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Volume 603: debated on Thursday 10 December 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

HGV Drivers

We have taken measures to reduce waiting periods for large goods vehicle driving tests. So far this financial year, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has recruited 78 new driving examiners, a further 65 are undertaking training, and another 41 have been offered posts. That will allow experienced examiners to move over to LGV testing. More than 55,000 tests were conducted in 2014-15, which is the highest total for six years.

With 45,000 qualified professional drivers needed to fill the skills gap in the HGV industry, will the Minister confirm whether the HGV driver standard has been approved as part of the Trailblazer apprenticeship programme? Will companies be able to use that funding to pay for licence acquisition?

I confirm that the Trailblazer apprenticeship was approved in the last day or so, but that is a question for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I have not yet been fully informed about all the details of that, but it is important to encourage people to take that test. We know there is a shortage of HGV drivers, and we recognise the vital role that the road haulage sector plays in driving growth and keeping our economy moving. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that there has been a 36% increase in drivers taking that test in the past year.

While recognising that there is always a need for safety, will the Minister and his Department consider whether HGV licences are needed for certain types of vehicle? Given that there is now so much automation on some of the larger vehicles, does someone really need an HGV licence to drive them?

That is a very interesting question. I have driven one of the new high-tech HGVs; obviously, without a licence, so it was on a testing track, not the highway network. I was struck by how helpful the vehicle is—it includes large numbers of automated systems —but also by the amount of information that comes at the driver. I do not think we should compromise on safety, and I suspect that the current regime is just right.

What is the Minister doing to encourage negotiations between the DVSA and staff in relation to their dispute? There was a high turnout in the vote for industrial action. Will the Minister either refer the matter to ACAS or push the powers that be into negotiations?

I am acutely aware of the limits of my talents, Mr Speaker.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman, the Government are keen to see a settlement to that dispute, and I know that my colleague in the other House, Lord Ahmad, is currently working on that.

Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are 60,000 vacancies for HGV and LGV drivers, but many people are unable to take up those opportunities because of the price of training. I know that the Minister has considered that issue, but will he consider the possibility of a loan or grant for the £4,500 that it takes to train an HGV driver?

I know that the industry is keen to focus on that, and I am keen for more people to take that test. The average pass rate is only 52%, so considering what can be done to increase that will be my top priority. I will consider these matters, but I do not think it will be possible to start subsidising individual licence applications; otherwise, we would have to extend that measure across the piece.

High-speed Rail Network

3. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on development of the high-speed rail network. (902630)

I have had a number of discussions with the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. The UK Government and the Scottish Government are working closely together to consider options to further reduce journey times, and we hope to make a statement on the next steps in the new year.

The Secretary of State will recognise that Scotland has a reputation for excellence in delivering major infrastructure projects. What consultation has he undertaken to ensure that businesses and their workforces in Scotland realise the full benefits that HS2 will bring, for example through design and construction?

HS2 has been very effective in doing a number of presentations to businesses, right across the country, on the opportunities that will arise from one of the biggest construction projects the country has seen. I hope all companies, be they in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, have the opportunity to apply for some of those jobs and contracts. There is no doubt that the first stretch of HS2 phase 1 will bring reduced journey times to Scotland. The announcements I made last week will add to that.

As the wonderful people of Scotland eagerly anticipate the announcement on the high-speed rail network, they will become ever more reliant on air travel. Clearly, there are slot restriction problems between Scottish airports and London. Does the Secretary of State anticipate making an announcement soon about airport capacity in the south-east?

An ingenious but unsuccessful attempt, I am afraid, if Members look at the terms of the question on the Order Paper.

Labour supports the extension of high-speed rail services to Scotland. To get there, however, we will have to get to the north of England first. Why are we still waiting for Ministers to confirm the route and the stations for HS2 north of Birmingham, and does the Secretary of State understand that this lack of progress is placing their commitment to HS2 in the midlands and the north in doubt?

With the greatest charity, I do not think the hon. Gentleman can get away with that. We have been making progress on HS2. In 13 years, Labour only woke up to the HS2 project in year 13. The progress we have made far outstrips the progress the Labour party ever made.


The M6 junctions 16 to 19 smart motorway scheme commenced the start of works in October 2015. Work on the project is progressing well, with preparatory works such as site clearance currently being delivered. The main works for this project are due to commence in early 2016 with a 23-month construction phase, meaning the scheme is expected to complete in early 2018.

Several of my constituents living near this stretch of the M6 consider the measures to mitigate the effects of noise and environmental pollution to be inadequate, both in terms of the current impact during the works and the impact of the widened M6 for years to come. Will the Minister meet me to discuss my constituents’ concerns?

That section of the M6 is very busy: it carries about 132,000 vehicles a day. There are measures that can be taken to help with noise, such as a low noise surface being laid on the road or installing noise barriers. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.

I thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker. I am rather out of breath, sir, and I am very grateful to have caught your eye.

The local enterprise partnership in Cheshire identified this stretch of the M6 as a problem that needs work, but it failed to identify the M56 in Cheshire where major delays and serious accidents are an almost weekly occurrence. Will the Minister, while he is looking at M6 junctions 16 to 19, consider yet again the problems on the M56 and whether he can bring road safety forward in that part of Cheshire too?

That is a very entrepreneurial extension of the question. I am always happy to look at issues of road safety wherever they are on our road network. We have already had a Westminster Hall debate on this issue, so the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the Government’s view.

This is absolutely currently the most appalling bit of the motorway network anywhere in England. Has the Minister factored into his plans further economic growth in the north and the need to shift freight to rail?

Most certainly at the heart of our road investment strategy is the impact on the freight sector. As regards rail, I work very closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry).

Rail Electrification Programme

Since 2010, 50 miles of track have been electrified, including the full route between Liverpool and Manchester. Last month, Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, at my Department’s request published his proposals for delivering the multibillion-pound rail enhancement programmes, reconfirming this Government’s commitment to electrifying over 850 miles of track—the biggest modernisation of Britain’s railways since Victorian times.

In my opinion, the Government’s handling of their electrification programme has been nothing short of shambolic. The pausing, then the unpausing, of the TransPennine and midland main line electrification painted a picture of a Department in disarray. What is the added cost to the programme because of the Government’s U-turn, of which there was no mention in the Hendy review?

This Government are committed to electrification, unlike the previous Labour Government that electrified less than 10 miles of track in 13 years, when the economy was booming. I gently remind the hon. Lady that this is a Government of delivery. We want to make sure that the promises we set out can be delivered. That is why it was right to look at the programmes to make sure that they could be delivered, and they will be delivered. Yesterday I was very pleased to announce one of the biggest upgrades in the modernisation of rail travel for her constituents that this country has ever seen. We are scrapping the Pacers. We are introducing new trains. We are transforming the rail network in the north—something else that her Government completely neglected to do.

Will my hon. Friend say a bit more about how the electrification project, plus the award of the new franchise for Northern Rail and TransPennine, will address the acute need to find additional rolling stock in that part of the country?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I can confirm that the midland main line will be electrified to Bedford and to Kettering and Corby by 2019, and to Sheffield by 2023. We will electrify to Cardiff by 2019. We will complete, we think, Liverpool to Newcastle by 2022. That means that there can then be a cascade of rolling stock right across the country. However, it is not enough for the people of the north to wait for cascaded trains—they deserve brand-new trains to replace the Pacers that have been chugging round that network for 40 years. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) chirrups away. Her Government had a chance to replace the Pacers in 2003 and 2004, and they did not. The rail passengers of the north deserve better. We get it; Labour does not.

Sir Peter Hendy’s report followed the breakdown and cancellation of previous promises. Will the Minister guarantee that these new proposals will be implemented on time and with the cost as set out, with the right rolling stock in the correct place at the correct time?

I know that the hon. Lady shares the absolute aspiration that what is promised is delivered. It was right for Network Rail to take a long, hard look at itself, because it had been in the business of peddling promises that went out of control in terms of funding and over time in terms of delivery. [Interruption.] I might remind the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) that a few years ago his party wanted to make Network Rail the “guiding mind” of the whole railway. We do not hear much about that policy these days. It is absolutely right that we have changed the management structure at Network Rail. We have put in Sir Peter Hendy, who is an exceptionally experienced railwayman, and we have asked the organisation to think very hard about delivery. Crucially, only last week in the spending review, we were able to reconfirm the Government’s funding commitment, which means that the money is there for this transformational project.

As my hon. Friend is aware, the largest investment in the railway since the Victorians on the Great Western main line will have a huge impact on the Bath and west of England economy. What progress is she making on the four miles of track that will link the electrified Great Western main line with Heathrow?

Again, this is part of the overall proposals. As my hon. Friend knows, the western rail link is absolutely vital. It has been set out, and work is going on to make sure exactly how it is delivered. We understand how important it is. My hon. Friend represents a fine city. He and I went through Box tunnel together on a little people mover—[Interruption] That sounds worse than it is—with others to see at first hand the transformational effect that electrification work is having on his city.

The unpausing of the rail electrification programme is welcome, but the news that completion will be delayed and the costs much higher has understandably caused dismay. The cost of the electrification programme is now set to be at least £2.5 billion more than planned. As a result, Network Rail’s borrowing limit has had to be increased by £700 million, with the rest of the money being found from the sale of its assets. What assurances can the Government give that these asset sales will be sufficient; and given that the costs have already risen by 70%, what happens if they rise further still?

The hon. Gentleman raises the delivery risk inherent in all these things. This is the biggest transformation project for more than 100 years, and he is absolutely right that it has to be funded with both Government money and third party asset sales. A huge amount of due diligence has gone into that work, which is ongoing, but we now have a plan and are confident that £38 billion will be committed and that 850 miles of track will be electrified.

I welcome the news that the electrification of the Chase line is on track for completion in 2017, but, unfortunately, that is little comfort for commuters experiencing serious overcrowding at peak times. Will my hon. Friend join me in calling on all relevant organisations, including London Midland and Amazon, to work together to find a prompt solution to this overcrowding?

I am happy to confirm my interest in reducing overcrowding nationally and in Cannock Chase, which my hon. Friend represents with such vigour.

Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

As a keen cyclist myself, I am delighted that the Government continue to encourage more cycling and walking across England. We did good work under the last Conservative Government: spending per head rose from £2 in 2010 to £6 now and more than £10 in the cycling ambition cities. On the long-term vision, we have made it clear that we want to make the UK a cycling nation. One step will be to publish a cycling and walking investment strategy next summer. The recent spending review committed more than £300 million to support cycling.

The comprehensive spending review contained little new money: just £1.49 per head over the Parliament. My predecessors in the all-party cycling group recommended £10 per head per year, which the Prime Minister agreed with. How can we deliver an effective cycling and walking strategy with only £1.49 per head?

I commend the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) for their co-chairmanship of the all-party group. She is right to focus on the need to invest, but in our view, and hers I think, the investment should be targeted, which is why the cycling ambition cities get more than £10 per head. Her analysis does not include our commitment that every mile of new road built by Highways England must be cycle-proof or the additional money for local growth funds so that cities and towns that want to encourage cycling have the freedom to do so.

It is now clear that cycling took a big hit in the spending review and that there will be little left for the cycling and walking investment strategy when it finally appears. The Minister has had the air let out of her tyres. Will she confirm that the figure of £1.49 is the real figure for cycling outside London and that spending on cycling has effectively been halved?

The hon. Gentleman represents a cycling city that I am proud to visit, but I have yet to see him on his bike pedalling past our front door when I am up there—but I am sure I will soon. I completely refute his assertion, however: we have made incredible progress on cycling. He need only drive in to see the chaos created by the Mayor’s east-west cycle highway being delivered in the city with the highest level of cycle spending historically. That is the cycling ambition target now being reached in eight other cities. I want to reconfirm that we have ensured that every mile of new road built will be cycle-proof, which is something Labour neglected to do.

UK Spaceport

As the Prime Minister told the House a few weeks ago, it is the Government’s ambition for the UK to become the European hub for commercial spaceflight, and we hope to launch the competition to select the location for the base in the second half of 2016.

It has long been believed that Prestwick airport was the only place in the UK visited by none other than Elvis. It is an area in desperate need of attention and economic investment. Will the Minister follow in the king’s footsteps and pay a flying visit to see how the Government can help regenerate that vital airport in the west of Scotland?

I am aware that the visit by Elvis is one of Prestwick’s claims to fame, but there are several other contenders in that competition. I would, of course, be delighted to visit.

Transport Infrastructure

8. How much the Government plan to spend on transport infrastructure between 2015 and 2020; and how much was spent on such infrastructure between 2010 and 2015. (902636)

The coalition Government spent £41 billion on transport infrastructure between 2010 and 2015. On an equivalent basis, this Government plan to spend £61 billion on transport infrastructure between 2015 and 2020—an increase of 50%. This includes £15 billion for the biggest road improvement programme seen in Britain since the 1970s, and the electrification of 850 miles of railway—the biggest rail modernisation since Victorian times.

My right hon. Friend will know the importance I attach to the north-west relief road—the final bit of the road around Shrewsbury, which has a cost-benefit ratio of 5:4. He says that the project is going to be the responsibility of the local enterprise partnership. How will his Government work with LEPs to ensure that they have adequate funding and logistical support to carry out and implement these vital schemes?

My hon. Friend is right, and he has been to see me to make representations, with a number of people from the council and from Shrewsbury itself. It is right that this is taken forward by the LEP. Funding for the major LEP schemes has been set aside and was agreed as part of the spending review. Details on how to bid to the fund will be announced shortly.

With no news on the privately financed electrification of the line between Selby and Hull, and with yesterday’s announcement on the TransPennine franchise failing to give additional services to Hull for city of culture 2017 and providing only refurbished, not new, trains, can the Secretary of State understand why people in Hull were rather taken aback by the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) on “Look North” when he said that investment in northern transport is about to overtake that of the south? Do not those words show that the Under-Secretary is away with the Christmas fairies?

I do not know whether I would want to go into Christmas fairies so far as the current Labour party is concerned, as Labour Members might be seeing fairies in many places. I believe that the Department for Transport has been helpful to Hull in its preparations for the city of culture, not least with the improvements at Hull station and the proposals I have worked on with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) to ensure that the footbridge project is brought forward much more quickly to provide access to the Hull dockside. I am sorry that the hon. Lady cannot welcome that.

Will the Secretary of State consider reviewing his spending priorities? Is it not true that billions of pounds would be available to spend on transport infrastructure across the whole country between 2015 and 2020 if the current plans for HS2 were replaced with a conventional high-speed line running at 155 mph? Money would be available to pay decent compensation, provide improved environmental protection and faster investment in HS3 and HS2 phase 2, which should be a much greater priority than cutting 10 minutes off the journey between Birmingham and London?

I have to say that I do not think I will ever convince my right hon. Friend on this particular subject—so I am not sure I am going to try. Let me simply say that the investment in HS2 is not just about speed—a point that I cannot get over enough—but about capacity and the huge increase in people travelling on our railways. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that we could just build another conventional line, but that would cost 90% of what HS2 is costing in any case, so there would be no significant savings. I make no apology for being part of a Government who are investing for the future of the nation.

The future infrastructure project on which the Government have to make a decision that is of most interest to most people is that of airport expansion. People of all positions on the issue are interested to know when a decision will be made. On 1 July 2015, the Prime Minister said in response to a question:

“What I can say to her is that we will all read this report and a decision will be made by the end of the year.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1474.]

On 5 October this year, the Secretary of State said at the Conservative conference:

“The Davies commission has produced a powerful report, and we will respond by the end of the year.”—

and he repeated that in an interview on 30 October. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that a decision will be made on airport expansion by the end of the year, or will party politics and the London mayoral elections come before a decision for the nations of the UK?

I have read much speculation about what decisions we may be about to make. Some of that speculation may be true, but until we make a decision, I shall not be able to inform the House of it.

Given that answer and the potential for delay, and given that the Davies commission had accepted that links with regional airports are vital for the future—especially for airports such Inverness and Dundee—will the Secretary of State undertake, as a matter of urgency, to present proposals on public service obligations for such routes, and to amend the regional air development fund to keep regional air routes sustainable?

I know how important it is to retain links through the London airports. I should be more than happy to discuss the issue in detail with the hon. Gentleman, and with the Scottish Government.

Would the Secretary of State or the rail Minister be willing to discuss with me the issue of transport infrastructure investment in south London? Proposals from Transport for London and the Department for Transport, on which local authorities have not been consulted, would lead to a reduction in the number of fast services to Victoria, and I should like to discuss that with Ministers.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the rail Minister would be more than happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman. The simple fact is that, in London and, indeed, throughout the country, we are seeing an ever greater demand for transport, and we are doing all that we can to meet those requirements. As a result of huge investment, the Victoria line now offers some 37 trains an hour, and there have also been upgrades on the Northern line. However, the pressure for further upgrades is an important issue.

Road Congestion

The Government are providing £15.2 billion between 2015 and 2021 to invest in our strategic road network. This is the biggest upgrade to our motorways and A roads for a generation, and it is adding capacity and tackling congestion.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend says, but is he aware that there are many ways of reducing congestion that are not anti-motorist? Has he read “Green Light”, a report by Councillor Richard Tracey, which concludes that most traffic lights could be turned off between midnight and 6 am, and that that would reduce both congestion and pollution? Why should a motorist have to sit at a red traffic light when there are no pedestrians in the vicinity, and no vehicles are seeking to use the junction? Will my right hon. Friend persuade local authorities to review their policy on traffic lights, and get them to turn some of them off?

I rather thought that at this time of year people were turning lights on rather than off! I know that my right hon. Friend feels strongly about traffic lights, and I should be more than happy to look at Richard Tracey’s report, but, in the main, this is a matter for local highway authorities. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could exert some influence on those in his constituency.

One of the principal causes of congestion in urban areas is, of course, illegal parking. What is the Secretary of State doing to make the enforcement system simpler and more effective?

That, too, is a matter for local highway authorities, which can employ the necessary measures and regulations.

22. Having visited my constituency a number of times, the Secretary of State will know that the specific and complicated problem of traffic congestion in Bradford on Avon is having a significant impact on business and residents. Can he suggest a way of dealing with it? (902652)

I visited Bradford on Avon with my hon. Friend earlier this year, and I know that she is right about the traffic congestion in the town. I should be more than happy to meet her, along with my hon. Friend the roads Minister, to discuss in detail what we could do to help, but this is, in the main, a matter for Wiltshire council.

The pinch-point scheme at junction 24 of the M60 in Denton has been a great success in tackling congestion. Unfortunately, however, one of its unintended consequences has been the increased motorway noise experienced by nearby residents of Thompson Close. Highways England has promised to introduce noise reduction measures, including new road surfaces, in the next financial year; will the Secretary of State please ensure that that happens early in the next financial year?

I do not know that junction particularly well, but following the hon. Gentleman representations I will certainly look into it and we will write to him about when Highways England will do that work.

19. One of the key campaigns in my constituency to reduce road congestion is for an M4 link to the Avon ring road, which would involve an extra junction, 18A, on the M4. Next year the joint transport study commissioned by the local enterprise partnership and the surrounding councils will look at how to reduce road congestion in the area, and I hope the M4 link will be an integral part of that. Will the Transport Secretary meet the LEP, the local council and me to discuss this? (902649)

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this. As I have said, a huge amount of investment is being made available to Highways England. I visited the site with my hon. Friend earlier this year, and it would open up a large area of potential development, which is very important for his constituency.

Over the summer, roads to the channel ports ground to a halt, lorry drivers who were stuck in their cabs needed emergency water to drink, and local businesses were hit as Kent villages near the motorway network were cut off. The Chancellor’s announcement of a new lorry park may be a step in the right direction, but it will not keep the traffic moving of itself and it falls well short of highways management road improvement works that local partners tell me are needed if Kent is going to be protected from similar snarl-ups in future. Does the Secretary of State consider his lorry park “job done”? If not, what else is he going to do before, rather than after, the people of the south-east go through the same thing again?

I do not regard it as “job done” but I regard it as a great step in the right direction to find that level of resources available to solve what was an unacceptable situation for people in Kent last summer. It is definitely a step in the right direction, but I will obviously keep every other option under review.

Transport Minibus Fund

The community transport minibus fund will provide over 300 organisations with a new minibus so that they can continue to provide the vital services that they offer. Approximately 70 organisations whose vehicle requirements are very specific will be grant-funded to purchase their vehicle and we have started delivering vehicles to these organisations already. The competition to supply the remaining vehicles commences next Monday.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he ensure that Lancashire County Council is aware that this scheme can be utilised? It is currently proposing to cut the subsidy to rural buses and others even though it has almost half a billion pounds in reserves.

Like my hon. Friend, we fully understand the vital role buses play in our community. The community transport fund is to help not-for-profit organisations continue to meet the needs of passengers who may otherwise have no access to public transport, but may I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the £250 million a year bus service operators grant, which the Government provide and the purpose of which is to help run bus services that may otherwise not be viable? I cannot instruct Lancashire County Council, but I hope it is considering how to apply this funding in a way that can reach rural areas that need a good bus connection to help improve their economic growth and social inclusion.

Derbyshire County Council is to cut the funding for community transport from April next year, which will see Erewash Community Transport in my constituency lose nearly £150,000—a similar story to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). This is yet another attack on the elderly and vulnerable by Derbyshire County Council, which is playing politics with vital community services. Ahead of my Westminster Hall debate next Wednesday, will the Minister agree with me that we should be supporting these services, not cutting them?

My hon. Friend is, as ever, a significant champion for her constituency, and we agree fully on the merits of supporting buses.

Following on from that question, is the Minister aware that the real culprit in this business is the Tory Government? They have cut Derbyshire County Council’s grant by—are you listening?—£157 million. Give Derbyshire the money back and we can sort everything out in the whole county.

I do enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s interventions. I am sure he was very formidable—when he was in his prime. It is up to Derbyshire County Council to organise its own priorities, and we should be focusing on issues that make a difference.

Smart Ticketing

11. What progress his Department has made on collecting and interpreting data gathered by smart ticketing schemes. (902640)

We are making good progress on implementing smart ticketing across transport modes and across England. On railways, some train operators are already using smartcard and barcode technology; all our major cities have smart ticketing schemes; and we have committed £150 million to support the vision of “Oyster for the north”.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Devolution to Greater Manchester includes plans to introduce a multimodal smart ticketing scheme. Will she assure me that from the outset travel data will be collected and interpreted so that further improvements can be made to Greater Manchester’s public transport system?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of gathering data and how great it is that this devolution agenda is working for passengers in Manchester. I agree with him about the importance of data and I will certainly make my views known to Transport for Greater Manchester, which is responsible for introducing these schemes.

The Minister will know that I have raised the issue of automatic refunds before and campaigned for their introduction in Kent, so that my constituents can benefit from refunds when their trains are delayed by a few minutes instead of the current 30 minutes. When will this scheme be introduced nationally?

First, I commend my hon. Friend for consistently promoting the interests of his travelling constituents. He may be aware that from next February, c2c, which runs trains throughout his neighbouring county in south Essex, is introducing an automatic compensation system, which will provide compensation after two minutes of delay for those customers who are registered and signed up to its system. That is exactly the sort of scheme I want to see nationally, so we will closely monitor the roll-out of this programme to see whether it can be rolled out across other franchises.

Flexible ticketing was announced in 2013 and was wildly popular in the south-east when it was trialled in 2014, but there are rumours that it is being kicked into the long grass. Will the Minister scotch those rumours for long-suffering commuters in the south-east by announcing the date for its roll-out?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the south-east flexible ticketing scheme, to which the Government have committed £80 million, is being implemented. We are currently looking at the best way to roll that out across the train operating companies. It has already gone live on Southern, Govia Thameslink Railway and indeed on c2c, and we are talking to Southeastern about the right date to introduce it. I would be happy to meet him to work on this together.

Emergency Towing Vessels: Northern Isles

12. What recent representations he has received on the future of emergency towing vessels in the northern isles; and if he will make a statement. (902641)

I have received a number of representations from those in Scotland with an interest in the future provision of the emergency towing vessel operating from the northern isles. The Government fully recognise the importance of ensuring shipping activities off the coast of Scotland remain safe. To that end, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will consult interested parties shortly on the need for and scope of putting alternative towing arrangements in place beyond April 2016.

The Secretary of State will remember the interesting and lively discussions we had leading up to the decision to retain that emergency towing vessel in 2011. He will recall that the people in the MCA and in his Department who wanted to remove it then argued that cover could be provided by the offshore oil and gas industry working in the region. He will also be aware that the price of oil has fallen sharply since then and that there is now much less activity in the north North sea. May I gently say to him that the case that led to the right decision in 2011 is even stronger today than it was then?

Just to put the record right, the conversations in 2011 that the right hon. Gentleman refers to were not held in the Department for Transport—they were held elsewhere. I very well remember both the case he made and visiting the vessel in the summer of 2013.

Rail Services: South-East

The Government are investing heavily in service improvements in this region through the multibillion pound Thameslink programme, in which new trains, service and station improvements will finally start to be delivered next year. However, I am the first to recognise that the current performance, especially on the Brighton main line, has been well below expectations. That is why I continue to chair the Southeastern quadrant taskforce, which focuses on driving up performance on these vital routes. I wish to invite my hon. Friend and all other interested hon. Members to a new year taskforce meeting in which we will discuss performance improvements specifically for those routes.

I thank the Minister for her reply and her hard work in dealing with this issue. Given that Southern rail is about to roll out a new timetable on the Brighton main line and that its performance has been so poor, will she provide all Sussex MPs with a monthly performance report so that we can personally put pressure on Southern rail to deliver?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. I am told that all that information is on the Govia Thameslink Railway website, but I confess that I find it quite difficult to find and quite hard to interpret. I will ensure that the information, which is already provided by the operator to my Department and published, is made available to members of the public and their MPs in the most obvious and transparent form, so that we can all see the performance improvement that we want.

Huddersfield is a long way from the south-east, but the hon. Gentleman will ask a question that I know will be exclusively focused, like a laser, on the south-east.

A bit like many Members of Parliament, when I am here in London and the south-east, I use Southern rail, and I will be very pleased if it is to be improved. None of us begrudges that investment, but we do put it into perspective, which is that we are not getting enough infrastructure investment in the north, linking the big towns and cities. It must be north first and south second.

The hon. Gentleman is a good friend, and I would hate to suggest that he was snoozing yesterday rather than watching the news, because we announced a transformational package for railways in the north. Let me tell him what is happening in Huddersfield: new TransPennine trains; new services between major cities; three new stations; 500 new carriages across the network; an end to those hated Pacers forever; and on-board improvements for passengers. He might shake his head, but it will happen. He can say bye-bye to the Pacers from 2019. This Government are absolutely determined that the northern powerhouse comes to life based on transport investment, and I am so proud that we are the Government who are delivering.

I am still seeking that laser-like precision. I turn now to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).

20. My constituents find it extremely difficult to get to the south-east because we do not have a direct rail service to London. Will the Minister use her good offices to ensure that the rail regulator, which has had an application with it for two years, makes a quick decision?


It is impressive stuff, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend will know that the open access competition to which he refers is a matter for the regulator, but it has been quite clear that his constant campaigning is paying off. He is getting £88 million of funding for the dualling of the A160 near Immingham and resignalling for the north-east Lincolnshire region, plus the massive franchise benefits that we announced yesterday, including improvements at Cleethorpes station.

Last but not least, the man with the dazzling tie to beat all dazzling ties. I call Mr Andrew Bingham.

Transport Infrastructure

15. What steps his Department are taking to ensure that British firms benefit from the Government’s transport infrastructure investment. (902645)

The Department engages extensively with the market to raise awareness of forthcoming business—equipping British firms with the information and skills they need to respond to opportunities. Through the Rail Supply Group, we are working to strengthen the capability of the UK rail supply chain so that UK-based suppliers are better able to win work here and abroad.

I can promise you, Mr Speaker, that my tie was not based on the original design for Spaghetti junction.

Much of the infrastructure that will be built as part of the plan will also benefit my constituents, because most of the lime that will be used will come from the High Peak quarries, hugely benefiting the supply chain and the wider economy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we look at the Glossop spur, which we are promised as part of the infrastructure plan, the biggest gain will be to my local companies as they can get business in and out of the area? Furthermore, if that work was extended around Tintwistle, as I would like, it would further help and encourage my local businesses and local economy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the opportunities for firms in his constituency, which I know incredibly well. Indeed, I have visited Tintwistle with him on numerous occasions and he has pointed out the improvements that he wishes to see. The road investment programme will, in part, help us to move towards those improvements, but the work that Colin Matthews is doing on the wider issue of a tunnel will also be important for his area.

Topical Questions

Since I last addressed the House at Question Time, Cumbria, Lancashire and the north-west have experienced record-breaking rainfall, which has led to the worst flooding since 2005. It closed the west coast main line, but Network Rail’s orange army has worked tirelessly to restore the service and I am pleased to say that at 14.00 on Tuesday 8 December trains were once again running from London to Glasgow via Preston. Since then, rail services have restarted on all the affected routes. This Christmas, Network Rail will undertake a significant programme of work, delivering the Government’s record £38 billion investment in the railways.

Given the imminence of the announcement, I shall resist the urge to ask about Heathrow and will ask instead what steps the Secretary of State’s Department will take on irresponsible pavement parking in view of the cross-party support gained for the private Member’s Bill that we debated in this House last Friday.

A very useful debate took place last Friday and commitments were given to have further discussions on this important issue. I will ensure that those discussions take place and that we try to address some of the issues. Local authorities already have a lot of powers, however, if they wish to use them.

The closure of roads and rail lines in recent days is a timely reminder of the strain extreme weather events place on transport networks. We all remember the flooding at airports in 2010 and 2013, the loss of the Dawlish seawall and, as the Secretary of State said, the heroic response of Network Rail’s orange army. So will the Secretary of State explain why the Dawlish resilience options report, due last month, has not been published? What assurance can he give that the lessons of previous periods of disruption have been learned?

We always look to learn from experience and that is the case with the Dawlish repairs and the work that has been done by Network Rail to ensure that the line is secure for future use. Excessive weather conditions such as those that we saw last weekend put extra pressure on the network. One of the most important things, however, is ensuring that the network continues to operate safely.

I hope that we do learn from experience. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) had a little go at this, and I am going to give the Secretary of State another chance. On airport expansion, the Prime Minister told this House in July:

“The guarantee that I can give…is that a decision will be made by the end of the year.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1473.]

Employers have been clear that the Government should bring forward the decision they promised, but fear a further politically motivated delay. Was the Prime Minister making a clear pledge—no ifs, no buts—or are residents who live near Heathrow and Gatwick about to be subjected to yet more blight and uncertainty?

I will not take any lectures from the Labour party on planning infrastructure. Labour was woeful at it and did very little of it. The simple fact is that we now have a Government who are more committed to infrastructure than the Labour Government were for 13 years. The simple fact is that when an announcement is to be made, I will make it in the House.

T2. I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting Cardiff last week and discussing electrification, among many other issues. I welcome the fact that this Government are making Great Western railway electrification a top priority. More broadly, what will the bimodal trains mean for Cardiff, Swansea and the south Wales economy? (902619)

I was very pleased to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency with him last Thursday, as well as other areas in Wales. I believe that the upgrades—the new inter-city express programme trains—will be very important because of their bimodal nature. They are undergoing testing at Melton Mowbray and they are very impressive indeed. They will lead to a much improved service for his constituents and those people who live toward Swansea, as well.

T3. Disabled people—particularly wheelchair users and those with sight loss—are finding it increasingly difficult to access public transport, particularly buses. Will the Secretary of State consider encouraging bus companies to give their staff more disability awareness training, and will he also consider the statutory introduction of audio-visual announcement systems in the upcoming buses Bill?


I will certainly give encouragement—not that they should need it—to the bus companies to make sure that facilities for disabled people are available and that their staff know the right way of making those facilities available to them. That is incumbent on all bus companies. As for a future bus Bill, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until it is published.

T5. My constituents leaving for their holidays from Stansted airport would like to be kind to the environment and give the A14 and the M11 a miss, and use CrossCountry trains, but they often cannot do so because the trains run too late for their flights from Stansted airport. Will the rail Minister have a word with the rail regulator to restate the importance of rail and airport connectivity? (902623)

My hon. Friend is right. Stansted airport, along with local MPs, lobbied hard to get that early morning service from Liverpool Street, which stopped people having to sleep at the airport to catch early flights. I will happily discuss this with him and we can have a conversation with CrossCountry.

The committee on the medical effects of air pollution estimates that 60,000 deaths a year occur in Britain because of the effects of air pollution. That is 20 times the number killed in all road traffic accidents. The Government state that they will not achieve their legal limit on nitrogen oxide pollutants until 2030. Is this not a disgraceful situation? What will the Government do to take on Volkswagen, which has been accused of causing 12,000 avoidable deaths in Britain alone by gross deception in relation to its vehicles? What is the Minister doing to accelerate the clean-up of NOx air pollution in this country?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman has not forgotten that the biggest increase in the use of diesel vehicles took place between 2001 and 2010. As I have said in the past, the behaviour of Volkswagen is a disgrace. It must put right what it got wrong. I am having further meetings later today to discuss that with Volkswagen.

T6. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on the availability of funding from the new stations fund? The town of Wellington in my constituency would make an excellent candidate for a new station. There is a great deal of interest in it from business and locals. I am having a meeting tomorrow with those people and it would be great to give them a little more information. (902624)

I am happy to confirm that the Government mad £20 million of further money available for the new station fund in the summer Budget. It is up to local authorities and local businesses to bring forward proposals for new stations. We want them to be rooted in the benefits that they deliver to the local community. I would be delighted to review with my hon. Friend a proposal for Wellington station and look forward to working with her. We would like to get new stations built.

One of the consequences of the catastrophic floods in Cumbria has been the near-disappearance of the A591 between Grasmere and Keswick, which in effect cuts the Lake district in two. Will the Government consider applying for EU solidarity funding to make sure that we reopen or replace that road imminently so that the Lake district, which continues to be the most marvellous place to spend Christmas and new year, can be reconnected?

I well understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and the way his constituents have been affected. I am sure the feelings of the whole House are with them and those in neighbouring areas who are facing chaos in their homes and who, in some cases, will not be able to get back into them before Christmas. We discussed EU funding on Monday and said that we would look at it. I will be looking for more immediate help for his area, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be in Cumbria tomorrow.

T7. I was so encouraged by yesterday’s announcement that two Northern Rail franchises were to receive a massive £1.2 billion boost to rail services, with 500 brand-new carriages, that I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether that was intended as a signal to the three bidders for the Greater Anglia franchise as to what is expected of them if we are to help the Anglian region to—in the words of the announcement—“realise its full economic potential, ensuring it has a modern 21st century transport system”? (902625)

In the interests of crispness and brevity, the answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is yes.

The Secretary of State will be aware that under the current proposals for HS2, although the overall journey time to Scotland will be reduced, the journey time north of Crewe to Scotland will actually increase, owing to changes in the stock used. Will he therefore commit to bringing forward a definitive timetable for the proposed further upgrade works discussed with the Scottish Government for north of Crewe?

Some of the issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers will obviously be taken into account at the next planning round for Network Rail, but we are making upgrades on the line now. In fact, over the Christmas period I hope to see some of the improvements being made at Stafford, which will help to increase capacity further up the line.

T8. The creation of the west midlands combined authority provides an opportunity to take a strategic views of the region’s transport needs. Does the Secretary of State agree that it also provides an opportunity for his Department to work with local operators, such as London Midland, to relieve congestion on the Rowley Regis to Birmingham line, which is becoming a big problem? (902626)

Among the franchises announced yesterday was one owned by the German state rail company, DB, so can the Secretary of State tell the House what proportion of the ticket fare paid by UK commuters will be used to subsidise the fares of German commuters in Germany?

If a foreign company was to set up in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, would he be complaining about the jobs it brought? I am very pleased that British companies are winning rail contracts to provide services in Germany. I believe that the marketplace works. The announcements we made yesterday represent a seismic change in the service for both the Northern and TransPennine franchises, which I would have thought he would welcome, as nearly every local government leader in the area has, most of them being Labour.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that Farnworth tunnel near Bolton, which has been closed for enlargement as part of the electrification programme, will reopen next Monday, allowing for more and longer trains?

Absolutely. As my hon. Friend and others will know, it is very difficult to do that upgrade work without disruption, and I thank people for their patience, but if anyone doubts that this Government are serious about transport investment in the north and the electrification programme, they just need to go and see what happens on Monday morning when those trains start running through the tunnel again.

As the Secretary of State will be aware, on 29 November 2013 a police helicopter plunged through the roof of the Clutha bar in my constituency. The air accidents investigation branch published its report on 23 October this year and made a number of recommendations, including installing black box recorders in helicopters. When will the Government respond to the report?

The air accidents investigation branch was able to answer these specific questions—indeed, Keith Conradi was in Scotland on the day the report came out—and show that there is nothing to prevent police authorities and local authorities from already including that equipment in helicopters. I am working with the Civil Aviation Authority to determine the next steps in relation to the report, which has to be taken very seriously.

Ah! The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is looking as happy as ever, doubtless celebrating Arsenal’s quite outstanding victory last night.

As no doubt you are, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State has already mentioned visiting Stafford, no doubt to see the work at Norton Bridge, excellently undertaken by Network Rail. With the advance of the first stage of phase 2 of HS2, there is the question of the impact on infrastructure, particularly on roads in the area around Stafford and mid-Staffordshire. Will he kindly meet me to discuss that?

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend. As I said, we are investing a huge amount in infrastructure. Having been in Stafford only a few a weeks ago, I know about the problems he refers to.

Will the rail Minister repeat the figures she gave to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety annual conference this week about the appalling number of suicides on our rail system and the disruption and dreadful impact that has on the victims and on the travelling public?

What I told the conference organised by the hon. Gentleman, whom I commend for his decades of work in this area, was that every 30 hours somebody takes their life on the rail network. That is a tragedy both for the families of the victims and for the drivers and staff, for whom it is a deeply distressing experience, and it also affects those whose travel is disrupted. I commend the work the hon. Gentleman’s group is doing and the work that Network Rail is doing with the Samaritans. We want to see those numbers coming down.

The creation of the local majors fund in the autumn statement is very much to be welcomed. The much needed third crossing in Lowestoft will look to bid into that fund early in the new year. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the fund will be up and running as quickly as possible after Christmas?

I most certainly can confirm that the fund will be up and running after Christmas. I remember visiting the site with my hon. Friend on a couple of occasions earlier this year. I think the scheme he mentions is a very strong candidate.