The Secretary of State was asked—
I want to praise the effective firefighting by Green Watch of the London fire brigade, particularly led by Mill Hill fire station, at the incident on the M1. I also want to praise the Highways Agency and Connect Plus for doing so much work underneath the bridge, which I saw myself.
That section of the M1 is under a managed contract agreement with Connect Plus. The contract indicates that there is a repair and insurance responsibility to the contractor, and no costs will be borne by the Department for Transport.
The incident occurred over the busiest weekend at Wembley stadium, where the FA cup semi-finals were taking place. It affected three of the teams quite severely—although it did not affect Manchester United fans from Surrey very much. [Laughter.] Members got it in the end. It also caused traffic congestion on the M40 and throughout my constituency. What action will the Minister take to ensure that across the country there is appropriate storage under motorways in future?
For most of that weekend I was underneath the bridge once the fire was finished and while remedial work was done to install 250 tonnes of steel to secure the bridge so that it could be reopened. The Secretary of Sate has already announced a review of what works can be done and what can be stored under bridges. When that review reports in the next few weeks, we will look carefully at its findings.
After 17 years of using the M1 between Rotherham and London, I know that it is always under repair on one stretch or another. Is part of the problem that the M1 is used as a suburban rat-run around the big conurbations? Might we not consider introducing a motorway vignette, so that people who use the motorways pay a little extra, we help reduce the deficit and we discourage the urban-dwellers around the M1 from using it as an ordinary road?
In 13 years of a Labour Government, they rejected plans for doing that, and so have this Government. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can blame the M1 for a fire that was underneath it, which reached a temperature of up to 1,000 degrees and buckled the reinforcement bars. The Highways Agency and Connect Plus did a fantastic job. It is sad that there was so much disruption, but they did the work as fast as they could.
I associate myself with the Minister's comments about the Mill Hill firefighters, who worked so hard at the location and in helping local residents. For many years, the councillor for the Hale ward on Barnet council, Councillor Hugh Rayner, has been supporting local residents on Ellesmere avenue in their calls for the scrapyard to be moved from its site under the M1. Does the Minister agree that while we should not act in a knee-jerk fashion and remove all businesses from under railways and motorway arches, we need to look carefully at what activities can be undertaken safely underneath motorways, and take action to ensure that inappropriate uses are eliminated?
It was a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend at the incident and at the site and it was a real pleasure to see the councillor responsible as well as the representative of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. I also visited and praised Green Watch at the station.
It is important that the review looks carefully at what can and cannot be done under railway arches and roads. Different railway arches can have different structures. Once the review is forthcoming, we will look at it very carefully.
Crossrail is at a relatively early stage of construction and the cost will be finalised over time. However, at this stage, we expect that the project will cost no more than £14.5 billion.
I understand that the Government have cut £1 billion from the Crossrail project, which will mean that its opening will be delayed until 2018, and that only part of the route will be open. Will the Minister confirm for me today when the whole of the planned route will be open and which bits will not be open in 2018? When will I be able to travel from Stratford to Heathrow?
There will be a phased opening of services from 2018. We have lengthened the delivery time following an engineering-led review, which did a great job in reducing the cost of the project while still enabling the full benefits to be delivered according to the original scope. We shall make an announcement in due course on the timetable for the phasing in of services from 2018.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party Crossrail group. My constituents in Ilford will benefit enormously as a result of the improvements brought about because three stations in my constituency are on the Crossrail route. However, there is considerable disappointment on Redbridge council at the fact that, as a result of the cost-cutting exercise, the plans to remodel and rebuild Ilford station will not go ahead. The Minister has been invited to meet Redbridge council and visit the area. Is she likely to come to Redbridge in the near future to discuss that with my council?
I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has always done on Crossrail. The whole House will welcome confirmation that Crossrail has gone ahead; despite all the scare stories from Labour in opposition, the coalition is pressing ahead with it. We have made some savings on some stations. The plans for their redevelopment are less ambitious than they were, but they will still perform all the transport functions that were included in the plans’ original scope. Crossrail and the Department for Transport remain happy to work with local authorities to facilitate extra improvements that local authorities might want to fund and deliver to regenerate the surrounding area.
Dartford-Thurrock Crossing (Tolls)
I hope shortly to announce and publish the consultation which I know my hon. Friend is waiting for on the revision of the road user charging regime for the Dartford river crossing.
I thank the Minister for his reply. A few months ago, he announced his intention to remove the barriers at the Dartford crossing. My constituents would like the tolls removed altogether, of course, but we recognise the need to maintain revenue. The barrier removal will reduce congestion significantly. When he brings forward his proposals, will he include plans to make sure that foreign lorries are charged for using the crossing? Haulage is a big constituency interest for me, and my hauliers are at a competitive disadvantage compared with European suppliers.
I fully understand the concern that if we go to free-flow tolling in Dartford, or any other part of the country, everybody who uses the road should pay, including foreign truckers and foreign vehicles. Some 20% of trucks that go through Dartford are foreign-registered, so we are very conscious of the issue and will make sure that we work on it.
The Government published “Reforming Rail Franchising: response to consultation and policy statement” on 19 January this year. In it we set out, among other things, our commitment to longer franchises, less prescriptive service requirements, and the transfer of stations to train operators. The Department is now considering, within the framework, the detailed invitation to tender for the intercity west coast franchise.
Since the Adjournment debate on South West Trains, I have received thousands of letters and e-mails from long-suffering passengers around the country who are having to put up with suburban trains on mainline routes. Is it not time that we had minimum standards of comfort set out in rail franchise agreements, and should not companies that ignore such concerns not have their franchises renewed?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s campaign on that point, but the simple fact is that on many of our suburban railways, particularly those going into London, we have limited capacity. Trains are already at maximum length, and the number of train paths is already at the maximum capacity of the railway. Taking out seats to make them larger, which I think is my hon. Friend’s point, would simply mean more commuters standing, and those commuters who join the train closer to London are vehemently against that, so the Government have no plans at the moment to specify the size or configuration of seats in commuter trains.
Will the Secretary of State expand for us on the benefits that he expects passengers to get from changed patterns of franchising? In particular, will they benefit passengers in Wiltshire, especially those who would like to travel on the proposed trans-Wilts railway, which would improve considerably our north-south travel patterns in the county?
As my hon. Friend will have anticipated, I specifically had passengers in Wiltshire in mind when we designed our franchising proposals. The key thing is to drive down the cost of our railways. We have to make them more efficient, and we have to close the productivity gap between them and competitive railways in Europe to relieve the pressure on both the taxpayer and the fare payer. The changed franchise specifications will give train operators incentives to drive down costs—something that, frankly, they have not been incentivised to do under the current system.
The Secretary of State made a point about less prescriptive service requirements, but will he give a guarantee that stations such as Runcorn mainline station and Widnes station in my constituency, which have seen a significant increase in passengers in the past five years, will not, as a result of his reform of franchising, have a reduction in the number of stopping trains?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and our intention is to maintain services while creating sufficient flexibility at the margin to allow franchisees to operate their businesses in a way that makes them more efficient. That is a complex balancing act. Nobody wants train services to be reduced as a consequence, but if we are absolutely prescriptive about the timetable, down to officials detailing the precise time of every train stop at every station, the scope for improving the efficiency of our railways will be severely limited. It is a balancing act, and we are determined to get it right.
Is not the point, certainly on intercity franchises, that the concentration is on improving journey times for long distances, which has an adverse effect on small commutes, for example from Chester-le-Street in my constituency to central Newcastle, which is only a 10-minute commute, but is a well-used service? As a result of the way in which franchises are structured, fewer trains are stopping to carry commuters on that vital route.
The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to get the balance right between long-distance intercity services, where stops disadvantage long-distance travellers, and short-range commuter services. In many cases, it is not appropriate for long-distance intercity trains to have a service pattern that is organised around the local commuter travelling pattern. We need local commuter trains to deliver that.
These are complex issues. Our view is that train operators are best placed to deliver services to their users in a system that incentivises them to deliver the services that passengers want. That system has not existed hitherto under the revenue-sharing arrangements in which the Government collect most of the additional revenue taken at the fare box by the train operator. Putting those incentives back in place will deliver better services and greater efficiency.
Will the new rail franchising arrangements enable the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that fares do not rise at the huge rates that we have seen recently, but begin to level off? Will he also make sure that it is simpler and easier for people to understand what they ought to pay for a particular trip?
The hon. Gentleman makes two good points. First, the fare system is incredibly complex and, secondly, passengers face high fare levels—we fully appreciate that. The only way in which we can tackle high fare levels is to make the railway more efficient. We are determined to do so, and we will receive and publish shortly the report by Sir Roy McNulty on value for money on the railways, which will make proposals to achieve that objective.
I am glad that the issue of fares has come up, because on 9 March the Secretary of State attended a presentation on the findings of the rail value-for-money review, which he will publish later this month. I have a leaked copy, which includes a recommendation that in future rail franchises should have
“more freedom to set fares”.
Does he stand by what he told the House on 27 January, when he said that the objective of the review was
“to reduce the burden on both the taxpayer and the fare payer”?—[Official Report, 27 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 426.]
Yes, absolutely—that is the key objective of the McNulty review. The hon. Lady will know, if she wants to look at this objectively, that we have severe crunch-points on our rail system, where the current pattern of fares is driving perverse behaviour. The 18.59 train north from Euston on a Friday evening is virtually empty, but the 19.01 train is packed, with people standing, and the police preventing others from joining the train for safety reasons, and that is because of the way in which the fare structure works. We must be able to use the pattern of fares to address crowding, and to avoid the perverse incentives that have been created.
Can the Secretary of State explain some quotes in the document that suggest that he will allow franchisees to do what they want with fares? For example, the document states that he needs
“to consider in letting future franchises: more freedom to set fares”
“encourage TOCs to take a more commercial approach to fare setting”.
There are other such quotes in the document, which seems to suggest that he will allow train operating companies to charge whatever they want.
Would my right hon. Friend explain why passengers in the Greater Anglia franchise area face the possibility of having three different train operators within 18 months, which is likely to cause confusion to them and to staff? The only beneficiaries would appear to be the companies that supply the paint to change the carriages.
The decision was taken to let a short management contract for the East Anglia franchise because it is our intention to let a longer-term contract and we wanted the opportunity to incorporate the findings of the McNulty review into the franchise specification before doing so.
The south-east airports taskforce is looking at ways to improve efficiency, tackle queues and reduce delays at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It is due to report in July.
I commend the Secretary of State and the Minister for their active and robust campaign to improve the passenger experience. I think that it has improved in recent months, particularly at Heathrow, but I polled my constituents and many of them disagree. Greg Taylor said:
“Compared to Asian airports…Heathrow is a disgrace”,
and James Max complained about
“bad baggage reclaim…expensive food and parking…poor public transport”.
How can my constituents get more involved in the process of improving the experience at Heathrow and other airports?
My hon. Friend is right to give credit to Heathrow for real improvements over recent years. Although terminal 5 started pretty badly, it is now a high-quality facility, and the airport will be investing in a major redevelopment of other terminals, hopefully to bring them up to the same standards. But more needs to be done, which is why we will modernise the airport regulatory framework to put passengers at the heart of the system, to give the Civil Aviation Authority the power to intervene where airports fail their passengers, and to incentivise the sort of investment in improvement, to baggage handling and terminals, for example, that his constituents clearly want. We are also introducing a new consumer panel at the CAA to improve passengers’ ability to influence the regulation of the airport.
The Government have already introduced the continuous insurance enforcement scheme that will come into force in late June, which says simply that everyone who intends to drive a vehicle on the road must be insured and that a vehicle must have a valid statutory off-road notification if there is no intent to drive.
Uninsured drivers are the scourge of our roads, adding to the insurance premium of the law-abiding motorist. With a fixed-penalty sanction against uninsured drivers of £200 and an average motor insurance policy premium of £892, rising to £2,431 for young drivers, is it not time to consider increasing the fixed-penalty fine to ensure that it is proportionate to the cost of motor insurance, to incentivise those who think that it is right to drive uninsured?
It is estimated that 1.5 million people drive without insurance, which is a huge cost burden to those who do insure, and there is strong evidence that those who are uninsured are likely to commit other driving and criminal offences. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we are looking closely at that.
One of the biggest incentives to drive illegally is the premium imposed by insurance companies. There are various schemes to try to reduce those costs, particularly for young drivers who are a problem in this regard. GPS can measure journey times, the hours of the day when people travel, and who else is in the car. Is the Department in negotiation with insurance companies to progress such schemes so that young people can afford insurance premiums and avoid driving without insurance?
Yes, we have frequent discussions with the insurance industry, but I must stress that being insured is not a choice; it is a legal requirement. We are trying to drive down the cost, which is partly the result of uninsured drivers driving up the cost of those who are insured, creating a perverse incentive, and partly the result of fraud, which is a massive issue that the Select Committee considered and to which I gave evidence. We are working with the insurance industry on some of the measures referred to by the hon. Gentleman. It is also important when requesting an insurance quote to tell the truth, for example about the number of points on one’s driving record, so that the insurance is not invalid when a claim is made.
I am sure that the Minister will want to commend the automatic number plate recognition scheme, which the police use effectively in west Yorkshire to catch people driving without insurance. However, does he agree that their efforts are undermined by the courts which give derisory fines to people caught driving without insurance? The fines that they give mean that, for many people, crime does pay.
ANPR is a huge move forward in how we catch more people who drive without insurance. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), we are looking at the issue and working with other Departments to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
Uninsured drivers contribute significantly to the number of crashes, deaths and serious injuries on the roads. When will we see the long-awaited road safety framework document, and will it address that issue? Does the Department intend to continue publishing targets for the reduction of deaths and serious injuries on our roads?
The hon. Gentleman used to have the job that I have the honour of doing these days, and he knows full well that the Government will publish the road safety strategy as soon as we can; he will have to wait for what is in it. He made a point about targets. If we are not careful, if we set targets the easy option is always the way forward. We have the safest roads in the world and we intend to keep them that way, but we are not going to set arbitrary targets and just say, “We have met that target, so we can ignore the harder option.”
High Speed 2
We are part-way through a programme of 30 public roadshows along the line of the proposed London to west midlands route, and we have held regional seminars across the country. The programme was suspended for the duration of the election purdah period, but will resume next week. The consultation process finishes on 29 July, and I expect to announce the Government’s response later this year.
Today I will be heading back to my constituency for the final afternoon of campaigning, and many colleagues will be heading back to theirs. I will be travelling on the excellent Chiltern line service from Marylebone. However, many constituents are concerned that high-speed rail will lead to a loss of conventional rail services, as has been the experience in other countries with high-speed rail networks. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that the Department for Transport is taking those concerns seriously and what impact will there be on such highly popular local networks?
As I look around the Chamber, it seems to me that one or two Members may have travelled back for the final afternoon of canvassing and campaigning already.
My hon. Friend could not be more wrong. One of the huge benefits of building a new, dedicated high-speed line will be the released capacity on the existing conventional lines—the east coast main line, the west coast main line and the midlands main line. Those lines will be capable of being reconfigured to deliver better longer-distance and short-distance commuting services and more freight paths for freight trains, taking more freight off the road and getting it on to rail. That is one of the big wins of a dedicated high-speed line.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the published plans include a link from Old Oak Common via a tunnel round to the north of St Pancras station, connecting directly to the High Speed 1 line. It will be possible to run trains from the midlands and the north of England, directly through that tunnel, to the High Speed 1 network and onwards to the channel tunnel.
On 24 March, we wrote to all local highway authorities informing them of their share of an additional £200 million, which we have made available for repairing damage to their road networks following the severe winter weather at the end of last year. The funding was paid to authorities on Monday 28 March this year.
I thank the Minister for his reply and for the generous grant of £2 million recently received by my local authority of Cheshire East. However, the council has a £100 million shortfall in planned maintenance of its highways network, and it is unable to commit funding to upgrade junction 17 of the M6, which is in my constituency and frequently causes major traffic problems. Can the Minister offer any help to the local authority as it tries to address the problem with partner organisations?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her welcome for the extra funds made available. It is worth putting on record that we have committed £3 billion for highway maintenance over a four-year period in addition to the £200 million that was announced this year, so despite the difficult economic circumstances, we are prioritising moneys for highway maintenance. I am not aware of the particular junction, but if my hon. Friend writes to me with further details I will happily get a reply to her on the matter.
Barking/Gospel Oak Line (Electrification)
We are committed to further electrification of the railways. However, electrifying Gospel Oak to Barking is not currently a strategic priority as a number of other schemes have stronger and more developed business cases.
May I persuade the Minister that it is a priority and that the matter is of national as well as London importance? The Barking to Gospel Oak line is the only part of the London overground network that is not electrified, therefore running trains on it with diesel power is more expensive. Secondly, because the line is on a major freight route from the east coast, there has to be a change from electrified haulage to locomotive trains on that section. It would be of great benefit, both nationally and in London, if the line were electrified. Will the Minister look at it again and will she meet the secret group of Barking to Gospel Oak line MPs who would, I am sure, support the points I am making?
I am happy to meet the group, as the hon. Gentleman asks. The problem is that electrification would be expensive, because tunnels, bridges and viaducts are close to habitation, and the passenger benefits would be quite limited because the route is already running brand-new diesel trains. The performance benefits—journey-time improvements—delivered by electrification would be limited. The combination of high cost and limited passenger benefits means that the scheme is well behind others, such as the midland main line, the Great Western line and the Wales valley lines in terms of best value for taxpayers’ money.
May I unveil myself as a member of the secret group of North London line supporters? I look forward to the Minister meeting us. I hope she will meet us on the line itself, so that she can experience some of the problems that my constituents face—we promise not to make her wear an invisibility cloak—and so that she can understand some of the challenges we face in London because the line is not electrified. Problems with the freight line affect homes in Waltham Forest and other parts of north-east London, so I hope she will accept our invitation. We look forward to showing her our patch of north-east London.
Meeting on the line itself might be a little difficult.
On the freight points, the problem is that freight trains use many parts of the network that are not electrified, which is why the majority of freight trains are diesel. There is a real possibility that even if the line were electrified, the freight trains running over it would still mainly be diesel. I am afraid that the freight issues do not address the business case problems. We have limited funds; unfortunately, we have to make difficult decisions on priorities and although I am happy to listen to representations from the group, for the moment I continue to believe that other schemes have priority because they have a better business case.
2012 Olympics (Transport Network)
I have lead accountability within Government for transport preparations for the London 2012 Olympics. I am a member of the Cabinet sub-committee on the Olympics, which meets regularly and is also attended by the Mayor of London and representatives of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the Olympic Delivery Authority.
My officials and I have regular discussions with the Mayor and his officials in the Greater London authority and Transport for London on transport during the Olympics. Transport for London works closely with the ODA, which has statutory responsibility for transport planning for the games.
As the Secretary of State mentioned, a number of organisations are involved in the planning and delivery of a successful transport network for the games—LOCOG, the ODA, the Mayor of London and Transport for London. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what efforts have been made to co-ordinate planning across those groups to ensure that we can manage the huge numbers of athletes and spectators? Does he feel that appropriate measures have been put in place to keep London moving during that critical time?
As I have already described, there is a mechanism for bringing all those groups together through the Cabinet Olympic sub-committee, which is very effective. During the games, the Transport for London control room in central London will be the main control room for managing the transport networks.
The required measures are being put in place, but my hon. Friend is right to say that it will be challenging to manage down background demand for travel in London to allow sufficient capacity for the games family—the athletes, spectators and sponsors—to travel around. That is a big challenge, which we will face in the next 12 months—I am under no illusions about the size of it.
Since the previous departmental questions, I have published a scoping document about our planned development of a sustainable aviation policy. I have allocated £200 million for pothole repairs to individual local authorities, and announced the allocation of 20 additional rail carriages for commuter routes serving the Leeds area. We have also announced the go-ahead for the long-awaited Swindon to Kemble track redoubling, and the Ordsall chord in Manchester, linking Victoria and Piccadilly stations.
Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning as obscene and irresponsible the proposed six days of tube strikes by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers next month over only two individual employees? Will he also condemn Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, who has signally failed to condemn the action, and, indeed, his deputy, who even appears at RMT protest meetings?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the series of strikes is highly irresponsible. As I said last night, no one in the Government is spoiling for a fight with the unions, but the unions appear to be spoiling for a fight with London. I say to the RMT and other unions that that sort of irresponsible strike action, when an alternative, proper remedy—an ongoing employment tribunal—is available, only strengthens the hand of those, including the Mayor, who call for tougher industrial relations laws.
As the Secretary of State will know, today marks the closing of the consultation on his plans to axe more than half the UK’s coastguard stations, leaving just three offering 24-hour cover. Yet, in a letter to me this week, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency stated that the consultation,
“will be reopened in the Summer”.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the consultation closes today, as the letter says, “for the first time”? Given that it is increasingly clear that the policy is a shambles, why does he not just abandon the ill-thought-through proposals, which will leave our coastline a more dangerous place?
What a wonderful piece of opportunism. I can confirm that the consultation closes today. Of course, the previous Administration originally made the proposals to modernise the coastguard. We have listened carefully to the representations, and some very sensible representations have been made about how the reconfiguration might be managed to protect more of the local location of services. Once the consultation is closed, we will publish a summary of the findings and make our response to it.
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. I have given the issue careful consideration, but she will know that changes to the franchise, which require extra subsidy, would be difficult to approve in the current fiscal climate.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is strong cross-party support in the House, not only for British manufacturing in general, but in particular for the sole remaining British train maker, which eagerly awaits the award of the contract for the Thameslink line? What is the timing for that?
T5. In Rugby, a significant number of vehicles on our roads have been brought into the country by foreign workers, and they remain registered in their home countries. When I raised the matter with the Minister, he advised me that such vehicles can be used for six months in a 12-month period, or until the visitor takes up residence. However, there is currently no database for tracking such vehicles as they enter and leave the UK. That means that the owners of many vehicles use UK roads without contributing to the costs of maintaining them. Will the Minister consider a review to rectify that? (54178)
I am well aware of this issue, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. I corresponded with him recently on the matter. All vehicles on all roads in the UK should be safe, whether they are UK-registered or foreign-registered, and if they are not, they will be clamped and removed from the road. However, a database is an issue and something we are considering.
T3. Does the Secretary of State realise that his earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) will have raised deep concerns in parts of the north-west, not least in Warrington, which is hugely dependent on its transport links to boost and develop its economy? Is he prepared to give an assurance to the House that any new franchise arrangements will not reduce the number of intercity trains stopping at Warrington Bank Quay? Yes or no? (54175)
I do not want to say, “Calm down”, but I would like to say that I am sorry if I have set a hare running. I was trying to say to the hon. Member for Halton that we are very much aware of the risk that making franchises less prescriptive could lead to reductions in train services, and we are not prepared to accept that, so I can assure the hon. Lady that under the new west coast franchise, the same number of station stops at Warrington Bank Quay will occur as under the present timetable.
I warmly welcome the creation of the sustainable local transport fund. I hope that the Minister is aware of the exciting trans-Wilts rail proposal, of which we heard earlier, developed by the community rail partnership, which has demonstrated the strong support of local businesses and MPs. Can he confirm that he would welcome a bid from Wiltshire council to that fund, and that it would be given serious consideration?
I am pleased with the number of bids we have received so far for the first tranche of the local sustainable transport fund. A number of imaginative bids have come in. There is a further bidding round, however, and I would welcome any suggestions that could improve the co-ordination of transport across modes.
The Government have no plans to increase the regulation on the industry, which is already severely regulated. The Transport Select Committee has considered the matter carefully. Ambulance chasers, as I referred to them in the Select Committee—some parts of the industry did not like that—are a fact and are driving up costs. Claims must be proportionate. Everybody injured on the roads should be able to claim, if it was not their fault, but there should not be an industry out there trying to make disproportionate claims against other insurers.
Wycombe air park will be subject to various security requirements in connection with the Olympics. I learned this week that those arrangements will threaten the survival of Booker gliding club. Will the Minister meet me to try to find a way forward for that valued resource?
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this important issue. We are very much aware of concerns about the imposition of airspace restrictions in relation to the Olympics. We believe that restrictions are essential to maintain security for such an important event, but we are always prepared to consider refinements to see whether we can respond to concerns expressed.
Will the Secretary of State commit, as the previous Labour Government did, to legislate for a high-speed rail line all the way to the north, and in so doing convince the sceptics that the Government have a credible economic policy that would benefit all the regions?
As I have said many times at the Dispatch Box, the Government’s programme is for a Y-shaped network that will take the high-speed railway all the way to Manchester and Leeds. I am aware of the scepticism among some Members and others outside the House about our commitment to that programme. I have discussed this matter with Members of all parties interested in securing this programme, and I have given a commitment to find a way of getting into the first hybrid Bill a commitment to the Y-shaped network sufficient to reassure those Members. However, it simply is not practical from a parliamentary point of view to have a single hybrid Bill dealing with the whole line, so it will have to be done as two hybrid Bills. We will ensure that the first Bill contains a commitment sufficient to satisfy the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that a meaningful consultation will take place with rail user groups before any of the existing rail franchises are renewed? I am thinking in particular of Southeastern, which has just had its current franchise extended by two years, despite an appalling performance record on the north Kent coastal line and repeated customer complaints.
When we issue new franchises, we carry out a detailed consultation process. We will be doing that when the current Southeastern franchise finishes. No consultation was carried out in relation to the continuation review, because this was a contractual term of the franchise that was agreed by the previous Government, which meant that an automatic extension was granted if targets were met by Southeastern. Those targets were met; we had no choice—the extension had to go ahead. In those circumstances, a consultation was not appropriate.