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Volume 612: debated on Thursday 30 June 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

Public Transport: Affordability

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the cost of public transport on the affordability of those services. (905568)

Rail fares rose by 0.7% last year thanks to this Government’s fares cap, meaning that rail fares rose by less than earnings for the first time since 2003. Outside London, deregulated bus fares rose by 1.8% last year, with the Government continuing to spend more than £1.2 billion a year through the bus service operators grant and concessionary fares to help keep fares affordable.

With a quarter of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds finding that the cost of a bus fare is a barrier to getting a job, what steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that young people have access to work and training?

There are already concessionary fares targeted exactly at that group. On the rail network too, there are now specific discount fares for jobseekers. Often this is a matter for local authorities to work on with their bus operators. The Bus Services Bill currently in Committee gives local authorities additional powers through a franchising mechanism, should they choose to use it.

After many years of Conservative deregulation and privatisation, we find that many of our bus and rail operators are now owned by European companies, and some by European Governments indeed. Given that we are not exactly flavour of the month in Europe, and that we already know that British passengers are subsidising other countries, what can the Minister say reassure us that we will not see our fares going up as a consequence?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman—it is a pleasure to see him on the Front Bench this morning. Those operators may have ownership structures involving foreign entities, as do many British companies, but any operator in the UK is a UK-based company, employing UK staff and headquartered in the UK, continuing to invest in a very successful rail and bus programme right across the country.

I am not sure the House will be entirely reassured by that. We have talked already about the Bus Services Bill. Will the Minister take this opportunity to withdraw the punitive clause 21, which will stop local councils creating successful municipal bus companies? What have the Secretary of State and others on the Government Front Bench got against British success stories such as Reading and Nottingham, which do so well?

We believe in parliamentary democracy in this country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill is in Committee in the Lords, and we will all have an opportunity to debate those points when it comes to our Chamber shortly.

Emergency Towing Vessels: Scotland

2. What recent discussions he has had on the future of emergency towing vessels in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (905569)

I discussed emergency towing capability in Scotland with the right hon. Gentleman on 9 June, and we had an informal chat this week on that subject. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has consulted all interested parties about options for future provision beyond September 2016. I expect to make an announcement very soon.

We look forward to hearing the Minister’s announcement. The last stakeholders’ group meeting convened by the MCA received a risk assessment —a proper, substantial piece of work commissioned from the private sector—that made it clear that removing the tug would pose an unacceptable risk for the coastal and island communities of Scotland. When the Minister makes his decision, will he make sure that that risk assessment is on his desk and at the heart of his considerations?

I absolutely reassure the House that I understand the importance of maritime safety in those northern waters, from the point of view not only of pollution—we all know how difficult a major oil pollution incident can be—but of our seafarers at risk on the waters.

Workplace Parking Levy: Nottingham

3. What discussions he has had with Nottingham City Council on the use of income from the workplace parking levy for transport projects in Nottingham; and if he will make a statement. (905570)

Ministers have had no discussions with representatives of Nottingham City Council on the use of the income from its workplace parking levy scheme, but officials from the Department have been in contact with officials from Nottingham City Council.

Devolving power to the city of Nottingham by enabling it to have a workplace parking levy has led to Nottingham having the biggest fleet of electric buses in Europe, to the redevelopment of the Nottingham rail station and to tramlines being introduced in Nottingham, and those have now been extended. Will the Minister come to Nottingham to see these developments and to discuss with the city council how a shortfall in EU funding will be made good so that these things can continue?

I agree that this is a very buoyant time—a positive time—for public transport in Nottingham. The workplace parking levy raises between £8 million and £9 million a year, and it does indeed contribute to the tram system. However, the coalition Government agreed to provide £371 million towards it, so many of the enhancements we see come from central Government. I would be delighted to go to Nottingham—they are doing a very good job there—and would happily discuss the funding arrangements.

Rolling Stock

I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the introduction of an additional 9,000 peak-time seats on the Essex Thameside route by January next year. By 2024, capacity will increase by a further 16,000 seats.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, there has been some criticism from constituents about c2c train services and services on the Greater Anglia line. Will he share with the House when he expects further new rolling stock to be provided by c2c and when he expects the decision on the Greater Anglia franchise to be announced?

A number of improvements are coming to the c2c line. In the past, my hon. Friend has been incredibly critical, but he has welcomed many of the changes that have been brought in by the new franchise. Obviously, those take a bit of time to bed in, but I know he very much welcomes the extra availability and the new seats, and I hope to see those in operation as soon as possible.

The Secretary of State will know that the rolling stock serving the south-west of England dates from the 1970s, and we are eagerly updating our new, updated trains. What assessment have he and his Department made of the impact of Brexit and the economic shock from Brexit on his overall investment plans for our transport system?

I am pleased to be travelling on one of the new intercity express programme trains later today to mark the 150 years of the part of the railways that serves his town and his constituency.

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. The investment we have seen on his line, and the investment we are seeing in the new IEP trains and the new AT300s, which will serve places further into the south-west, are very welcome, and I am pleased that he welcomes that investment.

Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), will the Secretary of State assure me that the East Anglia rail franchise announcement is imminent, as we expect, so that we in the east can move out of the sidings?

I well know the desire of all my colleagues in East Anglia to hear about the new franchise. I hope not to have to keep them waiting too long.

The other day, an employee of Virgin Trains East Coast described the refurb of some of the old trains as “like giving granny a new dress”. Is the Secretary of State not aware of the state of the rolling stock on the east coast? When is it going to get better, and how can we justify that sort of rolling stock when we are wasting so much money on HS2?

What the hon. Gentleman should be welcoming, as he always fails to do, is the vast investment that we are seeing on that railway line. He is now complaining about the upgrading of stock in the interim before the new IEP trains come in. I would have thought he would welcome that new service and also welcome the new service into London that will eventually serve Huddersfield.

The Secretary of State and I use the midland main line operated by East Midlands Trains to get to and from our constituencies. The high-speed 125 trains on that line are rapidly approaching the end of their operating life. Will he ensure that, with the new franchise, they are replaced with new rolling stock and not recycled second-hand rolling stock from other lines?

When we come to look at the franchise for the east midlands line, I am sure that is one of the many issues we will take into account. It is worth pointing out that since 2010 we have seen almost 5,000 new carriages for use in the UK’s railway network. That is one of the biggest ever upgrades of our railway stock. Like my hon. Friend, as a regular user of the east midlands line I also hope it will get new rolling stock in due course.

The Cumbrian Coast railway line serves my constituency, and I get regular complaints about the rolling stock. A lot of the busy trains often have only a single carriage, and some of the carriages date from the 1970s. What work are the Government doing with the new franchise holder to improve the situation?

We are doing a number of things with regard to the Transpennine route and the Northern route—not least, under this Government, the phasing out of the Pacer train. That was always promised and alluded to, but we are actually going to deliver on it, and I am very pleased about that. If the hon. Lady is saying that more needs to be done, I accept that, but the very fact that since 2010 , as I say, almost 5,000 new carriages will have been ordered and put into use on the railway network is a very commendable record.

With over 900 houses currently under construction in Woodford, residents in Cheadle, Gatley, Cheadle Hulme and Bramhall are facing daily gridlock at the junction of the A34 and the A560. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss ways to alleviate this problem?

I am sure I can organise a meeting for my hon. Friend to discuss this problem. We had a bit of a look at it some time ago when I was last in her constituency, but I am more than happy to discuss any transport problems that she has.

Order. I think that, as I have just been advised, the rolling stock has rather left the line. I err on the side of generosity, but the hon. Lady’s supplementary was at best tangentially related to the question on the Order Paper. We will let her off on this occasion.

Regional Airports

5. Whether he plans to review the effectiveness of the public service obligation for regional airports. (905572)

The Government will soon update their aviation policy framework. As part of this update, the Government will consider the role that public service obligations can play in serving regional airports, which are a vital economic and social lifeline for all parts of the United Kingdom.

For Aberdeen, as an international oil and gas hub, the access that we enjoy to Heathrow as a gateway to the rest of the world is as important, if not perhaps more important, than its access to this fine city of London. Aberdeen has looked at the prospect of a PSO, which would provide access only to a London airport, whereas we need point-to-point access. Will the Secretary of State ensure that that is considered in the review?

I will certainly consider the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made to see whether that is compatible with the overall rules that we want to introduce in public service obligations.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the sustainability and development of regional airports could be much enhanced by the increase in connectivity inherent in the additional capacity plans for the south-east? Given that such connectivity will deliver economic growth throughout the UK, what assessment has he made of the efficacy of any engagement with the regional airports in ensuring that once a decision is made, the proposals in the recommended option of Heathrow will deliver the desired development of our regional airports?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I have been in this post for four years, and he is the fifth shadow Secretary of State I have seen and, I think, the 10th person to hold the Labour transport brief in nine years. I congratulate him on that. I also thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she conducted herself while she was doing the job. Although at the moment she is sitting on the Back Benches, I am sure that that is only a temporary measure while certain things are sorted out.

If I may now come to the question—I have almost forgotten what it was—I think we all agree that regional airports play a vital role in connectivity. One of the issues about regional airports—this was alluded to in a previous question—is their accessibility to the London airport system. We have to consider such issues and some later questions may address them.

The Davies commission report came out almost a year ago—I think a year ago tomorrow, in fact—and it recommended that the Government take a different view of point-to-point PSOs. Regional connectivity for Scotland could be enhanced by PSOs for many airports, including London City, yet London City’s plans for development are still on hold. Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to releasing that development now, so that it can partake in PSO development?

That is one of the issues for which the Mayor of London has responsibility first, and I think he has already taken a view on it. When a decision comes to me, obviously it will have to go through the proper process. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the opportunities for people to get to London airports.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Davies commission report also recommended that we urgently consider expansion and that other airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, might benefit from PSO connectivity. Can we finally get a decision on airport expansion in the south-east, or will we yet again see more and more fudging of this subject?

I fear that the hon. Gentleman has come in a bit too early. I intend to address the points he has just made in response to question 8 on the Order Paper.

Severn Bridges

The UK Government are committed to the continued successful operation of these vital crossings. The Government plan to consult this autumn on the proposed halving of tolls—which would represent a massive saving for users—as well as other options, including free-flow tolling.

I thank the Minister for attending the recent meeting in this place with the Freight Transport Association to discuss the future of the Severn bridges. I know that there is to be a consultation, but there is real concern about the issue, especially now that the bridges will continue to be seen as a cash cow for the Government. May I reiterate that we want the bridge tolls to come down further and an assurance that when they return to public ownership they stay that way?

I very much enjoyed that meeting and hearing the views of businesses in Wales and of Welsh Members. The concession will finish when £1.029 billion is returned from tolls to the public purse. We expect that to happen sometime in early 2018. We are working on the plans that will follow that transition. We will consult more broadly, but I entirely agree that keeping the tolls low will help businesses in the area.

I have a large number of haulage and private contract hire companies in my constituency, many of which trade across the whole of the UK. They are very concerned that the consultation is not just a paper exercise and that the Minister is listening. Once the tolls have paid off the cost of the bridge, will he consider handing it over to the Welsh Assembly to manage?

The bridges are primarily in England, so that is an interesting Welsh land grab. As regards listening to the voice of businesses, if I was not listening to the voice of business, I would not have attended the meeting that was arranged by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) with the Freight Transport Association.

Border Controls

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on border controls at air and maritime ports. (905575)

The Secretary of State regularly meets the Home Secretary to discuss a range of subjects, including border security. The most recent of these discussions took place on 26 April this year.

I understand that incoming international passengers at Edinburgh airport are experiencing lengthening delays as a result of cuts to the number of Border Force officers available. Given the increasing passenger numbers there and the likely increased need for passport checks after Brexit, will the Minister take urgent action to increase Border Force official numbers at the airport?

I, for one, am pleased that we do not have border checks at Berwick-upon-Tweed when I travel north. The hon. Lady should more reasonably put that question to the Home Office, which deals with such matters. As the Minister with responsibility for aviation, I am aware of the whole airport experience, and long queues at immigration are not good for the experience of people who come to our country.

Airport Capacity

10. When he plans to make a decision on the construction of an additional runway in south-east England. (905578)

I had hoped that we would be able to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer. Clearly, any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House was in session. Being realistic, given recent events, I cannot now foresee that there will be an announcement until at least October. We aim to publish the further analysis on air quality soon. Separately, promoters have announced undertakings that would increase the compensation available for residents living near the airports and the connectivity between other UK airports. The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that they have set out, including the delivery of runway capacity on the timetable set out by the Davies report.

It is another boring day at Westminster, and I was rather hoping that the Secretary of State might inject some excitement into it for me. Nobody can accuse him of rushing this decision. Post-Brexit, with a number of countries banging on the door of the UK to do trade deals, does he agree that increasing airport capacity at London City, London Heathrow and London Gatwick will be vital to British businesses throughout the UK?

I would have liked to be in the position of asking the House to make a decision, and endorsing a decision. We are not going to be in that position, and we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend may regard it as a boring day in the House of Commons, but it is certainly not a boring day in Westminster.

The Secretary of State will know that I am going to make the case for Birmingham airport. Is there still time, whenever the report comes out, for Birmingham airport to make the case for the 250,000 jobs that could flow from a second runway there?

Looking at the hon. Lady’s question, I did not realise that she was going to mention Birmingham, because her question specifically talks about south-east England. To the best of my knowledge, Birmingham has not moved since I knew it as a boy, 20 miles away from where I lived. Birmingham airport is a fantastic airport, which serves an important role as far as Birmingham and the midlands are concerned, and it has just had a runway extension.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even if he had been able to make an announcement on this subject today, the earliest that extra runway capacity could be provided would be 2023, and at worst probably 2030? Does that not point up the need to improve connectivity to Stansted, which is the only airport in the London area with the capacity to deal with the strain of extra demand?

That is one of those questions that one cannot really disagree with, and my right hon. Friend has a habit of asking such questions in Transport questions. Although I agree with the point he makes, the delivery of what he is asking for is somewhat more difficult than he suggests.

Yet more dithering on the decision whether to expand hub capacity at Heathrow will harm the regions of this country and the United Kingdom. What recommendation will the Secretary of State make to the next Prime Minister?

Well, one step at a time. If the hon. Lady does not mind my saying so, she is assuming a number of events, which I am not going to do. In all seriousness, I would say to the hon. Lady, who is Chair of the Transport Committee, that this is a very important and big decision for the United Kingdom and it is not an easy one. The simple fact is that whichever option we choose will impact on people’s lives. It is therefore right to make sure we do all the preparatory work on air quality and the other issues. However, I very much hope that a decision can be made later this year.

It is inconceivable that either the Home Secretary or the former Mayor of London would at this time put their constituency interests ahead of the national interest. I know that had the Secretary of State sought an assurance from the former Mayor of London that he would support this decision if the Government went ahead with it, he would have received it. Did he seek such an assurance, and if not, why not? This is not in the national interest, and it is not in the interests of people around Gatwick who will have to live with further uncertainty.

I am very sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed by my announcement this morning. As I have said, however, given the parliamentary timetable and when the House will rise, I do not see how it would be possible to come to the House for a statement with a recommendation and possibly a vote before the summer recess.

I thank the Secretary of State for his earlier comments, but his answer is exacerbating the profound uncertainty about the future of essential transport projects, including HS2 and a new runway at Heathrow. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships are in the balance. Does he not understand that delaying these plans will add to the wider economic shock that was triggered last week, and that public and private investment in our transport networks must be delivered?

We are now back on familiar ground and I do not need to repeat what I said earlier. The simple fact is that I am very proud of the investment that this Government are putting into infrastructure. Infrastructure investment is 50% higher than it was during the last Parliament, and it is much larger than the amount put in by the previous Labour Government, so this Government are very committed to infrastructure investment. The hon. Lady talks about airport capacity, but there were airport capacity issues during the 13 years her party was in government, when it did nothing.

With the political and economic uncertainty following last week’s referendum vote, infrastructure projects have become more, not less, important for the future of this country. That is particularly true of our airports, which will have renewed importance in ensuring that the UK is a global, outward-looking trading nation. The comments made by the Prime Minister and, indeed, by the Secretary of State today have cast doubt on that. Does the Secretary of State not accept that kicking this decision into the long grass yet again is simply utterly unacceptable?

We are accused of kicking something into the long grass, but I have said that I hope to see a decision by the end of the year, and Opposition Members have not yet expounded which option they actually support.

Tourists: Rail Travel

Millions of tourists use our railways, and we have products such as the BritRail pass to encourage this, but we want to do more. In March, the Prime Minister launched a £1 million competition to boost tourism specifically in relation to heritage and community railways, and it has been wildly successful. We had a fabulous array of bids, and we have made 17 grants to wonderful projects from Cornwall to Caledonia and from Welshpool to Warwick.

Will the Minister confirm whether her Department has conducted any work into the potential economic boost from trade and tourism for Corsham, Wiltshire and the wider area of reopening Corsham railway station, and if not, will it do so?

Even before my hon. Friend took her seat she had for a long time been a doughty campaigner for reopening the station. I thoroughly enjoyed going to see the site with her, and I know that we will have a meeting next month to continue the discussions. I understand that a feasibility study is currently being undertaken in Corsham, which I hope will reference the uplift for tourism and, indeed, some of the educational opportunities in this area. I am looking forward to seeing such references when the report is presented.

Will the Minister provide an update on potential improvements to the north Cotswold line, which could provide a significant increase in tourist traffic beyond Oxford to Worcestershire and Herefordshire?

My hon. Friend knows that the Department is working with Network Rail, Great Western Railway and other stakeholders to look at the whole business case and funding opportunities to really improve the London-Oxford-Worcester train services. The Department will publish its next rail investment strategy in summer 2017, which will set out the investment plans for 2019 to 2024.

It will come as no great surprise to the Minister that I would like to raise the Okehampton link, which is part of the south-west Peninsula Rail Task Force agenda. Does she believe, as I do, that there should be an economic assessment of the tourism benefits that use of that particular route could provide to businesses in north Cornwall?

Before answering my hon. Friend’s question, I will point out to him that two of those wonderful projects I mentioned were in Cornwall, so there was a really good effort by the peninsula. The Peninsula Rail Task Force will be working on a report to look at all sorts of options for enhancing that rail network. I look forward to receiving and studying that report later this year.

A new metro system in south Wales would really help rail tourism there, but the planned metro is heavily dependent on EU support. What measures will the Minister take to ensure that the south Wales valleys metro system can be delivered?

Investment in rail services in Wales is now devolved to the Welsh Administration, so that funding is a matter for them. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that three of the winners of the competitions I mentioned were based in Wales, including the wonderful velorail bike visitor attraction, which involves cycling along disused railways on enormous great bicycles. There will be some tourism uplift from investments like those.

What assessment has the rail Minister made of the impact of the appalling Southern and Thameslink services and Network Rail’s infrastructure failures on the ability of tourists to get to key tourist destinations such as Beddington Park and Honeywood Museum in Carshalton?

The right hon. Gentleman, like all right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies are served by the line he refers to, knows that—largely due to the major investments in the region—the current performance has not been acceptable. The Government, operators and Network Rail have been working incredibly hard to solve those problems. It was great to see that by April of this year performance had climbed back up to a public performance measure of about 84%—not good enough, but getting better. Unfortunately, since then industrial action and high levels of conductor sickness have seen a deterioration in that measure. We have to get the unions and operators to settle their differences as soon as possible, for the sake both of tourists and of the right hon. Gentleman’s commuting constituents.

Road Investment Strategy

The Government have launched the first ever road investment strategy, committing a record £15 billion up to 2020. Work is already under way on 20 of the schemes named in the road investment strategy, with five schemes already open to traffic in 2015-16. I can confirm that work on the A14—one of the biggest projects in our RIS, at £1.5 billion—is on track to start construction later this year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the momentous events of last week, and the opportunities they provide, mean that our transport infrastructure and schemes such as the road investment strategy are now more important than ever?

It is very important that we press on with both road and rail infrastructure projects. They are often controversial when we start them, but by the time they are completed people have usually asked why we did not start them some time ago.

Back in 2015, when the Government announced the road investment strategy, £6 billion was promised to resurface 80% of our strategic road network. We now understand that Highways England is saying that that promise will not be met. Where has the money gone, and what projects are being cancelled?

This is coming from the party that actually stopped investment in road spending almost completely. We are creating record investment while having to clear up some of the mess made by years of under-investment while the Labour party was in office. I do not recognise the points the hon. Gentleman has made.

South-east England: Runways

17. What steps he is taking to ensure that a decision is made as soon as possible on the new airport runway in south-east England. (905586)

The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects they have set out. The hon. Gentleman heard what the Secretary of State had to say about the decision on runway capacity in the south-east.

I thank the Minister for coming over and visiting us, and discussing with all of us the future of runways and connectivity, but I am incredibly disappointed by today’s decision. He knows that Dublin airport is due to have its new runway by 2023. We need a decision. May we have a promise that we will have a decision by Christmas 2016?

I think the Secretary of State was very clear. There are some other interesting developments, for example Stobart Air is looking at connections between Carlisle and Belfast, Carlisle and Dublin, and Carlisle and Southend, which will increase connectivity and improve the prospects for tourism so that people in the north of England can visit the wonderful Ulster that he represents.

The third runway for Heathrow would unlock some £16 billion of private investment at a time when the economy needs it most. The chief executive of George Best Belfast City airport has said that the

“Heathrow hub is vital in making Northern Ireland accessible to business and leisure passengers from all corners of the globe”.

It is really important for Belfast city; it is important for Northern Ireland. Make the decision now.

The Davies report made very clear the importance of connectivity in the south-east to the regions, the north of England, Ulster, Scotland and elsewhere. We are very mindful of the issues that have been raised by colleagues from around the country.

Local Roads

The Department published its latest assessment in March 2016. This assessment shows that local classified roads are improving, with fewer local classified roads that should be considered for maintenance. But there is still much to do, which is why the Government have committed record levels of investment, over £6 billion, to highways maintenance up to 2021, as well has having a pothole action fund totalling £250 million in this Parliament.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware of the significant difficulties my constituents face travelling east from Romford due to the congestion caused by the roundabout and flyover at Gallows Corner? At peak times, this roundabout can cause complete gridlock in parts of my constituency. Will he raise this matter with the Greater London Authority and work with the Mayor of London to organise a new road layout? That would be a great relief to the local constituents in Romford and throughout the London Borough of Havering.

This is a matter for Transport for London, because it is part of the local network. TfL consulted on proposals earlier this year in respect of road safety improvements at Gallows Corner, but my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I would be very happy to take this up with the Mayor and TfL. I suggest that the most helpful way forward would be for both of us to continue to do just that.

Departmental Funding: Shipley

19. What proportion of the funding allocated by his Department to the West Yorkshire combined authority has been spent in Shipley constituency. (905588)

My Department has allocated over £41 million of local transport funding this year to the West Yorkshire combined authority and nearly £233 million over the life of the Parliament to improve local roads and deliver integrated transport schemes across west Yorkshire. It is for local authorities to decide how funding is allocated to schemes.

I am very grateful for the answer, but the Minister failed to say how much of that had been spent in the Shipley constituency, which was the driving force behind my question. I think we can take it from that response that the answer is very little, if we are being generous. What is his Department doing to ensure that Labour west Yorkshire authorities are not just spending money in the Labour heartlands, but that the whole of west Yorkshire benefits from Government investment?

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Maybe those in charge in west Yorkshire should look at some of our national projects. We are determined to invest where investment is needed, in many cases in areas in the north of England not run by our own party, to stimulate jobs and to contribute to the northern powerhouse, something to which I hope the council and those in control in west Yorkshire will pay attention.

New Railway Stations

20. What assessment he has made of the viability of new railway stations funded through (a) the new stations fund and (b) alternative funding arrangements. (905589)

We know that rail investment and new stations provide a real boost for a local economy. I am very pleased that, since January 2014, 10 new stations have opened or reopened in England and Wales, funded by the new stations fund, local growth deals and by local partnerships. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last year that another £20 million will be available for new station fund bids, and that fund will be open for bids very soon.

Given that new stations are doing well and providing a boost to local economies and the environment, does the Minister agree that the town of Wellington in my constituency is an excellent candidate for a new metro railway station? A recent petition received an overwhelmingly positive response while the feasibility study showed an economic benefit. Will she also clarify our next steps in qualifying for new station funding?

My hon. Friend is a Taunton girl born and bred and has campaigned assiduously on this and many other issues since assuming her seat. I have met her to discuss this matter, and we are looking forward to seeing the proposals. We have changed the terms and conditions of the new stations fund so that promoters do not have to get to the GRIP 3 stage before their submission for funding. I am looking forward to seeing this and other applications.

Southern Rail

21. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the recent performance of the Southern rail franchise on economic productivity in the south-east. (905590)

Surprisingly, there is no formal economic assessment of the impact of rail disruption, but I am in no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and I would completely agree that a disrupted railway is not good for the economy or for passengers. That is why we are so committed to once again making Southern rail a high-performing railway.

This shambles is turning into a crisis. I have people writing to me who are late for work every day and getting written warnings from their bosses. The Government seem to expect them to turn to their bosses and say, “Don’t worry. By 2018, it will all be fine”. When will this shambles and crisis end? When can people tell their bosses that things will get better?

The hon. Gentleman and I talk about this a lot. He knows that there was disruption as a result of our record investment but that things are getting better—I point out again that in April we got up to an 83.8% public performance measure. If his constituents would like to write to bosses, I suggest they write to the union bosses involved, who are doing their members a grave disservice by bringing them out on completely unjustified grounds. This is a dispute about who presses the buttons that operate the doors and the change in the role of the second staff member; there are no job losses or changes to terms and conditions.

My constituency benefits from Southampton airport and its economic productivity. It is getting four new routes this summer, and many hub in from Ireland and the Channel Islands, but Southern rail’s shameful performance is affecting commuters across the south coast as well as those hubbing into my airport and heading up to Gatwick from Swanwick. Flights are being missed and jobs are constantly in peril. Will the Minister say that the huge impact this failing franchise is having cannot be tolerated?

Everybody understands that the railway has to get better—that is why the money is being spent and why so much work is going on with the operator and Network Rail—but I point out again that £2 billion of brand-new trains are coming off the production line that the company wants to run on these routes, but their introduction is being held up. And by the way, this is not just about Govia Thameslink Railway; they are having exactly the same problem in Scotland. This is a nationwide dispute about who presses the buttons that open the doors.

It is no good having more rolling stock if it is not actually moving, and it is not good enough for the Minister simply to blame the unions. Her Department has to get a grip. My constituents are furious. They are paying through the nose for an appalling service that threatens their jobs and robs them of time with their families, while the pay deal of the chief executive officer of Go-Ahead rose to more than £2 million last year. Will she get a grip, stop defending the failing private sector, remove the franchise and put the service into transparent and accountable hands now?

Unlike the hon. Lady, my focus is completely on the passengers. She accepted a large donation from the RMT before the last election, while members of the ASLEF union have just awarded themselves a 16% pay increase. They need to stop objecting to the introduction of new technology that will benefit her constituents and constituents right across the UK.

Passenger Rail Franchises

Does anyone have—I do apologise, Mr Speaker. I rather thought we were going on to topical questions, so my mind was there and not on the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question.

In the national rail passenger survey report for spring 2016, published this morning, 80% of passengers were satisfied with their journey. Merseyrail, which serves many of the hon. Member’s constituents, scored 90%.

Unfortunately the Secretary of State’s response was as late as a number of the trains on the Wrexham to Bidston line, which goes through my constituency. It is an infrequent, unreliable and expensive service, which is due for renewal in the next couple of years. Will the Secretary of State ensure that we have the highest specification possible for the renewal, so we get a much improved service?

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the slight delay in my response. I very much hope that his constituents will enjoy some of the improvements happening in the franchises serving his area. I referred to Merseyrail, but of course there are other train operating companies providing services into his constituency and I think there will be considerable uplift on both Northern and TransPennine Express links, which will benefit his constituents.

Topical Questions

Right—I was prepared for this, Mr Speaker.

I am proud of the fact that capital expenditure on infrastructure will increase by 50% in this Parliament. We have set up the first ever roads investment strategy, on which I answered questions earlier this morning, but throughout my time at the Department for Transport I have attached great importance to safety, so I am pleased that the latest statistics for road casualties in Great Britain, published at 9.30 this morning, show a decrease of 2% in road fatalities, a decrease of 3% in serious injuries, and a decrease of 4% in slight injuries. The number of deaths is too high, but the reduction is very welcome indeed.

Please can the Secretary of State confirm four dates for me? When will Huddersfield get its direct London service? When will the Pacers go? When will HS2 link to Yorkshire? And when will the electrification of the trans-Pennine route begin?

Off the top of my head, I think the answers are May 2019; December 2019; 2033; and I am happy to say that preliminary work has started, although final decisions on the scope will have to wait until 2018. I wish I had all the figures in my head, as you often do, Mr Speaker.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) said, Southern rail passengers are suffering the worst delays in the country and its staff are locked into an increasingly bitter industrial dispute. All those who work or rely on this failing service deserve much better. Does the Minister not think that by ruling out the cancellation of the franchise and by winding down the operator of last resort, Directly Operated Railways, the Department has no plan B and has effectively forfeited the chance to place any meaningful pressure on the company to improve performance?

The hon. Gentleman only needs to look at the share price performance of the owning group to see that considerable pressure is being put on the company by the markets, by customers and by my Department. In my view, changing the franchise would do nothing. Everybody has to work together. There is a highly experienced management team already in place. We have an investment programme that is coming to an end. The first major part of London Bridge will open this summer. I urge everyone involved, including the union bosses who are taking out their members on completely unjustified action, to sort this out for the benefit of the hard-pressed commuters, who just want to get to work and get home to their families.

T3. Many of my constituents who live on the eastern side of Enfield are fed up to the back teeth with infrequent and unreliable train services. Does the Secretary of State agree that the early delivery of four-tracking of the west Anglia main line rail route from Coppermill junction to Broxbourne junction offers a unique opportunity to improve services, boost housing growth potential and benefit the local economy? (905561)

I met the right hon. Lady to discuss other issues in her constituency following her request at the last Transport questions, and she mentioned four-tracking. That is being considered under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), who is examining services to that part of London and beyond. I look forward to receiving that report and, hopefully, making progress.

T4. What assessment has been made of the importance of transport improvement and infrastructure projects to the success of the northern powerhouse? Will my hon. Friend provide an update on progress? (905562)

Transport is vital for creating the northern powerhouse, connecting northern regions and supporting jobs, which helps to rebalance the UK economy. Work towards delivering an improved, integrated transport system is well under way. In 2014, we created Transport for the North and we have committed to spending a record £13 billion on transport in the north.

T6. Since it was reopened by the Scottish Government last year, the Borders railway has been a remarkable success. In the first six months of its operation, passenger forecasts were exceeded by 22% and the Scottish Government have committed to a feasibility study on restoring the line to its historic route to extend it to Hawick and Carlisle. What dialogue has the Secretary of State had with the new Scottish Transport Minister on the matter and does he support the principle of a new cross-border rail connection? (905564)

I have not yet had the chance to meet the new Scottish Transport Minister to discuss this particular issue but there will be opportunities. I look forward to our first meeting on these subjects and I am more than happy to consider any of the points that he makes. The hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point about what happens when new services are provided. Particularly on the railways we often see a greater take-up than planned.

T5. My constituents in Motspur Park, Raynes Park and Wimbledon welcome the concept of Crossrail 2, but are worried about consultation. Could my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that the Government will ensure that Crossrail 2 has the money to undertake an extensive consultation and a quality masterplan for the centre of Wimbledon? (905563)

I am well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents about the current plans. Both Transport for London and Network Rail are investigating the feasibility of a number of alternative options, which potentially include tunnelling and reconfiguration of stations in the area. Of course we will continue to consult on this. As he knows from his involvement in many major transport systems, there is a lot of consultation before we start digging the tunnel for Crossrail 2.

T8. Behind closed doors in February, Ministers agreed to allow GTR to cancel even more services without fear of breaching its contract, increasing the number from 23,000 cancellations to 32,000 cancellations. MPs were told about that on the last day before recess in May. How on earth can we have confidence in GTR services when there is such a delay before MPs are told and when it appears that Ministers are in cahoots, setting up risk-free contracts undermining the interests of our passengers? (905566)

I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would have worked with us, with all the investment that we are putting into the railway serving her area. All she has ever done is complain and back up the unions’ unjustified position on the new investment. There has been billions of pounds on new rolling stock and massive investment in London Bridge station. However, all she does is continually complain and take donations from the RMT.

What is the Department doing to ensure that the pothole action money is being efficiently spent and to ensure best practice?

The pothole action fund has a budget of £250 million across this Parliament. The first allocation has already been made this year. It has been allocated to councils according to the number of highways for which they are responsible. We are looking at how we can make the fund as efficient as possible but the key thing is that we are backing local authorities to improve the quality of their local road network.

T9. I have previously highlighted the predicted 45,000 shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. That is only going to get worse after Brexit because many agencies already rely on EU citizens to supply HGV drivers. When will the Government commit to looking at the cost benefits of providing grants for companies to put people who are unemployed through HGV training? (905567)

I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on these matters, as far as training is concerned, and we are looking across at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, too, to assess what can be done to move this issue forward. There are good opportunities for young people to become drivers, and I would encourage them to look at those opportunities.

Has my right hon. Friend’s Department made any assessment of the potential for aircraft types such as the Boeing 787 and the A350, which can fly greater distances point to point, to provide opportunities for Manchester and Birmingham aircrafts, demonstrating that there are more ways of doing business in this country than landing in London?

It is certainly the case that many airlines are investing in the A350, which is exclusively engined with Rolls-Royce engines, and the point-to-point option opens up many new opportunities for regional airports to provide direct services for their people.

I very much welcome the statistics showing that road improvement and road safety are getting better, but those statistics mask what is really happening with all-lane running. The Transport Select Committee has produced a report, published today, which shows the disingenuity going on in the statistics. What we are looking for is the Minister’s acceptance that all-lane running is dangerous and that we need to do something about it.

I am aware that the Transport Select Committee has published a report this morning, but I have not yet had a chance to read it fully. The point about our smart motorways is that they are designed to add capacity to our network without compromising safety. The evidence from the first all-lane running schemes on the M25 show that the busiest journey times have almost halved, the number of collisions has reduced by almost a fifth and casualty rates are down by 21%. Obviously, safety is a priority. I will read the report with much interest.

Does the Minister agree that improvements on our railways will be made only if the unions move into the current century, embrace new technology and stop playing politics with passengers?

Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to scotch reports of Treasury meddling in HS2 post-referendum, confirm that it will be built north of Birmingham and that proper services will run through Crewe to benefit all of Cheshire?

I never comment on rumours, because I have started quite a few of them during my time in this House. I am committed to HS2, which I believe to be very important for this country. We are already seeing the benefits for Birmingham of the investment that is going around.

Lowestoft railway station, which has the great advantage of being in the centre of the town, has fallen into considerable disrepair in recent years. Lowestoft station partners have some exciting initiatives for bringing it back into full use. Will the Minister meet me and them to explore how best to achieve that?

That would be a pleasure. There are many funding pots, including local growth fund money, that could help to regenerate Lowestoft station.

On airport expansion, the Secretary of State has achieved one thing—he has made the Leader of the Opposition look positively decisive. Does he not believe that he owes the Select Committee, this House and businesses across the UK an apology for the fudge that has become a farce?

I have often thought that SNP Members lived in a different world, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks I have made the Leader of the Opposition look decisive, he has proved that this morning in spades. I stand by the statements I made earlier. I would have liked to be in such a position, but realistically that is not possible at a time when the House is not sitting. I have informed the House this morning, as it is right for me to do.

The recent decision by the regulator to refuse direct services between Cleethorpes and King’s Cross shows that the present rules are working more in the interest of the franchise holder than the passengers. The Conservative Government surely support competition, so when are they going to support the passengers and allow more of that competition?

I do not mind my hon. Friend rightly calling for more services directly to his constituency, but in fairness, we have seen a vast improvement and we are going to see it continue as far as the new franchise is concerned, not to mention the protection of services for which my hon. Friend originally campaigned in respect of the Northern franchise and the phasing out of the Pacers so that his constituents and others in the area will have the chance of using new trains. That shows that we are committed to not only better services in general, but better services for my hon. Friend’s constituents.

I recently attended a guide dogs lobby of Parliament, and was shocked to learn about the extent of the problems that guide dog owners experience when trying to get taxis. Has the Secretary of State discussed that issue recently with his Cabinet colleagues?

Like many other Members, I too have been in touch with the Guide Dogs organisation. In fact, I was taken while blindfolded around Bakewell by a guide dog just a few weeks ago, and that demonstrated to me very clearly some of the problems often encountered by people who use assistance dogs. The law should be used to deal with any discrimination in that regard, and it is already an offence for taxi drivers to discriminate against those with assistance dogs.

Investment in the Chowns Mill roundabout and the dualling of the A45 are important priorities for people in east Northamptonshire, and they are part of the road investment strategy. Will the Secretary of State do all that he can to ensure that they are delivered as early as possible, given that they are so desperately needed?

I fully recognise the importance of those schemes to my hon. Friend and his constituents. We are working to ensure that all our road investment strategy schemes are delivered as soon as possible, but I will keep him informed of progress.