Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

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.