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Volume 524: debated on Thursday 10 March 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renewable Energy Directive

1. What recent representations he has received on the sustainability criteria in the renewable energy directive related to transport fuels; and if he will make a statement. (45274)

I have received recent representations on the renewable energy directive biofuels sustainability criteria from a number of non-governmental organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. We share some of their concerns regarding the sustainability of some biofuels. For that reason, we propose to take a cautious approach, as set out in the consultation we have launched today on proposals to implement the transport elements of the directive and the associated fuel quality directive.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer. This morning I spoke with the owner of the 160-year-old haulage company, Joseph Rice, in my constituency of Gloucester, which is going into receivership. He believes that others might follow before long. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should do what they can to help the sector, whether through incentives on biofuel or by reviewing things such as vehicle excise duty and road charges?

As my hon. Friend will know, matters relating to vehicle excise duty are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We believe that the future of the road freight sector depends on being able to decarbonise it, and at the moment the only viable option for decarbonisation is biofuel. Therefore, we believe that it is important that we prioritise available sustainable feedstocks for biofuels for use in sectors where no alternative viable options are available.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has said that there will be a consultation, because there was concern that we would rush towards implementation of the directive without people being able to discuss the related issues—but I am slightly concerned that he says that there are no sustainable alternatives to biofuels. As part of the consultation, will he seek advice on other suggestions being made by people working in this field so that we can move away from using biofuels and the subsequent impact on food crops and deforestation?

Our concerns are twofold: our approach is, of course, technology-neutral, but if alternative and sustainable solutions are suggested, we will be happy to look at them, and our focus must be on ensuring that the European Union, in its enthusiasm for biofuels, does not lose sight of the negative carbon impacts that some approaches to biofuel can have. We want to look at the whole lifecycle carbon effects of biofuel use, particularly the indirect land use effects.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has mentioned indirect land use impacts, and I welcome the statement made this morning by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), which explicitly highlighted the risks of indirect land use change as a result of imported biofuels. I ask for a joined-up approach to biofuels across Government. What discussion has the Secretary of State or his Department had with other Departments, particularly the Department for Communities and Local Government?

We have very regular discussions with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and Climate Change and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Blue Badge Scheme

I have held recent meetings on blue badge reform with the British Parking Association and representatives from a range of disability groups, including Mobilise, the Joint Committee on Mobility for Disabled People and the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. These groups have welcomed our plans to modernise the scheme.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Blue badge fraud costs £46 million a year, so can he tell the House what more can be done to combat it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I agree that abuse of the scheme is a serious problem that prevents those who need to access disabled parking spaces from doing so, as a fifth of all badges are improperly used. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the steps I announced recently include steps to combat fraud, including a new badge design that will be harder to alter or forge, a new administration system that will enable local authorities to check details of new badges issued anywhere in England, and new powers for local authorities to cancel or seize badges.

If the Department for Work and Pensions is seeking a 20% reduction in the entitlement to the mobility component of disability living allowance in the switch to the personal independence payment, has the Minister any estimate for the consequent reduction in blue badge eligibility?

High-speed Rail

3. What recent progress he has made on implementation of the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham; and if he will make a statement. (45276)

The Government believe that a national high-speed rail network would promote economic growth and the diversification of the UK economy. On 28 February I launched a major public consultation on the case for such a network and on the proposed route for an initial line. The consultation will run until 29 July, and following that consultation a decision will be taken by the end of this year.

I am grateful for that answer. We understand from the consultation that some businesses which will benefit from High Speed 2 might be asked to contribute towards the cost. That might be reasonable, but as the national exhibition centre and Birmingham airport will be asked to help with the cost of the proposed interchange station, will the Government be reasonable in giving assurances about west coast main line improvements and regional aviation policy, in order to enable them to achieve the visitor and passenger numbers that they will need?

Both Birmingham airport and the national exhibition centre are extremely supportive of the High Speed 2 proposals. The consultation is predicated on the entire line being built with public money, but it also says that we think there will be opportunities for private sector development-led funding of some of the station infrastructure, and that is what we will discuss with private sector partners such as the NEC and Birmingham airport.

May I urge the Secretary of State to keep his nerve on this matter? I welcome the consultation, and our cities need high-speed links—certainly in Yorkshire and in the northern regions. May I urge him in addition to ignore some of the deniers—they are also climate change deniers—who have had letters published in the newspapers this morning?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. Those who oppose the building of the line have clearly identified themselves and their direct interests in this matter. It is now for those who will stand to benefit the most, particularly in our great northern cities, to voice their support during the consultation period.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the letter today in The Daily Telegraph, signed by, among many, Lord Lawson of Blaby, who many of us felt during his time in the House was an outstanding Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Ultra-light Rail

Last year I initiated a review of light rail to establish how construction and operational costs might be reduced. The terms of reference include ultra-light rail, and the report is due shortly.

Will the Minister work with London’s Mayor and examine the viability of ultra-light rail systems, or indeed their big brother, tram systems, in connecting Croydon with Sutton?

I am very keen to make light rail more economically sensible, and that is covered by the review, which will, I hope, lead to changes that enable light rail to be extended to other areas of the country. We have done so already with the Midland Metro system and in Nottingham, and I am very happy to talk to the Mayor about what might be helpful for London.

Is there not a stark contrast between the continent of Europe, where light rail and ultra-light rail schemes are going full speed ahead, and Britain, where we cannot seem to get them to work at all? Is not the full cost of digging up and replacing all the utilities under the road loaded on to the transport schemes? Those costs should be taken out of such schemes and paid for directly by the state.

I understand that the construction costs per mile are much higher here than in other countries, and that is one reason why I initiated the review. Many representations have also been made to me about the precise matter that the hon. Gentleman raises—the cost associated with utilities—and that is a central part of the review I am undertaking.

Rail Transport (South-east)

Despite the crisis in the public finances, the Government have secured investment of more than £18 billion in rail capital projects, including Thameslink and Crossrail, which will deliver major benefits to the south-east as well as to the national economy. To protect the interests of passengers, the Department for Transport also monitors the performance of train operators under their franchise contracts.

The issue in the south-east seems to be capacity, and we cannot continue to put ever more passengers on the same lines. Does the Minister agree that an upgrade of the Brighton to Ashford line might increase capacity and improve the quality of travel for passengers, and that it would be a great addition for all residents of the south-east?

My hon. Friend has fought a long campaign on that issue, and I understand why she fights in that way for her constituents. However, the project would be expensive and, in the light of passenger usage, probably hard to justify in value-for-money terms—but I am always prepared to keep an open mind on it, as something to consider for the future. It is also the case, however, that significant capacity was introduced to the south-east in December 2009, and of course more will follow with the Crossrail and Thameslink projects.

May I ask the Minister for her Department’s thinking in respect of Southeastern’s application to vary its franchise commitment on exits and entrances to Lewisham station? Southeastern’s proposal to close the exit from platform 4 is opposed by the vast majority of my constituents who use the station, and I urge her to take their views into account when making a decision.

I have to acknowledge to the hon. Lady that that is not an application to vary the franchise that I have yet received. Of course, when such decisions are taken it is very important for the views of local stakeholders—passengers—to be properly taken into account in terms of the outcome.

My right hon. Friend was right to talk about the benefits of Thameslink, but many in south London will not enjoy the full benefits unless Network Rail timetables through trains from the Sutton loop. Will she ensure that Network Rail continues to keep that option open?

I will certainly expect Network Rail to do all it can to minimise the disruption caused for passengers by the works under way on Thameslink and forthcoming works at major London termini. I will keep my hon. Friend’s proposal in mind, and I am happy to discuss it with Network Rail. I believe that he and I are meeting to discuss this soon.

Will the Minister of State rule out breaking up our national rail infrastructure and handing those vital assets to the private sector, creating in the south-east and across the country what has been described as a series of mini-Railtracks?

The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that this Government have shown a major commitment to investment in our railways, but we expect the rail industry to rise to the challenge of reducing costs, which spiralled under her Government. For the sake of taxpayers and fare payers, the cost of running the railways needs to come down. We expect Sir Roy McNulty to come up with workable proposals for delivering that essential goal.

The whole House will have heard the Minister refuse to rule out a return to the days of Railtrack, with private profit, not safety in the interests of passengers, coming first. She is in danger of repeating the shambles of rail privatisation, so will she urge her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to think again, step back from this ideologically driven plan to fracture our rail industry further, and abandon this recipe for disaster?

The hon. Lady was a member of the Government who established the McNulty review to find out the answers to the very questions that she is asking, yet she wants me to rule out a range of options before Sir Roy McNulty has had a chance to report. This is a review that the Labour Government set up, and I think it makes sense to wait for Sir Roy’s report before making a decision.

Rail (Branch Lines)

6. What assessment he has made of the role of branch lines on the rail network in stimulating growth and employment. (45279)

The Government recognise the positive role that branch lines can play in supporting economic growth. Such lines receive substantial support from the taxpayer via the train operator subsidy and Network Rail grant. In addition, the DFT’s community rail strategy is aimed at making it easier for local communities to get involved in promoting and supporting local lines.

With the big society in mind, will the Minister of State be sympathetic to a local community in my constituency who are interested in making use of the Berkeley line to develop tourism and links between communities and to stimulate economic growth?

I am very impressed with the work being done by local volunteers and enthusiasts on that project. I know that they have applied for lottery funding. As for the logistics of getting such projects up and running, they would need to think about long-term sources of funding and discuss their plans with Network Rail and local train operators, as well as local authorities. I understand that they are considering both heritage tourist use and commuter use. It is often very difficult to combine the two, so they might want to keep their ambitions within a reasonable scope if they are to succeed.

In view of the McNulty report’s interim findings, will the Minister refuse to go ahead with a policy of saving money by a wholesale closure of branch lines, which would create a second Beeching?

There is no suggestion of doing that. The point of the McNulty review is to find a way to deliver current services—and, one hopes, more services in the future—at a lower cost to the taxpayer. It is vital that Sir Roy comes up with good proposals for doing that if we are to relieve the burden on the taxpayer and the fare payer.


We have announced a local sustainable transport fund of £560 million over four years, which we are committed to even in these difficult times. We are also committed to funding Bikeability cycle training for the remainder of this Parliament.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the opening this coming weekend of the first sections of east Hampshire’s super-scenic highway for cyclists, walkers and riders, Shipwrights way, which will link in with the rail network for commuters and recreational users of the new South Downs national park?

We welcome that project, and I understand that there are proposals for an extension, for which I am sure that the local authority will bid to the local sustainable transport fund for funding.

Of course, it is not possible for me to come here from my constituency on a bike—although many of my constituents believe that I should, on the basis of the recent exposure of expenses. One area of concern is the number of potholes on the roads. What is being done about potholes, because everybody knows that they are a major problem, given the recent climatic conditions?

Local authorities are doing their best to deal with potholes. We will announce at least an additional £100 million to help local authorities to fill potholes.

Local Authority Major Transport Schemes

8. What criteria he proposes to use to determine his Department’s spending on local authority major transport schemes. (45281)

We will announce in due course the criteria for allocating the remaining funds to projects in the development pool. It is likely to be done on the basis of an appraisal of value for money, the proportion of non-Department for Transport funding, deliverability, strategic importance, and a consideration of the balance between modes and regions. It remains my objective to develop a system of capital funding allocation to sub-national areas so that in future spending review periods, priorities can be determined locally.

Harlow council and Essex county council are highly supportive of a new M11 junction near Harlow, and local housing development could help to pay for it. Will the Secretary of State look at plans for the new junction, given that the cost to the taxpayer could be minimal?

That is a matter for consideration in future local authority major scheme application rounds. As I have indicated, I hope that those will be carried out on a much more devolved basis—but I can say to my hon. Friend that any scheme that levers in private money to reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and thus improve the cost-benefit ratio that the taxpayer sees, is likely to have an advantage in any future competition.

In that context, will the Secretary of State consider the proposals for a Surrey Canal Road station in my constituency, on which I made representations to the Government last year? My local authority has put money into the design stage and the local developer, Renewal, is putting up a lot of money to ensure that the station can at least be started. I hope that the Government will support that vital piece of infrastructure.

I am happy to look at the matter, to discuss it again with the Mayor of London and to consider the points that the right hon. Lady has raised.

Free Bus Services

9. What recent representations he has received on the removal of bus service operators grant from free bus services. (45282)

I have received one letter from the Passenger Transport Executive Group and my officials have had discussions with the Confederation of Passenger Transport about the eligibility of bus service operators grant for free bus services. My hon. Friend, too, has written to me about this matter, as he knows.

An example of an important free bus service is the Cambridge city centre circular route, which goes through the pedestrianised area and provides essential access for the elderly, the disabled and those who otherwise could not get around. The route is at risk not only from the change to the bus service operators grant, but from a rather mistaken county council policy. Will the Minister consider whether support can be given to that essential service, and encourage the county council to support it?

My officials discovered last year that some bus services receiving bus service operators grant were not eligible under the regulations because they were free services. As a result, the grant had to stop being paid. My officials wrote to operators in November to tell them that, and I have subsequently received representations on the matter. I believe that there is a case for continuing to pay BSOG for at least some of those services, so I will explore whether we can change the powers in respect of free bus services. We will continue to allow the submission of bus subsidy claims for free services, pending a resolution of this matter. My officials have told Stagecoach and Cambridgeshire county council about this decision. I therefore hope that between them, they can reach an agreement to continue to run that important shuttle bus.

Does the Minister not understand that although the cuts to bus fuel subsidy may not come in until next year, cuts to bus services are happening now, thanks to the massive front-loaded 28% cut in local transport funding? In the election campaign, the Prime Minister was very clear that he would not axe the national concessionary travel scheme—but does the Minister understand that for pensioners up and down the country, there is no point in having a free bus pass if there is no bus?

Pensioners will, I hope, be pleased by the fact that the Government have guaranteed the concessionary fare scheme in its entirety as inherited from the last Government. I hope they will also be pleased that the 78% of services provided through support from the BSOG arrangements will not be affected in any way this year, and that the BSOG reduction is being phased in in a way that operators themselves say they hope will not lead to reductions in service or an increase in fares—

Speed Limits

I have not received any representations about consistency in the setting of speed limits in rural areas. The Department for Transport issues guidelines for local authorities, and it is for them to decide what speed limits are required in their area.

There is a very considerable problem in Lincolnshire, with speed limits being set at inappropriate and inconsistent levels in accordance with policies set by the county council, which many feel do not take into account the guidance to which the Minister has referred. What can he do about that, and will he undertake to meet me, and local campaigners, to discuss the matter further?

I will be more than happy to meet my hon. and learned Friend, his local authority and campaigners to discuss that issue. The guidance is there for local authorities to implement, and we will see what we can do to ensure that things are better in his area.

Rail Electrification

The Government’s policy is to support the progressive electrification of the railway. The Department for Transport will continue to consider the business case for the scheme that my hon. Friend mentions as part of the work to inform decisions in the next railway control period, beginning in 2014.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there would be huge benefits to the east midlands from the electrification of the line? Given the massive economic and housing growth predicted for the east midlands over the next few years, an early timetable for electrification of the line would be very helpful to business and planners.

My hon. Friend is right to note that there is a strong case, on the face of it, for the electrification of the midland main line. He will know that there are works currently under way on the line to improve line speeds, and I had the opportunity to view them from the cab of an East Midlands Trains service on Monday. When they are completed at the end of 2013, they will result in the journey time from London to Sheffield being reduced to less than two hours.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in the last assessment, the business case for the electrification of the midland main line was just as strong as that for the Great Western line? As he is not prepared at this stage to commit to the electrification of the line in one go, will he re-examine the possibility of introducing the new bi-modal trains on the line? On that basis there could be incremental electrification without the up-front costs coming all at once.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question, and I am aware of the proposal that East Midlands Trains is examining to introduce bi-modal running on the line. The difference between the midland main line and the Great Western main line is that the midland main line’s future function will be affected by the decision on High Speed 2. It is right that we consider the matter as one for the next control period, in the full light of the decision on HS2 that will be taken later this year.

12. What recent representations he has received on the electrification of rail lines between Cardiff and Swansea and west of Swansea. (45285)

I have received representations calling for electrification of the Great Western main line to be extended as far west as Swansea. We have looked carefully at the arguments but I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman that there is not, at present, a viable business case for electrification of the main line between Cardiff and Swansea. I have given the House an undertaking that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will keep the matter under review.

I regret to inform the Secretary of State that last week’s announcement went down like a lead balloon in the communities in west Wales that I represent. Later in the week, the Business Secretary made a speech saying that investment in high-speed rail and electrification was an example of how the UK Government were going to rebalance the economy. Is the message therefore that as far as the UK Government are concerned, the Welsh economy stops at Cardiff?

No, I will tell the hon. Gentleman what the message is. It is that my announcement last week will result in the journey time to Swansea being cut by 20 minutes, to two hours and 39 minutes, delivering to people in Swansea all the time-saving benefits that would be delivered were electrification to progress as far as Swansea. I am sorry to have to tell him this, but if he looks at the facts of the case, the costs to the taxpayer and the benefits to the people of Swansea, he will discover that at the present time our decision is the right one. As I have said, we will keep it under review.

I am sorry to return to this subject, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House what feasibility studies have been undertaken on how long the Severn rail tunnel will be closed when the electrification project is under way? Would alternative diversion routes, such as the Kemble to Swindon rail scheme, be useful additions when the scheme is constructed?

My hon. Friend is extremely diligent in pursuing the Swindon to Kemble rail scheme. Our proposals will require electrification through the Severn tunnel. I have not yet received a detailed proposal from Network Rail on how engineering work will be carried out, but we will be mindful of the potential for disruption.

I shall not express my disappointment with the decision again, but I would like to know this: are you going to publish the information on how you reached the financial decision? People in Swansea ought to be told what that decision was based on.

If the hon. Lady would like to see the business case analysis for electrification from Cardiff to Swansea, I am happy to make it available to her. I can tell her that it will not reinforce her case.

Satellite Navigation Systems

13. What assessment he has made of the potential for satellite navigation systems to increase the proportion of journeys undertaken by haulage companies using major routes. (45286)

No such assessment has been made by the Department. It is for hauliers to plan their routes and for satellite navigation system providers to provide the technology that ensures that hauliers use the appropriate routeing.

Last weekend I came bonnet to bonnet with a huge articulated lorry in the village of Wingham on a very small rural A road. What can we do through the sat-nav system to distinguish rural A roads from the dual carriageways that lorries should be using?

I am very aware of that problem, because it happens in my constituency as well, but there are new satellite navigation systems specifically for hauliers, which include software to ensure that hauliers stay on their routes. There is no benefit to hauliers in going down side roads, and local authorities have the powers to make weight restrictions if necessary. I will look into the problem in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Haulage companies that avoid the M62 by travelling between the M1 and Manchester via the Snake and Woodhead passes are one cause of severe congestion in the Longdendale area of my constituency. If the Minister cannot influence that through satellite navigation companies, will he bear in mind the need for some form of bypass in the Longdendale area?

It might be easier to speak to manufacturers of satellite navigation systems than to build a bypass. As I said, software specifically for hauliers is now available, which should alleviate the problem as it rolls out.

Marine and Coastguard Agency

14. If he will carry out a risk assessment of his proposals for the reorganisation of the Marine and Coastguard Agency. (45287)

The coastguard service is under consultation at the moment. A suite of documents published on 11 February are part of the consultation as we go forward. We have received more than 1,000 submissions, and it is important that the public should feel part of the consultation. We are coming towards the end of that consultation period, on 24 March, but further submissions will be allowed via a six-month extension, which I announced today.

Can the Minister explain how staff in Aberdeen or Southampton will make decisions on which search and rescue units should respond to emergencies? No matter how much training takes place at the new control centres, staff at existing centres, including Crosby, have decades of experience and know the local search and rescue staff personally, so will the Minister explain how the new control centres will improve safety?

First, Mr Speaker, may I just correct myself? The extension of the consultation is for six weeks, not six months.

All the control centres that I have visited—I was in Belfast yesterday, and I have been to Crosby—accept that we must modernise the service and go forward. The robustness and resilience of the service is not there. We have had some fantastic submissions and people have engaged with the consultation. The submission made yesterday in Belfast accepted that we need to close stations and have a resilient system. As soon as we have that we will have a better service, but we will look at all the submissions as they are made.

I welcome what the Minister has confirmed—that there will be an extension to the consultation process on the future of the coastguard service. Does the Minister agree that it is important for him to visit Falmouth coastguard during the extension period, to see at first hand the excellent work done there?

It is an extension for the receipt of submissions on the consultation. The visits will be as they were, and we should visit most of the stations. I am conscious that I have had to cancel a meeting with my hon. Friend’s constituents and the working group there, so I shall do my level best to visit Falmouth as soon as I can.

Does the Minister not accept that if we close more than half of the coastguard stations and lose 226 of the 600 current staff, local knowledge will be lost?

Local knowledge is vital, but nearly every coastguard station I have visited accepts that we have to modernise the service and that coastguard stations will be closed. As long as we accept that, we can roll forward a modern service. However, we cannot just be nimbyist and say, “Our one is okay. Nothing must close.” All the stations have accepted the need for modernisation, and we will work with the excellent, professional coastguard service to provide a 21st-century service.

Topical Questions

Since the previous Transport questions, I have launched a consultation on our proposals for high-speed rail, given the go-ahead for the £4.5 billion inter-city express programme, announced further electrification of the Great Western main line as far as Cardiff, announced £100 million-plus of additional funding to local authorities for pothole repairs and confirmed funding for a further nine local major transport schemes.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the European Aviation Safety Agency is currently consulting on flight time hours. I have been contacted by pilots living in my area who are keen that we export our high safety standards to the rest of Europe, and conclude that they will catch us up on fatigue and airline safety.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have received, as I am sure other Members have, a great deal of correspondence on this issue. We are working with the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that the European approach remains proportionate and appropriate. I assure her that we will not agree to anything that lessens safety levels in this country.

At our previous exchange, I asked the Secretary of State about rising fuel prices, and he said:

“I am pleased to say that it is not my business to do anything about this”.—[Official Report, 27 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 435.]

Up and down the country, motorists will think that it is precisely the business of the Transport Secretary—the clue is in the job title. We are calling on the Government to reverse the VAT hike and consider deferring the next duty rise. What has he done?

Perhaps in due course the hon. Gentleman will learn that the occasional piece of humour does not go amiss in the Chamber. It is not the responsibility of the Transport Secretary to manage world oil markets, and it is not the responsibility of the Transport Secretary to deal with VAT or fuel duty. The latter are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who will no doubt allude to them in his Budget speech on 23 March.

T3. I recognise the benefits that high-speed rail will bring to Birmingham and the northern cities it services, but will my right hon. Friend outline what benefits might be brought to the wider environs, such as the black country—a part of which I represent—and any towns along the route where it does not stop? (45296)

The benefits for my hon. Friend’s constituents of high-speed rail will be twofold. First, there are the benefits that will accrue to the west midlands region in general from the high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, and the benefits to the UK economy of enhanced productivity and competitiveness as a whole. Secondly, moving passengers on to the high-speed railway and creating large amounts of additional capacity will allow our existing railway to be used more innovatively, with new passenger and freight services for the future.

T2. As the Minister will be aware, passengers travelling from Northern Ireland to London will be hit by two increases—the air passenger duty increase and the passenger landing charges being proposed at Heathrow and Gatwick. What discussions will the Minister have with the Northern Ireland Executive and other colleagues in government to ensure that there is still good access between London and Northern Ireland for business commuters? (45295)

I refer to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: taxation is a matter for the Chancellor. I am sure that he will bear in mind the impact of decisions on air passenger duty on regional connectivity. This Government fully recognise the importance of good regional connections between London and all parts of the United Kingdom.

T5. One way to help hard-pressed rural motorists in my constituency would be to reverse some of the short-sighted Beeching decisions taken decades ago that ripped the heart out of our rural railway services. Will the Secretary of State undertake to look closely at one proposal on the table—that of the TransWilts railway, which would link Swindon, Salisbury and stops in between, and bring enormous economic benefits to the county of Wiltshire? (45298)

I know that my hon. Friend has done great work on this issue, and that there is a lot of activity locally. She will appreciate that such projects, which have primarily local benefits, need to find funding locally. It is therefore important that she should engage with the local authorities, Network Rail and the train operators to see what might be logistically feasible in getting the project off the ground.

T4. The Secretary of State has today offered my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James) sight of the business case for the decision in Swansea, but we were previously promised that the full facts and everything about the case would be placed in the Library. That has not happened yet. In view of the importance of what is a major European route, including its importance to the economy of west Wales, will the Secretary of State promise to put all the details in the Library without delay? (45297)

Yes, I am happy to do so, although I should tell the right hon. Gentleman that, despite what was said at the time, the previous Government did not conduct a business case analysis of the proposal for electrification from Cardiff to Swansea.

I warmly welcome the Government’s clear commitment to take high-speed rail to Leeds, but will the Secretary of State give proper consideration in the consultation to the high-speed north proposal by Harrogate engineer Colin Elliff? The route would not go through the Chilterns, hence avoiding some of the environmental concerns there.

There will be a consultation on the line of route between Birmingham and Manchester, and between Birmingham and Leeds respectively, once line options have been developed by HS2. That consultation will take place early next year, and I look forward to my hon. Friend’s participation in it.

T6. Does the Minister intend his direction of travel to lead towards the inevitable break-up and privatisation of Network Rail, in order to appease the probably insatiable appetite of the rail operating companies? (45299)

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said earlier, Sir Roy McNulty is conducting a review of value for money in the rail industry. One of his preliminary findings is that we need better alignment of interests between train operators and the infrastructure operator. Network Rail has responded to those recommendations, unprompted, by announcing that it will give greater autonomy to its regional route managing directors. I think that is a step in the right direction.

On 23 March, the people of Dover will vote in a referendum on whether they want a people’s port big society change in Dover. If the people vote for the big society, will the Secretary of State help to implement it?

My hon. Friend is tenacious in his work for the people of Dover. As he knows, the Minister of State is still looking at the proposals for Dover, and at this time it would be improper for me to say any more.

A few minutes ago the Secretary of State was asked a perfectly reasonable question about whether he was speaking up for motorists on the VAT increase. He was not asked whether he would implement it; he was asked for his view. Has he said anything to the Chancellor? Why does he not open his mouth about the massive rise in petrol prices? Come on, let’s hear what his view is!

How can I resist a suggestion from the hon. Gentleman to open one’s mouth? I can tell him this: I speak regularly to the Chancellor on a range of matters, and the content of those discussions will remain private.

London has rightly invested in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that the Olympics are a success, so will the Secretary of State work with the Rugby Football Union, Network Rail and local authorities to ensure that the rugby world cup in 2015 is not overlooked, and that we can have a station that is fit for the home of rugby and can meet the demands?

We will certainly be working with all those stakeholders on the preparations for the rugby world cup, and plans are already under way to lengthen platforms at Twickenham station. We are also in negotiations to add new carriages into Waterloo. We have not yet taken a decision on where they will go, but Twickenham might benefit from that. I know that there is an interesting local scheme to redevelop the station, which could generate significant local benefits, and that the local authorities and other stakeholders are working hard to try to take that forward.

At great expense, a station has been built on High Speed 1 that says “Stratford International” on the outside, even though no international trains stop there. When will this rather embarrassing state of affairs be resolved?

Operational matters on High Speed 1 are a matter for the concessionaire and for the companies operating the services. I can tell the House that Deutsche Bahn intends to start running services from Frankfurt to London in 2012, and I hope that other operators will start to run similar services. That will be good news for passengers in general, and probably good news for the right hon. Gentleman’s campaign. The more operators there are on the route, the more chance there is of getting additional services.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but this topical questions session is always a rather shorter one, and demand has exceeded supply. We must now move on to questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities.