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Topical Questions

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

T2. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. Is this topical question 2 or topical question 1, Mr Speaker? (114059)

It is still T2, but we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Mr Sheerman has withdrawn his question T1.

It has been a busy couple of months in the Department for Transport. We have announced our plans to work with petrol retailers to get a better deal for motorists at the pump. We have helped local authorities to unlock economic growth with our £266 million local sustainable transport fund announcement. We have set out the next steps for attracting greater investment in the strategic road network, issuing rail franchise consultations on the inter-city east coast and south-eastern franchises. With other Government Departments, we are working extremely hard to put in place the final planning and preparations to make sure that we host a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic games this summer.

I thank the Minister for the additional £20 million for Merseyside Transport. Without wishing to appear ungrateful, what is happening to the appalling rolling stock on the northern franchise, which is wholly unsuitable, particularly on the Southport-Manchester link?

There is a significant piece of work under way to look at what we can do to improve rolling stock across the network, including looking at what additional new rolling stock we need, and how the existing rolling stock can cascade to improve services for others on the line. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is responsible for railways, is listening closely and will look into the issues that he has just raised.

I understand that the road casualty figures for 2011 were published this morning and, sadly, show the first increase since 2003 in deaths and serious injuries. Road casualty reduction targets commanded cross-party support for nearly three decades and played a big part in sending a strong message from Government about how committed they were to reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Those targets were scrapped by the Secretary of State’s predecessor. Is she prepared to revisit that decision? Many in the road safety sector felt that that was a mistake, and the figures this morning tend to suggest that bringing back targets would help in the battle to reduce deaths and serious injuries.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as far as I am concerned, one accident is too many. The figures are disappointing. We are concerned to make sure we improve our road safety record. Many of the things that we are doing, including managed motorways, can help with that. I think he is wrong to draw too many conclusions from the latest figures, because we know that we had some exceptional weather in that period. That is one of the reasons why there was such a change, but I am happy to look at what we can continue to do to work with all sorts of stakeholders to improve road safety. It is an issue that this Government take incredibly seriously.

T3. The latest figures from Sustrans show a 40 million increase in the number of cycling trips in 2011 compared with 2010—a very welcome 18% rise. I and many others, including British Cycling, welcome the funding that has been provided by the Government, particularly most recently the £15 million that has been provided towards dangerous junctions around the country, a key feature of the safer cycling campaign in The Times. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure that local authorities match this money to do even more work on more junctions, rather than ducking their responsibilities when the Government step up? (114060)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this support for our measures, which include large sums of money allocated yesterday through the local sustainable transport fund, which will also benefit cycling. The sum of £50 million will be available to local authorities on a match-funding basis. We are encouraging them to contribute, and the more they contribute, the more likely it is that they will be successful in securing money from the Government for their dangerous junctions.

T9. Following last week’s publication of the east coast franchise, does the Minister think passengers on the east coast should expect an eye-watering 8% above inflation fare increase, which my constituents travelling on the west coast main line will face in years ahead? (114066)

This Government are determined to get the cost of running the railways down. That is the way we deal with the concerns that passengers have about fares. If the Opposition think concerns about fares started in May 2010, they are living on another planet. We need reform to get the costs down so that we can respond to passengers, and it is time Labour started producing its own reform plans if it insists on rejecting ours.

T4. My right hon. Friend is aware that I have had constituents in tears in my advice surgeries who are blighted by the HS2 project and trapped in their homes, unable to sell them. Can she reassure my constituents that she is determined to make sure that no private home owner has to pay with the value of their home for the project? What update can she give us on the consultation to get a decent, fair compensation scheme in place? (114061)

I know that the High Speed 2 line is already causing uncertainty for many individuals, communities and businesses that will be affected along the route. We have introduced the exceptional hardship scheme. As my hon. Friend knows, I am about to have a meeting later today to talk to some of the key stakeholders, including herself, about their concerns. Having listened to many concerns and looked at the effectiveness of the exceptional hardship scheme, we are drawing up long-term proposals for compensation, and we will be consulting on those very shortly.

On that point, does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of ending the uncertainty is to reach a quick decision? Will she confirm that the Government will introduce legislation on HS2 in the coming Parliament, and that she continues to have the full support of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister in taking forward HS2, which is so vital not just for England, but for Scotland?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. We are planning to introduce the hybrid Bill. HS2 is vital for the long-term success of this country.

T5. Following on from that question, given the Government’s vision for a truly national high-speed rail network extending to Scotland, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s meeting with the Scottish Transport Minister. Will she continue to work very closely with the Scottish Government on the project, not least to ensure that any short-term rail improvements, such as the Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification, can be done in a way that is compatible with future high-speed rail? (114062)

I found my meeting with the Scottish Government extremely helpful, and I am keen to work with them on their plans for high-speed rail north of the border. Obviously, they will have to look at the rest of their investment plans in the meantime. That discussion is under way and we will pursue it over the coming months.

If we are to make real improvements in cycling, we must ensure that it is considered properly as part of all decisions and policies on road use, so will the Minister consider the Cycle Stakeholder Forum’s proposal to add a mandatory risk assessment and consultation on cycling to every policy review that affects road users? That would have no cost implications but would make a real difference to transport policy and would show that the Government consider cycling a key part of transport policy.

The Cycle Stakeholder Forum is producing some useful suggestions and doing some good work. The process that is under way means that all its suggestions will be properly assessed by the Department, and we will respond to those in detail later this year.

T6. Following the very welcome news that we have ended Labour’s fuel duty, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she will continue to promote the use of alternative fuels in heavy haulage lorries, as practised by Downton and Howard Tenens in my constituency? (114063)

We are very keen to do that. In fact, my hon. Friend might be aware that we have started the low-carbon truck demonstration trial, which now involves £10 million of funding for investigating how we can encourage haulage companies to operate in a lower carbon way. He mentioned the fuel duty impact. Actually, hauliers will be about £4,900 better off on average. The Labour party is interested in carping, but the reality is that we are delivering for people on the ground in a way that it never did.

The big society pervades every Government Department. What is the Secretary of State’s definition of the big society?

It is people stepping up to the plate and seeing what they can do to help their local community. We are very good at doing that in times of crisis, particularly in places such as London, but I think that we should be doing it every day of the week. That is what it is about.

T7. Helicopter flights cause significant noise disturbance for people living under flight paths and they also benefit from reduced fuel taxes. Will the Minister look at schemes such as those adopted in Paris and Los Angeles to tackle helicopter noise and also look at the unfair tax advantage that helicopter operators have? (114064)

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that fuel duty is a matter for the Chancellor. We do appreciate the irritation that helicopter noise can cause—anyone who works in this building gets irritated by them buzzing overhead so often—and will consider it as part of our consultation on a sustainable framework for UK aviation.

Like many Members, I eagerly await publication of the high-level output specification and the statement of funds next month. As matters stand, Wales would see electrification only of our rail network to Cardiff, compared with electrification of 40% of UK railways and the electrification of the Glasgow to London route in 1974. I invite the Department to make up for this historical injustice by including electrification of the valleys network, the north Wales coast line and the main line to Swansea?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are looking closely at what we can do to improve the railway system in Wales. He will have to wait for the HLOS statement itself, but I am absolutely determined to ensure that we see investment go to all parts of the country. It is a key part of what the Government want to do—rebalance the economy—and that absolutely includes Wales.

T8. The Dutch now have two thirds of their minor rural road network covered by speed restrictions of 40 mph approximately, as they found those even more effective than 20 mph approximately zones in urban areas. Will the Minister please confirm that he will take this evidence into account when drafting the forthcoming guidance on setting speed limits and set out what other measures should be taken to protect rural cyclists? (114065)

I am happy to confirm that the Department is giving local councils much more freedom in how they use the road network, including the classification of roads and the speed limits that are set. I hope that my hon. Friend will be aware of the extra freedom for 20 mph limits, in particular. Her point on 40 mph limits is well made and I will ensure that my fellow Transport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), is made aware of her comments when he returns.