Government do to encourage better co-ordination between rail and buses to get students to college on time?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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That depends on funding, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware because I raised it with him in his Adjournment debate on 19 December. Devon County Council has been awarded £17.4 million to deliver its bus service improvement plan, but there should be better integration between the providers, the local authority and the rail companies.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton
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Our bus services in Leeds have been unreliable for years, and yet the Leeds City Council Conservative group wanted more of the same and hoped the problem would just go away. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Labour’s West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, on taking the significant decision to bring our buses back into public control, so they can once again be run for people and not for profit?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I had the dubious honour of being praised as the hon. Gentleman’s favourite MP earlier this week—damned by faint praise. I would gently push back that the West Yorkshire Mayor is able to do that only because this Government have provided unprecedented funding of in excess of £2.1 billion in the devolved settlement under the city region sustainable transport settlement.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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Southend welcomes the £1 million of bus service improvement plan funding that has already enabled Conservative cabinet member Kevin Buck to reinstate the much-loved 25A route, but we need more. Will the Minister commit to come to my high-level bus summit on Monday, to listen to residents and see what more we can do?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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In the time-honoured tradition, I can only say yes to my hon. Friend. She is a doughty champion for Southend. I would be delighted to attend her bus summit, to speak to the relevant councillors and to explain how the bus service improvement plan and the bus service operators’ grant funding is transforming local bus provision.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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Never mess with busy mums and dads, not least because I am one and I know that the Minister is as well. Parents in Arlingham, Frampton, Elmore and Longney are really struggling with rural school bus transport. This is not all about money; it is about reliability, safety and fairness. Indeed, they feel that their children are discriminated against versus what children in towns and cities receive. Gloucestershire County Council is doing a lot. It is stretching itself, but we are really struggling to find solutions. Will the Minister meet me and Councillor Stephen Davies to see whether we can find solutions for our parents in the communities?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I would be delighted to do so. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend is standing up for her local community in this way. Clearly, it is a question of integrating the particular services, whether they are local or school provision, but it is definitely something that we can sort.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
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It was good to meet my hon. Friend the Minister and the residents of Fishburn in the Sedgefield constituency recently; and he then followed up with Arriva. Will he endorse my campaign to reconnect Fishburn, Trimdon and Sedgefield back with Newton Aycliffe and Darlington, which were cut off by the removal of the X21? Does he also agree that rural services to places such as these are the critical platform to enable opportunity to be spread and a key reason for the BSIP funding?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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It was a pleasure to attend the meeting at Fishburn Community Hall, meet the local residents and councillors, be offered a pancake on Shrove Tuesday and discuss bus services and bus funding. I have to say that there is no doubt whatever that the improvement of the X21, in particular taking residents and workers into Newton Aycliffe and Darlington, seems to be utterly sensible, and I will continue to support my hon. Friend’s campaign and meet again with Arriva to ensure that it happens for the people of Fishburn and Trimdon.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood (Wakefield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Good morning, Mr Speaker. Passenger watchdog Transport Focus published a report last week, which found huge regional variation in bus passenger satisfaction across the country, with large numbers of passengers “being let down”. Under the Tories’ deregulation of the bus sector, passenger satisfaction with some of our operators is miles below the average of 80%, with some as low as a dismal 66%. In places such as West Yorkshire, Labour Mayors are not standing for it any longer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) said, Tracy Brabin has announced her intention to pursue franchising to reverse decades of Tory decline. But the vast majority of local authorities do not have those powers, so will the Minister adopt Labour’s plan to give every local transport authority the same powers to take back control of their bus services?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was at the launch of the said report and have read it. He will be aware that, for example, one reason for the complications is that the number of people working from home has increased by 40%. We have a plan to tackle that with the record investment that is being made to Mayors. He talks about franchising, but it is also the case, without a shadow of a doubt, that he does not have a plan to finance it, particularly for rural local authorities. What is the case is that, when Labour organisations are challenged on this, they struggle to find out how they will deal with the funding. The truth is that there is no plan and they are not putting forward any funding. Individual people who attended that event were genuinely in shock at the shadow Secretary of State’s suggestion that Labour was going to do this, but was unsure about how it would fund it.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of seafarer welfare standards on P&O Ferries’ fleet.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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I wish to make it clear that the dismissal two years ago by P&O Ferries of nearly 800 seafarers without notice and without consultation was completely unacceptable, which is why this Government introduced a comprehensive package of measures to improve the welfare of seafarers and to stop the abuse.

On the specifics of the question, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency periodically inspects vessels that enter UK ports to assess their compliance with international standards, including those in the Maritime Labour Convention. We expect all operators to meet if not exceed those standards, and the UK continues to play a leading role internationally in driving up working conditions across the maritime sector. We are pleased that, just this weekend, P&O Ferries has committed to signing the Seafarers’ Charter along with four other operators. We will work with P&O Ferries to support it in its application for chartered status and assess its welfare standards against the charter’s requirements.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols
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Two years on from P&O Ferries’ shocking attack on seafarer jobs, trade union rights and employment law, the legal loophole that it used to escape criminal sanctions has still not been closed. The P&O seafarers were UK-based workers, but because P&O Ferries had flagged its ships out to Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas, P&O and, crucially, the Government knew that criminal sanctions, including fines for the offences that it committed, would not apply. Why have the Government not closed that loophole?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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As I said, the Government have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to stop the abuse of seafarers. In particular, we have introduced the Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023, which will come into force this summer and ensure the minimum wage for seafarers in the UK. We have the minimum wage corridor that is opening up this summer with France, ensuring the minimum wage across the channel, and we have the seafarers’ charter, which raises standards far higher. As I said, P&O and four other operators have applied to join it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
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Last Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of P&O Ferries illegally sacking 786 workers, but two years on nothing has changed. This week an investigation by ITV and The Guardian revealed that P&O Ferries is not only paying many of its workers less than half the minimum wage but forcing staff to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week for up to 17 weeks at a time. France’s maritime Minister has called that “dangerous” and “not moral”, and has changed the law to stop it happening. The Seafarers’ Wages Act will not curb that treatment, nor will the Government’s voluntary charter, so when will the Government act to prevent those exploitative practices from happening in our waters?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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The Government agree that seafarers should obviously not be working so hard that they are fatigued, that it is dangerous, and that operators have a duty to ensure that that is not the case. The Seafarers’ Wages Act is obviously primarily focused on wages, and will ensure that seafarers get paid the minimum wage within UK waters. One provision of the seafarers’ charter will ensure that the operators have rosters so that seafarers are not fatigued and overworked. The Department will monitor compliance and work with the operators to ensure that seafarers are not fatigued.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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Further to the points made by the Labour Front Bencher, it is just over two years since nearly 800 P&O workers were summarily sacked and thrown off ferries. We will finally debate the Government’s utterly supine and ineffective fire-and-rehire code of practice next week, but it is just over two months since the Government claimed that they were making substantial progress on implementing the nine-point plan for seafarer protections. The Seafarers’ Wages Act still has not come into force, alongside a toothless and voluntary seafarers’ charter, which will not change how P&O operates, even if it signs up to it. We all know that in this House, so is it not time that the Government took meaningful action and got behind our seafarers?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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The Seafarers’ Wages Act will come into force this summer. Unfortunately, it takes time to pass legislation, and we had to consult on it. No one wants it to come into force quicker than I. The claim that the seafarers’ charter will have no impact is completely untrue. The operators will have to abide by the terms of the charter, which will ensure that seafarers earn the minimum wage throughout their engagements, that they get overtime payments of at least 1.25 times the hourly rate, and that they have rosters that ensure that they are not fatigued and safety is not compromised. The Government will monitor the compliance of the operators with that charter.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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3. What steps he is taking to help local authorities improve local transport in the west midlands.

Mark Harper Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Mark Harper)
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In total, local transport authorities across the west midlands have been allocated around £5 billion to improve local transport services and infrastructure through the city region sustainable transport settlement, bus service improvement plan funding, and our recently announced local transport fund. One thing that would of course hugely help local transport in the west midlands is for voters in the combined authority to re-elect our fantastic Mayor, Andy Street.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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Hear, hear! The extension of the Birmingham to Lichfield line goes all the way to Burton and passes the National Memorial Arboretum. At the moment, the line is used only for freight, and I was told four years ago that the cost of upgrading it for passenger traffic would be only about £10 million, which is nothing in the great scheme of things. When will we see the line being completed so that people can go to the National Memorial Arboretum, which has half a million visitors a year, by rail instead of always having to use road?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I know that my hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of that scheme and takes every opportunity to raise it with us. It is for local authorities to promote schemes for transport in their areas. I am pleased to tell him that, following our decision to cancel the second phase of High Speed 2, we have been able to make significant funds available, so Staffordshire County Council—his local authority—will get just under £260 million from the local transport fund. I urge him to talk to the council to see if it can fund the very modest bid that he has just set out for that scheme.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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The tram system in the west midlands is not going according to plan unfortunately, and the rail line between Moor Street, Snowhill and Marylebone—the Chiltern line, as it is known—is underperforming and has become highly unreliable. The air quality in our area, including in Warwick and Leamington, Snowhill and elsewhere, is very poor because the service is diesel-run. Other countries, such as India, have electrified their main networks. Will the Minister electrify the Chiltern route using the budget freed up from HS2?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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There are significant plans to electrify across the network. Another thing we can do to spend money more cost-effectively is consider where battery trains can be used in order not to electrify the very expensive parts of the network. I am also aware that Chiltern is looking at modernising its rolling stock, particularly to improve air quality. All the things that the hon. Gentleman raises are absolutely in progress. The Rail Minister will be able to say more about them in due course.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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4. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of creating new direct ferry links to mainland Europe.

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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The UK ferry sector is a highly competitive commercial market. There are currently a significant number of links to Europe offering a variety of freight and passenger routes from many locations, including five new routes since 2021. Ferry routes are developed on a commercial basis by private sector operators to provide services that meet wider passenger or freight demands. As such, the Department does not currently intend to undertake any such assessment.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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The reinstatement of a direct ferry link from the Forth estuary into Europe addresses three key objectives: an environmental objective of reducing road congestion and carbon emissions from heavy goods vehicles; improving import-export resilience; and delivering economic opportunity to Scotland. Industry agrees and ferry operators stand ready to deliver a route, but the Scottish Government lack the courage to support Project Brave. What can be done to encourage the Scottish Government to invest a modest amount of pump-prime funding to realise the economic and environmental benefits that would be felt by all across the UK?

Anthony Browne Portrait Anthony Browne
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As I said in my initial answer, the UK Government see the ferry sector as a commercial market and do not subsidise it. As the hon. Gentleman points out, however, this is a devolved matter—in Scotland, ferries are the responsibility of the Scottish Government—so he should make his protestations about that route to the SNP Government, because it is up to them to decide what to do. I totally understand that they are slightly worried; they have an undistinguished track record on ferries, with various fiascos—maybe it is because they try to get ferries that can hold motorhomes.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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5. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of delays to planned rail reforms.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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15. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of delays to planned rail reforms.

Huw Merriman Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Huw Merriman)
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The recent National Audit Office report was clear that we expect to spend £400 million on rail reform up to the end of March 2024, compared with initial plans to spend £1.2 billion. The report was also clear that we are forecasting £2 billion of total savings over the current spending review period, which is 77% of our original savings target.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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It has been three years since we were told that Great British Railways would happen. In my reading of the NAO report, it says that the £1.5 billion of savings will not be met in time. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers says that another half billion could be achieved if we removed the profit motive from the railways, where a huge amount is wasted on shareholders. When will the Government progress on GBR and when will we get a date for its implementation? Is it not time for them to bite the bullet and renationalise our railways, as we have done successfully with several lines?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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At the heart of rail reform is integrating track and train. I am very pleased that the Transport Committee has taken on the role of being the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for the draft Rail Reform Bill, and is now scrutinising that legislation. The cut-off date for evidence is next Wednesday, if the hon. Gentleman would like to put his suggestions forward. I hope that the Committee will complete its report by July; the Government will have two months to respond to the recommendations, and if we have cross-party support for an integrated rail body that brings track and train together, I hope we will be able to bring in legislation to that effect, and improve rail services for everyone.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Huq
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High Speed 2, with its out-of-control costs, is compounding local misery, because it is now set to close the vital artery of Old Oak Common Lane for four to five years. We only know that because it leaked out, which shows the Government’s disregard for community and transparency. What assurances can the Minister give about funding for the Euston leg, so that the world-class interchange that we were promised does not end up being the terminus, and so that my long-suffering residents do not pay the price of Government project mismanagement by being hemmed in until 2030 because they cannot get on their one access road to the outside?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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An Old Oak Common terminus provides a great opportunity for regeneration in the area. I have visited a number of times, and I am committed to working with the community to minimise impacts. One of the ways that is being done is by ensuring that the spoil is removed by conveyor, rather than by lorry. We do seek to minimise the impact; we recognise that when new rail stations are built, there is an impact.

Turning to the hon. Lady’s concern about Euston, I have met our property developer partners Lendlease. Our aim is to deliver not just a station, but the largest public sector land deal in London, which will completely regenerate the area. It will deliver offices, jobs and homes, and will also provide the funding to deliver the station, not just for HS2 but for Network Rail. We are committed to ensuring that Network North delivers that station.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
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Earlier this month, the National Audit Office issued a damning report that made it clear that this Government’s refusal to bring forward long-delayed rail reforms is costing taxpayers dearly. Avanti West Coast made the amount of waste in our rail system crystal clear when it bragged about getting “free money” from Government, despite the truly shocking service that it delivers, so it should come as no surprise that yesterday, northern Mayors and council leaders unanimously called for Avanti to lose its contract due to its appalling service. The question for the Minister today is simple: will he strip Avanti of its contract—yes or no?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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No, we will not. The reason is that there are issues with the west coast main line that will remain, regardless of who the operator is. It is essential to get underneath the bonnet, look at the issues and fix them, rather than looking just at what is on the side of the car. To take just one four-week period from Christmas, 65% of the delays in that period were down not to the operator but Network Rail, and they involved weather-related issues as well as trespass and, sadly, suicides, which we need to minimise.

We also have issues with restrictive contracts, and I would like change there. For example, Avanti is unique as an operator, in the sense that its drivers will not double-trip. They will do one return journey, but will not go over the same leg of rail twice. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) asks whose fault that is. That contract was agreed in 1997, so maybe we know whose fault it was. That sums up this ludicrous situation: we are talking about a contract from 1997 that was due to end in five years, in 2002, yet that contract between the union and any operator remains. Until we can make progress on restrictive contracts, we will not be able to make changes. A Government cannot break the contract—it is between the operator and the union. I welcome the steps that Mick Lynch—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I do not mind having an Adjournment debate or statement on this subject if we need one—I am more than happy to allow one—but we cannot have it now; I have a bit to get through. But the Minister’s answer was excellent, I am sure. I call the SNP spokesman.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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I start by thanking Alex Hynes for having done a fantastic job running Scotland’s Railway for seven years. He is departing to become the director general of rail at the Department for Transport, where he will help steer rail reform. And what a job he has! As we have heard, the National Audit Office said that rail reform was not on track. Not only are there £1.5 billion a year in lost savings, but the Department has failed to make planned savings of £4.1 billion from workforce reforms and the establishment of Great British Railways. Cuts of £4.1 billion to the transport budget were nevertheless announced by the Chancellor two weeks ago. Does the Minister agree that his Government are unable to make savings, but all too willing to make cuts?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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No, I do not. I am delighted at the appointment of Alex Hynes, who will become a director general in the Department for Transport. He will put track and train together in the Department, and that departmental section will move out to Great British Railways once the legislation is put in place, so I do not agree at all. The appointment demonstrates that we are getting on with rail reform by appointing the right staff, and we have started on the legislative path.

Mr Speaker, I know I take too long at the Dispatch Box when I talk about the need to fix such contracts, but they are complicated. This session should not be about cheap soundbites; it does not work like that. It should be about getting into the detail. There are sticky contract provisions that the courts will not allow a Government or an operator to break unilaterally. I do wish this House would be a bit more intellectual in its approach to scrutiny.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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6. What steps he is taking to support active travel in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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This Government are investing more than any other in active travel. Around £15 million has been provided to Newcastle upon Tyne since 2020-21 to deliver high-quality infrastructure. That is supported by over £2 million of funding to Transport North East to improve capability across the region. Active Travel England supports local authorities in delivering maximum value for money by ensuring that schemes comply with the relevant guidance, and councils receive tailored support from the Government.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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Walking and cycling prevent 1,500 serious long-term health conditions on Tyneside every year, according to the walking and cycling index, and they bring in £400 million in economic benefits, so it is no wonder that half of Tynesiders want to walk or wheel more, and that two fifths want to cycle more, but if they are to do that, the streets need to be made safer. What is the Minister doing, apart from undermining low traffic neighbourhoods, to make our streets safer for walking, wheeling and cycling?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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With great respect to the hon. Lady, she knows full well that her council attempted to have an active travel scheme in Jesmond, and it so messed it up that it had to scrap the scheme. The LTN was scrapped, and there were 23,000 objections and a considerable waste of money. With due respect, active travel is doing a great job, and we support it, but councils have to take local communities with them.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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7. What steps he is taking to improve rail services.

Huw Merriman Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Huw Merriman)
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Officials and I are focusing on improving rail services in the short and long term. This week, I brought together representatives from across the rail industry for a leaders in rail session to discuss how, collectively, we can make changes to deliver a better passenger experience. Longer term, we remain committed to bringing track and train back together under Great British Railways, and to continuing to build on the £100 billion of investment since 2010.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Carshalton and Wallington is one of the poorer parts of London for connectivity. It was promised that the ultra low emission zone would bring additional public transport investment, but instead the 455 bus has been scrapped, the Go Sutton bus has been scrapped, the 410 bus service is being reduced, and the Superloop is just an existing bus route that has been rebranded. One thing that would improve connectivity is delivering on the Croydon area remodelling scheme that National Rail and Network Rail are working on to improve connectivity in London and the south-east. What discussions is the Department having with Network Rail about moving this project forward?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I thank my hon. Friend, who is an absolute champion of that project, and he makes his point clear. Upgrades made in the Gatwick area are already delivering significant improvements to the Brighton main line, and the industry continually reviews how best to respond to changes in demand. I understand that my hon. Friend has been in discussions with the operator on the options for increasing capacity on busy weekend services between Carshalton and London Victoria, and that Govia Thameslink Railway will shortly respond to him directly. I will continue to work with him on the enhancement project that he champions.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, who has a nice side hustle as the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), once said:

“The full delivery of HS2’s Eastern Leg is what the East Midlands needs to support and create highly skilled jobs, link communities to opportunities and decarbonise our transport network.”

As he failed to persuade the Prime Minister, who cancelled that vital investment in our region’s rail services, can the Minister tell me how we will now deliver the transformative change to our connectivity, sustainability, job creation, productivity and social mobility that HS2 promised? Filling a few potholes will not cut it.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I certainly look forward to the day when my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) is also an excellent East Midlands Mayor, and we are devolving more powers to the east midlands to help him with that task. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) references HS2 moneys, from which more than a £1 billion will be allocated to the Mayor of the East Midlands to spend on the transport projects that he and, indeed, the hon. Lady may want. That allows us to devolve more projects to the local area, and we have been absolutely clear that all the moneys that have been saved as a result of the HS2 cancellation will be reinvested primarily in the north and the midlands.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con)
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The recent Budget contains welcome additional funding for east-west rail. What are the Minister’s intentions for that additional funding? May I suggest that he work with the Bletchley towns fund board, of which I am a member, on using the money to provide an additional eastern entrance to Bletchley station, which will improve accessibility and enhance regeneration?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I am happy to work with the Chair of the Select Committee, and I thank him for the evidence session we had on east-west rail. It was also brilliant to go to the Winslow and Calvert area to see that final link put in place. The first phase of east-west rail is ready for opening next year. Winslow station is looking absolutely superb, and I am so excited to see rail services come back there. On the second phase from Bletchley to Bedford, as he rightly says, money has been allocated from the last Budget to deliver that. I am certainly happy to meet him and the Bletchley team to see what more they can do to enhance the station for both the first and second phases.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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Wandsworth Town and Battersea Park stations in my constituency will soon be made fully accessible, thanks to the Access for All funding. Queenstown Road has been nominated for the next round of funding, but a decision has still not been made. Can the Minister tell the House when the Department plans to announce which stations have been successful in control period 7? Will they include Queenstown Road in my Battersea constituency?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I am delighted by the progress that the hon. Lady mentions, and she is right about that third station. I will meet officials, so that I can write to her with the details. I am keen to work with her local authority to see how we can use regeneration moneys to achieve that end. As for building on the 240 Access for All step-free access stations that we have, we will make decisions shortly. We have been through 300 brilliant applications, and we are shortlisting them for delivery. I will happily write to her to ensure that she has the detail about her projects.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Sir Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
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Long before I was elected, it had been identified that in the east direction, the Leeds to Selby railway line had only a footbridge, which restricted access for so many people. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the construction taking place on the Access for All bridge in Garforth? It shows that Conservative MPs working with Conservative Governments improve rail services for all constituents.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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My right hon. Friend is spot on, as always. I thank him for his work, because ultimately that project would not have got off the ground without the campaigning and partnership that he provided. It just shows that a superb MP working in the community, and the Access for All stations fund, which has delivered 240 projects and will deliver more, is a winning partnership.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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Passengers in my constituency of Edinburgh West face consistently overcrowded trains from ScotRail, which was taken into public ownership by the Scottish Government in 2022; an unreliable service from Avanti; and now a staggering pilot from London North Eastern Railway, in which east coast main line prices from Waverley to King’s Cross will increase by 123% in some cases. Does the Minister agree that that is not providing a good service to the people of Edinburgh, or those anywhere else on that line? It is the wrong move when we are trying to encourage more people on to the railways.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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The trial with LNER tries to give passengers greater flexibility. They can now get on a train 70 minutes either side of the one that they booked, rather than just the one fixed train. Only 11% of fares are impacted in that trial, and 55% are better value than before. Working with our partners at LNER, we are trying to flatten out demand, rather than having crowded trains followed by quieter trains. We hope to change the number of passengers on trains, which would make for a better service overall. I will happily write to the hon. Lady, because I believe that the trial has great merits. We sometimes have to be bold and try fares and ticketing reform. If we do not, we will never change the system that many criticise for being too complex.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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Thanks to the support and determination of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, we will see a train station and the return of passenger train services to Aldridge for the first time in 65 years, which is something many people thought would never happen. The service will start at Walsall, but now that we have the west midlands rail hub, will my hon. Friend agree to continue to work with me and others to secure a service to London?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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Yes indeed. Thanks to our great West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, we now have the midlands rail hub, which will better connect more than 50 stations across the midlands. My right hon. Friend has championed Aldridge station for many years, and it is now being delivered. As she said, the service to Walsall will open, and it will have a car park as well as a platform service. I am committed to working with her to extend that reach even further. I congratulate her on delivering that station.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
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The Minister will have seen reports this week that 3,000 jobs are at risk at Alstom rail factory in Derby. The Government told us that they were doing everything in their power to prevent those job losses, but they appear to be failing. It gets worse: this morning, I received correspondence from Hitachi Rail, warning that despite years of representation to Ministers, no solution has been found that will keep its order books full and safeguard the future of 700 staff at its factory in Newton Aycliffe. The Secretary of State has it in his power to vary contracts and commission the necessary orders. When will he do that and protect those jobs?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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The Secretary of State has led for the Department on the response to Hitachi and Alstom, and their understandable concerns about orders. As I have said, we have a challenge, in that while fleet can last from 35 to 40 years, the average age of our fleet is under 17 years. We have modernised 8,000 out of our 15,500 carriages, and as a result there is a lag with the order book. We are doing everything we can to work with all four train manufacturers to bring more tenders through. Those will be for the TransPennine Express, Northern, Southeastern and, as the Secretary of State mentioned, Chiltern Railways. The work to find a resolution is done in partnership between train manufacturers, the Secretary of State and the Department, and we hope to find that resolution.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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10. Whether he has made a recent assessment of the potential merits of dualling the North Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester.

Huw Merriman Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Huw Merriman)
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I recognise my right hon. Friend’s long-standing campaign on this scheme; she has worked alongside stakeholders including the North Cotswold Line Task Force. We continue to work with local stakeholders on their aspirations for enhancements to the line.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin
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I thank the team of Ministers for the £209 million that has been allocated to Worcestershire County Council from HS2 money, to help with local transport improvements. Will the Minister endorse a project in which we work with Oxfordshire County Council to find ways to redouble sections of the Oxford to Worcester line? That will result in faster, more frequent and more reliable services on the beautiful north Cotswold line.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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As my right hon. Friend mentions, additional funding through Network North will help. Network Rail has been working with the taskforce and its consultants on timetable capacity and analysis, to see whether there is a smarter way to deliver additional services, with fewer infrastructure interventions. We expect that work to complete next month. I would be delighted if my right hon. Friend would join me and leaders of Worcestershire and Oxfordshire County Councils, and her neighbouring MP, to discuss this matter in the coming weeks.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)
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12. What steps he is taking to improve transport connectivity in cities in the north of England.

Mark Harper Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Mark Harper)
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Network North announced £19.8 billion of investment in the north of England, including £2.5 billion for the local transport fund, and is increasing the city region sustainable transport settlements to £12.4 billion from 2027. My hon. Friend’s local authority, Lancashire County Council, will receive nearly £500 million from the local transport fund, an additional £7 million for the bus service improvement plan, and an uplift of £244.5 million for road resurfacing.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher
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To truly build our northern powerhouse and contribute to economic growth, direct connections between cities such as Liverpool and Preston are really important. Does the Secretary of State agree that taking out the buffers at Ormskirk, which were put in for purely administrative reasons in the 1960s and prevent direct trains, is a great idea and that such services would be further enabled by battery technology? Does he agree that that would enhance the case for stopping the nonsense at Midge Hall station, which was closed by Beeching in the ’60s, where passenger trains stop but passengers can only peer out at the platform because they cannot get on or off?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I am sure that my hon. Friend is glad to have your endorsement for her question, Mr Speaker. The Government believe that local authorities are best placed to promote and take forward those schemes and, as I said, the local transport fund in the north will mean that £2.5 billion will be available for them. I encourage her to work with stakeholders such as Lancashire County Council. I had the pleasure of discussing a number of those local schemes when I recently met its leadership on a visit to Preston.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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When I have been contacted by constituents excited by the news of the local transport fund, I have asked my local council officers when we can begin some of these projects, but they have been told by Department for Transport civil servants that the bulk of the money will not come until the end of the decade. When will we have some timelines for the delivery of that money? I do not want my constituents to have their expectations raised unreasonably.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman’s local authority will get £168 million. We have been clear that that money will come over a seven-year period, and we will shortly publish guidance for the local authority on how it can go about that. I hope he will be pleased to know that we will make it clear to local councils that when they put their plans together, Members of Parliament should be involved in developing schemes so that he and other hon. Members can represent their constituents and their local transport priorities.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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If the Secretary of State wants to improve connectivity between our great northern cities, he might want to start by repairing the roads. The backlog of local road repairs has gone up by 16% this year alone to £16.3 billion. The Network North announcement is spread over 11 years, and its average annual contribution accounts for only a third of the £2.3 billion annual increase in the backlog. That is not all going to roads anyway, and it will go nowhere near addressing the damage done since 2016, when the Government slashed the road repair budget in half. When will the Secretary of State apologise to road users for the damage that his Government have caused and admit that they have failed to repair the potholes?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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What the hon. Gentleman says is interesting. We made a commitment to take the money from the cancellation of the second phase of High Speed 2 to make £8.3 billion available for local road maintenance—[Interruption.] Yes, it is over 11 years, but we made the first tranche of money available this financial year, and again next financial year. We will set out the allocations in due course. That money is available only because we made the decision to cancel the second phase of HS2. Labour cannot give a straight answer on that question, and it has not committed to spending that £8.3 billion at all. Drivers know that they will only get that investment with a Conservative Government.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Mark Harper Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Mark Harper)
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We are getting on with delivering the plan for drivers, with new statutory guidance requiring local support for low-traffic neighbourhoods and strengthened guidance supporting 20 mph limits where they make sense—not in blanket measures, as in Wales. If councils do not listen, they could see their future funding affected. We are consulting on removing the profit motive from council traffic enforcement while speeding up traffic lights across the country.

As I just said, that follows our record funding increase for improving our roads, with £8.3 billion of reallocated HS2 funding—something that Opposition Members have refused to support. There is nothing wrong with driving, and the plan for drivers, which was dismissed as nonsense by the shadow Secretary of State, shows that only the Government are on the side of drivers.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I thank the Minister for buses, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), for sharing with me the list of actions he managed to elicit from north-east bus operators following my debate on real-time bus information. However, no dates were given. This afternoon, our fantastic candidate for North East Mayor, Kim McGuinness, is launching her vision for transport in the north-east. Can the Minister confirm that those actions will be fulfilled to enable her to deliver on her commitment to real-time bus information as soon as possible?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Lady that within a week of her debate in Westminster Hall, my hon. Friend the Minister for buses made sure that those meetings took place, so the actions that are necessary are under way. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to update her on the specific timeline in due course.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West)  (Con)
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T2. The Rail Minister is well aware that Network Rail continues to let down disabled residents and visitors and families at Chalkwell station by repeatedly failing to install the much-needed disabled lift. This is the seventh time I have raised this issue in this place. Two years ago, I was promised that the lift would be installed this year. I have now been told it will not even be started until next year. This is a disgrace. What can the Minister do to accelerate this project and address this poor performance?

Huw Merriman Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Huw Merriman)
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There was a retendering at Chalkwell, and Network Rail found that the existing structures would not be suitable to deliver the project as it stood. The design work is going on right now and building will happen next year. My hon. Friend is right that the delay is not acceptable. I will meet her at Chalkwell station and bring the Network Rail team along so that we can talk her through the project and its challenges and, if we can, show how we will speed it up.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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If the Secretary of State is not spouting conspiracy theories, he is exuding incompetence. Ashford authorities warned Parliament that 14 hours of queues were a “reasonable worst case” scenario with the implementation of the EU entry/exit system this autumn. Why has he failed to adequately prepare for the queues at our ports and airports?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I just do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. We are working very hard with colleagues across Government. I recently had a very good meeting with colleagues at the port of Dover, and we meet with other operators. There are very good plans in place, work is proceeding at pace, and I am confident that the EES will go very smoothly when introduced. The plans are in place and work is under way.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Mark Eastwood—not here. I call Neale Hanvey.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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T5. I thank the Secretary of State and the Rail Minister for their support for my campaign to deliver a direct train service between Cleethorpes and King’s Cross. Will the Rail Minister give an update on when the service is likely to start?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I thank my hon. Friend. He has been a champion not only for Cleethorpes’ direct rail service, but for the east coast main line timetable change that was announced in the Budget. We are now going through the stages with those who use the lines to ensure we do not have any timetabling issues like those that arose in May 2018. I hope we will come to a position on this in some weeks and that I can give him more detail, but I very much hope to see those direct services to Cleethorpes. This timetable change was designed to bring in great improvements such as the one he has championed.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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T9. Three years ago, levelling-up funding for the upgrade of the B714 in my constituency was announced. So far no funds have been forthcoming. If and when the funding is finally allocated, what support can the Secretary of State provide to help ensure that this funding is sufficient to fulfil the upgrade, given that the cost of labour and materials are now much higher than they were three years ago?

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Guy Opperman)
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That is a matter for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I will take it up with the Department and make sure that it writes to the hon. Lady.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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T6. Residents in Harrogate and Knaresborough often face train cancellations, sometimes at very short notice, causing much frustration and inconvenience. A shortage of drivers and train crew is often the cause of the cancellations, and I have raised that with the train companies involved. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that vacancies are filled and operational training is prioritised?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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That is a challenge. The shortage of crew is largely down to sickness, the level of which is about 8.5%, which is too high. We are working with the operator to ensure that it is working on that, and with the northern rail partnership, to ensure there is more resilience on that line. The training backlog needs to be cleared, working in co-operation with the unions rather than them going on strike. We should be able to ease that backlog and get a better service for my hon. Friend and his constituents.

Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
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Last week, the Prime Minister failed to provide my constituents with any assurance about proposals for a train station in the Somerton and Langport area, but he did state that money was available to invest in local transport across the country. Will my constituents see that money? Once again, when will the Langport Transport Group hear back regarding its strategic business case, which it submitted almost two years ago?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I will happily write to the hon. Lady and the Langport Transport Group so that they have a response, if they feel that that is outstanding. The Prime Minister has committed to ensure that the Network North money made available from the cancellation of High Speed 2 is spent where HS2 would have been delivered. That mostly includes the north and the midlands, but there will be other projects in the rest of the country through the recycling of the funding from Euston.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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T7. The Secretary of State is well aware of the A12 widening scheme, and the concerns of my constituents about the route and design. They are trying to engage with the Department and National Highways, but a one-person legal challenge is putting the entire project at risk, despite the Government’s financial investment. Will the Secretary of State assure me that those communities will be consulted and engaged with despite the legal challenge, so that we can make progress?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I assure my right hon. Friend that National Highways works closely with local communities when delivering major projects, and it will continue to do so on the A12 widening scheme. My Department is committed to delivering the scheme, and granted consent for it on 12 January but, as she said, it is subject to an application for judicial review. I therefore cannot add anything further, but I will continue to work with her local residents. If at any time she wants to raise issues with the scheme with me, I will be delighted to meet her.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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I thank Ministers for facilitating discussions with the operators of the search and rescue helicopter service based in my constituency about the proposed response times. They have been fairly productive so far, and we will see what the outcome is. It is apparent already that the decisions are made solely on the basis of the number of calls and not the nature of the work undertaken. If the contract conforms to that, can we ensure that future contracts do not leave us exposed in that way?

Anthony Browne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Anthony Browne)
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I know how important the helicopter search and rescue services are in Orkney and Shetland. The right hon. Gentleman has been a big campaigner for them, and has asked various questions and secured various debates on the matter. A review is going on about the recent incident data which will report in the summer, and we expect to publish it by the end of the year. That should include the answers to his questions. We are investing more than £1 billion in the new search and rescue service. The number of bases will go from 10 to 12 overall, and there will be no closure of bases and no change to services in Orkney and Shetland before October 2026.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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T8. As my hon. Friend will know, I have serious reservations about the proposed lower Thames crossing and its ability to tackle congestion at the existing Dartford crossing. Many of the arguments were rehearsed as part of the development consent order process, which completed on 20 December. As I understand it, the Planning Inspectorate has three months from then to come up with a recommendation, which by my calculation was yesterday. Can my hon. Friend update the House on whether he has received a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate and what the process will be, so that I can ensure that the Department understands why many of my constituents and I do not believe that the proposed crossing is the answer to the problem?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend is right in his estimation of the dates. A decision will be made in a matter of months, and certainly by the summer. I am very happy to sit down and have a discussion. I will be visiting the site very shortly.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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People across Chesterfield were delighted when the long-standing campaign for the Staveley regeneration route was given the thumbs up by the Government, but were then sent into despair when Derbyshire County Council said it did not have the funds to provide its small contribution towards it. Will the Secretary of State update us on whether it will be delivered? What concerns does he have about the fact that the poverty of local government sometimes gets in the way of money that his Department has allocated?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I have looked into this particular scheme and met other colleagues in the House about it. I will write to the hon. Gentleman in detail. I am sure we can continue with the project.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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My constituents and businesses face an additional tax to cross the River Tamar to our main city and beyond. Taking over such key pieces of infrastructure and funding them through tax measures which they already pay would create a level economic playing field and help level up my part of the country. Will the Minister at least give a contribution towards the maintenance of these facilities, so this tax does not go up again?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend raised this issue with the Prime Minister only yesterday; she is a fantastic campaigner on issues relating to the Tamar bridge. I accept entirely that the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry joint committee has recently looked at the situation. An application is being considered by the Transport Secretary, and I am happy to meet her again to discuss it further.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Is the Secretary of State aware that the UK used to be one of the safest countries in the world, along with Sweden, in terms of road accidents? He has campaigned with the Prime Minister to help the driver, but drivers are killing more vulnerable road users and passengers than for a very long time. Is it not time that this Government took road safety and the health and welfare of pedestrians and vulnerable road users more seriously?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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I will say two things. First, on Monday we announced a further £35 million for our safer roads fund. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman’s general point simply is not right. I think I am right in saying that out of 38 comparable countries, we are fifth best in the world. We have a very good road safety record and, actually, that position is maintained. We focus on road safety in everything we do, particularly for vulnerable road users. That is at the heart of all our policymaking.

Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
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The A338/A346, which runs north-south through Marlborough, is regularly choked nose to tail with heavy goods traffic. The villages of the Ogbournes and the Collingbournes are particularly affected, including Collingbourne Ducis, where a little girl was killed three years ago by a heavy goods vehicle. That traffic should really be on the A34 and the A36 to the east and the west. We have been waiting many months now for the results of the north-south connectivity review. Will the Minister tell us when that will happen, so that we can have a better system for managing heavy goods traffic through Wiltshire?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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As my hon. Friend knows, I grew up in Wexcombe and I know that particular area of Collingbourne very well. I pass on my condolences to the individual family. He knows that there are powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I will write to him in detail with the powers that local authorities have to address that particular point. On the specifics of the review, that will be contained in road investment strategy 3, which will be published very shortly.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I listened to the Minister’s response earlier, on why Avanti should continue to provide rail services. It sounded like he was reading from one of its press releases. The litany of excuses was very long, blaming everyone but itself. When will he listen to the leaders of the north? When will he listen to the people of the north and get rid of Avanti?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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The point I was making is that if the operator changes, the contracts between operator and the unions will remain unless the unions are willing to release. There cannot be a unilateral change. The courts would not allow it. As I say, that was put in place in 1997. It was supposed to end in 2002, but continued. It is now, effectively, a part of a term and condition. A change of operator will not make any difference to that. I do listen to those in the north and I am delighted that I will be listening to the leader of ASLEF, because he has agreed to sit down with me so we can discuss those terms. I hope I can work with all Members of the House to make that happen.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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My Highways Act 1980 (Amendment) Bill, which is due to have its Second Reading tomorrow, would make it easier for motorists to make claims against local authorities for damage caused to their cars by neglect of road maintenance and by potholes. Why are the Government not supporting my Bill?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I shall be the duty Minister tomorrow, and I look forward to dealing with this matter.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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The Government have been promising action on pavement parking for a decade, but despite a consultation in 2020, we are still no further forward. Will the Minister finally listen to disabled people, parents, children and local councils who overwhelmingly support a ban, and act to curb this dangerous problem?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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That particular issue is on my desk, and we are considering it at present. I can assure the hon. Lady that the results of the consultation will be published in the summer.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
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For nearly half a century the people of Romford, and those of wider Essex and east London, have been waiting for the Gallows Corner A12/A127 junction to be reconstructed. Is it not time we had some investment for the people of Romford? It seems to go everywhere else; let us have some in the London borough of Havering, please.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are passionately committed to improving the A12. Only recently it was the subject of litigation brought by one individual. I will happily sit down with my hon. Friend, who for many a year has been a doughty campaigner for Romford. I entirely agree with him that this needs to be addressed.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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Sadly, Marks & Spencer announced yesterday that it would be closing its store in Doncaster, but would be expanding its operation to a retail outlet where there is free parking. Will the Secretary of State come to Doncaster to see how poor planning in connection with pedestrianisation, cycle lanes and expensive parking is driving customers out of Doncaster and turning my city into a ghost town? Hopefully, with his help we can reverse this trend.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend recently, engage with him and deal with the individual points that he raised, but I would be happy to sit down and talk to him again. It seems to me that there is a way forward with buses and other forms of transport to help local residents to travel to the shopping centre that he has mentioned: surely the integrated, multimodal approach is the way ahead.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
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Following many conversations and much engagement, the Secretary of State and the Ministers are well aware that companies in the railway rolling stock supply chain, such as Hitachi Newton Aycliffe, face significant short-term challenges. Next year we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first passenger railway in the world, which runs past a Hitachi factory. Can the Secretary of State update me on what he is doing to ensure that companies such as Hitachi have a long-term future in the UK to build the next generation of north-east trains?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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My hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner for his constituents. He has already raised this issue with me on a number of occasions, and I am glad that he has raised it again.

I have had frequent meetings with Hitachi’s management in both the UK and Japan, and we are working very hard to deal with the situation. Hitachi’s HS2 order was confirmed on the original terms, and I am working with its representatives. The Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), recently published the details of the future rolling stock that is in the pipeline, and Hitachi is very competitively placed to win orders for much of that. I hope we will be able to reach a successful conclusion in the very near future.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we come to business questions, I have to inform the House that there is an error in the Future Business section of the Order Paper. The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, introduced by the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), should appear as the first item of business tomorrow. It has been corrected in the online version, and will appear correctly on tomorrow’s Order Paper.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you, and indeed the Clerks, for your speedy action in resolving this? The test of an organisation is not whether mistakes happen—they do— but how quickly they are corrected. I hope that your statement will also make clear to Members who were thinking of attending tomorrow that my Bill will be No. 1 on the Order Paper, and that they will be here to speed it on its way to the statute book.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I think we have just had the plug and the advertisement.

Business of the House

Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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10:39
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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To ask the Leader of the House if she will give us the forthcoming business.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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The business for the week commencing 25 March will include:

Monday 25 March—Remaining stages of the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the appointment of an acting parliamentary and health service ombudsman.

Tuesday 26 March—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a motion relating to the national policy statement for national networks.

The House will rise for the Easter recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 26 March and return on Monday 15 April.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 April includes:

Monday 15 April—Consideration of a Lords message to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, followed by debate on a motion on hospice funding. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 16 April—Second Reading of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

Wednesday 17 April—If necessary, consideration of a Lords message to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 18 April—Debate on a motion on access to redress schemes, followed by debate on a motion on the covid-19 pandemic response and trends in excess deaths. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 April—Private Members’ Bills.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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First, may I congratulate Vaughan Gething on his election as First Minister of Wales? Vaughan has made history as the first black leader of any European country, which is something I am sure the whole House can be proud of—we certainly are.

Following my question last week, it is good to see that the Tobacco and Vapes Bill has now been timetabled, although it looks like the Government will be relying on our votes to pass their flagship Bill. I also welcome the Football Governance Bill finally being published, but when will we get its Second Reading?

This could have been our last business questions before a general election in May, but the Prime Minister bottled it. He may hope that going later increases his chances, but he has quickly found out that he has made things worse. He is being buffeted by events rather than being in control of them, with more division, more chatter and his authority ebbing away day after day. The many resets are not working. The public are just sick to death of Tory chaos. No wonder we are rising early for Easter.

The House of Commons guide to procedure states that the Government should reply to the recommendations in a Select Committee report within two months, so where is the Leader of the House’s response to the Procedure Committee’s report on the accountability of Secretaries of State in the Lords? It was published over two months ago, and she has repeatedly told us that she would reply to it. When will she bring forward the motion? Just this week, the Foreign Office had to be dragged to Parliament again to discuss the horrific situation in Gaza and Rafah. It is not on. She said she wanted the views of the Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee first. However, I understand that she has still not contacted it. Has she?

Let us address the elephant in the room. There is an unusual level of interest in today’s business questions, following the swirling rumours and speculation. Thousands of column inches have been written about the unfolding drama. Will she, won’t she? When will it come to a head? Yet the Leader of the House has remained tight-lipped, ducking the question, but now we have the answer. The Rwanda ping-pong will not take place until after Easter. If it is such an emergency, why has the Leader of the House yet again delayed programming this legislation? She delayed Committee stage over Christmas because of disquiet among Conservative Members, and now she has pushed back further Lords amendments until after Easter.

I know the Leader of the House will want to blame the Lords, but it is her timetable and it keeps getting stretched. Is it because the costs just keep going up and up, and the scheme is unworkable? On top of the £500 million price tag for the 300 people the Home Office intends to send to Rwanda, the National Audit Office’s damning report, published yesterday, adds to the Department’s woes. Not only is the Home Office spending £8 million a day on hotels; it has wasted tens of millions of pounds on new sites to house asylum seekers that will never be used. The truth is that if the Government were ready to implement the scheme, we would see the Bill back here next week. This is their timetable and their delay—no one else’s.

I know the Leader of the House will be quick to herald this week’s inflation figures as some kind of proof that the Government’s plan is working. [Interruption.] I knew that would get a cheer, but she might be less keen to highlight the ever rising housing costs that are not included in those figures. Rents are up 9% in the last year, and mortgage rates are still crippling homeowners. That is why, for the first time on record, living standards have fallen in this Parliament.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), claimed this morning that the cost of living crisis is over. The Government are so out of touch that it is embarrassing, so can I ask about their plans for the economy? They say they want to scrap national insurance altogether, and the Chancellor floated another two-point cut yesterday, but who is going to pay for this £46 billion unfunded promise? Will it be pensioners or the health service? People deserve to know.

The last time the Conservatives embarked on such a huge unfunded tax cut, they crashed the economy and had to get rid of their Prime Minister. I know that many Conservative Members are now actively discussing wielding the sword and a coronation, both of which the Leader of the House is accustomed to, but I have previously heard her in these sessions pay rather fulsome, sometimes slightly over-the-top, personal tribute to the Prime Minister. Given that so many are losing faith, I thought she might want to take this opportunity to give us another gushing homage. Anything less might be misinterpreted. Last time she described him as a “signpost” but, deep down, she knows that the only direction he points towards is crushing defeat.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I have briefly emerged from under the hairdryer and put down my Take a Break magazine, and not only found my way to the Chamber this morning but remembered on which side I am supposed to sit, to be present and correct for business questions, which is quite a feat if media reports are to be believed.

I am buoyed by what the hon. Lady has said. After all, we have seen inflation fall to 3.4% this week. Real wages are rising, we have positive growth, household energy bills will fall by £250 a year in a couple of weeks’ time, average disposable incomes are growing and we have signed the accession treaty to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which will create a huge number of high-wage jobs. It is confirmation that the plan is working when, on Thursdays, the Opposition focus not on these real-world facts but on the Westminster rumour vortex.

I will address the hon. Lady’s points in turn. First, I join her in congratulating Vaughan Gething. I wish him well in his new post.

I am glad that the Opposition welcome the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the Football Governance Bill, and I look forward to their support and involvement. I am still in time to respond to the Procedure Committee’s report on the Foreign Secretary’s accountability to this House, on which their lordships will deliberate.

The hon. Lady brought up Rwanda, and I wish to clarify that I have no wish to blame their lordships for the delay to that Bill. I make it clear that I wish to blame Labour Lords for the delay. For all Labour’s talk of being tough on borders, it has voted against our plans 111 times, and it has voted against our measures to stop the boats 98 times. Despite its tough talk on crime, Labour has voted against our plans for tougher sentences and new police powers.

This week we have learned that, despite all the armed forces frottage coming from Labour Front Benchers, they are planning an EU defence pact at a time when all efforts should be with NATO, which has standards and clear and agreed principles about what it will do and under what circumstances, and it has been busy—Ukraine, Kosovo, Iraq, support for the African Union, Baltic air policing, Aegean maritime security, Operation Sea Guardian, a standing naval force and, of course, disaster relief. In contrast, since its creation in 2007, the EU battle group, which has no such agreed threshold for deployment, has never got out the door.

There could be no greater metaphor to illustrate the differing approaches between our two parties: Labour is all talk, including 126 minutes on ferrets last week, whereas we offer practical action. It is virtue signalling over there versus results over here. It is unfunded policies over there versus costed proposals over here. It is no plan versus a plan that is working. To borrow from the Opposition’s new-found heroine, Margaret Thatcher: if you want something saying, wait long enough and Labour will say it. If you want something doing, vote Conservative.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the vice-Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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As the House may be aware, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is not able to be here because his daughter-in-law is seriously ill in hospital, and it is right that he is by her side at this time. I am sure the whole House will wish her a speedy recovery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.]

On behalf of the Committee, let me say that our debates in the Chamber are now full until 9 May, provided we are allocated the time by the Leader of the House. Equally, we are full in Westminster Hall until 2 May—obviously, we will have control of that time. So all those who wish to get applications in before the summer recess should do so quickly, as the Committee has been working overtime to process these applications.

The shocking rise in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred has been well publicised, but what has not been is the anti-Hindu hatred occurring on our campuses and across our country. I have the honour of chairing the all-party group on British Hindus and it has recently published a report on that hatred, on which action is clearly required all round. So will my right hon. Friend allow time in the Chamber for a debate on hatred of British Hindus and enable us to celebrate the contribution they make to this country? Given that it is Holi on Tuesday, will she also join me in wishing all Hindus “Holi hai!”?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, may I, on behalf of all of us in this place, send our good wishes to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and his family at this time? I thank my hon. Friend for stepping in for him and assisting Members with an advert for future business from the Backbench Business Committee.

On the all-party group’s report on anti-Hindu hatred, I will make sure that the relevant Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend has said today. I know that he has been campaigning on this matter for some time and that he will have listened to what the Minister for Equalities said about it at Women and Equalities questions yesterday.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokes- person.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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May I associate myself with the remarks about the new Welsh First Minister and pass on my best wishes to former First Minister Mark Drakeford?

Of course, we are grateful to the Leader of the House for making time in her hectic schedule to pop along to the House of Commons today; all that leadership plotting and scheming does not just happen by itself—she has been a busy bee. We can only pray that we are nearing the season finale of this endless Tory soap opera, but her leadership campaign has not stopped her coming here today so that she can ignore our questions in person. Every Thursday, she displays some essential qualities to be the next Tory Prime Minister. For a start, she regards questions as a bit of a nuisance, something to be avoided at all costs. They get in the way of her important work recording all those YouTube videos about Willy Wonka, escaped monkeys or whatever. If Members do not take my word for it, they can check Hansard.

The Leader of the House was right to say last week that I had not sent her through details of my many unanswered questions—there are just so many to compile. However, I am happy to offer a few reminders now. We have had no answer on whether Baroness Michelle Mone is a paid-up member of the Tory party, as she herself claims; we have had no answer on the startling increase in child poverty in England—the Leader of the House is far too busy to deal with those distractions; and we still have no idea how much taxpayers’ money was wasted on her Government’s initial “State of the Union” report to the UK Cabinet, which was written at the height of the pandemic and was still kept firmly under wraps until we got some insights at the covid inquiry. The report is still for strictly for Tory eyes only; even now, Scots are not allowed to know the costs or decisions taken to stifle our democracy.

But with the revelation that 80% of young Scots said that they want independence, it is no surprise that the Cabinet panicked and swung into fervent Union-Jackery action. So will the Leader of the House take a moment from her busy campaign diary to answer these questions— I make no apology for asking them again: how much taxpayers’ money was spent on that “State of the Union” paper? What was the strategy the Cabinet was asked to endorse? And when can we see the paper in full? Perhaps we could have a statement from the relevant Minister, if she does not have those answers to hand.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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Before I get to the specifics of what she raises, I have noticed a consistent hostility and unpleasantness in the hon. Lady’s questions to me. This has been going on for some time—weeks, in fact. I am getting the impression that the hon. Lady does not like me, perhaps even hates me; her followers on social media certainly do. There are patronising undertones in what she says. I believe she is saying that I am deficient in my abilities to answer her questions, perhaps because I am a woman. I feel very intimidated, upset and deeply, deeply hurt. As well as noting her questions, I have been sitting on the Front Bench filling in a hate-related report form, which my officials have kindly placed in my folder. I will have one ready for every single SNP colleague who gets to their feet. If I sent the form to the Scottish police they would be obliged to investigate, increasing the growing number of reasons why they are struggling to attend burglaries. I sincerely hope that the SNP’s new hate crime laws do not have a chilling effect on our exchanges.

I am not sure the hon. Lady has understood the purpose of business questions. The questions that she has asked should be directed to Departments, such as the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. She can ask these questions of me and I can write to those Departments for her, but she could also cut out the middleman and write to the Departments herself. I look forward to receiving her list of questions— I think it is now two months overdue. I will farm them out to the relevant Government Departments and ask them to respond to the hon. Lady.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I wish to raise two brief things. First, the Leader of the House will soon see the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report on women’s state pension age and its findings on “injustice” and associated issues. The report is about the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) who campaigned with me on these issues and saw various Secretaries of State. Will the Leader of the House say how the Government intend the House to respond to the reference to Parliament considering the recommended remedy? It is not a massive remedy, but it is an important one.

Secondly, the Leader of the House may have heard me question the Prime Minister yesterday about planning and building over prime agricultural fields. Yesterday afternoon, Arun District Council planning committee considered an application. All the members of the committee looked as though they were going to turn it down, until the planning officer said the costs of an appeal by the developer were more than the Council could afford. All the members of the committee, except for the Conservatives and one Liberal, then voted to leave it to the council planning officers to make the decision.

Can we have a debate on intimidation on costs by developers that make district and borough councils feel they have to approve something or allow something to go through that should be opposed? Will the Leader of the House join me in recommending the council calls in the proposal and, if it does not, the Secretary of State does?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the Father of the House for his questions. I know the Department for Work and Pensions will want to consider today’s announcement about WASPI women. This is a concern among Members across the House, and I am sure the Minister will want to update the House at the earliest opportunity. They will want time to consider what has been said today, but I hope that an update will be given to colleagues before recess.

On planning, the Father of the House raises a worrying concern. I am sure the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be concerned to hear that people are not shouldering the responsibilities to which they were elected. I will ensure he has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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This week, I was astonished and appalled to find that Moat housing association, in my constituency, is increasing rent and maintenance service charges in affordable accommodation to an exorbitant amount. Something needs to be done about that, because the increase to rent is over 9% and the increase to the maintenance service charge is a whopping 50%. Those rises are due to start in April, so there is a level of urgency. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities looks into this case, so that residents do not fall into in-work poverty and they are not priced out of the area? The housing association must deal with them efficiently and fairly, and keep to the formula initially given to residents to calculate such increases.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about that situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency and will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State hears what she has said today. I hope also that the organisation she refers to has heard her words and can come to some accommodation with its residents.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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May we have a debate on improving access to GP appointments? In the north-central London area, the number of appointments in GP practices per month is now 680,000—50,000 up on last year—which is a huge improvement, but a debate would give us an opportunity to discuss how Pharmacy First can enable people to get treatment from their pharmacist, freeing up more GP appointments for patients with more complex conditions.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. General practices are now delivering 20% more appointments than they were pre-pandemic, and more than 33 million appointments were carried out in January of this year alone. We have also brought in, as she rightly points out, Pharmacy First. I think that this has been well received in our communities, but of course there is always more we can do to publicise these new services, which are available to everyone in our community. The next Health and Social Care questions are not until after Easter, so I will ensure that the Department has heard what she has said.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Is the Leader of the House aware that the biggest killer of children and young people worldwide is being involved in a crash on a road? Can we have an early debate to talk about how, globally, we do something vigorously to cut this back? I have the privilege of being the chair of the Independent Council for Road Safety International. Car accidents kill so many children worldwide. They are all avoidable deaths. Can we have a debate that focuses on this?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I did know that, because I have heard the hon. Gentleman campaign on the issue many times, and I thank him for it. As well as improvements that we can make in the UK, the UK plays a huge role in helping other nations get better at road safety, and I thank him for highlighting that fact today. He knows how to apply for a debate.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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Following the introduction of the very welcome Football Governance Bill, may we have a debate in Government time on the future of rugby union and how we ensure that professional rugby in England is effectively regulated and supported? Clubs such as Worcester Warriors deserve their chance to come back into professional rugby, but with no certainty about the shape of next year’s championship and a clash between the law of administration and the Rugby Football Union’s definition of rugby creditors, it is hard for investors to plan with any certainty. A century on from when rugby was invented in the west midlands, is it not a matter of concern that there might be no top- flight professional club in the west midlands area?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. I am glad that he welcomes the Football Governance Bill. He will also know that the Government appointed independent advisers last year to work on the future stability of rugby union. We will continue to work with the rugby authorities, including the Rugby Football Union, premiership rugby and Sport England, to support rugby in all its forms. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his particular concerns in this regard, and he knows how to apply for a debate.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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The UK Government recently awarded councils in England emergency funding of £700 million, much of which was in response to the crisis facing social care. The Scottish Government received consequential funding on top of the normal block grant as a result. However, Scottish councils are still facing budget issues in this area. Yesterday, my own council in Edinburgh had to agree to close two care homes, reduce packages and cut some funding by 10%. May we have a statement from the Treasury, or perhaps the Scotland Office, on how it could be made easier for Scottish councils to apply directly for this emergency funding—[Interruption.]

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
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Perhaps I should borrow one of the Leader of the House’s hate forms.

As I was saying, may we have a statement on how Scottish councils can apply directly when this fund is made available, rather than continue to wait for the Scottish Government to act?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady makes several very good points. The devolved Administrations continue to receive about 20% more funding per head than the UK Government spend on the same things in England, and there are many examples of the Scottish Government hanging on to those funds and not passing them on to councils or passing relief on to businesses, for example, which is very disappointing. She makes an interesting suggestion, and I will ensure that both the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have heard her words.

Geoffrey Cox Portrait Sir Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
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Just five years ago, the gates of Appledore shipyard closed. It was a picture of dereliction; its workforce dispersed to the four winds. But now it has experienced a glorious revival. It has several hundred employees and 45 apprentices, having been taken over by Harland & Wolff. A similar picture of prosperity and thriving is taking place in Belfast today. May we have a debate on the revival of English shipbuilding and shipbuilding in Northern Ireland, which has been presided over by this Government’s maritime shipbuilding strategy?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I could tell by the sounds of approval running across the whole House that were my right hon. and learned Friend to apply for a debate, it would be very well attended. This is something that I am very passionate about, and I am pleased to have worked with Appledore, and Harland & Wolff in Northern Ireland, and every shipyard around the UK, including the Scottish maritime cluster, to ensure that we can build some new ships and smooth out the fallow periods in those shipyards. This is an excellent topic for a debate, and I encourage him to apply for one.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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Could the Leader of the House ask one of her ministerial friends to come to the House before recess to give us a report on the civil service pay negotiations? A recent independent report by Queen Mary University found that civil service pay had fallen by 1.5% every year since 2011. As the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office admitted before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Government are now becoming a minimum wage employer. That has resulted in the Public and Commercial Services Union balloting after Easter for industrial action. The union is simply asking for a pay award to match inflation and some restoration on lost pay. If we could have a ministerial statement we might be able to avert this decline in industrial relations within the civil service.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will certainly ensure that the Cabinet Office has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, although I do not think it was correct. In Departments that I have been in, where we have encountered low pay, or pay that is not above the national living wage, we have increased it—most notably, in my case, ensuring that no member of our armed forces or civilian who works in defence is earning less than that.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Following a fire in a council-owned property last summer, Barnet Council commissioned an independent investigation to assess whether there were any other similar properties in the borough with the same fire defects. The investigation has identified 153 council-owned properties, seven leasehold properties, and 426 freehold properties that had been sold by the council under right to buy. They are all affected by the same conditions, and 459 of them are in my constituency in the ward of Burnt Oak. They now constitute a category 1 hazard as defined by the Housing Act 2004, and the works to redress the issues are expected to cost £23,000 per house. Can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and advise the House on what assistance the Government will provide, particularly to leaseholders who purchased their properties when those buildings were compliant with building regulations but now find themselves in an awkward and difficult financial situation?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he is doing on behalf of his constituents on this matter. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is aware of the action that Barnet Council is taking, and continues to engage closely with it on the next steps following the fire that he refers to. DLUHC officials are seeking further information from Barnet Council regarding the nature of the risks that have been identified to understand whether its response is proportionate to the risks presented in low-rise stock. The Building Safety Regulator is also aware, keeping the situation under review and ensuring that what is being done is in line with its statutory responsibilities. He will know that unsafe cladding has been a priority for the Government, and we are investing £5.1 billion to fund the cost of remedying it, which is five times what the Opposition promised in their fire safety package at the last election.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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Queer theory extremism is having a pernicious impact on equality, rights, education, health and criminal justice. On April fools’ day, the Scottish Government’s illiberal hate crime legislation will come into effect, exerting a chilling effect on political discourse and severely limiting fundamental freedoms in a way that is hardly imaginable. Given that an incoming Labour Administration is likely to replicate the dangerous policies being pursued by the SNP in Scotland and by Labour in Wales, will the Leader of the House bring forward an open debate on the matter?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier comments. He makes a good point. Of course, we have always updated legislation to ensure that particular groups are protected and, where real harm is done to individuals, action can be taken. However, we must also ensure that free speech is protected. That is vital for a functioning society, it is vital for us to make progress as a society, and it is vital for humanity. This is critical stuff, and I thank him for raising it.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
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The Leader of the House should know that there has been a shocking increase in crime in Greater London. In my own borough of Havering there was recently a stabbing in the Brewery shopping centre. Local people are afraid to go into the town centre, particularly in the evenings. Under Mayor Khan, we have seen a massive increase in crime. We do not get the police cover that we need. Being on the outskirts of Greater London, and traditionally a part of Essex, we are treated very differently. Will she bring forward a debate in Government time to discuss crime across Greater London, particularly in areas such as Romford and Havering, which are being fleeced? We are paying for police cover that we are not getting.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend raises an important matter. Across the country as a whole, the police have done an amazing job on roughly the same resource—if we strip out online fraud, they have halved crime, which is a huge achievement. However, there are parts of the country where that is not happening. He mentions London, but the west midlands is another such area. I know that west midlands Mayor Andy Street is very concerned about this matter. Every time we hear about the Met, the Mayor of London is nowhere to be seen. The budget has been mismanaged—there is an enormous black hole in it—and police officers in London do not feel that they are supported in doing their difficult job. The rise in violent crime in particular—knife and other crime—is shocking. There is an imminent solution so that Londoners can get a better deal: vote the current London Mayor out of office.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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Service charges are an industrial-scale scandal, lumbering homeowners with unaffordable bills. Constituents in Battersea have raised concerns about unregulated, uncapped and exponential service charge increases, and they have also been hit by the Tory mortgage bombshell. In 14 years, the Government have failed to take action to tackle this unregulated system. Will they make a statement on the service charge scandal, and what action will they finally take?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I hope that the hon. Lady has raised that matter with the relevant Department. The next DLUHC questions will be on 22 April. I understand from the opening remarks of her question that it relates to particular accommodation suppliers rather than to utility companies and other standing charges, so I encourage her to raise any particular issues with those organisations.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to allow Shropshire MPs to point out that, contrary to disingenuous Lib Dem leaflets, it is the Conservative Government who are taking action to clean up our rivers, to help consumers buy British produce from our farmers, and to bring down the cost of living by supporting the vulnerable, raising the state pension next month by double the current rate of inflation and cutting taxes for those in work?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In addition to all the progress that has been made on increasing monitoring of storm overflows—which was just 7% when we came to office, and is now 100%—a huge amount of infrastructure work is being done across the country to ensure that we can reduce those storm overflows when they happen, and that sewage is not released into our seas or waterways. On 12 March, Water UK published its storm overflow action plan dash- board for all overflows in England. I encourage people to go online and look at that: they can see the work that has been done, as well as future work, and the date by which it has been done. Massive progress has been made.

I agree with the other points that my right hon. Friend has made. We are supporting farmers across the whole of the UK, particularly the Conservatives in Wales, who are fighting Labour’s plans to make farmers’ lives harder. I thank my right hon. Friend for all he is doing on all fronts; he will know how to secure a debate on all those issues if he so wishes.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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May I come back to the question of the ombudsman’s report on WASPI women? I understand what the Leader of the House has said about the Secretary of State’s wanting time to read the report, but he must have known for some time that it was coming, and millions of women have been waiting to hear the Government’s response. The ombudsman itself has said that

“DWP has…failed to offer any apology or explanation for its failings”.

That is why we need the Secretary of State to come before the House. The ombudsman has indicated that it has taken the extraordinary step of bringing the report to Parliament’s attention because it realises its importance and urgency, so will the Leader of the House suggest to the Secretary of State that it might be a good idea for him to come to the Chamber tomorrow and give a statement about what he intends to do about the report?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I hope I gave the impression in my earlier answer that I think the Minister will want to come to the Dispatch Box—this is an important matter. I hope we will be able to do that before recess. The House will not be as well attended tomorrow as it might be next week. I hope that is satisfactory for hon. Members, and I will ensure that the Minister has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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Yet again, we have a bank closure in my constituency: Lloyds Bank is closing in the centre of Cleethorpes. We have had some success in Barton-upon-Humber, where we have established a banking hub, but there is always a gap between the initial closure and alternative facilities being provided. Can the Leader of the House find time for a statement or a debate on how to ensure face-to-face contact between customer and provider, not only in banking but in public services?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, I congratulate my hon. Friend—who has raised this matter many times—on what he has done to secure that banking hub and ensure his constituents have access to those services. I would hope that the banking community in his area would ensure that there is no gap, and that his residents and business customers can have face-to-face access to the banking support they need. My office stands ready to assist him in trying to make that happen.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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Lots of us, myself included, have constituents who are worried sick about their friends or family who are caught up in the conflict in Gaza. Can a Minister come to the House urgently for a debate or statement on the need for a more widely drawn family reunion or humanitarian visa process for people who are fleeing the violence in Israel and Gaza?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I hope he is in touch with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s consular services, which are working very hard with other Government Departments to ensure that anyone who needs assistance has it. If the hon. Gentleman has any difficulty in accessing those services, my office will assist.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting my debate on hospices, scheduled for 15 April.

For many years, Darlington suffered from under-investment, but the last four years have seen £23.3 million delivered from the towns fund, £139 million invested in our train station, £35 million invested in our rail heritage quarter, £14 million invested in a vaccine library and £14 million to develop a hydrogen engine, while the Chancellor announced a further £20 million for Darlington under the long-term plan for towns. To add to that, the Darlington economic campus has delivered 750 jobs and is contributing over £80 million per year to our local economy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is Conservatives, such as me and Ben Houchen, who are delivering for the Tees Valley? Does she share my concern about last week’s report on projects being delayed, and my suspicion that Labour councillors are putting the brakes on projects? Can we have a debate on the massive success that Tees Valley Tories have delivered for Teesside?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate on hospices, which I am sure will be extremely well attended.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the progress that has been made. I congratulate him on securing so much for his local area, and he is right. I think the employment rate in Teesside is 3% higher than in comparable areas, which is a massive achievement. I do hope that his Labour council will get on with these levelling-up projects. I understand that the planning process is bogged down, and they have not been able to get planning under way yet, which is very disappointing for his constituents. I would urge him to carry on, and ensure that these projects, for which he has secured funding, come to fruition.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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World Parkinson’s Day is on 11 April, and this year’s theme—there is not one face of Parkinson’s—reflects the fact that there are 40 symptoms for this disease and every Parkinson’s journey is different. With a postcode lottery for access to the right healthcare and insufficient targeted financial support for people with the condition, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how the Government can best support each unique Parkinson’s journey?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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On behalf of the whole House, I thank the hon. Lady for raising awareness of that upcoming event. I ask all hon. Members to raise awareness not only of the symptoms of the condition but of the support available, so that people have good care and money goes into research. I hope all hon. Members will take part. The hon. Lady knows how to secure a debate on the issue, and I will ensure that the Secretary of State hears of her interest.

Ian Liddell-Grainger Portrait Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con)
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May we have a debate in Government time about a company called Decharge, whose rural site at Greenway, Uplowman, will be getting 330,000 cubic metres of rubbish, rubble and so on? What annoys people most is that the local council, run by the Liberal Democrats, will not scrutinise this properly. They have just stuck their heads in the sand like ostriches. The chairman of the scrutiny committee should spend less time working under the leader and a little more time not shedding crocodile tears but actually doing some work. We in this House all know what a privilege it is to represent people—it is a privilege we all hold dear—but it is up to local councils to stand up for local people when lorries are going to be thundering down rural lanes and disrupting the way of life of rural people. Enough is enough: let us have a debate to sort this out.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend is extremely consistent in his criticism of his local authority. I am sorry to hear about the situation, and I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up has heard his concerns. I know my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner, and if anyone can ensure that the impact of the proposal is alleviated for residents, it is he.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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Following the catastrophic kamikaze Budget of 16 months ago, the public are extremely concerned about the promise trailed by the Government about cuts to national insurance, with a £46 billion implication. Will the Leader of the House either allow a debate or tell us now whether that will be done by increasing income tax, by further cuts to our public services or by increasing Government debt?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman will know that was not a policy announcement in the Budget. The Budget was costed, it is independently audited and there is a clear scorecard of which the House will be aware. In stark contrast, Labour has kept a policy to spend an additional £28 billion without keeping the pledge of having that £28 billion, which is illogical. I am sure an official from the Treasury can sit down with the hon. Gentleman and talk him through all this.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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All loss of life in conflict in Israel, Gaza or elsewhere is a tragedy. It is very important that the UK Government are working with the right figures, for aid purposes and many other reasons. On that point, has my right hon. Friend seen that a leading academic statistician from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has calculated that the Hamas casualty figures are statistically impossible and obviously fraudulent? That should not be a surprise, coming from a terrorist organisation, but Government and Opposition Front Benchers seem to be relying on them. Can we have a debate in those circumstances on the accuracy of statistics used by His Majesty’s Government?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. He should be reassured that those figures from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, are only one data point that we use to assess the scale of the conflict and its implications for civilians. We need to ensure that we have the most accurate data, and we are collecting that from satellite imagery of building damage, information from our humanitarian partners on the ground and robust data on living conditions. Those are all fed into our assessment. It is a tragedy that is unfolding, and that is why we want to see a pause in fighting to get that aid in and to get hostages out.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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China is increasing its carbon dioxide emissions by more than the UK’s total emissions every year of this decade. China, Russia, India and others are opening new coal-fired power stations on an almost daily basis. Do they know something we do not? Independent scientists have stated that higher carbon dioxide levels would be beneficial for life on the planet through increased plant growth, so can we have a debate in Government time on the cost-benefit of net zero before trillions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are wasted, which will make the HS2 fiasco look like a warm-up act?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman will know how to secure a debate. He has just secured a debate on excess deaths, and if he follows the same procedure, I am sure he will have good luck in securing another debate.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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In Harrogate and Knaresborough, we have had more than 12,000 apprenticeship starts since 2010, and this week’s announcement of changes to apprenticeship policy was positive and will help those numbers grow. What I liked particularly was that it will make it easier for SMEs to offer apprenticeships. The main message I hear from businesses is that it is challenging to fill vacancies and bring in new talent. Can we have a debate about SMEs, apprenticeships and skills policy to give them the boost they need to fill the vacancies they are creating?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend will know that on Monday, the Prime Minister set out a package of reforms to support businesses, including £60 million of new investment to enable more apprenticeships to be created. We are also slashing unnecessary regulatory burdens through our Brexit freedoms programme and saving about £150 million a year for thousands of small businesses. I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he is doing in his constituency to ensure that people are benefiting from these initiatives.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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The First Reading of the Football Governance Bill last week was welcome, but when will we see Second Reading? There was no mention of it in today’s business statement. We want to get the Bill through in time before the general election so that it becomes law, as it has widespread support.

One thing that was not mentioned at all was the Renters (Reform) Bill. Where has that got to? All we have read about are discussions, debates and arguments between Ministers and Tory Back Benchers over changes that might be made to the Bill. In the meantime, hundreds of people are being evicted through section 21 notices, and families and children are being made homeless. When will the Government bring back this important legislation, which has widespread cross-party support?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of us all, for all the work that he has done across the House on the Football Governance Bill, and all the stakeholder engagement that he has overseen? I have attended many of those meetings, and I know that colleagues are grateful for his efforts. These are important community assets as well as businesses. When Portsmouth faced closure, I could not say to my constituents, “Don’t worry: Southampton is just down the road; you can watch your football there.” It would not have worked. I know he is eager for the Renters (Reform) Bill to return, and I am glad that he welcomes that. He knows I will say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but I will ensure that officials in that Department have heard what he said.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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I bring good news from Kettering, where Sainsbury’s supermarket has restored free parking during the evenings in its town centre car park. It had planned to introduce charges for out-of-hours parking, but it has listened to local opinion and representations from me, Kettering Civic Society and others, and has amended its plans. That is great news for those in the close vicinity, such as the Salvation Army, the Sikh temple, popular local restaurants, and Kettering Arts Centre, which is based in St Andrew’s church. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House both praising Sainsbury’s for its social responsibility, and encouraging people to visit Kettering town centre?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful campaign. In addition to his constituency being the most dog-friendly place in the UK, as we learned last week, people can now park there for free. I join him in praising Sainsbury’s, and everyone locally who has worked to ensure that, and to ensure that Kettering town centre remains vibrant and open to visitors.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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If U Care Share is an amazing suicide prevention and postvention charity that supports my constituents in Blaydon and people across the north-east. Sadly, it was not successful in its bid for £10 million in suicide prevention funding, and some of its work is having to come to an end. As the north-east has the highest rate of suicide, its work is vital. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I will be approaching the Minister about this, but may we have a debate in Government time on the impact of short-term funding decisions on charities working on this vital issue?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am glad that the hon. Lady will take this matter up with the Minister. Where people or organisations have not been able to secure funding from a particular scheme, the Department will work with organisations, or the local authority, to improve the bid, or ensure that the organisation can work with others in the area. Such services are critical, and they also need to be sustainable. I shall ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care has heard what the hon. Lady said.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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My constituent Nadeem Anjarwalla, a UK citizen, has been detained in Nigeria since 26 February, with no charges formally brought. His health is suffering, and obstacles have prevented his lawyers and his family from ensuring that he receives proper care. He has also just missed his son’s first birthday. As the safety and security of British nationals is a top priority for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, will my right hon. Friend please allow a debate in Government time on how we can further enhance FCDO’s support for our citizens abroad?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I know my hon. Friend is working hard for this gentleman, and she is in close contact with the FCDO. As she knows, officials are in contact with his family and legal representatives, and the UK’s high commissioner to Nigeria has raised the case with Nigerian authorities. We had a Westminster Hall debate on 5 September last year about British nationals who are detained overseas, and it was well attended. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate, and if she did, I think it would be similarly well attended. As the next questions to the Foreign Office are not until 20 April, I shall ensure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what she has said.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The ombudsman’s report on raising the state pension age has now been published. A key finding is that there has been maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions, and that the UK Government should do the right thing, apologise, and come up with a mechanism for paying compensation to the women affected. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for all in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and for a compensation scheme that reflects the financial loss and distress suffered by those in Ayrshire WASPI and Cunninghame WASPI, and all WASPI women across the UK?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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Like many hon. Members from across the House, I have cases of this kind in my constituency, and have been working to support the individuals involved. I reiterate the Government’s position, which is that I am sure the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will want to update the House at the earliest occasion. He will clearly have to read the report and reflect on it, but I know that he is keen to do so swiftly.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)
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This week, I had the privilege of meeting the inspirational Hannah Gardner, who has incurable secondary breast cancer at the age of just 37. Recently, Hannah and thousands of other women received the devastating news that the life-extending drug Enhertu, described by oncologists as a game-changer, has been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for use by the NHS in England, despite being approved in Scotland and 45 other countries worldwide. She brought a campaign to Parliament, because it is the only realistic treatment available for her, and time is not on her side. Can we have an urgent debate on getting all parties, including the drug companies, NICE and NHS England, back to the table, and urgently approving Enhertu, so that Hannah can at least realise her modest wish of seeing her three-year-old daughter Lilah attend her new school?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for all his campaigning in this area, and for all his work with a number of all-party parliamentary groups. I also thank him for arranging for me to meet Hannah when she visited Parliament. She is an inspirational woman, and the fact that she is campaigning so hard, not just for herself but for other people, is testament to that. I also thank the Breast Cancer Now team, who also visited me and are doing tremendous work in campaigning to ensure that not just Enhertu but other life-extending drugs can be approved.

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will have heard about the campaign and will want to set up meetings to discuss it. I think that about 1,000 women a year in England could benefit from the drug, and given that it is widely available and deemed to be clinically and cost-effective elsewhere, I hope that NICE will reflect on that, and that a patient access scheme might be established. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend said.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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In contrast to what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), at Treasury questions on Tuesday, the Chancellor did not deny that he plans to abolish national insurance, an unfunded commitment costing £46 billion. He also did not deny that he might pay for it by increasing taxes on pensioners. As it is not the Leader of the House but the Chancellor who decides economic policy, will she arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement to the House confirming how he intends to fill the £46 billion black hole in the Government’s finances, and saying whether that will be through tax rises for pensioners, cuts to the national health service, increases in debt and borrowing, or something else?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I suspect that the event that the hon. Gentleman is recalling was a dream, perhaps after eating a large amount of cheese. I do not think the Chancellor would have said that. I understand that the Labour party is trying to establish this line, but I am afraid that it is not working, because the British public understand these things; they understand national insurance contributions, and Labour clearly does not.

Jake Berry Portrait Sir Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
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Can we have a debate about the application of the Local Government Act 1972? Rob Huntingdon, the chief executive of Rossendale Borough Council, is seeking to use it to prevent the release of a copy of a financial impact report on the empty homes scandal presented to councillors in the council chamber on 9 August 2022, as well as seeking to prevent the release of copies of documents discussed at a closed session of the council under item D1 on 18 August 2022. That is important, because his refusal to release those documents, when added to the fact that legal action has been threatened against councillors who reveal what is in them—a gagging order by any other name—has lost the taxpayers of Rossendale and Darwen £12 million. The 1972 Act, if applicable in this case, was not put in place to stop local authorities, their officers and Labour councillors being embarrassed by their own incompetence.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. Friend makes his point very well. These individuals are accountable to their residents, and those facts should be exposed. I think he is right in his understanding of the 1972 Act and local authorities’ responsibilities under it, but I will make sure that officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities write to him to confirm that. I suggest that his local authority and the councillors in question reflect on the stance they are taking, and consider the rights of the people who are paying their salaries and allowances.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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My constituents at Lark Hill rely on the retirement village’s ATM to access cash. While I am delighted that proposals for its removal have been withdrawn, residents will now face a fee. Does the right hon. Lady agree that everyone, especially older and disabled people, should be able to obtain cash safely and securely, and free of charge, in places that they can reach independently? Can we have a debate about Link and community access to cash?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I congratulate the hon. Lady on the success of her campaign. There is a very clear responsibility to ensure that people have free access to cash. Many people rely on it, and it is critical for certain community groups. I will ensure that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard her concerns, and that officials contact her office with advice about the courses of action open to her to insist that ATMs are reasonably dispersed across her constituency.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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Crime and antisocial behaviour are a big concern across Carshalton and Wallington, particularly violent crime, burglaries and shoplifting. More police officers are on the street and crime is falling across the UK, but under Sadiq Khan’s watch in London, we have seen crime go up, the Met miss its recruitment targets by nearly 1,000 additional officers, and a complete failure to get to grips with major issues plaguing our local communities. Could we have a debate in Government time about how we can better hold the Mayor of London to account, as he seems to not care about Carshalton and Wallington and the crime levels that it faces?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend is not the first hon. Member to raise concerns about the Mayor of London’s performance on crime and, most disturbingly, increasing violent crime. My hon. Friend asks how we can hold the Mayor to account, and whether we should debate that. I would suggest another course of action: vote him out of office.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House could have announced today that next week, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the Football Governance Bill or the Renters (Reform) Bill would be before the House, but she did not. We are told that senior Government figures have said that the reason why Conservative MPs are being sent home on a one-line Whip until the middle of April is to placate them and ease tension. This Government have simply ceased to function. Their way of stopping their most important policy is to send Tory MPs home, so that they do not have to vote for it. It is beyond a joke. Can we have a debate most urgently about when we will have the general election that this country needs to get this useless Government out of office?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I do not think the hon. Gentleman could have heard my business statement, and he may not be aware that the Football Governance Bill has been brought forward. I remind the Opposition, who make allegations about Conservative Members phoning it in, that we want our legislation to go through. If business is collapsing, it is because the Opposition are not doing engaging in business; they have not even managed to get speakers for their own Opposition day debates. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reflects on that.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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May we have a debate in Government time about the obligations on local planning authorities to plan strategically for the infrastructure required to service their growth aspirations? That is particularly important to me and my constituents in Milton Keynes North since the Labour-led council announced plans for 63,000 new homes across Milton Keynes. We do not have targets in the way that we used to, but back when we did, Milton Keynes City Council was building 3,000 houses against a target of just over 1,700. It is not the Government who are making the council do that, despite what it says. Our infrastructure will suffer. We need a plan for infrastructure before expansion, in particular for doctors’ surgeries. The Cobbs Garden expansion project that I supported has mysteriously been binned by the integrated care board. We need that plan in place before we have any growth.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for all his work to ensure that his local residents have the services that they need and that, where there is development, those needs are assessed. I know that he has been campaigning for a new GP surgery together with Conservative colleagues. He will know that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 introduced new powers to create an infrastructure levy, which aims to generate more funding for infrastructure projects. Local planning authorities will be required to prepare infrastructure delivery strategies as they bring forward development. As the next Levelling Up questions are not until after Easter on 22 April, I will make sure that the Department has heard his concerns about his constituency, and ask that officials get in touch to give him advice about what he can do with the ICB.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House knows that this morning, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman did not just publicise its report but laid it before Parliament, which is very rare. It said:

“Given the scale of the impact of DWP’s maladministration, and the urgent need for a remedy, we are taking the rare but necessary step of asking Parliament to intervene.”

I am very disappointed that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is not here today to provide a statement, so will the Leader of the House confirm when that will happen? Secondly and more importantly, when will this Parliament be able to debate and amend a motion on this matter?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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Several Members have raised the exact same point this morning. It is reasonable that the Secretary of State reflects on today’s announcement, but I am sure that he will want to update the House before recess.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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BT Openreach is installing telegraph poles in areas of Southport where residents oppose them. There has been no extensive consultation, and its actions have resulted in a huge waste of police time. It has paid very little attention to the advice given last week, and there are huge health and safety concerns. May we have a debate so that colleagues and I can raise these issues in the House, because the telegraph poles are unwanted and are being installed unsafely?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I hear my hon. Friend’s request for a debate, but I understand that his actions have already had an impact on Openreach. The Minister responsible raised my hon. Friend’s concerns with the chief executive of Openreach yesterday, who will investigate. I understand that he will also attend a roundtable with the Minister and other MPs on Monday to discuss this ongoing topic. I stand ready to assist my hon. Friend in whatever way I can to get this resolved, but he is doing everything he can and has already secured many things that will get this resolved.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty) (Lab)
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It is getting on for two months since the debate on mining communities was set to take place on 1 February, when it was displaced by the reforming of the Northern Ireland Executive. My constituent Mr Anthony Rock is being treated appalling by the DWP regarding compensation for industrial illness, despite the best efforts of the National Union of Mineworkers. His health is getting worse, and it is not about the money but about dignity for Mr Rock, and recognition of his years of service in the British coal industry. The Minister and other coalfield MPs need to hear this story, so can the Leader of the House advise me when we will find time for this crucial debate?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. He will know, as I have stated it before, that while reorganising the scheduling of such debates is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee, we will be giving additional time to ensure that it happens. I was particularly keen to mention that specific debate, as I know Members from across the House would be very interested in taking part. I will also ensure that we flag his concerns with regard to his constituent with the Department for Work and Pensions, as those departmental questions have just happened.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Finally, and thanking him for his patience, I call Peter Aldous.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will conclude on the point that, I think, four other Members have made, including the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), with whom I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women. We have had the ombudsman’s report this morning. It makes grim reading for the DWP in relation to its maladministration over many years. Its findings on recommendations for compensation may disappoint many women, but the main issue coming out of the report is the need to lay the report before Parliament due to the low confidence that the ombudsman has in the Government coming up with a quick solution.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for her assurance that a DWP Minister will make a statement as soon as possible. May I urge her to convey to the Department the need to go much, much further much more quickly to put in place a mechanism, working with Parliament, to ensure that this injustice, which has gone on for many years, is remedied as quickly as possible?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that I will raise this matter with the Department. Indeed, I will be doing so on behalf of all Members who have spoken about it this morning. I thank him for all the work he has done with the all-party parliamentary group and on this issue specifically. As I said in my previous answers, I am sure the Secretary of State will want to update the House at the earliest occasion.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their presence throughout what has been a very lengthy session.

Point of Order

Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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