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Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cross-channel Services

1. What discussions he has had with the French authorities on preventing disruption to cross-channel services from the port of Dover and channel tunnel in summer 2015. (901041)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have had regular contact with Alain Vidalies, the French Transport Minister, and his predecessor Frédéric Cuvillier, both in the run up to and during the current dispute.

Operation Stack has been in force on the Kent motorways for 14 of the past 28 days, closing the M20 and causing chaos on Kent’s roads. What consideration is the Minister giving at the moment to emergency measures that can be brought in this summer if there are further delays, to alleviate the pressure on the people of Kent and keep our roads open?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The road situation in Kent has been intolerable for many local people, although it has to be said that because of Operation Stack we have managed to keep the coaches and tourist traffic flowing. A working group led by Kent County Council is looking at all these issues, considering short and long-term mitigation of the problem.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister is in regular dialogue with his French counterparts, but given that the gangs of people traffickers particularly change their tactics constantly, what measures are being discussed to resolve the problem of traffickers simply moving further away from Calais to attack lorry drivers and get into their vehicles, in order to circumvent the steps that have been taken at Calais?

The Home Secretary made a statement on this problem on 14 July, and I know that measures are being put in place, including fencing, at Coquelles to try to improve the situation. I spoke yesterday to my opposite number in the Republic of Ireland, who expressed the very same fears about lorry drivers being put at risk by migrants, who may engage in aggressive tactics.

I thank the Minister for his update on the action to try to avoid the continuation of Operation Stack. As my fellow Kent MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), has said, it is causing untold disruption and misery to local people as well as to lorry drivers. Does the Minister consider it an option to continue Operation Stack during the summer? For my constituents, an alternative solution as soon as possible really is a priority.

We continue to keep all options under review. I know that it has been suggested that Manston airfield may be used to store trucks, although that is 43 miles from Dover. One or two issues that can be addressed more urgently include queue-jumping. Queue-jumpers cause congestion on local roads and they also cause problems when they get to the front of the queue, when there is usually an altercation before they are sent back. We are looking at how we can make Operation Stack work more efficiently, but looking at alternatives too.

Tourists going to France are being inconvenienced by delays. Lorry drivers are accosted by migrants in great numbers. There is clearly a lack of confidence in the cross-channel routes at this moment in time. What can the Minister do to reassure tourists and lorry drivers that they can cross the channel without any bother whatsoever?

Obviously, this is a problem on the other side of the channel, of which the French authorities are all too well aware. We anticipate that it will be a continuing problem, but it is of course made worse by the industrial action in Calais. Although Calais is open, it still is not operating at full capacity. DFDS ferries are not able to use the port, and two of the five berths at Calais are occupied by striking workers.


2. When he last met the chief executive of Highways England to discuss its programme of repairing and upgrading the motorway network. (901042)

The Government have an ambitious £15.2 billion plan to triple annual spending on England’s motorways and major A roads by the end of the decade, to improve capacity and condition as set out in the road investment strategy. I recently met Jim O’Sullivan, who was appointed chief executive of Highways England at the beginning of July, and there will of course be further meetings between us and with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones).

I congratulate the Government on that long-term investment strategy, which will inevitably entail roadworks. Will the Secretary of State ask Highways England to review its increasing and annoying tendency to cone off vast stretches of motorway and install average speed cameras, sometimes for years at a time, when work is happening only in a very small area?

Of course, road improvements cannot take place without some disruption to the motorist, but I well understand the frustration that many people who use the M1 feel about the length of roadway that is currently under repair. I have already taken that up with the chief executive.

May I say that this is a superb question. One way to upgrade a motorway such as the M62 would be to improve existing road links between the north-west and Yorkshire. The Minister recently wrote to me and other affected MPs to inform us of the new strategic road study into a possible tunnel under the Peak district. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that would be in addition to the bypass scheme that has been announced for the Mottram in Longdendale area of my constituency, not a replacement for it, and that the Government’s vision is that the two schemes can be complementary?

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who used to be my Parliamentary Private Secretary, for his superb question, which rightly exposes the huge road investment that the Government are taking forward.

The study that the hon. Gentleman refers to is being done by Colin Matthews. I await his report, and it is in addition to the scheme that has already been announced.

The Chancellor’s Budget last week confirmed the road investment strategy. How many extra miles of motorway and trunk road will it mean?

I am reliably informed by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) that it entails 1,300 more miles.

The A1 north of Newcastle has significant importance for freight and other strategic traffic travelling between Newcastle and Edinburgh. In May 2010, in recognition of the importance of connectivity with Edinburgh, the Government announced that it would be designated a route of strategic national importance. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State advise us of what investment has been made in the A1, and will he provide details of any planned future improvements?

Much to the credit of the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), we have announced a number of road improvements to the A1. If the hon. Gentleman were to drive around Newcastle at the moment, he would see the extensive work around the Lobley Hill junction, which is a huge investment that will improve flow around Newcastle. Further works on the A1 are planned.

Yes, as far as I am aware, they are on track. We are delivering the first increase in trans-Pennine motorway capacity since 1971 by upgrading the M62 to a smart motorway. I realise that there is inconvenience for motorists while upgrades take place, but the work is part of the Government’s investment not just in the north but right across this country’s road infrastructure, which was so badly neglected for 13 years.

Rail Electrification

3. What recent assessment he has made of Network Rail’s progress in delivering the rail electrification programme. (901044)

4. What recent assessment he has made of Network Rail’s progress in delivering the rail electrification programme. (901045)

As I said in my statement, important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme are costing more and taking longer. That is why I have asked Sir Peter Hendy, the new chair of Network Rail, to develop proposals for how the rail upgrade programme will be carried out.

Many of my constituents will now have to put up with slower services because of the Government’s decision to halt the electrification of the midland main line. It was revealed this week that in March, Network Rail agreed that joint decisions with the Department for Transport to defer upgrades would be required. Does that not show that Ministers must have known that the upgrades would be shelved, even though they were promising the public that they would be delivered?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman asking what I think is his first Transport question in the more than two and half years since I became Secretary of State. I am glad that he is taking an interest in the railway that he has not taken before.

The train services in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are operated by Northern, and we will increase overall capacity between Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield by 36% by the end of 2019, providing an extra 200 services each weekday. We will also increase Northern’s fleet size by 10% in 2015, delivering an additional 87 carriages—all good news for his constituents, and I am sorry that he looks on the negative side.

The delay in the electrification of the trans-Pennine line means delay in the release of rolling stock to replace the clapped-out Pacers endured by commuters in my constituency. How long will the pause last, and how long do they have to wait for an improvement in the quality of their journeys?

We have electrified the track between Liverpool and Manchester, replacing the two-car diesel trains with four-car electric trains from April 2015. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome that and, if not, that she would at least welcome the increase in the fleet size of Northern trains by 10% in 2015, delivering an extra 87 carriages. We will double the services between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, Macclesfield, Chester, Bolton and Stockport by the end of 2017—more has been done to upgrade those sections of rail in the past five years than was achieved in the 13 years her party was in government.

As a former resident of Cannock, my right hon. Friend will be well aware of the importance of the Chase line electrification to residents and businesses in my constituency. Will he work with me to minimise any potential delays to the completion of the project?

My hon. Friend is quite right: I know that line incredibly well. It goes from Rugeley to Hednesford, then to Cannock and on to Walsall and Birmingham. As a member of Cannock Chase District Council, I campaigned for the line to be reopened and I am pleased that that happened in 1989. I am also pleased to confirm that as part of the electrification of that line, the new bridges at Hednesford, Stafford Lane and Cannock are already in place. The investment is £78.2 million and it is on target to be finished in December 2017.

The Secretary of State will know of the great disappointment across the east midlands at the pause in the electrification of the midland main line. While we are waiting for a final decision on that, can he update the House on when we might see the implementation of the other improvements on the line that are still in the plan?

Those improvements are still going on and, as I said at the time of the statement, the most important thing is to achieve some of the line-speed improvements to allow us to operate six trains an hour from St Pancras, as opposed to the five trains per hour at present. That work is going on as we speak.

On 25 June, just seven weeks after the election, the Secretary of State announced that the Government were shelving vital electrification upgrades in the midlands and north— projects that Ministers repeatedly promised to deliver before and during the general election. Will the Secretary of State say categorically when he first became aware that Network Rail thought a decision would have to be made on the future of those upgrades? Was it before or after the election?

It is worth noting that when I made the statement the shadow Secretary of State said that it had been well known that the electrification programme was in some trouble. If so, it is interesting that he never asked a question on it at any Transport Question Time. The first time I was told that a pause was needed was a week before I made the statement to the House.

That is not an answer to my question. The Secretary of State says that he was in the dark, but we know that the Government were warned by the rail regulator in November last year, and by the Transport Committee in January, that costs were escalating and big rail projects such as those were in trouble. The chief executive of Network Rail, Mark Carne said:

“People knew perfectly well there were high levels of uncertainty about this, it was widely flagged at the time, and it would not be fair for people to forget that.”

I wonder who he was referring to. Ministers knew all along that they were going to shelve those projects, but they continued to con the public. It is completely shabby. Should not the Government now live up to their election promises, reinstate the electrification work and not pull the plug on those vital upgrades for the north and midlands?

The last time a major upgrade was done by the Labour party, it set out as a £2 billion scheme and ended as a £12 billion scheme—and then was, I think, scaled back to a £9 billion scheme. It would be wrong of me, therefore, to say exactly what the future course of action will be until I have Sir Peter Hendy’s report—he starts work today. However, I am committed to seeing the electrification as laid out, and to the 850 miles that we will be putting in place over this period of electrification, as opposed to the 10 miles of electrification that the last Labour Government put in place in their full 13 years.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the pre-electrification line-speed improvements on the midland main line, which will be hugely welcomed and increase the number of trains out of St Pancras from five to six an hour, will have the knock-on effect of reinstating the half-hourly service northwards from Kettering which was taken away by the last Labour Government?

My hon. Friend has been forceful in that campaign, and I will certainly look at whether those opportunities will arise as a result of what I hope will be the increase in frequency of services between St Pancras and the midlands.

The major question mark over the delivery of rail electrification as promised has rung alarm bells for the northern powerhouse, but what does it mean for One North, the plan worked out by local authorities right across the region to integrate road and rail transport across the Pennines?

I am appearing before the hon. Lady and her Select Committee on Monday afternoon, where I am sure we will go into a much deeper dive on those points.

I did not manage to finish my answer to the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher). It is worth pointing out that I did say in March and in January, when I was before the Transport Committee, that there were some problems with some aspects of the electrification of the northern Pennine line, and that is why, when the new franchise was issued, it mentioned diesel trains—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Speaker, these are very big questions and I am trying to be as open as possible with the House. I realise it is frustrating that these responses are so long.

Roads: Worcestershire

5. What plans his Department has to relieve congestion and support growth through investment in roads in Worcestershire. (901046)

Tackling congestion and supporting local economic growth are key priorities for this Government, and we have plans for significant investment in Worcestershire’s road infrastructure to deliver those goals. This includes over £100 million of funding to improve local roads, and a number of upgrades to the M5 in Worcestershire.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer and, indeed, for his response to my recent Westminster Hall debate on the Carrington bridge and Worcester southern link. He will be aware that the Department classifies the southern link as a local road, but in fact it has enormous strategic importance, linking Worcestershire to Herefordshire, and upgrades to it have the support of the Worcestershire local enterprise partnership and the Marches local enterprise partnership, as well as of a large number of local authorities. Will he therefore take into account the strategic importance of that road in any decisions about funding?

I do indeed recognise the importance of the A4440 and the Carrington bridge. It is of clear strategic importance to both counties, a point recognised by the county council, by the local enterprise partnership and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has visited it personally. That is why we have confirmed we will work with the county council to determine how further stages of the proposal can be taken forward.

No, no. Rossendale and Darwen and Antrim are a very long way from Worcestershire. This question is about Worcestershire. We will move on.

Rail Electrification: Northern Powerhouse

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901047)

8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901049)

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the cessation of work on the electrification of the trans-Pennine route and the midland main line on the northern powerhouse initiative. (901054)

Rail services in the north, including trans-Pennine, will see a massive boost from the new franchises that come into effect in April 2016—including a 36% increase in peak capacity into Leeds and Manchester. We are developing plans for even better trans-Pennine links, including electrification, as part of the northern powerhouse.

The challenge with capacity and the slow pace of the TransPennine—so-called—Express, and of the midland main line, have a real impact on York’s economy. Can the Secretary of State say when the modernisation and electrification work will now begin, and when it is due to be completed, so we can be confident that the work has not hit the buffers?

I am very sorry that the hon. Lady cannot welcome the £2.7 billion of investment in Intercity Express, which will mean 65 trains, in five-carriage and nine-carriage formations, introduced and serving her area from 2018 and a 28% increase in morning peak-time seats into King’s Cross. The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will operate fast, high-quality, inter-urban commuter services with more capacity, and improved local services—all with a strong focus on serving their customers well: more achievements, as opposed to the terrible franchise that the Labour Government re-launched in 2004, based on nil growth for the northern area.

In February, the Secretary of State wrote:

“A transformation in transport connectivity between the cities of the north is vital to realising their potential to become a ‘northern powerhouse’ for the UK’s economy.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2015; Vol. 593, c. 33WS.]

Now that the project has been postponed indefinitely, will he tell the House how we can build a northern house when the north has been left powerless?

The people who are talking the north down are those resentful of the improvements we have made. They are resentful and bitter about it. We have already electrified the track between Liverpool and Manchester, replacing two-car diesel trains with four-car electric trains from April 2015. That is just one of the many projects under way to re-energise the northern powerhouse and provide the opportunities I talked about, and we are not backing away from them. It is the Labour party that regrets that it never had the foresight to bring them into operation when it had the opportunity.

My hon. Friends are asking so many questions about the northern powerhouse that it has become more of a northern puzzlehouse. Will the Secretary of State confirm that plans were already in place to shelve the electrification project in the midlands and the north before the election, and does he agree that this amounts to nothing more or less than a cynical betrayal of voters?

My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that electrification of the line will happen in the future. Does he agree that the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge stations and the southern access at these stations shows that the Government have put their money where their mouth is? Does it not also show that, unlike Labour, which in government took £350 million out of the city of Leeds to spend on Crossrail—under a Labour council and with the support of all eight Labour MPs for the city—this Government are investing in the north and committed to the northern powerhouse?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I visited the site he refers to with him not so long ago. [Interruption.] No, it was after the election actually. I am also pleased to say that our investment in Leeds station to provide a new access will be very important for that station.

While welcoming the huge investment in rail services by this Government over the past five years, may I ask the Secretary of State what implications the pause—I stress the word pause—might have for the York-Harrogate-Leeds line electrification ambition and the important future links with Leeds Bradford airport?

My hon. Friend is right to point out our ambitious programme for the rail industry in this country. Many people have commented that there has never been as much investment in the rail industry as set out by the Government over control period 5. That said, the taxpayer, as well as the travelling public, would want us to get best value for money from our investment, and we will want to consider the points he makes when it comes to CP6.

The trans-Pennine rail route goes through Slaithwaite and Marsden in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm when he expects Sir Peter Hendy to report back about the pause on electrification, and will he take this opportunity to debunk the myth going around that the Pacers will be replaced by refurbished tube trains, which obviously is not true?

I can certainly debunk that. It was made clear that once we got rid of the Pacers, they would be replaced by new trains, and that is what is in the invitation to tender, which is being looked at as far as the returns back to the Department for Transport are concerned. I hope to have more to say about that before the end of the year. This is a pause, and I am very much looking forward to Sir Peter’s report. It is his first day today, and I will be finding out shortly when he intends to give me that report.

Network Rail knew that northern powerhouse projects would be paused in March. Either the Secretary of State was told before the election that decisions would have to be made in June, or he was not, which means that one of two men must be guilty of abject negligence and failing to admit the truth to voters—the chief executive of Network Rail or the Secretary of State. Which one is it?

I told the hon. Lady when I was asked about giving a pause, and that is when I came to the House. Mark Carne has been doing a fantastic job trying to upgrade the railway while at the same time delivering a railway service for the passenger, which is very important. He described it as “open-heart surgery”. I pointed out when I went before the Select Committee back in March that there were problems with trans-Pennine electrification. That is why the ITT for Northern Rail was deliberately worded so that diesel trains would be in service on that particular line, because it was thought that electrification might have to slip.

EU Port Regulations

I represented the UK at Transport Council when this was discussed last October. I have also met the European Parliament rapporteur, the hon. Gentleman’s socialist colleague, Knut Fleckenstein. My most recent discussions were on Wednesday this week at the all-party maritime and ports group chaired by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).

The previous shipping Minister indicated that the Government would be able to use domestic regulation to counter these regulations if they were passed in Europe, but the details of how it would be done remain unclear. Will the Minister reassure us that he has a clear plan of action to protect the UK’s interests and block any regulations that damage port business and threaten workers’ interests in my constituency?

Our position is quite clear: competition between ports is the best way to ensure efficient operation within them. I am pleased that the general approach is better than the Commission’s original proposal. We have the competitive market exemption and more discretion on issues such as pilotage. I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss particular issues affecting Port Talbot, which is one of our most important ports.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland and what representations has he had from Northern Ireland ports about these regulations? Can he give an assurance that ports will be prevented from having to disclose the commercial information that these regulations will require so that the commercial operations can remain?

I had unanimous support for our position that this is designed to fix a problem that we do not have in the United Kingdom. However, there are problems in other European ports, and cross-channel business and business across other seaways is important to the UK as an exporting nation. It is important to get a reasonable conclusion to these discussions, which I expect to happen under the Dutch presidency next year.

Bus Services

The latest departmental figures show a slight increase in local bus fares in England, while the provisional number of local bus passenger journeys remains unchanged compared with a year earlier. Final figures will be published in the annual bus statistics released in September. The bus market outside London is deregulated and decisions regarding the provision of individual bus services, including setting the level of fares, is primarily a commercial matter for bus operators.

Figures from the Minister’s own Department show that 121 bus routes in the north-west of England have been cut in the last five years, while fares have risen by an average of 25%. When will the Government give more powers to all communities—whether or not they want an elected mayor—to control fares, set routes and integrate services?

The Government support the bus sector, which is the backbone of our public transport sector, in lots of different ways, including through the bus service operators grant of £250 million in England this year. The proposals in the buses Bill will include opportunities right across the country for more local control, including the development of franchising, which the Manchester combined authorities are taking forward. The Bill will be published later in this Session.

Is it not clear that the Government have lost the plot for bus users outside London? Their own latest statistics show that journeys there were down by 11 million and fares up by 3.6% last year. Two thousand bus routes countrywide have been lost through cuts since 2010. London, with franchise powers to set routes and fares, has rising bus use. Why are this Government blocking them for communities elsewhere in England—unless they have an elected mayor, which many do not want, forced on them? Is this not sham rather than real localism?

Bus fares in Greater London have, in fact, been rising faster than those in non-metropolitan areas. As for the issue of franchising and local mayors, it is all about local control and decision accountability. A range of proposals will be published later in the year with the buses Bill.

Low-emission Vehicles

As more models come into the market, businesses and consumers are recognising that low-emission vehicles are cheaper, greener, and a great driving experience. Thanks to a strong framework of Government support, more than four times as many ultra low-emission vehicles were registered in the first three months of 2015 as were registered in the first three months of 2014. Last year, one in four electric cars bought in Europe was made in Britain.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading producers of low-emission engines. For instance, Perkins Engines, in my constituency, manufactures large engines for power generation, and Jaguar Land Rover, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), manufactures vehicles. What further measures is my hon. Friend taking to encourage UK motorists to start using low-emission engines?

Never mind “one of the world’s leading producers”. I think that we are the world’s leading producer, given that all the i8 hybrid engines for BMWs are made at BMW’s £500 million Hams Hall plant, Donington Park has been chosen as the global headquarters for Formula E, and Geely is investing £250 million to make plug-in hybrid taxis at the new plant in Coventry, thus creating 1,000 jobs. So we are indeed leading the world. As more manufacturers make these models available, more consumers will be given that option at their local showrooms.

The Minister will know of the report that was submitted to the Economic Sub-Committee of the Cabinet which showed that the cost to our economy of air pollution from diesel and other vehicles was between £9 billion and £20 billion. When considering low emissions, will he take into account particulate matter—the PM 2.5—and nitrogen dioxide?

Internal combustion engines produce pollutants which contribute to air quality problems. That is why we need to ensure that more people opt for green alternatives such as electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and other technologies that are becoming available.

A report published in today’s Financial Times reveals that, in 2010, 9,500 people died prematurely in London alone as a result of pollutants that are commonly found in fumes from diesel trucks, buses and cars. As well as the human cost, such pollutants carry a financial cost of up to £3.7 billion, just in the capital. Will the Government look at that report, and consider commissioning a similar report applying to the whole United Kingdom?

There is a cross-party initiative on air quality. I should add that I came in on my bicycle this morning, so I have not contributed to any of the air quality problems in London.

We need to make further progress in rolling out low-emission vehicles, while ensuring that the electricity they use is produced in a sustainable way.

Figures published this week show the scale of the air quality challenge that faces London, in addition to the carbon dioxide challenge that faces us all, and other towns and cities have similar challenges ahead. Why, in the Budget, did the Chancellor impose a financial penalty on hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, putting them in the same band as cars with far higher emissions? Is it not time that the Chancellor talked to the Transport Secretary, and that both of them listened to what the industry is telling them?

When consumers are deciding which vehicle to buy, they will consider not only the level of vehicle excise duty that they will pay—which, incidentally, will be zero in the case of the very cleanest cars—but the total life cost of the fuel that they will use. It is pretty much a no-brainer to buy the most fuel-efficient car possible, and to opt for a plug-in vehicle if that suits the consumer’s lifestyle.

Bus Services

The bus market outside London is deregulated, and it is for individual commercial bus operators to determine how best to invest in their businesses. The biggest operators have invested £1.3 billion in new vehicles outside London over the past five years.

Local authority funding for local bus services in Fareham and Gosport has been reduced by £1.5 million, leaving areas in my constituency such as Whiteley, Locks Heath and Warsash with virtually no bus service. I am concerned that private investment is not filling the gaps. What are central Government going to do to assist?

I note my hon. Friend’s concern, but I believe that decisions about funding to support local bus services are best made at local level. I would say, however, that the Government are continuing to make substantial funding available to bus operators and local authorities through the £250 million bus service operators grant. Additionally, I understand that FirstGroup has made significant investment in local buses in south Hampshire. All the buses in that area are fitted with free wi-fi, and most are fitted with next-stop displays and audio announcements. This is being delivered in partnership with Solent Transport and with Department for Transport funding, and therefore involves a mixture of public and private funding. I share with my hon. Friend a desire to see a strong bus sector.

I do not want to criticise the Minister, but I will. When my constituents go around the country, they, like me, see buses belching filthy black smoke from their out-of-date diesel engines. Cummins in my constituency makes the most advanced turbo-chargers in the world. Why are we not investing in a new generation of buses and getting rid of those that are belching out fumes, killing and shortening the lives of our constituents?

Just as the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) came into work on his bicycle this morning, I came in on a bus. It was a clean bus, and the Government are investing heavily in clean bus technology all over the country. I am not quite sure when the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was last on a bus, but if he looks around the country he will see an enormous range of clean buses right across the UK.

Southeastern Railways

13. If he will meet senior management of Southeastern to discuss the reliability of its rail service; and if he will make a statement. (901055)

I regularly meet the senior management of Southeastern to discuss their rail services, and I want to assure my hon. Friend that the recovery of reliability on that route is of the utmost importance to Southeastern, to Network Rail, to my Department and to Transport Focus. I now chair the weekly meeting of a taskforce comprising all those bodies and Southern Railway that is dedicated to improving the reliability and performance of the railway for customers travelling on those vital routes.

I am grateful to the Minister for the steps she has taken, of which I have had experience, but the fact remains that the performance of Southeastern trains is wholly unacceptable. I am getting emails from my constituents saying that their train is five minutes late more than 60% of the time, which tells me that the message is still not getting through. Should we not be urgently considering the introduction of financial penalties? Should we perhaps consider, even in advance of the franchise renewal in 2018, bringing in an operator such as London Overground, which operates its services infinitely more efficiently?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that performance is recovering, from a pretty low point last autumn, and that right-time performance is about 62%. That is still not good enough, in my view, but performance is on the mend. We face a massive challenge, in that we are doing some of the biggest engineering works in the UK around the critical stations that serve that part of the network, but that is not an excuse. We have to get performance better during these times of disruption, and that is what the quadrant taskforce is dedicated to doing.

17. One of the main frustrations of my constituents who use Southeastern trains is the number of occasions on which shorter trains than expected arrive at stations, resulting in acute overcrowding. Will the Minister commit to redeploying some of the Thameslink class 319 carriages to the Southeastern network to ease that problem? (901059)

I commend the hon. Lady, who, unlike some of her colleagues, is an assiduous campaigner on the railways in her constituency. It is nice to see someone who really cares about the railways, rather than someone who simply reads out the Whips’ questions. [Interruption.] She is a Whip, as she points out, and this is her own question. She is right to focus on the issue of rolling stock, and she will be pleased to know that we have received a proposal for improving the rolling stock on that route, which we are now considering. I will take her suggestion into account.

Will the Minister tell us when the feasibility study on the Brighton main line 2 rail project was completed, and whether she will put the study in the House of Commons Library?

Another person who cares about his local railways. I am hoping the hon. Gentleman will join us at London Bridge on Monday, where we are having a really deep dive into what is going on there and the recovery plans for his route. He will know that the Chancellor has committed further funding to the feasibility study, which will help inform us as to the overall benefits. Of course the hon. Gentleman knows that this line, although very welcome to many, has to be effective in terms of cost and affordability—that is what we will be looking to see.


Over this Parliament the Government are investing £15.2 billion on upgrading our strategic road network, contributing £6 billion to the local growth fund for local enterprise partnership priorities, including local roads, and just under £6 billion in maintaining our local highways. It is a comprehensive package that will improve the condition of our road network.

In the light of the growth around Cambridge, does the Minister agree that it is time to upgrade the A10 north of Cambridge towards Ely?

The growth around Cambridge is encouraging and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend is encouraged by the fact that the Cambridgeshire schemes in the road investment strategy have a budget of more than £2 billion. The A10 is certainly an important north-south link providing access across Cambridgeshire, but it is for the local highways authority, the county council and the LEP to best decide what upgrades are needed. My hon. and learned Friend is a tenacious campaigner and I am sure they would be extremely wise to listen to her.

When the Minister next meets the chief executive of Highways England to discuss the condition of the strategic road network, will he also have a word about the litter on that network, because some of the filthiest roads in my constituency, the M60 and the M67, are under the ownership of Highways England and it is clear that its maintenance arrangements are not adequate?

I will be having a monthly meeting with the chief executive of Highways England and I will raise that point with him. To be fair to Highways England, they are not the people who deposit the litter in the first place.

18. During the election campaign the then roads Minister came to my constituency to consider a new Boston distributor road and the opportunities it might present. It has been on the drawing board for the past 60 years, so will this Minister commit to continue the good work of his predecessor and come to look at that site again to see when we can finally get some shovels in the ground? (901060)

I will certainly commit to continuing that good work and will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend in his constituency.

Topical Questions

Today, Sir Peter Hendy takes over as the new chairman of Network Rail—he is someone with huge experience who helped keep London moving during the Olympics—to develop the proposals by the autumn on how to improve our vital rail upgrades. That programme will be carried out and will report to me by the autumn. I can also confirm today that Lord Adonis has agreed to become a new non-executive director at HS2 Ltd, bringing his wealth of experience and vision to the project and clearly demonstrating its truly cross-party support.

Can the Secretary of State outline what steps are being taken to improve coastal protection along the west coast of Scotland?

I might need to write to the hon. Gentleman about that question and look at it in a bit more detail, because of all the things I had prepared for in these Transport questions, that was not one of them.

T3. Will the Minister update the House on the schedule for the much-needed improvements agreed for the A303? When will he meet Amesbury Town Council and other local interested parties to discuss the route and when this work will happen? (901033)

As my hon. Friend knows, this Government are focused on delivering a £2 billion package of road improvements to the A303/A30/A358 corridor, and that includes dualling the A303 from Amesbury to Berwick Down, as was announced in the road investment strategy. Highways England will continue to engage with a wide range of stakeholders as it investigates what it is going to be doing in detail. It expects to start a wider public consultation in 2017. I will be delighted to meet Amesbury Town Council to discuss the scheme and to meet other local stakeholders, including local councils in his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the rail Minister.

Over the past few years, many incidents have raised serious concerns over maritime safety in the coastal waters of the highlands and islands. Those concerns have not yet been addressed. Will the Minister agree to meet MPs from the constituencies representing the west coast of Scotland to discuss those concerns and the provision of emergency towing vessels in the area?

I am happy to do so. I have already had briefings on the issue of emergency tugs in the area. I am pleased that we have recently rolled out our new search and rescue helicopters, which are providing a far better service to people in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world.

T5. Junction 10 on the M27 has been identified for vital upgrading to an all-moves junction. Such work is vital to support the strategic development area of Welborne, bringing 6,000 new homes. Can my hon. Friend confirm that those works will be taking place in the first half of this Parliament, and that the funding shortfall of £30 million will come from central Government? (901035)

The upgrade to junction 10 on the M27 has been profiled to start its preliminary work this year. The Government have contributed £14.9 million through the Solent local enterprise partnership growth deal to make up the shortfall of the scheme. In March, they also contributed £3.4 million in the second growth deal to support the local connections into the junction, and those works will start in 2015.

T2. The Davies commission predicted that 40 million passengers would use Gatwick by 2024, yet Gatwick says that it will reach that number this year. Who does the Secretary of State think is right on that point, and is he concerned that the Davies commission may have underestimated the economic impact of expanding Gatwick? (901032)

As I said when the Davies commission report was published just a few weeks ago, we will be looking at all its implications and recommendations and coming to our view and reporting back to the House by the end of the year.

T8. In my constituency, work is under way on building the M6 link road to Heysham port. As phase 2 of the extension, it would be wise to consider carrying out a feasibility study on a tunnel under Morcambe Bay, as the tunnel would link in with the powerhouse and open up the whole of the Furness peninsula. Will my hon. Friend make a statement on that issue? (901039)

I understand that my hon. Friend is aware that it is for the two local transport authorities of Lancashire and Cumbria County Councils, in consultation with their respective LEPs, to assess whether to take forward the development of that ambitious scheme, which would include any feasibility study. I understand that he has had meetings with both authorities and urge him to continue those discussions and keep me informed of progress.

T4. Some 85% of internal and cross-channel freight goes by lorry. A substantial modal shift of freight from road to rail cannot happen unless and until full-size lorry trailers can be carried on trains, which is impossible on the existing network. When will the Government look seriously at investing in new large gauge rail capacity to accommodate lorry trailers on trains and linking the regions and nations of Britain both to each other and to the channel tunnel? (901034)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his long-term promotion of this large rail project, the G8 freight project. He will know that I was delighted to renew the modal shift grant. We are very focused on getting freight off the roads and on to trains. One freight train saves 72 HGV journeys. I am happy to meet him on this. I understand that the proposal has been looked at several times and was declined about 10 years ago. If he has new information, I would be delighted to see it.

Potholes in my constituency cause inconvenience, expense and even danger. Does my right hon. Friend agree that technology is a key weapon in the battle against this menace and that councils should look to use the latest pothole resistant coatings during road resurfacing?

We have allocated a substantial increase to local authorities for mending potholes—it is something like a 50% increase over what was provided in 1997. My hon. Friend is right that potholes are a substantial nuisance and menace, and that looking at new ways of repairing them is also very important. Those ways will mean that potholes are repaired and do not deteriorate so quickly.

T6. Fifty-six cyclists have been killed on our roads this year. Following the meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, will the Minister seek to expand the cycling cities initiative to more cities to help develop the safe cycling infrastructure? (901036)

I had an informal meeting with the Prime Minister immediately after the meeting the hon. Lady mentions, and we discussed what measures can be put in place to try and improve the safety of cyclists, such as looking at how junctions can be redesigned. We are proud of our record so far on investment in cycling, and we would like to see more cities taking up the option of becoming a cycling city and reaching the £10 per head funding which the existing cycle cities have achieved.

The Secretary of State has just said that potholes are a nuisance and a menace, but they are incredibly dangerous as well, particularly for cyclists. Can he encourage local authorities to use the money that has now been provided to act urgently to repair potholes?

Yes, I would urge local authorities to act urgently. We have set a budget for local authorities for the next five years so that they can plan their maintenance to get the best service for their constituents and the road user, be it cyclist or motorist.

T7. A recent report published by the Papworth trust found that one in five stations in England is accessible to disabled people and that two thirds of disabled passengers need to book assistance in advance to travel. Will the Minister commit to making accessibility a condition of future rail franchises? (901037)

I am sure the hon. Lady, like me, welcomes the fact that under the previous Government we spent and now continue to spend an unprecedented amount of money on accessibility. She is right to focus on the fact that the rail industry voluntarily provides an amazing free service for disabled passengers who need to make shift changes. I think we have made good progress. I am happy to look at individual station applications, but it is right that the railway network is accessible for all.

The Sheffield-Gainsborough-Cleethorpes line has many dilapidated stations and a Saturdays-only service. This is a ludicrous state of affairs. People want to visit Cleethorpes seven days a week. Will the rail Minister agree to a meeting with me and the other Members affected?

Like me, my hon. Friend is an assiduous reader of Rail Magazine. That was a cover story two weeks ago. He is right. The problem we have is a system that has pushed money out of the top, rather than pulled money through the bottom, so even where there are services and new trains, the station infrastructure does not always keep up. I would be delighted to meet him and to come to Cleethorpes once again.

T9. Some 68% of over-70s households have a car and older drivers are more experienced and generally safer road users who make fewer insurance claims, yet often face higher premiums than those of us in our 40s. What, if anything, will the Secretary of State do to encourage insurance companies to adopt a health-based rather than an age-based approach to insurance premiums? (901040)

The points that the hon. Gentleman makes are very interesting, and next time I meet the insurance companies I will certainly raise that issue with them.

In a sort of Rossendale remake of “Groundhog Day”, Bacup road in my constituency is being dug up for the third time in the past 18 months. Will my right hon. Friend write to Lancashire County Council about the success of London’s lane rental scheme in reducing delays?

I am aware that the Mayor of London enthuses about the success of the lane rental scheme in London and the positive impact it has had in minimising disruption from roadworks. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government believe these decisions are best taken locally, but I will be happy to look closely at what he says and take it up with the county council.

A key driver of economic growth in the north of England is Manchester airport, which is in my constituency. It relies on public sector transport for its market penetration. Does the Secretary of State understand that the cancellation of midland main line and the electrification of trans-Pennine routes damages Manchester’s economy and our potential growth?

There has been no cancellation. The hon. Gentleman should look to the fact that, as I pointed out just a few moments ago, we have electrified the line from Liverpool to Manchester and further upgrades are taking place in relation to the whole of the northern powerhouse. It is something to which we continue to be committed.

I recently travelled from Frodsham station to Liverpool John Lennon airport along the Halton curve. It took 15 minutes. This is a game-changer for commuters in the area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £10.4 million investment and reinstatement of the Halton curve is a strong commitment of this Government to Weaver Vale, Cheshire and the northern powerhouse?

Indeed, and I could reel off a pile of other schemes that have led to improvements in connections and connectivity in the north. My hon. Friend the rail Minister is going with my hon. Friend to visit that site in the not-too-distant future.

Considering the success of the new lower Scottish drink-driving limit, when will England and Wales follow Scotland, and the rest of Europe, in saving more lives on the roads by lowering the blood alcohol limit to 50 mg per 100 ml?

Obviously we will look at any evidence we see. I am pleased that we have introduced new penalties for drug-driving, and we are one of the first countries to do so.

As my right hon. Friend will know—he set out his priorities the other week—electrification of the Great Western main line will open up job opportunities and growth for my constituency. Will he confirm that the Government are committed to the largest investment in the railways since the Victorians?

Indeed. My hon. Friend and I have visited some of the schemes going through his constituency and seen the big challenges of electrifying a railway for the first time in its 130-year history, but they are challenges that we are determined to meet.

When the Secretary of State or his Ministers are next having conversations with their Treasury colleagues, will they urge them to look at the shameful disparity between wholesale and retail prices for petrol and diesel? A review is needed to look into why motorists are being ripped off.

I am always keen to have discussions with Treasury colleagues, and that might be one of the issues we discuss next time.