Ben Bradshaw

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Commons Interventions October and November

On Russia

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Did the EU Council discuss Russia, and in that context have the UK Government or their agencies been asked for help or information by the American congressional team or US special counsel Robert Mueller, who are investigating alleged Russian subversion of the US presidential election?

The Prime Minister

As it happens, on this occasion, Russia was not one of the subjects on the agenda of the European Union council. As I say, we did discuss a number of foreign policy issues—North Korea and Turkey were on the agenda—but Russia was not.

On South West Rail

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on securing this debate on an issue that is hugely important not only to his constituency, but to all our constituencies in the region.

I have some sympathy for the Minister. As a Transport Minister I am sure he would love to have extra money from the Treasury to invest in all our schemes and in the railway network more generally. However, I am afraid that he, like successive Transport Ministers, is a victim of what I call Treasury orthodoxy. I want to encourage a debate, perhaps within the governing party as we move towards the Budget, on the arguments we have made about productivity. We have had an absolutely appalling productivity record in this country in recent years. It is one of the worst in Europe and has got worse since the 2008 global financial crisis and since the European referendum.

I think there is general consensus in this debating Chamber that we should improve productivity in a number of ways, including investing in education and skills and in infrastructure. We have had an incredible opportunity in the past few years since the global financial crash of record low long-term interest rates. There is an absolute opportunity to invest big-time in infrastructure for the future of our economy and our productivity. With the storm clouds of Brexit gathering and with the uncertainty that that is causing in our economy, it is even more critical now, before interest rates go up, that the people having discussions, particularly in the governing party, win that debate with the Treasury, because we are running out of time to secure meaningful investment in our infrastructure.

I completely support what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said about the discrepancy between comparative spends up and down the country. I saw an even more graphic map than the one he referred to in which the south-west was not even featured because the amount of spend per head was so low. The map was produced by an organisation called Statista and was published in the Financial Times earlier this year. It showed us at the bottom of the regional list for infrastructure spend. I do not think there is any debate in this Chamber as to whether we have come off badly in terms of spend in our railway and infrastructure in general.

I must express my concern to the Minister that some of the money that has been allocated has not been spent well by Network Rail. It has a terrible record of cost overruns, and we are all paying the price with the fiasco of the cost overrun to the electrification of the mainline ​from Paddington to south Wales, which is having a knock-on effect on all of our schemes. Network Rail told us in a session earlier today that work on the Cowley Bridge flood defences—let us not forget that Cowley Bridge goes back even longer than Dawlish; we lost the line at Cowley Bridge twice in the three years running up to Dawlish, which cut our region off as well—is going to start, but only on the culverts, which are to protect Cowley Bridge next spring. As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) said, there is no funding allocated at the moment for the much more important work on the weir or for the upstream work on the Hele and Bradninch section of the lines, which are the important bits of the flood defence. As we enter into our winter of storms and heavy rains, we face another risk that the line will flood there and in other places.

We were also told that Network Rail has increased its assessment of the risk of a failure at the Dawlish line owing to heavy rain and/or storms to one in every three years. This matter is absolutely urgent. Our region cannot afford to suffer the disruptions that we have had in recent years, which have done so much damage to our economy. I hope the Minister will go away and have gentle words with the Treasury and with Network Rail about its performance on cost control so that we get the schemes delivered on budget and on time.

New stations are vital. Exeter is a bit like a mini-Bristol. The urban rail services in my city are incredibly important for moving people around, particularly at commuting times. We need more regular services; we need trains to stop at more stations; and we need new stations. Again, station builds are running behind time.

Rebecca Pow

The right hon. Gentleman is making a passionate case. The Government committed to £4.6 million to transform our railway station in Taunton. We are still waiting for one spade to go into the ground. I understand exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying: we need the promised services to be delivered. Will the Minister report on how that is going, because GWR and Network Rail still have not got on with it?

Mr Bradshaw

There is hardly a station that has been built and opened that has not overrun on cost. I was about to refer to the station in Marsh Barton, a very important industrial estate in my constituency. It was supposed to happen this year and we now understand no date at all has been fixed for it, which indicates that no money has been allocated for it, which is really disappointing not only for those who live and work in Exeter, but for those who commute in from outside.

On rolling stock, it was terribly unfortunate to hear about the initial trip of the new high-speed train serving our region. We understand from Great Western that it was unlucky. All the other trains that travelled that day were fine, but will the Minister assure us that when we get these long-awaited trains they will not pour water over people, they will work, will not break down and will be reliable? I also have a concern about the design for our luggage demands. Our trains were built in an age when suitcases were not the size of wheelie bins—people did not used to be able to carry those huge great cases—but I am worried that, having lost the guards ​van, and as a regular cyclist who puts my bike on the train, we will see conflicts between the people who regularly put their bikes on trains and people who need luggage space. If that becomes a problem, that is not only a problem for passengers, but for the staff who have to resolve the disputes.

Let us not neglect the Waterloo line, an important substitute line. It is a replacement line and an additional line for our region. It could be so much better if we had a few more passing places. That would allow swifter journeys and would service more stops, including places such as Pinhoe in my constituency. My basic plea to the Minister and to Opposition Members is to keep fighting the battle against Treasury orthodoxy and keep fighting for a fair deal for our region.

On Syria

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Some Members of this House received and continue to receive considerable abuse for the decision we took back in November 2015 ​to support the extension of the RAF mission to Syria. Does the liberation of Raqqa and this considerable setback to Daesh not show that we were absolutely right?

Alistair Burt

Yes, in a word. We have been learning over time the consequences of not taking action. We have all learned that there are consequences of action and of inaction, and sometimes the choices are impossible. But it is perfectly clear that decisions not to do anything will almost inevitably result in a situation becoming worse and steadily more difficult for those involved. The right decisions have to be taken on intervention or not, but the decision of the House to support David Cameron’s determination to take action in Syria was the right one.

On Fisheries

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

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11. Whether the rules of the common fisheries policy will apply to the UK during any transition period in the event that the UK leaves the EU.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice)

As the Prime Minister made clear to the House on 11 October, when we leave the European Union we will leave the common fisheries policy, and we leave the EU in March 2019. However, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will bring across current ​EU legislation to provide continuity on the day we leave. In the context of fisheries, that will include the body of technical conservation regulations currently set by the EU.

Mr Bradshaw

That is very interesting: we will not have a voice at the table but we will have to abide by all the CFP rules. Can the Minister give an assurance to our industry, which exports more than 80% of what it catches straight to the rest of Europe, that it will not face any tariffs or other barriers during or after that transition period?

George Eustice

We are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement and trade would continue as usual during the transition period. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that we would not have a seat at the table. He is familiar with fisheries negotiations and knows that they are annual events, whether we are negotiating with EU member states at December Council, with EU-Norway or at coastal states meetings. We will become an independent coastal state on the day we leave the European Union in March 2019.

On Same Sex Marriage

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

8. What recent discussions Church of England bishops have had on allowing parishes to hold ceremonies to celebrate same-sex marriages.

Dame Caroline Spelman

The Church’s doctrine, as set out in canon law and as explicitly recognised by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, is that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. As hon. Members will be aware, a resolution was passed over the weekend by the synod in Hereford. That motion will go to the General Synod and will be considered by its business committee for debate.

Mr Bradshaw

Given that many Anglican churches, including my wonderful cathedral in Exeter, already perform ceremonies to celebrate same-sex marriages, would it not be better for the Church just to get on with it and for bishops to make an announcement, rather than carrying on with what is in effect an institutionalised hypocrisy?

​Dame Caroline Spelman

Obviously it is open to the right hon. Gentleman’s diocese to follow the same process that the Hereford diocese has just undertaken, but the Church is active in this area with two initiatives. A pastoral advisory group has been set up—led by the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman—to work on the development of pastoral practice within the Church’s existing teaching, and a major teaching document is being produced on marriage and sexuality.

On Brexit

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Sorry, but the answer is not good enough. This is a critical question. The Secretary of State says that if the House votes against the deal, which could be a bad one, the Government will move ahead without a deal. Does that mean that the only choice is to crash out on to World Trade Organisation terms, which would be an absolute disaster for our country, or does it leave open the option of the Government continuing to negotiate, seeking more time or even staying in on current terms?

Mr Davis

What I was saying was exactly in answer to the question; it was what was given as an undertaking by the Minister in the article 50 debate.

On Russia and the US election

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can answer a question the Prime Minister failed to answer when I asked her on Monday, or ensure that I get a written answer: have the Government or their agencies received any requests from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or the congressional investigators in the United States for help or information in connection with their inquiry into Russian subversion of the American presidential election?

Andrea Leadsom

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to write to me on this, I will see whether I can get him an answer.

On the Mueller investigation

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication from the Government on whether they intend coming to this House to make a statement about the British connection in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian subversion of the American presidential election, and in particular, the apparent role of an academic, a Professor Mifsud, who met in London more than once, we understand, George Papadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI in connection with Russian help in the presidential election?

Mr Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his notice a few moments ago of his intention to raise it. The short answer is that I have received no indication from any Government Minister of an intention to come to the House to make a statement on that matter. However, not being unconscious of the indefatigability of the right hon. Gentleman, I am confident that if the matter is not brought to the House, he will try to ensure, by one means or t’other, that it is.

On the Mueller Investigation

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Given today’s news that the Electoral Commission is investigating Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Brexit, and given the significant British connections being uncovered by the American Department of Justice’s special counsel Robert Mueller in investigating Russian interference in the US presidential election, will the Prime Minister assure me that the UK Government and all their agencies are co-operating fully with the Mueller investigation or will do so if asked?

The Prime Minister

We take very seriously issues of Russian intervention, or Russian attempts to intervene in electoral processes or the democratic processes of any country, as we would with any other states involved in trying to intervene in elections. We do, of course, work closely with our United States partners. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as part of that relationship, we co-operate with them when required.

On the NHS and Brexit

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

My right hon. and learned Friend may also be interested to know that when the Health Committee asked the Health Secretary yesterday whether he had read the four reports of great relevance to the NHS and public health, he seemed rather unsure. Given the huge negative impact that Brexit will have, particularly on our NHS workforce, is it not extraordinary that the Health Secretary cannot remember if he has even read the reports?

Keir Starmer

If the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was right in his evidence to the Brexit Select Committee, it appears that the Health Secretary has not read the reports because he has not had them.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was asked by the Brexit Select Committee whether the reports had been passed to the Scottish Government. In reply to a question from the SNP spokesperson, the Secretary of State said that he did not know whether they had been shared with the Scottish Government. These reports, which are in lockdown and cannot be seen and not a word of which can be disclosed, have not been read by the Cabinet, and nobody knows whether they have been disclosed to the Scottish Government, yet nothing can be made available to this House.

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