Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)
  • Oct 28, 2014:
    • Non-domestic Rates: Westmorland | Department for Communities and Local Government | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, how many shops in Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency have benefited from the reduction in business rates.

    • Furness Line | Westminster Hall debates

      It continues to be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Given the strategic importance of the Furness line and the clear and impressive expansion of demand into the future, surely now is the time to plan to upgrade services, not downgrade them. Nothing would strengthen confidence in the line more than a commitment to electrification. Will the Minister help provide that confidence by setting out a timetable for electrification of the Furness line, and will she give us an undertaking that at the very least a feasibility study will be done of that electrification project?

      I want us to be positive and optimistic about rail services in Cumbria, in north Lancashire and across the whole region. This week's talk of High Speed 3 is music to my ears, although the suggestion that it might only be an enhanced line from Manchester to Leeds is somewhat underwhelming. An HS3 to boost northern England would run from Hull to Liverpool, creating a coast-to-coast corridor of growth. Electrification of the lakes line shows that our ambition in the south lakes has paid off, but that optimism is challenged when it comes to the Furness line. I want that to change. The line serves a uniquely booming industry, Britain's most important tourist destination-the Lake district-and a growing and vibrant residential and commercial community in South Lakeland. There is no logical reason for the Furness line to be anything other than equally booming. My plea to the Minister is to use her influence to prevent the mistakes that would undermine that success, and to instead back a winner.

    • Furness Line | Westminster Hall debates

      It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As I give the Minister time to settle, I advise her that I will be sitting down sooner than I would otherwise in order to let the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), my friend and constituency neighbour, contribute to this debate, which is at least as important to his constituency as to mine.

      The Furness line is a vital rail route through my constituency. It is an arterial route used by residents in the Kent estuary and across the wider Cartmel peninsula. I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to highlight the large challenges facing the line and, as a result, the communities and the economy to which it is so vital. I will talk about the future of the line, its immense significance to the local and national economy, the need for new investment and the need for the Department for Transport to take seriously the responses to its recent stakeholder consultation on the TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises.

      The Furness line takes passengers and freight from the main line at Lancaster through to Barrow, with the largest section of the line running through my constituency and the South Lakeland district. There are stations at Arnside, Grange-over-Sands, Kents Bank and Cark, which are well used and take tourists, commuters and schoolchildren, among others, to and from destinations along this economically vital and uniquely picturesque line.

      I am hugely indebted to the work of those who put together the exhaustive 90-page Furness line study created by the Railway Consultancy Ltd, which the Minister displays. The study was supported by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness. The Minister has already seen the report, but as she has demonstrated, I made a point of forwarding an additional copy to her ahead of this debate.

      The Minister will see that the report is dedicated to the memory of Peter Robinson, whose sudden death on 6 August devastated all of us who knew him. Peter was chair of the Furness Line Community Rail Partnership and the source of all knowledge and wisdom on Furness line matters. I was with him at a meeting on the future of the Furness line just a day or three before he passed away. It was an honour to know Peter, and he is hugely missed.

      The report that Peter helped to author is an extremely important piece of work. I am a regular user of the line, but I was nevertheless shocked by the full extent of the failings of the current transport infrastructure and its wider impacts. The report concludes that the Furness line is not fit to meet present demand, much less to cope with the expected population and employment booms in Barrow and Ulverston in the coming years, which I am sure the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness will talk about in due course. We are committed to working together across parties to build a future-proof Furness line.

      As well as thanking those who created the report, I thank its funders-local councils, businesses and rail operators-and the hon. Gentleman, whose work has been instrumental in bringing the report to fruition,

      and whose commitment to defending the line is second to none. The report highlights the line's short-term and long-term needs. In the short term, the report calls for the urgent return of the two-hourly Manchester airport service and additional trains during the tourist season. Given that this is the line that serves the western Lake district, I hope the Minister will publicly indicate her support and give a clear signal to the rail operators that residents, commuters, the vastly important tourism sector and the wider business community all need the service.

      The report also suggests a rationalised timetable and highlights the inadequate number of trains between Barrow and Lancaster on weekday mornings, which prevents residents from commuting by train. The undermining of the line in recent times is apparent in the fact that the Barrow to Manchester airport service has reduced from eight to five trains a day; the Manchester airport to Barrow service has been reduced from 10 to five trains a day since 2007.

      Manchester is the business capital of the north-west. Barrow-in-Furness is at risk of being left as one of the few major towns in the north of England without high-quality direct access to that regional capital and its international airport. Many of my constituents, particularly in Grange, Flookburgh, Cark, Cartmel, Allithwaite and Arnside, commute by train and have been hit by that downgrading. Children who would have had safer, quicker journeys to school are now forced to take longer, more costly and more dangerous trips instead. The hugely significant local tourism economy, which is worth £3 billion a year, has been damaged unnecessarily. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us much more encouraging news. I would be grateful if she confirmed that she sees improving the Furness line as being in the long-term economic interests of the region and the nation, and that its success will be prioritised.

      The reduction in through trains to and from Manchester means that many passengers now have to use the Manchester to Scotland services between Lancaster and Manchester. The new four-coach electric trains have shorter carriages than the previous three-coach class 185 diesels, and the limited increase in capacity is proving to be dramatically insufficient to meet the needs of both Scottish and Furness passengers-standing is a regular, if not daily, occurrence. Additionally, the downgrading of those services has exacerbated problems with bus links, which the Furness line study identifies as a major issue. Joining up the connections between public transport is vital, and I hope that the Minister will give her support to significant improvements.

      The study calls for train operators to co-operate with the area's biggest businesses to ensure that arrivals and departures coincide with shift patterns. The report states:

      "Timetable analysis shows some very significant failings in the level of service provided… the current service is not fit for purpose, through failing frequency, capacity… We have been appalled to discover that significant existing markets are not being addressed, leading to major losses of traffic. The shortfall in service provision is so great here that there is an overwhelming case for immediate action."

      Looking to the future, the report has a vision for the line right through to 2030. It takes into account the expansion of BAE Systems in Barrow, GlaxoSmithKline in Ulverston and the proposed nuclear power station at

      Moorside. It accurately envisages significant increases in local population and employment, due in part to the far-sighted and successful land allocation strategy of South Lakeland district council. The report is also correct in foreseeing that industrial developments for major employers at Ulverston will lead to a 16% increase in jobs over the next few years, and that all those people will need to get to work.

      There can be no doubt that demand will continue to rise. In the longer term, a regular hourly local service calling at all stations needs to be supplemented by faster regional services to and from Manchester airport. The lakes line between Oxenholme and Windermere is scheduled to be electrified in 2016; the study suggests that an increase in the number of trains on the Furness line would justify its eventual electrification by 2030. Virgin Trains should be asked to investigate the operation of through-to-London services from Barrow, with their introduction possibly on an initial two-to-three-year "use it or lose it" basis. Will the Minister use her good offices to help us make that case to Virgin Trains?

      Industrial growth, an expansion in resident populations and a huge increase in the tourism economy suggest that the Furness line's future should be very bright indeed; the purpose of this debate is to seek the Minister's help in ensuring that it is. However, as we seek support to protect and enhance the line's long-term future, we are horrified that short-term decisions in the immediate future may fatally undermine that work.

      The Minister will know that the Department's suggested remapping of the TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises has undergone a recent stakeholder consultation. She will also know that, along with many others, I responded to that consultation. On behalf of my constituents, I once again urge her not to proceed with the proposed transfer of the Furness and Windermere lines to the new Northern franchise. She should be clear that making that decision would significantly downgrade the Furness line and would constitute a huge blow to our local economy.

      The majority of services on the Furness line are operated by TransPennine Express. Since the announcement last March that TransPennine Express is to lose its fleet of nine class 170 units, there has been intense speculation about the effect on train services in the north. Despite efforts to find a solution, there are apparently no spare diesel units available. Unless there is political intervention at a high level, we could see TransPennine Express move out of the Furness line at the timetable change in May 2015, when the class 170 units are due to transfer to the south of England. We can only assume that the Furness line will be relegated to being a branch service between Barrow and Lancaster, operated by Northern from next May using lower-quality trains.

      The Minister will know that Northern has accumulated a reputation on the Furness line for its high number of cancellations. That has been going on for some years now. I am sure that both the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness and I would be happy to furnish her with details of those cancellations. Northern is aware of the debate, but still cancels trains. She will understand why residents and business leaders of south Cumbria are staggered by the Department for Transport proposal that all Furness line trains be transferred to Northern at the commencement of the new franchise in 2016.

      The Minister will know that I have written to the Secretary of State on the matter. I am hopeful that the Department will understand the hugely damaging effect that such a transfer would have. Will she agree to rethink the suggestion and consider retaining TransPennine Express services on the Furness line? I am sure that the Minister will agree that at a time when we need the Furness line to be geared to the forthcoming high level of investment and job expansion in the area, the initial proposals make depressing news indeed. [Interruption.]

  • Oct 21, 2014:
    • Topical Questions | Oral Answers to Questions - Health | Commons debates

      NHS England has identified south Cumbria as one of just three places in England where travel times to receive radiotherapy are unacceptably and debilitatingly long. Will the Secretary of State meet me and NHS England to talk about how Kendal hospital can be the place for a new radiotherapy centre this autumn?

    • Children's Mental Health Services | Oral Answers to Questions - Health | Commons debates

      A local report on mental health and emotional resilience among young people in South Lakeland found that the stigma surrounding mental health and the lack of sufficient resources over time mean that distressed and panic-stricken families often do not know how to begin to access the support that their children desperately need. How can my right hon. Friend help us get swift, clear and obvious access to mental health care for young people?

  • Oct 13, 2014:
  • Sep 26, 2014:
    • Iraq: Coalition Against ISIL | Business of the House | Commons debates

      The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. An important part of all this, alongside the military action that I hope we will endorse today, is the soft approach-the diplomatic record of the United Kingdom in relation to many of the Sunni tribes in the area over

      which ISIL has control. Is it not important to recognise that ISIL, with its use of social media and its very strong media operation, is effectively an opportunist front for what has been a civil war? We cannot negotiate with ISIL, but we must make sure that we negotiate with and talk to the people in the Sunni community within the tribes in that area.

  • Sep 10, 2014:
  • Sep 9, 2014:
  • Sep 8, 2014:
  • Sep 5, 2014:
    • Housing Benefit: Social Rented Housing | Work and Pensions | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make an estimate of (a) the amount of savings accruing to the public purse through penalties incurred on housing benefit arising from the under occupancy penalty to date and (b) the amount paid in discretionary housing payments in that time.

    • Affordable Homes Bill | Commons debates

      Absolutely. The reality is homes need to be built from a variety of different sources. If we believe all the statistics-and I am convinced by the evidence put forward by Shelter, the National Housing Federation and others-that show we need something in the region of 300,000 new homes a year, the bulk of which need to be affordable, and if we realise that at the height of the property boom in the 1990s the private sector was building less than 200,000 a year, we realise that this is not just about allowing the market to provide that supply. That is absolutely part of the answer, but we need to allow housing associations and local authorities, as well as private developers, off the leash. We need to allow, for example, housing associations to borrow against the full value of their stock, so they have got access to proper equity, to give them the freedom to make use of all the Government finance initiatives, not just the ones covering existing schemes. If we do not do that, we will continue to have generation after generation that cannot afford to buy their own home.

      Politicians, frankly, have been too over the last two generations to build the homes that our people, particularly our younger people, need. This situation is not their fault: our younger people are working just as hard, if not harder, than they ever did before. However, they cannot afford a home, including in the rented sector very often, because of our collective failure to deliver the homes they deserve.

      The top end of that renting generation is now well into their 40s. The notion that this is a non-voting, non-interested demographic has gone. Politicians have often been too spineless because of the demographic of people. Those who are comfortable are older, more settled and they were, by definition, more likely to vote. Those who are not in that position were by definition less likely to vote. That is changing, and that generation is crying out for people who will step up to the plate and argue their case. Britain's future depends on being able to house our young people-all our people-in an affordable and decent way.

      I commend the Bill of my right hon. Friend, or rather my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives to this House. [Interruption.] Indeed, and he would deserve it. I commend my hon. Friend's proposals on the improvements to the spare room subsidy and his recommendations for tackling the critical lack of affordable housing in this country. I think of my constituency up in the lakes and the dales in south Cumbria where the average house price is

      11 times higher than the average wage. We are losing a quarter of our young people, who move out of the area and never come back because they cannot afford to put down roots. My area is very like my hon. Friend's and many other colleagues' here today: how important it is that we make sure our communities remain multigenerational and we keep our talent and do not force our young people into another generation of poverty and housing need.

      Housing supply is the issue, and it will not be tackled unless we allow housing associations to build the houses they can and they desperately want to, and unless we invest in garden cities, and unless we tackle-my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) referred to this-the critical lack of housing and building skills and labour necessary to build those houses. The Government's apprenticeship programme is an important step in the right direction, but without the skills, we will not be able to build the houses.

      What I want us to see in politics is the ambition that Government can change things. In the face of a critical crisis such as the housing crisis and the lack of supply, it should not be a case of washing our hands and letting the market deliver, or praying that it might; it should be about rolling up our sleeves and making sure it does. My hon. Friend's Bill is an important step in that direction.

    • Affordable Homes Bill | Commons debates

      Absolutely; it was truly shameful. Governments would have to try really hard-as the previous one did-to build fewer social rented properties than Baroness Thatcher. That is quite an achievement, and one they should be thoroughly ashamed of. The current Government have not built enough social rented houses. They are, however, the first Government in over 30 years to have seen any net rise in the number of social rented properties at all.

    • Affordable Homes Bill | Commons debates

      I want to say a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) and his Bill. He has proudly put forward not just a single-headed, but a double-headed proposal today. We are talking about not only how to tackle some of the injustices and unfairnesses surrounding the spare room subsidy, but how look to the creation of more affordable housing and provide greater levels of stock across the country.

      It is important to recognise that over the last few years we have acknowledged and seen an explosion in the housing benefit bill. That happened for a variety of reasons, but principally because of the rise in the cost of housing. While the Opposition when in government introduced the abolition of the spare room subsidy for the private rented sector, the coalition parties did so for the social rented sector. We understand the reasoning behind it, but we recognise, too, that the burden has fallen on some of the people least able to cope with the cost. We have not collectively, as either a Parliament or a country, tackled the real problem, which is of course the fact that there are simply not enough social rented homes and not enough homes generally.

      I am proud of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives for bringing this Bill forward, and I am proud of my party for pushing us all collectively to reflect on the proposals before us today. I would like to mention Vikki Slade and Julie Pörksen, who proposed at our conference a year ago that we look again at this policy. Frankly, Members of all parties would do well to admit that, on reflection, things could have been done better. Given that we were put in this economic crisis in the first place, it would be lovely to see from Opposition Members a change of heart and an admission that things did not go as well as they could have done.

      Many people will be talking about the spare room subsidy today, and they are right to do so, but the second part of my hon. Friend's Bill is equally important. The fact is that in 1981, the average deposit for a first-time buyer was 12% of the average income. Today, it is 83%, and nearly 3 million people aged between 18 and 30 are living with their parents, which is likely to go up by another 25% over the next five or six years. We have the lowest levels of home ownership in over a quarter of a century, and if we look at our social rented stock across the country, we see that it has been decimated over 30 years through "right to buy" with no compulsion to replace the properties in any meaningful way.

  • Sep 2, 2014:
  • Sep 1, 2014:
    • Highways Agency | Transport | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of (a) taking the Highways Agency out of public ownership and (b) rebranding the Highways Agency, including (i) the replacement of uniforms and equipment of the staff of the Highways Agency and (ii) the replacement of liveries on the vehicles operated by the Highways Agency.

    • New Businesses: Westmorland | Business, Innovation and Skills | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills how many new businesses (a) have been registered in Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency since 2010 and (b) were registered between 2005 and 2010.