T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (903299)
This has been a very difficult time for the communities of the north of England. I have enormous sympathy for those flooded out of their homes. I am determined that we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with local communities as they strive to return to business as usual. That is why I have commissioned the highways agencies and Network Rail to work particularly closely with the local authorities directly affected by flooding.
Unsustainable cuts by the Department for Communities and Local Government have left Lancashire County Council able to provide only statutory services across the county. This has led to an end to fare box subsidies. Some 2,400 bus routes have been cut or downgraded by this Government nationally. Why is it that this Government are leaving bus users without services?
The hon. Gentleman needs to question Labour-controlled Lancashire County Council about how it provides its services, along with those local authorities that have managed to enhance their bus services. My Department has secured funding through the bus service operators grant and will continue to do so, and will continue to support bus services across the country.
T2. Given the adverse impact that c2c timetable changes are having on the quality of commuters’ lives in Southend, and that the franchise has been renewed and the impact is now being blamed on the Government, will my right hon. Friend leave the train operators in no doubt at all that the Member of Parliament for Southend West believes that these timetable changes are simply untenable? (903300)
I well remember my hon. Friend campaigning for c2c to keep the franchise for that particular line. Obviously any changes early on in a franchise sometimes lead to difficulties, but I am concerned to work with him. c2c is improving the service. It has one of the highest reliabilities among train operators across the country and I know it is going to bring in additional rolling stock in late spring.
In last week’s Opposition day debate on the cost of public transport, Government Members seemed reluctant to say anything about buses and particularly fares, which is no great surprise, because the Department keeps hardly any information on the issue. Others tell us that fares have risen by 26% since 2010—three times as fast as wages. What does the Secretary of State think about that and when is he going to start collecting and publishing the data—or would he rather the public did not know?
I think—I will check this, and if I misinform the House, I will come back to it—we publish the same data and a lot more than the last Government ever published.
Oil prices are now low, but we have not seen bus operators passing on the savings to passengers. It was very different when oil prices were going up: fares quickly went up too. What has the Secretary of State been doing to put pressure on the operators to cut fares? When is he going to start standing up for hard-pressed bus passengers?
I hope that bus fares come down as a result of falling fuel prices, but I would also point out to the hon. Gentleman that fuel prices are only one part of the industry’s costs—I think they represent about 40% of the costs. Another part is investment in new buses, which I very much welcome—I have seen many examples of that. Quite often the oil is bought in advance, but I agree with him that the bus companies should look to see whether there is room to reduce the cost of using buses.
T3. Thousands of hard-working people from Radlett, Elstree and Borehamwood rely, like me, on Thameslink to get into London every day. We are utterly despairing at the ever declining service under the new franchisee. What reassurance can the Minister give us that Govia Thameslink will be held to account for those failures and what hope can he provide for future improvements to the service? (903301)
My hon. Friend knows that I think it is inexcusable that some customers on that part of the network are not receiving the service they deserve. Interestingly, the national rail passenger survey this week said that three out of four passengers on the franchise were in fact satisfied with the service they were receiving. There are problems, which are being fixed, such as driver shortages and old trains, but Network Rail has to do better when it comes to fixing faults and communicating with passengers. It is a fact that these lines are very old and successive Governments failed to invest in them. We are all completely committed to getting all parts of the franchise back to high performance by 2018.
T6. In the light of the recent proposal to build a railway line from China to Europe with capacity for freight as well as passenger traffic, will Ministers consider what further rail investment is required to ensure that the regions and nations of Britain are effectively linked to the continent? (903305)
I recently had one of the most interesting and informative meetings with the hon. Gentleman, who has been a long-standing campaigner for lorries on freight trains. As he knows, I think the idea is appealing in concept, but it needs to be examined in a lot more detail, and a stronger economic case made. I would welcome his and others’ involvement in putting a more substantive business case before me.
T4. As a result of changes shockingly agreed by the Labour Government of 2006, the rail Minister knows that only three out of 63 trains a day operated by CrossCountry on the so-called inter-city service actually stop at the city of Gloucester. Does she agree that a significant increase in the number of trains stopping at Gloucester is a vital part of any settlement to extend the CrossCountry franchise? (903303)
There is a reason why Gloucester has elected my hon. Friend twice now, because unlike the last lot, he stands up for rail links to his constituency. He knows very well and has made the case many times that the rail link is important. The CrossCountry direct award consultation process is currently in operation. I am sure he will continue, along with the council, to make these very good representations.
T7. What discussions has the Secretary of State or the Vehicle Certification Agency had with Volkswagen to ensure that the UK taxpayer is not out of pocket for the re-testing of Volkswagen vehicles following the recent scandal? (903306)
I refer the hon. Lady to the response I gave to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). Discussions on this particular matter are ongoing. I have taken the issue up in meetings with Volkswagen, which I believe appeared before the Transport Select Committee earlier this week.
T5. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how, with Arriva having secured the new 10-year Northern rail franchise, this will help to improve and support the Government’s northern powerhouse strategy, and, more importantly, how it will help to improve rail services in Disley in the Macclesfield constituency? (903304)
My hon. Friend should know that this franchise was last let in 2004 on a nil-growth exercise—quite the reverse of what we have done. What will happen with the new franchise is that we will see the complete removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacers by 2019; £400 million of investment in 281 brand-new air-conditioned carriages; more than 2,000 extra services provided each week, including around 400 on Sundays; space for an extra 31,000 passengers; and £45 million invested in stations. Yes, my hon. Friend’s constituents will see a major improvement.
I invite the Minister to comment on my question 18 on Government support for hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, alongside battery electric vehicles, have the potential to play an important role in decarbonising road transport. The Government began working with the industry in 2012 through the UK H2Mobility programme, developing a road map for hydrogen-based transport. It has a big role in the future.
T8. Is the Secretary of State aware that, back in the 17th century, the port of King’s Lynn was the fourth largest in the country and has been thriving ever since? Now, however, it is under severe threat from a pernicious and job-destroying European port services regulation. What are the Secretary of State and his Ministers going to do to make the EU see sense and withdraw this unwanted regulation? (903307)
I have always made it clear that this regulation is not required to fix a problem in the UK because we already have a competitive port sector with competition between ports. The general approach adopted by Council addressed many of our concerns, particularly the competitive market exemption. What is interesting is that this week, while a number of amendments were passed in the European Parliament’s transport committee, the mandate to go forward into trialogues was not given. At the moment, the regulation has run into the deep sand, and I hope it will remain there.
St Helens North is in the Mersey travel area, but thousands of my constituents commute outside it to work in Wigan, Warrington and Manchester, which means that they are effectively paying a levy on their journeys. What progress has been made towards a smart ticketing system for the north of England, which would put an end to these increasingly arbitrary travel boundaries?
Transport for the North is developing its plans for smart ticketing across the north, and the Government have provided £150 million to assist it with the project. I am a great supporter of smart ticketing, and I will be helping Transport for the North all the way.
T9. We in Nottinghamshire thank Gordon Brown for dualling the A46, but unfortunately, as was so often the way, the money ran out. The dualling ends outside Newark, and the gridlock begins. Will the Minister confirm that the dualling of the A46 from Farndon to Winthorpe is part of the Government’s plan, and that it could be brought forward in the event of slippage elsewhere? (903308)
My hon. Friend is a diligent campaigner on this issue. In October we met Councillor Blaney, a representative of his local authority.
The scheme is highly complex. The Government are committed to beginning construction in our next roads period, which means that we can start the assessment and development work now, but I am afraid I cannot tell my hon. Friend that the scheme is being brought forward.
We are approaching the second anniversary of the private finance initiative to electrify the line from Hull to Selby. Can the Minister update us on that no-brainer, which will benefit both the travelling public and the Government because it is privately financed?
As the hon. Lady knows, this is a ground-breaking way of ensuring that infrastructure is delivered, and of course we want to deliver that particular infrastructure, given Hull’s importance in the next 12 to 18 months. I shall be happy to obtain an update on the exact timing and write to her.
This morning my train to London Bridge got me in on time. Does the Minister agree that, as well as being negative when things do not work, we should adopt a positive attitude to our rail franchises when they get it right, as they do on most days?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Trains to London Bridge, and other Thameslink trains, are benefiting from a massive upgrade costing some £6.5 billion. Obviously there will be difficulties at certain stages of the line’s reconstruction, but once it is finished it will be a far superior line, and it will benefit from the new trains that will come into service in the spring.
The proposals on emissions standards that were published yesterday by the European Commission give us a real opportunity to turn a corner and get to grips with an industry that has been circumventing environmental regulations for too long. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those proposals will not become a bargaining chip in the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, resulting in watered-down outcomes?
We want to consider the Commission’s proposals very carefully, and that is what we will do.
Ten days ago a group of us visited Cairo, where everyone from the Prime Minister downwards impressed on us the devastating impact of the suspension of flights to Sharm el-Sheikh on the Egyptian economy. Has my right hon. Friend any plans to reinstate those flights so that the 1 million British visitors to Sharm el-Sheikh can resume their holidays there?
I cannot yet say when the resumption of flights might be possible, but the agreement that was reached with the Egyptian authorities in December on a joint action plan was a significant and welcome step forward. Since then we have had an ongoing presence in Sharm el-Sheikh, working with the Egyptians on the implementation of that plan, and I think that good progress is being made. I fully understand the importance to Egypt of the resumption of flights to destinations in the country.
Leeds City Council is currently consulting on road options for leaving Bradford airport, but it is ignoring the obvious solution of a rail link to the railway line, which is 1.1 miles away. Why is the council considering those options, given that they are based on flawed assumptions in a flawed report from the Department for Transport?
The importance of connectivity to our airports has long been underestimated in transport policy, and that certainly applies to the Leeds-Bradford connection. I think that we should be positive about the fact that work is being done to establish how we can improve connectivity, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman join the campaign that is being run by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew).
I warmly welcome the prospectus offering new rail passenger services in London and the south-east. It states, on page 26, that
“Crossrail 2 would move inner suburban services onto new tracks”,
thus improving those services. However, there is no plan to try to run this enhanced metro on the current rickety two-track system, which means further delays in train services from outer suburban stations. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me about that?
The document I issued last week with the Mayor of London was a consultation document. I will take my right hon. Friend’s question as part of that consultation exercise, and we will not leave alone the points he has made.
The main platform at Mirfield railway station in my constituency is only accessible via very steep steps, which can make it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the disabled and the elderly or infirm to access the station. Will the Minister agree to meet me or perhaps visit Mirfield to see how we can facilitate much needed improvements to the station?
I am always happy to discuss these issues with the hon. Lady. She will know that more than 400 stations have significantly benefited from the investment of the Access for All scheme. Clearly there is more to do and I am very happy to have a conversation with her about that.
Order. Demand exceeds supply, as so often, but I am afraid we must now move on.