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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015


The Secretary of State was asked—


Potholes are a menace to all road users and that is why this Government are taking action. I announced in December 2014 that we are allocating just under £6 billion for councils in England to tackle potholes and improve local road conditions over the next six years. This funding is on top of the £4.7 billion we have provided since 2010.

Unfortunately, I receive lots of complaints about the state of local roads. I do understand that repairing potholes is very expensive, and I commend last week’s national pothole week. Despite the present strains on the economy, I ask my right hon. Friend that sufficient funds be made available so that local roads in Southend are kept in good order.

I pointed out in my announcement that Southend-on-Sea would get £7.3 million over the period I have just referred to. Despite the financial situation we found ourselves in when we entered government, we allocated 27% more for road repairs in this Parliament than the previous Government did in the last Parliament.

North Yorkshire has one of the biggest networks of rural roads in the country, and we are very grateful for the extra cash the Government have provided to help. Rural areas often have a large road network, supported by the small tax base of the rural population. Can the impact of rurality be better reflected in funding for future repairs to our road network?

I certainly understand the point my hon. Friend makes—indeed, I have a large rural constituency that has many similar problems. It is up to the highways authority to look after its entire network fairly. Account is taken of rurality and road usage in the various highways authorities when we allocate this money to them.

15. In Kent, we are grateful for the £142 million we are receiving from the highways maintenance fund. Will the Secretary of State join me in urging not just the highways authority but Kent county council to pay particular attention to rural roads in Kent? They have suffered terribly in recent winters and are in desperate need of this extra support. (907152)

My right hon. Friend rightly points out the allocation that has been made to Kent. As I said, in this Parliament we have increased by 27% what the previous Government spent on road maintenance, and in December I announced another funding increase of more than 20%. I hope that we see a fair sharing of it across the whole of the community—in both urban and rural areas.

The extra £86 million allocated to fix and improve Wiltshire’s roads over the next six years is very welcome. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that this is indeed additional money spent on our roads and that councils do not use it to top up their reserves, or displace money that otherwise would have been spent on roads to meet other spending pressures?

Overall, local authorities do take their highway maintenance projects seriously. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that one cannot argue for localism and then argue all the time for central direction. However, I very much hope that all authorities that have been allocated the money spend it on the roads. Some other funds are available, and we will judge what local authorities have done regarding how those funds are distributed.

A64 (Dualling)

It is no secret that the A64 is also important to my constituency of Scarborough and Whitby. The first major investment for 38 years in the A64 east of York was announced as part of our road investment strategy last month. This addressed the notorious Hopgrove roundabout pinch point. As part of the detailed design of the scheme, the case for dualling nearby sections of the A64 will be considered.

Although I am grateful for that answer, there are currently huge numbers of casualties and fatalities in the villages of Ganton, Rillington and Heslerton, which have no speed restrictions on the roads and no protections for the very vulnerable crossing them—children and the elderly. Will my hon. Friend give priority to that section of the A64, in which I know he too has a personal interest, serving as it does his own constituency?

When considering investment in our roads network, two factors are always borne in mind. One is congestion, and in that respect the section between Malton and Hopgrove is the busiest and most congested. The other is safety, and that would include the situation to which my hon. Friend refers.

Railway Improvements

Network Rail is delivering an unprecedented £38 billion investment programme for the period from 2014 to 2019, which will transform the infrastructure on the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network. Passengers will also see significant improvements in rolling stock, thanks to the Government’s unprecedented investment and the changes to the franchising programme. This will allow passengers across the country to benefit from the enhanced investment.

I am grateful for that answer, but on the question of infrastructure, my constituents in Drayton Bassett are concerned by comments that have been made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) that the HS2 marshalling yard proposed for Washwood Heath might be moved. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government believe that Washwood Heath is the right site for such a marshalling yard and that they do not propose to move it?

I can confirm that Washwood Heath is absolutely the right location for the rolling stock maintenance depot. This was confirmed by the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee’s announcement in December, and it would be a brave and foolhardy politician who suggested for political reasons that anything else might be appropriate.

I met representatives of East Midlands Trains this week to discuss the electrification of the line to Corby. I am concerned that when that happens there might no longer be any services running north from Corby on the Manton line. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what options there are to maintain those northbound services towards Oakham and Melton Mowbray?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On the question of infrastructure, will my hon. Friend impress on Network Rail the importance of building the loop line north of Witham during control period 6 to ensure and enhance capacity on rail services from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich?

I commend my right hon. Friend for his wakefulness this morning, and for his long-term campaigning on railways. Like me, he believes it is vital that additional investment should be carried forward beyond CP5 and into CP6, particularly to enhance capacity and improve journey times for the parts of East Anglia and Essex that he represents.

Network Rail is now fully in the public sector. Will this improve public accountability and enable passengers to travel on safe, newer trains, and trains that are appropriate for the newly electrified lines?

The hon. Lady shares with me a firm commitment to ensuring that passengers have safe and better journeys. That is the point of this unprecedented level of investment. It is within the grasp of us all to hold Network Rail to account. It is an arm’s length public body, and we have a regulator that regulates its investment programme. Network Rail is also accountable to Members of Parliament just as it is to members of the public. She will be aware that we are holding a series of performance summits with the train operating companies and Network Rail, particularly relating to the routes that have shown the worst performance data over the past few months.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the feasibility study on the West Anglia line, promised by the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), is being progressed?

I believe that that is part of the whole aspiration for the Anglian upgrades relating to routes, investment and capacity, which has been nicely packaged in the “Norwich in 90” proposals. A series of consultations are currently taking place, and I will write to my right hon. Friend with specific updates on the point that he has raised.

When it comes to the railways, it is always pie in the sky, or arm’s length, or somebody else’s fault. When is the Minister going to take responsibility for a Government who have done so little to get people in Yorkshire and the rest of the north of England moving around securely, safely and on time?

I have respect for the hon. Gentleman and for many of his campaigns, but I am amazed that he can stand up and represent a party that did so little for the railways over 13 years. He described the predecessors in his seat as a bunch of trainspotters. Instead, he should be congratulating this Government on their investment programme and on the new intercity express programme trains that will benefit his constituency.

I welcome the recent announcements on rolling stock for the network, but looked in vain for news of a replacement for the ancient trains used on the Tees Valley line. Will the Minister look at that matter urgently so that the Tees Valley city region gets the upgraded trains that it needs and deserves?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there are many parts of the country, particularly in the north of England, where the rolling stock is simply not fit for purpose thanks to the franchise specifications let under the previous Government. We are looking at all specifications, including upgrading the inappropriate Pacers, which will be part of the franchising specification process he will see published in the next few weeks.

Two weeks before the Christmas chaos at King’s Cross and Finsbury Park, the Transport Secretary said that he had “absolute confidence” in Network Rail’s ability to deliver the Government’s plans, but up and down the country, projects are delayed, over budget and at risk, while some passengers have been hit by fare rises of more than 30%. Forget Ministers’ confidence in other people, does this shambles not betray a total lack of leadership from this failing Government?

I thought that the hon. Lady was going to celebrate the fact that her own station is receiving a £100 million upgrade. As she should know, there were more than 2,000 engineering sites over the holiday period. Two of them—particularly important ones—ran over time.

I want to address the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) about comments I was alleged to have made in a column. Anyone who read that column over Christmas would have seen that I am far from pleased with railway performance. We must do better for passengers. Only a lowly headline writer at the Sunday People, an idiot or a politician who has no policies of his own would describe my words in such a way. This Government care about the railways. That lot think we are a bunch of trainspotters.

High Speed 2

4. What estimate he has made of the benefit-cost ratio of the High Speed 2 line north of Manchester. (907137)

The Department has not estimated the case for the western leg of the Y-shaped route for High Speed 2 without the connection to the west coast main line north of Manchester. However, preliminary analysis undertaken by HS2 Ltd suggested that this section of the line is likely to provide revenue of about £600 million and wider benefits in the order of £1.2 billion.

The Minister will be aware that the recent HS2 route review stated that the Wigan spur was under review. Subsequently, HS2 leadership has stated that its recommendation is that the Wigan spur be dropped, saving £2 billion with no detrimental impact on the business case. When will there be an announcement that will clear all of this up?

Certainly all those options are under review. Indeed, in Sir David Higgins’s report “HS2 Plus” he talked about the need to speed up phase 2 and get the Crewe section by 2027, not 2033, with that new integrated hub at Crewe. Connections to the east coast main line and west coast main line are important to ensure that people further north of Manchester and Leeds can benefit from HS2. Further announcements will be made in due course.

On cost-benefit analysis of rail infrastructure and the Wigan spur, does the Minister agree that investment in the Tondu loop to deliver a half-hour instead of an hourly interchange at the Maesteg-Llynfi line would be far better in terms of cost? Will he meet me and Network Rail to discuss the Tondu loop, for which we have been waiting five years?

Yet another wonderful scheme on which the previous Government failed to deliver. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that particular scheme.

Road Investment Strategy

I have looked at the prepared answer and it is mind-numbingly turgid, so I will do something of my own. This Government have introduced a road investment strategy with a plan for road investment that is backed up by finance and informed by empiricism, and it is the most ambitious plan since the 1970s. The whole House can look forward to a future considerably brighter than the past that we endured under the last Government.

I ask my right hon. Friend, who is affectionately known locally as the people’s Minister, to look favourably on the proposal to have a tunnel under Morecambe bay as it would add to the northern powerhouse proposals that the Chancellor is looking into and envisaging for the country.

I wondered whether my hon. Friend might ask this question, because he has raised the subject in an Adjournment debate and I know that he is a great champion of his constituents’ interests. I thought, as you must have done, Mr Speaker, of Ezra Pound, who said:

“What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it”.

Any man who advocates tunnelling at this scale certainly holds an idea at very great depth indeed. This is a matter for local councils—for Lancashire and Cumbria—and it is for them to consult their local enterprise partnerships. Nevertheless, I am interested in the scheme and am happy to invite my hon. Friend to the Department to discuss it with officials and see what can be done.

I do not know whether the Minister has a prepared answer for this one, but may I take him back just a few weeks to the launch of a poster showing a road smoothly stretching out into the distance which was discovered to be a German road full of potholes that had been airbrushed out? Is that why he and other Ministers are trying to airbrush out the fact that spending for local road maintenance will be lower in real terms in 2020 than it was in 2010?

Road maintenance is just short of £1 billion a year. This Government are not neglecting road maintenance and we are certainly not neglecting roads—[Interruption.] I know the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am smooth, but I am never airbrushed. This Government’s commitment to roads is unprecedented and I recommend to the Opposition that they recognise that such infrastructure investment is something on which there should be consensus. Unless there is consensus, we will not build the confidence that is necessary to get the investment that is in the national interest.

I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and confidence about the future under the strategy, although perhaps I do not express it so eloquently. One of the most exciting elements of the strategy is the introduction of smart motorways. Will he say a little about how the Government’s plans for that are going?

My hon. Friend will know that the way in which people drive, the vehicles they use and the interface between the driver and the road will change. That is already happening with smart motorways. We have been innovative in the work we have done on that and there is more to be done, but what is certain is that the Government need to consider all the technological changes that will inform the alteration in how people use roads in the way that he implies. The smart motorways programme is important, but it is also important that we articulate that message more clearly. I know that the Secretary of State will be saying more about this over the coming weeks and months, and I will be too, because I think it is important that people understand the opportunity that lies ahead of us.

The A14 around Kettering between junctions 7 and 9 is being widened. When complete, that will be very good news for Kettering and the national economy, but understandably, while the roadworks are under way, disruption is being caused. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the works will be completed this April, on time?

We will be setting out in the coming weeks a timetable for the completion of a series of schemes associated with this strategy. We need to set out the detail to maintain confidence that we will carry through our intentions. In that context, I will happily discuss with my hon. Friend the timetable for that scheme.

Public Transport Fares

6. What assessment he has made of variations in eligibility for young person or child fares on public transport. (907140)

Mr Speaker, forgive me if this is a slightly long answer, but I am trying to cover both forms of public transport. On trains, fares for children under 16 are half of the adult fare and 16 to 25-year-olds can buy a young persons railcard providing a discount of one third off most adult fares. Bus operators, as the hon. Gentleman will know, set their own fares. The Department estimates that three quarters of under-16s and half of 16 to 19-year-olds in England receive a discount of at least one third, but there are variations across the country as local authorities must specify how they will support 16 to 19-year-olds, which may include specific financial support.

One of the failures of bus deregulation is that it allows bus companies to set their own fares. In my constituency, Arriva is exploiting young people by charging the full adult fare to 14-year-olds, yet only a few miles away that age limit rises to 16. Does the Minister agree that that is totally unjust and unfair, and will she agree to investigate?

I have looked at the numbers, and I know that Arriva has a teencard that provides a 40% discount. I will certainly look at the age specification, but I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a matter for local authorities. In Conservative-controlled Staffordshire, the Your Staffordshire card allows 11 to 19-year-olds to travel on any bus in the county for just £1. I suggest he takes this eloquent pitch to Labour-controlled Northumberland council.

Does the Minister agree that public transport, particularly buses, is essential and very important to young people, as it gives them the means of access to employment, training and education?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. My 18-year-old daughter refuses to learn to drive because she is happy on the bus and the train.

Railway Stations (Disabled Access)

7. What progress the Government have made in increasing access for disabled people at railway stations. (907141)

As well as access improvements delivered as part of projects such as Crossrail and the upgrade of Birmingham New Street station, Access for All has now completed 139 step-free routes and smaller scale access improvements at more than 1,100 stations. To build on this success we have allocated an additional £160 million to extend the programme until 2019.

I know that my right hon. Friend is very familiar with Lichfield Trent Valley railway station. I have plodded with him over the footbridge to try to get to the southbound access on the west coast main line while carrying heavy bags. Two platforms at Lichfield Trent Valley are not accessible by disabled people, or people with heavy bags. When will that change?

My hon. Friend may have plodded; I think I sprinted because I was late for the train. The simple fact is that, as he well knows, Network Rail is designing the project and is expected to start on site in the summer of 2016, which will, I hope, address some of the problems for his constituents that he has just outlined.

Physically disabled passengers and mothers with prams, for example, arriving at Amersham station have no real means of exiting the station. Work on the lifts was started and some groundwork was done, but it was taken out. The Secretary of State must know that Amersham station comes under Transport for London, and my constituents have no vote for that London authority, which has just received an extra £75 million additional funding to make the network accessible. What support can he give to me and my constituents, and campaigners such as Chesham and district transport users group, in getting this vital step-free access installed at Amersham station?

I am concerned if work that has been started on a project has not been completed. I will contact Sir Peter Hendy of TfL and write to my right hon. Friend.

Last week, a disabled passenger at Middlesbrough railway station was trapped on platform 2 because of the failure of the lift and had to travel to Saltburn at the end of the line to get to platform 1. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), encourage Network Rail to accelerate its programme of investment in Middlesbrough railway station, which is much overdue, and meet me to discuss the acceleration of the direct service from Middlesbrough to London? I wrote to her many weeks ago and I have not had a response.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be more than willing to meet the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the particular problem that he described today, obviously, when a lift breaks down it creates problems. That can happen occasionally and I very much regret it when it does. I think that Middlesbrough station will benefit from the new franchise that we have let, with more services coming to London.

At Hedge End railway station in my constituency there is the absurd situation whereby someone who is disabled has to travel in the opposite direction in order to cross in a lift and travel back to reach their destination, adding considerable time and inconvenience to the journey. Investment in a lift at that station has been refused on the ridiculous basis that not enough people use the station as a whole. Surely we should give priority to the needs of a disabled person,

I accept that there is a huge job to be done on Access for All. The programme was due to end in 2015 and we have extended that. As I say, 1,100 stations have already been served, but I am always interested to hear of other applications and positions on various stations. We have tried to concentrate on the busy stations.

If, as we have heard, the Government’s progress on rail access for disabled people has been questionable, what is their record on disabled access on buses? Twice last year Ministers ducked questions from me in the Chamber on why they are blocking mandatory bus staff training, as the Select Committee and disabled groups have urged. Then in a letter last May they proposed to review the matter again shortly, but eight months later nothing has happened. They are also ducking pressing bus operators to expand audio-visual technology, and instead they have school students competing to design a cheap alternative. Will the Minister confirm that the winning idea is to be announced only three weeks before Parliament dissolves? What message does all this buck-passing send to disabled people using our buses?

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman feels that way about access for disabled people. It is a matter that I take very seriously, and it is right that we do so. There is obviously a big problem in upgrading to allow access for all right across the public services but, as I pointed out, we have invested quite a lot of money. On his more detailed questions about bus access, I will write to him.

On disability, the abolition of the tax disc has been a challenge to local authorities, which want to know who is exempt from parking charges. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was going to give information to local authorities about who was exempt, but because of complaints about it giving information about people on benefits and with disabilities, it has stopped doing so. Many of my constituents now have to pay or are being fined and have to fight with local authorities to avoid paying a £60 or £100 fine. Can we sort this out, as it is causing undue stress to many disabled people?

I will look into the points that my hon. Friend makes, which have not been made directly to me before. I am sure we can sort it out.

Great Western Main Line

In the latest operating period to 3 January, the First Great Western public performance measure was 82.5%. The average for the previous year was 87.7%. Both measures are below the target of 90.3% set by the Office of Rail Regulation for this franchise. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman has heard Network Rail, the regulator and many MPs saying that this is not good enough.

Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by the RMT, TSSA and other organisations and passenger groups about the future provision of buffet cars and guards on First Great Western services? Was she aware of those concerns before the Department awarded a direct award franchise to an extension to the First Great Western franchise?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman, like me, is delighted that this line is receiving so much investment, in the form of billions of pounds for electrification and the new intercity express programme rolling stock to which he alludes, which will transform the passenger experience. I gently encourage him not to read the scaremongering press releases put out by the RMT. I have visited the IEP mock-ups. I have discussed in great detail what the franchising and catering capabilities will be. It is up to the operators to specify, and I am sure he will have seen the East Coast statements that it intends to offer an enhanced catering service on those trains when they are running. I am happy to discuss this further with the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest he looks at the facts, not the scaremongering.

I am pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that the present service on the First Great Western line is not good enough. As she will know as a south-west MP, one of the biggest issues is capacity. I know that new rolling stock is to be introduced, but will that be enough to address the terrible overcrowding issues, which I am sure her constituents have raised with her, as mine have with me?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that there is crowding. There was a great lack of investment in the line under the Government whom she supported. In addition to the IEPs, one and a half first class carriages are being declassified and standard class seating is being put in. It is happening now—I have sat in the 2,000th seat to be declassified. Although that is not the whole solution, I think we will see reduced overcrowding, particularly when passengers come in from Reading to Paddington, which is where trains can get extremely crowded.

Railway Lines

We are delivering £38 billion of investment on our existing rail network. In addition, HS2 will deliver a £42.6 billion programme to build a new railway, linking London to our other great cities. It will reach Birmingham by 2026 and Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

Transport links are crucial to the economy of the black country. Currently, commuters between Wolverhampton and Walsall have to go through a connection at Birmingham New Street, which takes double the time it would take to drive. Will the Minister, with local support, consider a reintroduction of the line between Walsall and Wolverhampton?

We are certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend. That line would not only deliver a better journey time between Wolverhampton and Walsall, but would relieve some of the pressure on Birmingham New Street.

David Higgins has described the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester as a matter of national concern. Under his proposals for an HS3 line, it merely goes from Manchester to Leeds, and to get from Manchester centre to Sheffield centre, one will have to go on HS3 to north of Wakefield, down on HS2 to Meadowhall, and then back to Sheffield centre. It will take longer than the current trundle through Hope valley. If improving connectivity is an important issue for the Government, should not this whole project get a complete rethink?

Improving connectivity is a very important issue for this Government. That is why we have not only a long-term economic plan but a long-term infrastructure plan. I have some very good news for the Labour party. Its plans, both economic and on infrastructure, seem to have been drawn up on the back of a fag packet; the good news is that there will be more room on the back from now on.

Though my constituents would be happy to see new rail lines built, they would prefer better services on the existing ones. East Midlands Trains, which operates the Grimsby-Lincoln-Newark service, most of which is provided by a single-car unit, has been telling me for four and a half years that it will improve that by making it two cars. When will the Minister act to do something about that?

It is always important to address such issues when franchises come up. One of the problems we are facing in announcing all these programmes up and down the country is that everybody is now wanting to jump on the bandwagon to catch up and see the investment coming to their area after a 13-year period of drought in real investment in infrastructure.

Topical Questions

Last week I introduced an extensive package of compensation and assistance for property owners along the London to Birmingham High Speed 2 route. That will look after the people who live along the HS2 route while balancing this with our responsibility to the taxpayer. People will also be helped by HS2’s new residents charter and the appointment of a residents commissioner.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that Pacer units are not fit for purpose and that Halifax passengers deserve new rolling stock. Will he now put a definite date on when we will get those much-needed trains?

Thanks to the support I have had from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, I hope that we can move to a position of replacing the Pacers. They have certainly outlived their useful purpose, and I know that many people want them replaced, as do I, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. It is a pity we have had to wait so long and that 13 years were wasted.

T2. Tomorrow I will visit Abbott and Co. of Newark, a fourth-generation local business that has been manufacturing boilers and fittings for British vessels flying the red ensign since HMS Warrior in the 1860s. What more are the Government doing to support the maritime sector given its importance to the economy? (907165)

I have been maritime Minister for a relatively short time in which we have developed a maritime skills strategy and a maritime growth plan. There are those, tinged by the melancholy of what is past, who do not believe that our future can be as bright. I believe, imbued with the spirit of Nelson, that our island nation’s seafaring future can be just as glorious as its past.

Last week the “Buses in crisis” report from the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that since 2010 more than 2,000 bus routes have been cut and bus fares have risen by 25% on average—five times faster than the rise in average wages—while bus companies continue to make big profits and big bonuses for people at the top. Why will not the Government back Labour’s proposals to legislate to give London-style powers to city and county regions in England, which would give passengers the power to control fares, set routes and integrate services? If it is okay for Boris, then why not the same powers for Bristol, Birmingham, Bedford, Brighton, Burnley, Bradford, Burton, Blackpool and Barnsley?

I do not know quite where the hon. Gentleman gets his facts from. Between 1997 and 2010, the annual average increase in English bus fares, in real terms, was 2.25%, whereas between 2010 and 2013 the increase was 1.5%, so there was a lower increase under this Government than during the whole period of the previous Government. The simple fact is that buses play a very important role in offering transport opportunities both to younger people and older people. That is why we have kept, and will keep, concessionary bus fares for older people.

T3. Are Ministers aware that, every time residents complain to me about cyclists recklessly and dangerously riding their bikes on pavements, the police refer me to section 72 of the Highways Act 1835? Do they agree that that legislation is somewhat outdated, because in terms of its effectiveness it is absolutely useless? (907166)

The Highways Act 1835 was drafted in the era of the penny-farthing, but it still applies in the era of carbon fibre and lycra. If a police officer observes reckless riding on the pavement, he has three options: he can warn the person, issue a fixed-penalty fine or report them for prosecution. The legislation is still enforced and it is up to the police and police and crime commissioners to make sure it is used properly.

T6. The Secretary of State backs greater transport powers for Greater Manchester, yet for the past four years his Department has refused to support a similar quality contract scheme for buses across Tyne and Wear. If it is good enough for Greater Manchester, why is it not good enough for us in Tyne and Wear? (907169)

We have done a deal with Greater Manchester that involves it having a mayor, which is an imaginative way forward. I look forward to seeing how the scheme will work.

T4. I will meet the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) shortly, but will he heed the representations of Councillor David Salter and ask the Highways Agency to review the new design of the A5 Wall Island, which is still causing accidents, tailbacks and huge chaos for my constituents in Shenstone, Wall and Muckley Corner? (907167)

My hon. Friend has presented me with a diagrammatic representation: his original version was a cross between an egg timer and a peanut, but he has now given me a more detailed one. I am aware of the situation. As he will know, the Highways Agency spent £1.5 million on the scheme. Nevertheless, I know there remain problems and I am happy for him to meet with me and the Highways Agency to see if the problems can be solved.

The Prime Minister has said that the Pacer trains are going, but the Treasury has said it will only encourage bidders, so will the Secretary of State give a guarantee that all Pacers will be replaced and a date for when that will happen?

I am pleased that we are making progress that was not made between 1997 and 2010. We are making huge investments in trains and I am very pleased about that. The invitations to tender will be issued shortly and I hope to be able to say more about it then.

T5. The Department for Transport is consulting on removing the MOT exemption for HGVs based on Bute, Islay, Mull and Tiree, but the exemption is there for a very good reason: there are simply not enough HGVs on those islands to justify the cost of an authorised testing facility and the cost of taking an HGV to the mainland is very high. Will Ministers please stop this burden on island businesses? (907168)

The hon. Gentleman knows that the consultation is being looked at on a Great Britain-wide basis and specific exemptions are indeed made for local service and delivery issues. I encourage him to continue eloquently to make the case for the existing exemption in his neck of the woods.

The rail Minister will know that, due to the rebuild of London Bridge station, overcrowding on Southeastern services into Cannon Street has reached dangerous levels. What was previously a poor service is now utterly abysmal. What immediate action will she take to ensure that every rush hour train into Cannon Street is formed of 12 cars, and can she guarantee that the old Thameslink rolling stock, which will become available towards the end of the year, will be used to increase capacity on those services?

The hon. Lady knows that there are potentially many solutions to solving the many problems caused by the unprecedented rebuild of one of London’s oldest stations. I am glad that, directly after these questions, she will join me at the performance summit, which is being held on a cross-party basis, with the operator, Network Rail and the regulators, where we will be able to hear answers from those specifically in charge of running the railways.

T8. The problems in the channel tunnel have led to the use of Operation Stack on the M20, which, as ever, is causing huge disruption to traffic in my constituency and across Kent. What progress is being made in finding an off-road solution to parking trucks when they cannot get across the channel?


Following the disruption this week, we obviously need to look at and investigate that matter further. I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the relevant authorities to discuss what solutions there may be should it happen again in the future.

Local councils and parties up and down the east coast from Aberdeen and Edinburgh to London have come together in the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities with a plan for comprehensive improvements to infrastructure and trains on the east coast main line. Will the Secretary of State look at those proposals? Does he accept that improvements to the east coast main line are an essential complement to High Speed 2, not an alternative?

I am certainly happy to look at the proposals. We are making huge progress with the IEP trains—we are making a dramatic increase in investment on that line—but I am always willing to look at reasonable proposals to improve services for our constituents.

T9. Since 2005, the number of passengers visiting Wolverhampton station has more than doubled. Recent passenger survey returns show that the service is poor, particularly at peak times. Will the Secretary of State meet me and investors in the station to talk about the specific issues of extended leases and facility charging so that Wolverhampton station can get its new station and we can complete the interchange project? (907172)

When I went back to Wolverhampton station in my early days as Secretary of State, I said that it had not changed much since I used it as a small young person. I said that it was not very good then, and had not improved very much since. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that problem. I would however say that there are some major station improvements in the west midlands, not least at Birmingham New Street. It is about time that such improvements moved up to Wolverhampton.

I wrote to the Secretary of State before Christmas about the Trafford Park Metrolink extension and ITV’s concerns that noise from trams on the route in front of the set of “Coronation Street” may cause difficulties with filming. While ITV and Transport for Greater Manchester argue, I am sure that he agrees with me that anything that might delay progress in getting the extension built would be very regrettable. What can he do to help to unblock the situation?

I am not aware of the hon. Lady’s letter. I will certainly seek it out and see whether I can address the problems. From memory, the tram runs at the bottom of the set of “Coronation Street”; at least, that is what we are shown.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress with connectivity to Leeds Bradford airport? The prospect of a link road is of great concern to many of my constituents. Surely an effective contribution to the northern economic powerhouse would be for one of the largest airports in the north to be connected to the rail network.

Equipped with the information I need, I have that very study here. My hon. Friend is right that it says that a road link is important, but it does not of course rule out a rail link in the way he describes and of which I know he has been a great advocate. In that context, I will take another look at the matter, which of course has to be taken forward locally. He has been a great champion. How proud the people of Pudsey must be to be represented by my hon. Friend.

Last Thursday in Committee, the charming Minister pushed through amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to change the electronic communications code. Last night, he sneaked upstairs to the Public Bill Office to table amendments to delete the very same changes that he made last week. Are these the shortest lived amendments in the history of this House? To be blunt—[Interruption.] I am here all week. To be blunt, is it not time to say that the Government’s whole deal with the mobile phone companies has fallen apart?

My advice to the hon. Gentleman is that it is always better to be sharp than to be blunt, but that option is not available to him most of the time. The truth is that we have listened, because we want to move forward in a spirit of consensus. We know that it is vital to reform the code, and we want to do it properly. The Opposition made the case that we should withdraw it, think again and work with all concerned to make it work, but now when we do so, they criticise us. They cannot have it both ways.

Will my right hon. Friend work with Staffordshire county council to tackle the long-term congestion problems in and around Stafford that are caused by, among many reasons, diversions from the M6 when it is blocked?

As a former member of Staffordshire county council, I am certainly content to work with that excellent county council to see whether we can address some of the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Private Members’ Bills

1. If he will review the effectiveness of the procedure for tabling money resolutions for private Members’ Bills; and if he will make a statement. (907153)

5. If he will review the effectiveness of the procedure for tabling money resolutions for private Members’ Bills; and if he will make a statement. (907157)

It is the responsibility of the Member in charge of the Bill to make a request to the Government to table any money or Ways and Means motion that may be required in respect of private Members’ Bills that have had a Second Reading. It is the usual but not invariable practice of the Government to accede to such requests.

On Monday, the House adjourned after barely three hours of Government business, so is it not an outrage that the Leader of the House cannot find time to bring to the House important money resolutions on private Members’ Bills, such as that of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), which would exempt thousands of disabled people from the terrible effects of the Government’s hated bedroom tax?

On the question of Monday’s business, it is right to allocate a full day of debate on the Floor of the House when all stages of a Bill are being considered. It is up to the House if it does not use the full time, but there would be considerable objections if we did not allocate a full day for all stages of a Bill. As I have explained to the House before, the problem with the money resolutions on the Affordable Homes Bill and the European Union (Referendum) Bill is not one of time; there has been no agreement in the coalition about those money resolutions, and that remains the case.

It is six months since the House voted to back the excellent Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) which would reverse the worst aspects NHS privatisation, yet the Government have failed to bring forward the necessary motion for it to proceed to Committee. Will the Leader of the House listen to the will of the House and the British public, and ensure that it is respected by acting so that the Bill can now proceed to Committee?

There was necessary consideration of whether a money resolution was needed for that Bill. The House authorities have confirmed that no money resolution is needed for the Bill to enter Committee and I have now instructed officials to table the motion that will facilitate the establishment of another Committee so that the Bill can proceed.

As the Leader of the House will be aware, the Procedure Committee recommended, as part of its inquiry into private Members’ Bills procedure, that if a money resolution has not been tabled by a Minister within three weeks of Second Reading, a written ministerial statement should be made setting out the reasons for the delay. Does he think that that would be a sensible change to introduce?

I am certainly aware of that recommendation of the Procedure Committee, and my hon. Friend is right to remind the House of it. There may be a variety of views in the House on it. It is important for Ministers to explain why, in one way or another, when a money resolution is not granted, as I have done for the Bills in question during this Session.

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the answer that he gave the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy)? Even if there had been a need for a money resolution for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), it would have been totally wrong to bring one before the House, because the Bill is based on an utter fallacy and on misinformation, as no privatisation of the health service is planned under this Government.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Were a money resolution required on that or any other Bill, the Government must also have regard, in granting a money resolution, to whether huge expenditure could be involved. It would therefore be irresponsible for any Government to say that they would always grant a money resolution under any circumstances.

Many people will be curious about the answers that the right hon. Gentleman gave to the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and my hon. Friends, because although the Procedure Committee first published its recommendations on private Members’ Bills on 2 September 2013 and published revised proposals on 24 March 2014, the Government still have not allocated time for the House to debate the report. When will the Government provide that time so that we can drag the private Members’ Bills process into the 21st century?

There are quite a lot of outstanding reports from the Procedure Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows well. I have been taking stock of them recently, and I certainly intend that a very large proportion of them will be debated in the House shortly, before Dissolution—I will announce in due course in what order—so that consideration can be given to the many changes that the Procedure Committee has recommended.

Backbench Business Committee

2. What assessment he has made of the effect of the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee on the work of the House. (907154)

7. What assessment he has made of the effect of the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee on the work of the House. (907159)

The Leader of the House has not made a recent assessment of the effect of the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee on the work of the House, but the Government response to the Procedure Committee’s review agreed that the Backbench Business Committee has been widely welcomed as a successful and effective innovation.

This Parliament has seen votes on numerous Back-Bench motions completely ignored by the Government, including a vote to end the badger cull, which proceeded, and a vote to make personal, social, health and economic education a statutory requirement. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that it is time to take the will of the House seriously? What is the purpose of Parliament if the Government just pick and choose which votes they want to act on?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that the outcome of Back-Bench debates is not binding on the Government. However, the Government have taken account of many Back-Bench debates. For instance, policy has changed on the issue of VAT on fuel for air ambulances, and on cheaper petrol and diesel following a motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Of course, there was also the successful campaign on the release of documents relating to Hillsborough.

May I, too, welcome the excellent work of the Backbench Business Committee, which has chosen debates that the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) and I have asked for on a number of reports by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The strength of the Backbench Business Committee is that its time is for debating purposes, but will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House consider the possibility of a debate either selected by the Backbench Business Committee or in Government time on how the House deals with the scrutiny of European Union matters? When an implementing regulation comes before the House, hon. Members should be allowed to amend as well as just debate it.

I thank my hon. Friend, and I am sure that if a cross-party group of Members of Parliament went to the Backbench Business Committee with a proposal for a debate to examine that, the Committee would be happy to accept the request.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Houses of Parliament: Shared Services

3. What estimate he has made of savings that could be achieved through sharing more services with the House of Lords. (907155)

There has been no overall assessment of the potential financial savings from increased joint working with the House of Lords. Subject to what is said later today in the debate on the report by the House of Commons Governance Committee, the Commission expects to write to the Lords House Committee shortly to propose an initial joint meeting later this year. I would not be surprised if the issues raised in the Governance Committee’s report about greater bicameral working were on the agenda for that meeting.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and he will know that there is wide support for that in the Governance Committee. Members would like to see such work go forward as quickly as possible. The trouble with this place and the other place is that things can be dragged out for some time, so will he ensure that we can move down the road a lot quicker than usual?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, both Houses are sovereign, so we must make progress through dialogue and agreement. However, I am much encouraged by how the joint service for procurement was set up last year, and I believe that there is an appetite in both Houses to reach agreement. I will certainly do all I can to assist in that.

I know that my right hon. Friend has extensive management experience in the hospitality industry. What constraints does he see in making this place efficient compared with his private sector experience?

I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely interesting question. I would observe that when one is appointed chief executive of an organisation in the private sector, one is in charge, one takes responsibility and one gets on with it. In this place and the other place, we are responsible to the Members, so it is necessary to have a structure that properly reflects that. One therefore tries to take the best bits of governance that one has learned from the private sector but use them in a way that serves the House and its primary purpose of legislation.

The right hon. Gentleman also knows that this is not just about cost saving. Many of us are in favour of serious economies, but we want an effective system across both Houses that delivers good improvements to the quality of our ability to do our job. Many of us want co-operation on security and other things with the House of Lords, but this is not just about cost cutting; it is about getting a better service to Members of this House.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman and that is exactly what has been happening. Let us consider, for example, what is happening with the security services being brought in-house. That is the most effective model and will deliver the best service. The joint procurement service has been put together between the two Houses. The primary reason for that was to increase governance, but it is now also producing savings without any detriment—indeed, there is an improvement—to services. I am at one with the hon. Gentleman on that objective, and I believe we are starting to deliver it.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Private Members’ Bills

4. If he will make more time available in Public Bill Committees and on the Floor of the House for consideration of private Members’ Bills. (907156)

No; in July 2012 the House voted against a proposal to consider private Members’ Bills on Tuesday evenings, following a report from the Procedure Committee. In its subsequent report on private Members’ Bills, that Committee assessed the timing for consideration of those Bills but did not recommend a significant increase in the total amount of time available.

In 23 years as a Member of the House I have never been fortunate enough to have my name come up in the ballot for a private Member’s Bill, and I do not think that as a legislator I should have to wait a generation for an active chance to legislate in this House on behalf of my constituents. Will the Leader of the House set up a working party, which includes my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, to consider better ways of giving Back Benchers the opportunity to legislate?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had that chance in 23 years. I am sure that whatever he introduced would have been brilliant, and the nation has been deprived of that legislation. However, many hon. Members across the House are fortunate enough to be able to do that—22 private Members’ Bill have attained Royal Assent so far in this Parliament, and I am sure there will be others during this Session. These questions are for the Procedure Committee and, as I said, it has reported on private Members’ Bills but did not recommend a significant increase in the time available.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Parliamentary Digital Service

Rob Greig, currently chief technology officer at the Royal Opera House, has been appointed as director of the Parliamentary Digital Service. His main duties will be to develop and implement a digital strategy for Parliament and bring together Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology and the Web and Intranet Service into a unified, digital service. A copy of his job description will be placed in the Library.

I am grateful for that answer—unlike the Carol Mills disaster, this appointment seems to be well made. I understand that Rob Greig will be responsible to the Clerks of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Does the right hon. Gentleman think there will be a conflict of interest, and if there were to be, how might it be resolved?

I preface my answer by saying that our important debate this afternoon will touch on a great many of these matters. Such things are currently being debated and need to be worked out. This is a bicameral appointment which, under the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007, is made by the corporate officers of the two Houses. We will clearly have to work out the best line management going forward, but I believe that with the current flow of good will in both Houses, that should be eminently achievable.

Will this person also talk to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which regulates most of the provision of IT services for Members of Parliament? Neither printer in my constituency office has worked since November, and IPSA will not let me buy a new one. I have literally no means of sending a letter to my constituents—[Interruption.] Or to Government Members. Surely a vital part of a Member’s job is to be able to write to their constituents.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will look into that specific case because I do not have an accurate answer for him. My belief is that a repair service would fall under PICT and should be provided, but I would like to check and give him an accurate answer.

Order. It has been brought to my attention that following the Division yesterday on the ten-minute rule motion in which he acted as a Teller for the Noes, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) was listed as a supporter of the Bill, then introduced by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). A Member whose name is to be announced as a supporter of a Bill should not vote or tell against the introduction of that Bill. That is contrary to the well-established principle of this House that a Member’s vote must agree with his voice. In line with previous rulings from this Chair, I must give directions that the hon. Member’s name be removed from the list of supporters of the Bill, and that the Journal be corrected accordingly.