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Topical Questions

Volume 586: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014

Last month I was pleased to announce that from December this year Shrewsbury and Blackpool will benefit from direct rail services to and from London. More generally on franchising, our programme remains on track and most recently the Department announced its intention to negotiate a three and a half year direct award on the Great Western route. On roads, we started work over the summer on a major scheme to increase capacity on the A1 western bypass around Gateshead. I can also inform the House that after its first six months of operation the HGV levy has brought in £23.4 million in revenue from foreign hauliers, substantially above the forecast.

North-east manufacturers in the port of Tyne are warning that from January the EU sulphur directive will increase shipping costs by more than 15%. These effects could be mitigated by abatement technology, but that will take time to fit. In the meantime our local businesses are suffering. Will the Government live up to their commitment to support manufacturing and offer transitional support while new technology is implemented?

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the problems that companies are facing as far as the sulphur directive is concerned. I would just point out to her in a friendly way that it was negotiated and passed by the previous Government.

T2. The Secretary of State will recall a joint letter from me and nine other of his hon. Friends urging him to restore a direct Oxford to Bristol service through Chippenham in the new Great Western franchise. Our campaign is now backed by Business West and the Swindon and Wiltshire and the West of England local enterprise partnerships. Will he meet us to consider how this could be achieved in his direct award negotiations with First Great Western? (905619)

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to consider the proposal. It goes to show that rail services in the south-west, and not only in the north, are being pressed on us all the time.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that trust ports are an important part of our ports sector. They have no shareholders and plough their profits back into the port for the benefit of stakeholders. Since the modernisation of trust port guidance was published in 2009 a lot of work has been done, but I think it is time to re-evaluate the current effectiveness of trust ports and to update our guidance. A trust port study is therefore being undertaken to look at these matters. Officials are working closely with trust ports to that effect.

I am sure copies will be placed subsequently in the Library, preferably signed by the right hon. Gentleman.

T3. The local growth deal recently announced a much needed new bridge over the River Mersey in Warrington. I thank the Minister for his support on that but ask that he continue to support the need for a second bridge over both the Mersey and the ship canal, which is a strategic priority for the local enterprise partnership. This will make a much needed difference to the town. (905620)

Local growth deals across the country have been a great success in supporting local priorities. A second crossing in Warrington falls firmly into the category of a local priority, and the purpose of the local growth fund is to reflect those strongly.

T10. Only a third of the infrastructure projects trumpeted by the Government will have actually started by 2015, and the A14 fiasco probably sums up the Government’s record on roads. When will the Government end the delays and re-announcements and start to deliver the infrastructure our country needs? (905627)

I would put the infrastructure record of this Government alongside the infrastructure investment of the previous Government any day. It would be shown to be far more substantial than anything ever planned by the previous Government. I have had the solid support of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in making sure we have available funds for infrastructure.

T4. Street lights provide safety for all, so will the Minister responsible for road safety confirm that turning off street lights at midnight results in added road safety risks for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians? (905621)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. This is a matter for local authorities, and of course they are keen to reduce the carbon footprint resulting from having needless lights on. The experience around the country is mixed. In fact, some local authorities have shown that turning off lights does not detract from road safety.

A large gauge rail freight network capable of carrying lorries and lorry trailers on trains is being developed across the continent of Europe. In Britain, such traffic can only reach as far as Barking from the channel tunnel, so Britain is being left behind on these developments. Will the Secretary of State look seriously at proposals to develop such a rail freight network in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with passion on this subject and has led the campaign for some time, but I have to say he has not succeeded in persuading me, just as he did not succeed in persuading the last Government, on this matter. However, I am pleased that over the last 10 years we have seen a 60% increase in freight on our railways, and I will do everything possible to encourage the freight industry to transfer more of its freight to rail, because it is in the long-term interests of this country. HS2 will also allow us to concentrate on that.

T5. I thank the ports Minister for visiting the trust port of Dover last week. It was great to have a people’s Minister come to see the rise of a people’s port at Dover. Does he agree that community directors should be appointed by the community to deliver for the community? (905622)

It is generous of my hon. Friend to describe me as the people’s champion. I have never sought acclamation, but it would be negligent not to step up to the mark. I was delighted to visit Dover last week, to see once again the white cliffs and to be reminded of this

“precious stone set in the silver sea”.

He is right that the link between the port and the community is vital, and community directors are critical to that. I share his view about the importance of investment in linking the port to the town, particularly in the western dock, and about the significance of community directors. He has my full support, as does the port.

Ministers will know that the growth in rail usage in recent years is unevenly distributed across the regions. London has seen the highest growth and the most journeys, which has a knock-on impact in the form of overcrowded trains. What percentage of national investment in rolling stock and infrastructure will go into London commuter services over the next decade?

I do not have those numbers directly to hand, but I am sure the hon. Lady will be reassured to know that under this Government the overall transport infrastructure spend outside London is higher than it was under the last Labour Government. I shall instruct my officials to see whether we can get the data on rolling stock, but I am sure that she, like me, will welcome the fact that the £40 billion we are spending across the country is benefiting all parts of the country. If I could just—

T6. The roads Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), from whom I anticipate an excellent answer and whom it is always a pleasure to welcome to my constituency, will be aware that the M55 link road received £2 million of Government money as part of the regional growth fund announcement. Will he meet me to ensure that the work on this vital road begins in 2015, as planned? (905623)

As my hon. Friend knows, because I visited the site with him not very long ago, I am more than happy to arrange a meeting for him with the relevant officials and my right hon. Friend to ensure that this project gets the necessary approval.

A few days before her appointment, the rail Minister wrote to her predecessor about proposals that direct services to London from Bedwyn and Pewsey would cease as a result of electrification proposals that she described as “mad”. Will she tell the House whether she has now received a reply from herself, whether she has had an opportunity to read it and whether she agrees with herself?

The hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out that one of my important local campaigning priorities is the maintenance of those vital direct links, but as he will know, as a former Minister, owing to ministerial propriety I can no longer directly comment on or investigate those links. I am delighted to say, however, that electrification and investment on that network is an important priority for this Government.

T7. I am grateful for the private reassurances given to me by the Minister, but he will know that Lincolnshire county council has wrongly decided to close Hawthorn road over the new eastern bypass around Lincoln. Under pressure, it is now opening a footbridge, which I am glad to say one can bring a horse across, but unfortunately not many of my constituents have stables at the back of their gardens to access Lincoln on a horse. Will he please put pressure on the county council to put a proper bridge over the bypass so that we can have access? (905624)

Few are greater champions of rural roads than my hon. Friend, and he knows that I share his passion in that respect, particularly in Lincolnshire. I will happily organise a meeting between the county council, him and myself to take up the very matters he describes.