Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

I thank all the people who are working to get our roads and railways back up and running following widespread flooding. It has caused significant damage to our infrastructure, but I know that every effort is being made to return the service and reopen all routes as soon as possible. I will be seeing those efforts myself near Bristol later today. I can also update the House on our preparations for winter. We now have almost 2 million tonnes of salt, nearly double the amount two years ago, on stand-by to keep our motorways and main roads ice-free. We have also invested heavily in equipment to help clear the railway tracks of snow, and to stop rail and points freezing. I hope to be able to publish the Sam Laidlaw report into the inter-city west coast franchising competition and update the House next week.

I thank the Secretary of State for all the work he has done with flooding, especially in my constituency through Tiverton into Exeter. The M5 also flooded, which shows that it is necessary to have a second arterial route dualled. The A30 needs to be dualled from Honiton upwards, because the Stonehenge end has always been the problem. We should work northwards from my constituency—there is no bias there whatever, Secretary of State—and have a second route.

My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for his area. In my job as Secretary of State for Transport, I am learning a lot more about roads I have never travelled on. I will certainly look at his request—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I was misled by my opposite number. I was trying to listen to the hon. Lady as well as answer my hon. Friend. I assure him that I will certainly look into his representations.

With regard to bus cuts, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) suggested to this House that

“there have not been the cuts that the Opposition are so keen to talk up.”——[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 485.]

However, in July, Passenger Focus found that

“the majority of passenger impacts were below the water line,”—

and we now know that supported bus miles fell by 9.3% last year. Will the Minister therefore finally accept that the reduction in central Government funding has resulted in substantial cuts to socially valuable bus services?

No. The hon. Lady quoted a particular figure for mileage, but not the figure for mileage elsewhere in the country, which has been pretty stable, or the numbers of passenger journeys undertaken in non-metropolitan areas, which have held up well. Overall, there has been a marginal increase in the number of passenger journeys, according to the last figures.

T3. Junction 15 of the M4, in my constituency, is of vital regional and local importance to the economy, but is experiencing increased congestion. Will my right hon. Friend, or one of his ministerial colleagues, meet me and local representatives to discuss how we can alleviate this growing problem? (130605)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the congestion on this junction, and I would be delighted to meet him and a delegation of his constituents to discuss it.

T2. I was interested to hear the Minister’s reply to Government Members about projects in the south, but I hope that he is aware of the huge disparity in public transport infrastructure investment: £5 per head in the north-east compared with £2,700 in London. Will he confirm, therefore, how many carriages will be built under the intercity express programme contract and how many carriages my constituents on the east coast main line can expect to see operating? (130602)

It is not fair to talk about the disparity as the hon. Gentleman describes it. He might be relying on the Institute for Public Policy Research North report, but that report is incomplete—for example, it did not take into account the December 2011 local majors announcement. Of the local major schemes announced in the 2011 autumn statement, 62% by value were in the north and midlands and 35% were in the north alone, while 40% of projects in the 2010 spending review were in the north alone. It is a misrepresentation, therefore, to describe the investment as he has done. On the railway matters, I will ensure that he receives a written reply.

T4. If you will indulge me for one moment, Mr Speaker, I would like to say what an honour it is to ask a Transport question after serving with honour in the Department for two years. With that in mind, will the Minister tell the House what his Department is doing to ensure that all train stations, such as Garforth station in my constituency, have good disabled access? (130607)

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to improving access to the rail network. The Access for All programme will deliver accessible routes to more than 150 stations by 2015 and more minor access improvements to more than 1,000 stations, and we recently announced a further £100 million to extend the programme until 2019. I have looked at his station, and the footfall is equivalent to more than 500,000 people. I am not making any promises, but that certainly puts it in contention for the next round of Access for All funding.

T6. Despite the challenge of our famous hills, Sheffield has embraced cycling, and many of my constituents have backed The Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling manifesto. Will the Government commit to implementing the manifesto in full, as Labour has, and does the Minister recognise that only investment in a dedicated cycling infrastructure will encourage road safety and a switch to bikes? (130609)

The amount of money the Government has invested in cycling—through the local sustainable transport fund and the £20 million I announced only yesterday to the House—dwarfs what the last Government invested over 13 years. We are making good progress on all the points identified by The Times’ campaign, which we very much welcome, and on catching up with the legacy that I am afraid we inherited from the last Government.

T5. A letter from the Transport Minister to the Welsh Select Committee highlighted the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government have made no case for investment in the north Wales main line. As a result, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has set up a taskforce to make the business case for that investment. Will the Minister assure me that the Department for Transport will work closely with that working group in order to make the case for that crucial transport link in north Wales? (130608)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because, as he will probably be aware, the Welsh Government were particularly anxious for electrification of the valley railways and the extension of electrification from Cardiff to Swansea, which is now happening. They will be looking at and pressing the case for electrification in the next tranche from 2019 to 2024 for north Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales strongly supports that, and we will work with the Wales Office and Welsh Government to put together a proper case for consideration.

I wrote to one of the previous Ministers about enforcement of advanced stop lines, but did not get a very positive response. Will the Government now look at ensuring that advanced stop lines at traffic lights are complied with much more effectively?

We are always open to suggestions to improve road safety and traffic management. We are undertaking a review of traffic signs, which has been completed, and a further review of traffic management processes. If the hon. Gentleman gives me specific details of his concern, I will ensure that it is fed into the process and given proper consideration.

The Government recently awarded the core Crossrail signalling contract to the proven talent of Chippenham’s Invensys Rail, working in partnership with Siemens. What provisions in that contract will secure a British-based work force for the project, in light of today’s announcement of the intended sale of Invensys Rail to Siemens?

I need proper notice of that question, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend with the answer.

Toll increases on the Severn bridge were announced last week. Businesses and commuters in my constituency feel that they are paying the highest tolls in the UK. What they would like to hear from the Government is that they will do what they can to help now, and that when the concession ends the tolls will be substantially reduced for local people, not considered a useful revenue stream for the Government. Will the Minister make that commitment?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she and other members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs heard, the tolling arrangements will continue beyond the concession because of the debts that are still repayable to the UK Government. We are in discussions and have had letters from the Welsh Government about arrangements post 2018, and I will look at them most seriously.

In 2007 funds were awarded under capital expenditure grants—the Bellwin formula—to Hull and Gloucestershire. Will similar moneys be awarded to repair bridges and roads that were severely damaged in the September floods in north Yorkshire?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a statement dealing with the Bellwin formula and some of the flooding. I will look at the suggestion my hon. Friend has made.

Will the Secretary of State revisit the issue of electrifying the Barking to Gospel Oak section of the North London line? Electrification would make freight transport much more efficient and cheaper and enable much greater integrated working of the whole London overground system with the same trains, rather than having to switch to diesel on one section. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) should not be chuntering from a sedentary position about who came into the Chamber when. I know perfectly well what I am doing. The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has been here for some time. He has been legitimately called and that is all there is to it. It is very straightforward. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire should keep schtum; he might learn something.

I hear the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made about the line. Strong cases have been made. The line did not make the cut for electrification last time. We have announced huge electrification across the network, and I will certainly look at the case he has made.