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Topical Questions

Volume 535: debated on Thursday 10 November 2011

In just under four weeks in this job, I have met a range of people, organisations and parliamentarians involved in the transport world. For example, I have met the Select Committee on Transport, the industry-formed Rail Delivery Group and the Motorists Forum. I have also addressed the Airport Operators Association and visited the Thameslink site at Blackfriars to see for myself the progress being made with that vital project.

I am clear that my key objective is to ensure that the Department for Transport plays its role in being a driver of economic growth, not just today but in the future, by helping people and goods to get from A to B, while also helping the UK’s delivery of key environmental goals.

Officials in the Secretary of State’s Department are considering the north-west Bristol to Hengrove major scheme bid. The scheme supports the delivery of 23,000 new homes, more than 100 hectares of employment land and 150,000 square metres of offices for local businesses and industry. Does she agree that the bid fits in well with the Government’s growth agenda?

I am very well aware of that bid, which was received by the Department on 9 September. It is currently being assessed alongside the other 44 schemes that have been submitted for the development pool. We hope to be in a position to announce which of those 45 schemes will receive funding later this year.

T2. Despite the fact that the west midlands was hit harder during the downturn than anywhere else in the country, and that it is taking longer to recover and urgently needs action to generate jobs and growth, the railway initial industry plan identifies only two schemes in the west midlands and would result in the region receiving only £57 million of a total of £10 billion of investment. That is a complete and utter disgrace. I welcome the Secretary of State to her position, but would she be prepared to visit the west midlands to meet me, other MPs from the region and industry experts such as Centro to discuss how we can work together to tackle transport problems in the region? (79697)

I am always happy to meet parliamentarians. I will ensure that as Secretary of State for Transport I am out and about around the country. I have already started doing that and I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituency colleagues.

T3. I hope that in the Secretary of State’s induction, she has been made aware of the unsuitable suburban rolling stock used on the main line Portsmouth to London service. Is she also aware that 1970s rolling stock has been reintroduced on the Portsmouth to Brighton line? Will she meet me to discuss how we can ensure that Portsmouth passengers get the services they deserve and the services they pay for? (79698)

My hon. Friend and I have debated this issue before. She knows that I am reluctant for Ministers to have more hands-on involvement with the distribution of rolling stock on different lines, but I understand her concerns. My colleagues and I are of course happy to try to broker a solution, and I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

T4. Are Ministers aware that there is growing concern about the potential sale of British Midland International to British Airways, which could have damaging consequences for Scottish businesses and travellers? I appreciate that under the Enterprise Act 2002 this is a matter for the Office of Fair Trading, but will Ministers keep an overview and, if appropriate, report to Parliament? (79699)

I have already spoken to Willie Walsh about the proposed deal, which, as the hon. Lady will be aware, has some way to go before it is finalised and before we know about the impact on connectivity. She will also be aware that a scoping document consultation has just closed. When we look at the emerging strategy for aviation, it is important to ensure that we see a United Kingdom in the sense that we should have a well connected transport policy.

T6. In Mildenhall, Brandon, Elveden and across Suffolk and East Anglia, people are thrilled that the Government are finally completing the dualling of the A11, but the questions they are now asking are when will it be finished, and when can they finally drive at an appropriate pace all the way up to Norfolk?[Official Report, 14 November 2011, Vol. 535, c. 3MC.] (79702)

I hope those people will drive not only at an appropriate pace but at a safe pace within the law. As my hon. Friend knows, we started the project early and promised that we would be as fast as we possibly could. We hope that it will be done in early 2014, but if it can be done earlier, we certainly will do it.

T5. Given the threat of ever higher train prices and the success of mutual solutions—for example, Glas Cymru—in reducing the burden on consumers, will the Secretary of State accept the Co-operative party’s People Rail proposals and put passengers in the driving seat? (79700)

I am obviously always interested in ideas for improving our railways. The Government recognise the benefits of co-operative arrangements and mutualisation, and I am happy to meet the Co-operative party to discuss what it would like to do with the railways, and to see whether we can involve it in the reforms that we are taking forward.

T7. As a south London MP, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know what a success Croydon tramlink has been. The Mayor of London and Croydon council have recently worked together to buy additional trams to increase the frequency of the service. Will she work with the Mayor in the medium term to extend the benefits of the system to other parts of south London? (79703)

We believe that there is a good future for trams and light rail in this country, and I hope that my hon. Friend has seen the recent publication “Green Light for Light Rail”. We are happy to work with the Mayor and elected bodies up and down the country to try to progress light rail, because it has a good future and is very useful for passengers.

May I welcome the Secretary of State to her new responsibilities and assure her that her welcome will be much warmer, particularly across Derbyshire, if she makes an early decision on the eVoyager project—converting 57 vehicles from the CrossCountry fleet to dual power—and awards the contract to Bombardier?

I would say two things to the right hon. Lady. First, I was in contact with Bombardier in my first three days in this role because I recognise the issues raised across the House. She is right that tenders are coming up in which Bombardier could participate, and I have no doubt, and very much hope, that it will want to bid for them. Secondly, I recognise the issues arising from the procurement process within Government, and we are working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to consider how we can take those matters further.

T8. Is the Secretary of State confident that councils in the west midlands have sufficient resources to address adverse weather and avoid the sort of chaos that happened in Redditch last year? (79704)

We discovered last year and the year before that winter resilience is incredibly important. We have far more salt in reserve now than we did at this point last year, and we are working with local authorities up and down the country to ensure that many are better prepared and can use the salt more effectively.

The Secretary of State will have seen the Competition Commission’s damning report on the bus wars around Newcastle. May I urge her not to leave bus transport in the north-east to market forces, but to work with local and transport authorities to ensure that the people of Newcastle have the quality of bus services that they deserve?

We are still waiting for the Competition Commission’s final report, but I can assure the hon. Lady that I am well aware of the importance of bus services to local communities up and down the country, including in Newcastle, and I shall pay close attention to any strategies that we develop in the light of the commission’s report.

Last Friday, I had the delight of sitting through the five Youth Parliament debates. They were really well-conducted and a fantastic opportunity for young people to express their views. Coming from a rural constituency, I was very pleased that the Youth Parliament chose transport as its campaign issue. What can the Secretary of State do to further its aim to have cheaper, better and more accessible transport?

We have a range of approaches to ensure that transport is affordable and accessible to everyone, , including young people. As we have seen in London, getting young people to use public transport from an early age is one way of getting behaviour change. I am very conscious of that, and I shall be interested to see what more I can do in my role.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on local newspapers of relaxing the guidelines on the statutory publishing of traffic regulation orders?

Obviously, we recognise that there is a potential impact on local newspapers, but we also realise that this is perhaps an archaic way of forcing local authorities to advertise traffic regulation orders, and that it involves a significant cost, to the extent that sometimes the cost of advertising is in excess of the cost of the work carried out.

In her review of the interval between MOT inspections, will the Secretary of State consider the mileage covered by vehicles? For the average car, which covers about 10,000 miles a year, there is a strong case for extending the interval, but many trade vehicles and company cars cover in excess of 30,000 miles, which means that they have reached 100,000 miles come the three-year first MOT test.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, there are far more issues to do with the MOT test than just its frequency. We aim to look at all those issues as part of this review, and I shall be making an announcement shortly.

I, too, extend my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her new role.

The Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands, Glenis Willmott, has established that the European Union has no problem with the Thameslink contracts being retendered to incorporate socio-economic factors. The Business Secretary was on the “Today” programme this morning saying how much the Government supported the manufacturing industry. May I urge the Secretary of State to show her commitment to British manufacturing by considering retendering the Thameslink contract, which could be achieved in a matter of six to 12 months?

We cannot retender that contract, not least because it would put on hold the vital work being done on the Thameslink project, which is creating, I think, 3,000 jobs. The hon. Gentleman’s point about better reflecting socio-economic factors in the procurement process is, however, a good one. That is precisely why we are looking at how we can improve the procurement process, which I should add was developed by his Government.

The post bus carries hundreds of passengers between Foxholes and the villages to Malton, but from April the Royal Mail will discontinue it. How can we access the community transport fund, which we have just heard about, to ensure that this vital rural bus link continues?

I have every sympathy for my hon. Friend when such situations arise. As I have said, £10 million has been given to local authorities. Her local council is in a position to take that forward and decide how best to allocate the money, so it is best that she speak to her council. However, she makes a valid point, and I am monitoring the impact of bus services in rural areas.