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Topical Questions

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 28 February 2013

At the end of January, I was pleased to be able to announce to the House the preferred route for phase 2 of HS2. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Britain’s connectivity, capacity and competitiveness. Last year, we announced the creation of a £20 million new station fund to be used to open new stations in England and Wales. I launched the competition in January, and I very much hope to make an announcement by the end of March on which stations have been successful. We have also received a large number of bids for the £170 million local pinch-point funds, the applications for which closed last week. We hope to make an announcement shortly.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on any talks he has had with the transport Minister in Wales about the electrification of the Wrexham-Bidston line? When does he finally hope to make progress and when can we finally have a station that serves the Deeside industrial estate?

I am due to meet the Minister in Wales shortly to discuss a number of issues. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be one of the particular issues we discuss. We have made major announcements about electrification in Wales. I realise that it affects south Wales, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think it a move in the right direction.

T2. Lincoln finally has one daily direct service to London despite being promised seven up-and-down daily links at the 2010 general election. Will the Minister assure me that when the new franchise is put out to tender, my constituents will see an expansion of direct daily services and weekend services, as we are well aware of the need for our expanding city to enjoy as many rail links to the capital as other cities across our nation? (145072)

My hon. Friend now serves on the Select Committee, and will therefore be well able to keep an eye on these matters. We are always being asked for extra services, but I assure him that I am well aware of the case for Lincoln, especially in the light of the important celebrations that will take place next year. I will certainly consider it, and will judge it in the context of all the other opportunities that we have, and requests that we receive, for the provision of extra services.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, following the interconnection between High Speed 1 and High Speed 2, we will need a greater capacity and three trains per hour?

At least the right hon. Gentleman is consistent. As I have said on several occasions, I will consider what he has said and try to ensure that we provide that connectivity. There is also the question of trains running directly from Old Oak Common to the continent, which we will need to judge as we judge all other matters relating to high-speed rail.

T3. Rail passengers trying to book the cheapest fares are faced with a bewilderingly complex system. I hope that the fares and ticketing review will result in a much more simple, straightforward system. Can my hon. Friend tell me what progress is being made towards that? (145074)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. We are determined that, as a result of the fares and ticketing review, people will be able to buy the tickets for the journeys that they want at the lowest price for those journeys, rather than paying over the odds, which I am afraid they sometimes do today.

Was an upgrade of the current midland main line service considered as a cheaper, faster and far less destructive alternative to the building of a new London to Leeds HS2 route? If not, why not?

As I announced in my statement on the subject, HS2 is also about capacity. We are upgrading the line to which the hon. Lady referred, and I hope that its electrification during the period between 2014 and 2019 will benefit her constituents.

T4. There are several large haulage companies in and around my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that the HGV Road Users Levy Bill, which is due to receive Royal Assent, constitutes an important step towards the provision of a level playing field for British hauliers, and is long overdue? (145076)

I do agree with my hon. Friend. This will be the first occasion on which the United Kingdom has charged those who come from overseas for their use of our roads. The levy will help to maintain the competitive position of UK hauliers, and to maintain the UK’s roads. There was a long-standing desire in the House for the legislation to be passed, and I am delighted that we were able to secure its passage.

Two years ago, the UK Government announced that they would spend £50 million on the provision of new stock on the Caledonian sleeper to Scotland, and that the Scottish Government would match that with a further £50 million. It now appears that only £50 million will be made available, rather than £100 million, and that it will be spent partly on improving existing stock and partly on upgrading other railway lines in Scotland. What has happened to the funds that were promised by the UK and Scottish Governments?

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s point. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) keeps quiet, she will hear my answer. It is the same answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) when he raised the issue. We provided the money so that it could be invested in that service, but the Scottish Government decided, in the short term, not to invest in it. We hope that they will divert the money back to the improvements for which it was intended.

T5. Next month EasyJet will start to provide regular scheduled services between London Gatwick and Moscow. Obviously that is welcome in that it will forge greater trade links, but the visa requirements are extremely bureaucratic and stringent, both for Russian business men visiting this country and for British business men visiting Russia. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will speak to the Home Secretary and the Business Secretary and try to resolve the issue? (145078)

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. As he knows, my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are primarily responsible for such matters, and I will certainly discuss with Ministers in their Departments what can be done to improve the situation.

Following the well-documented problems with the west coast main line refranchising, a lot of concerns have been raised about Department for Transport decisions that may have left it less able to deal with refranchising as efficiently as we would all like. When will consultation begin on the refranchising of the Northern and Trans- Pennine Express franchises, both of which are extremely important to my constituents?

As was said earlier, I intend to make a statement about franchising in the light of the Brown inquiry findings, and I hope to make that statement soon.

T6. On Thursday 23 November I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if he had been able to make an assessment of the impact of the floods in the south-west on Plymouth’s economy. My right hon. Friend replied saying it was far too early to make such an assessment. What progress has he been able to make on this, and on fixing the railway line between Exeter and Plymouth? (145079)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he properly and consistently raises this point. He attended a meeting in the House with the chief executive and other senior people from Network Rail and also from FirstGroup, which I organised. It gave my hon. Friend and other colleagues the opportunity to put these questions to them. I shall visit my hon. Friend’s constituency later this year, and we will be talking more directly about these issues.

If the Minister, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), refers to the text of the answer to Question 18, he will be aware of the scandal surrounding wheel-clamping and the involvement of criminal elements which led to its banning. There are now concerns that these undesirables are moving across into ticket parking control. Already 300 companies will have direct or indirect access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database. What steps is he taking to prevent abuse, and will abusers be denied access very quickly?

A range of comprehensive measures is in place to prevent the abuse of the DVLA database. Parking companies cannot obtain data from the DVLA unless they are members of an appropriate accredited trade association and abide by its code of practice. In this role, the British Parking Association audits its members annually, and the DVLA also undertakes regular inspections. When necessary, the DVLA takes direct action to suspend facilities to request vehicle keeper data. In 2012, the DVLA suspended 21 parking companies from receiving that information.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that landowners along the proposed High Speed 2 route are well within their rights to refuse access to consultants from HS2 Ltd who want to survey their properties and land? Will he assure me that the paving Bill will not be used to remove those rights from landowners and home owners, but will simply be used to regularise the expenditure on HS2, which has not yet been authorised by Parliament?

When we present the paving Bill, my right hon. Friend will be able to see its contents. I have not yet secured the parliamentary time to be able to present it, but I very much hope to be able to do so— I say that as I look at Members who have far more influence in this matter than I do these days. At the beginning of questions, my right hon. Friend presented to me a substantial document setting out some of the improvements she would like. In order to put them in place, we will need access to some of the land.

On the welcome electrification of the midland main line, I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that one of the objectives is to reduce journey times, so will he confirm that the rolling stock on the newly electrified line will be the new intercity express trains that can complete the journey more quickly? The alternative is a cascade of existing rolling stock from other lines, but, because they are heavier with slower acceleration, we could find that we have longer journey times despite having spent a lot of money on electrification.

The hon. Gentleman and I share a close interest in this line as it serves both of our constituencies. I hear the representations he makes, but I am very pleased that we have been able to put the electrification of the line into the plan for 2014-19.

My constituents living in the east of Enfield are delighted with the support from the STAR—Stratford-Tottenham-Angel Road—investment programme, supported by the Government, which includes a third rail track, thus providing a more reliable service than the one commuters have suffered under for far too long. Will the Minister also lend his encouragement to the continuation of investment along this line, so the full London Enfield-Stansted corridor can realise its economic potential?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the coalition Government’s massive investment in rail. We had a useful meeting with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), about my hon. Friend’s constituency issue. To answer his specific point, we are expecting to continue investing on the Liverpool Street-Enfield-Cambridge corridor, and on all other corridors where growth is forecast. I am pleased we have been able to offer a package that makes further investment in the Enfield route possible.