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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
15 September 2016
Volume 614

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Transport Infrastructure and Economic Growth

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1. What assessment he has made of the effect of investment in transport infrastructure on economic growth. [906355]

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An assessment of the impact on the economy is a routine part of transport investment decisions. The Department uses an internationally respected analytical framework for assessing schemes, which includes the impact on jobs, growth and regeneration.

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May I welcome the Minister to his place and say how pleased I am that the Department will have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of my Lincolnshire colleague? I say that not just because I would like his help with the roads! Every day this summer, my constituents, tourists and I had to wait up to 45 minutes to pass through the traffic lights at the Bull Ring in Horncastle, where the very busy A153 crosses the even busier A158. The single carriageway road cannot cope with the volume of traffic between the city of Lincoln, the market town of Louth and the east coast. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and local councillors to discuss what can be done to get rid of these bottlenecks to help local residents and businesses and to encourage even more tourism at the wonderful Lincolnshire coast?

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My hon. Friend is a doughty and articulate campaigner for her constituents’ interests. She will know that all counties of our great country are dear to my heart, but none more so than my own county of Lincolnshire. I am familiar with this part of the county and I understand the pressures on the roads there. I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend and local councillors to discuss the situation. Indeed, I want to go further, because that alone is just not good enough. I want to hold a round-table meeting with all concerned parties in my Department and to ask my officials to look specifically at what my hon. Friend has said. If I may say so, her complimentary words were most welcome. She could have added, for future reference, dexterity, determination and, in the light of recent events, durability!

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Will the Minister give a firm commitment to ensure that High Speed 2 goes ahead with a clear timetable, and will he accelerate work on trans-Pennine links from Liverpool to Hull so that the United Kingdom’s economy can be supported and its rebalancing can be assisted throughout the UK?

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At a meeting earlier this week, the hon. Lady and I discussed a range of issues in the light of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, including the significance of the trans-Pennine connection. It is important for us to see all our transport needs in terms of not just north-south but east-west links. I know that that will be recognised by many Members who represent constituencies in the east of England, as I do, and in the west of England, as the hon. Lady does.

I am more than happy to look at all the options to which the hon. Lady has referred. As she will know, we are considering a range of ways of making those links real. In her role as Select Committee Chairman, she will want to test me further when she, no doubt, calls me to appear before her.

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Will my right hon. Friend have particular regard to the reports from the Great Eastern and West Anglian taskforces, chaired by two of his colleagues, about the contribution that they can make to the future prosperity of the Anglian region, so that there can be a reliable rail structure on which the splendid new trains that are to come can run more efficiently?

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As you know, Mr Speaker, I have a deep regard for the past, and my relatively recent past reminds me that the right hon. Gentleman tested me on these matters at the time of my last incarnation in the Department for Transport, when he advanced similar arguments about the importance of the links to which he has referred today. I look forward to receiving and studying that report, and when I do so, I shall be more than happy to have further discussions with him on its contents, but no one could argue that he has not made his case powerfully and repeatedly.

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I hope that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) realises how lucky he is to have the prospect of further conversations with the Minister of State. Not all of us are in that category.

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(Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Infrastructure is vital to economic growth, which is why it is so unfortunate that the Highways Agency has, without consultation, announced the closure of the A34 at Talke junction. That stretch of road is the main access route to Freeport shopping centre. The works are much needed, but they are due to start next week and continue until 23 December, which will affect Christmas shopping at the centre. Will the Minister endeavour to work with me and with the Highways Agency, so that it can see the error of its ways?

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With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I shall make a general point and then a specific one. The general point is this. On my first day in this job, I met representatives of Highways England, as it is now called, and made it very clear that one of the things they had to do better was give proper notice of their plans, communicate with all interested parties—including Members of Parliament—and be very precise about the time that decisions and their implications would take. Obviously, the case in point is apposite.

As for the specific point, I was not aware of the situation that the hon. Lady has described, but this is what I am going to do. I will meet representatives of Highways England today, I will raise that particular issue, and by tomorrow I will speak to the hon. Lady about it.

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My right hon. Friend is dexterous, determined and durable, as well as being extremely distinguished. The A34 is one of the most important roads for our economy, taking freight from the south coast to the midlands, but it is becoming increasingly dangerous: two recent crashes caused fatalities. Now that I have recorded that he is dexterous, determined and durable, will my right hon. Friend hold a round table with me and other Oxfordshire Members to discuss how to improve safety and the free running of the A34?

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My table grows ever more round. I am none the worse for it, by the way.

I am familiar with that road. As my right hon. Friend will know, a number of suggestions have been made for the improvement of the scheme. There are always demands relating to different roads, and different ideas about how those demands should be met. We study these matters carefully, and part of that process involves the kind of consultation that my right hon. Friend has recommended. I am always delighted to speak to him about any matter that he raises in the House, including the one that he has raised today.

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The Government talk about rebalancing the economy, and it is interesting that the Minister just talked about improving east-west links in the north, but may I make one suggestion that I hope he will take forward? Can we extend the M65 all the way to Scotch Corner? That needs to be done. Millions of people in the north-east need to be connected directly to millions of people in the north-west and the Manchester region. That vital east-west infrastructure link would rebalance that economy.

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The hon. Gentleman is known for making the case for links that would further boost his local economy. There have been scurrilous suggestions that the northern powerhouse has in some way faltered. Let me tell the House that the northern powerhouse is not only alive and well, but will thrive under this Government. That will include the kind of infrastructure investment necessary not only to provide transport links, but to boost economic growth, build skills and spread opportunity. That is the kind of Government we are: a Government with big ideas who put them into action for the benefit of our people.

Midland Main Line (Electrification)

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2. What recent progress has been made on the plan to electrify the midland main line. [906356]

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Following the un-pausing of electrification, Network Rail has re-mobilised its team and is working towards a final design for the enhancement programme, as set out in the Hendy review last year. Work to increase capacity on the route has already started.

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The east midlands has had the lowest level of rail spending per head in every one of the past six years. We have discovered that the pausing and un-pausing of the electrification of the midland main line wasted almost £40 million and cost countless jobs in the supply chain, and now there are rumours that it could be cancelled or deferred again. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the line will be electrified all the way to Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023, and will he commit to real action to ensure that there are no further delays or broken promises?

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I congratulate the hon. Lady on assiduously carrying out her former brief—who knows when she might return to the Front Bench to continue in that role? She makes an important point about the importance of the line to the east midlands. In my view, the supply chain in the east midlands does not just depend on this one project; the investment in Bombardier’s 660 trains for East Anglia is just one way of safeguarding that particular supply chain. On her wider point about the work on that line, it is worth bearing it in mind that we have already completed 10 km of new line in that stretch; nearly 9 km of existing line has been improved; over 3,000 new piles have been put into place; and there is 10 km of new earthworks, strengthening of key bridges, and new viaducts, particularly at Harpers Brook. Work on this line is ongoing and we are looking to improve capacity through the franchising arrangements.

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I am delighted to hear that the northern powerhouse is alive and well. Does the Minister agree that if it is to have real effect, it is important that investment is made in connectivity not just between the cities of the north, but between the towns? I thank Ministers for the initial investment in the Middlewich bypass, but will they also look at the business case for the reopening of the Middlewich railway station?

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As someone born and bred in a town very close to Middlewich, I am well aware in my 40 years of the importance of the town’s connectivity at the heart of Cheshire. I know that there are good plans for Middlewich’s new station and look forward to working with my hon. Friend on progressing the business case.

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Before the pause, electrification was due to be completed by 2020, which is also the date when all trains have to comply with new disability legislation. What will the Government do between 2020 and 2023, when the old HST trains on the line, with their slam doors, will not comply with disability legislation? Will they abandon the legislation or put in temporary rolling stock?

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We take accessibility issues on our railways extremely seriously. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the commitments we have made. We are currently examining how best to increase capacity on this line, particularly at peak hours, when there is a risk of standing on some stretches. We are looking carefully at how we can deliver on that.

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Will the Minister ensure that the branch line that runs through Langley Mill and Alfreton stations in my constituency is added to the plans to re-energise electrification, having been unaccountably missed out of the original plans?

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I am not familiar with that branch line at this stage but I shall certainly look into the matter, discuss it with my officials and write to my hon. Friend.

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With the faster line speeds that electrification will bring, will the Minister look to reinstate the half-hourly service northwards from Kettering, which was cut to an hourly service under the last Labour Government?

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A number of timetabling and scheduling opportunities always come about through any reprofiling of a line and indeed any change in the rolling stock on the line. We will of course feed that into all the consultations on how best to make use of the reprofiling of that line.

Aviation Safety: Drones

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3. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on aviation safety of the use of drones. [906357]

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The safety of the public is our top priority. We are working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and industry to understand and address the safe use of drones. We are continuing to adapt and strengthen the regulations as the use of drones evolves. The current regulatory framework balances clear rules on safety and strong penalties for misuse, with a commercial permissions system that ensures responsible use of this emerging technology.

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But I asked the Minister what assessment he had made of the effect on aviation safety. How real is the risk? I know that he knows that it was discussed this week at the Trades Union Congress conference and that there is great concern about the matter. We need to know what the risk is and what steps the Government are taking, before we end up with the inevitable ministerial statement about lessons learned.

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The hon. Gentleman is right about the TUC discussing the issue yesterday. We had a word about that earlier. The TUC is right to raise it because it is an emerging technology and the risk is dynamic. We constantly need to have analysis in place about the risk that poses. It is not just irresponsible use; it could be malevolent use that poses risk. Drones could be used by all kinds of agents to do all kinds of things. The assurance I give him is that I will ensure that my Department is continuing that analysis and makes sure that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose having done that analysis. The best thing to do is for me to come back to the House to give regular reports on how that is going. He always takes a diligent interest in the affairs of the House. He has raised an important issue, which I think is entirely bi-partisan and which we need to take seriously.

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My constituent Lesley Smith administers Tutbury castle and she tells me that drones are not only a danger to aircraft; they also affect privacy. They affect copyright law. They are also a danger to people who may be visiting the castle: the drone may run out of power and fall on to their heads. When will we see tighter instructions and education about how to use drones? Incidentally, Mr Speaker, intellectual property rights was the phrase I was searching for.

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And you found it.

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To be absolutely clear, we take drones very seriously, as I said in answer to the previous question. Anyone who “recklessly or negligently” causes or permits their drone to endanger any person or property can face a fine of up to £5,000 or two years’ imprisonment, so we are not taking the matter lightly. The point that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) make is that, because the technology is evolving, it is important that we do proper work to look at the scale and type of danger we face, and then the regulatory framework can be fit for purpose.

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I wonder whether there has been co-operation between the Department and the Ministry of Defence in relation to security and the threat that drones pose to the security of the nation.

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Indeed. I have recently arrived back at the Department for Transport from the Home Office, where I was Minister for Security, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office take this matter very seriously. He can be absolutely sure that, across the Government, we are looking at this issue. As I said earlier, it is not just about irresponsible use; it might also be about malevolent use of the kind that he has described.

Airport Expansion

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4. What plans he has to expand airport capacity. [906358]

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7. When he plans to announce his policy on airport expansion in the south-east. [906362]

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The Government are committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that the country needs, including delivering runway capacity in the south-east on the timetable set out by the Airports Commission. We are currently undertaking further work, including assurance of the Airports Commission’s evidence and on air quality, and the decision will be made shortly.

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The new Transport Secretary, a fierce advocate of the UK exiting the EU, has already done more than enough to wreak economic havoc. Perhaps he would care to use his new position to mitigate some of that damage by putting an end to this third runway debacle. If not, will he apologise to businesses and commuters in Scotland for putting their economic interests on the line?

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First, I would simply remind the hon. Lady that some of the things that were said about our economy have not proved to be the case, and that under this Government our economy continues to do well. I would also say to her that this Government retain, and will always retain, a commitment to the economy and the people of Scotland, as part of one United Kingdom. The decision that we seek to take on runway capacity in the south-east, whatever it may be, will be designed to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom by improving our connectivity to the world.

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When the previous Prime Minister was reminded of his words “no ifs, no buts” that there would be no third runway at Heathrow, he said that a decision would be made this summer. The current Government position is that the decision will be announced in October, and the current Prime Minister seems to be erasing all evidence of her previous opposition to the proposal. After the Davies debacle and the expenditure of £20 million, it looks as though there is going to be a free vote. Can the Secretary of State confirm or deny that? To my constituents, this looks like a protracted fudge.

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Order. We need shorter questions.

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I am afraid that the hon. Lady is going to have to wait for us to set out our plans. I have said today that we are committed to making our decision shortly. I regard this as an important decision for our nation, and it is one that we need to get on with. We have of course seen a significant change in the Administration across the summer, and it is right and proper that the Prime Minister and I should be sufficiently prepared to make the decision. We will make sure that that is the case.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we want to keep London as the hub airport for western Europe, it is crucial that we deal with the capacity problems that currently affect Heathrow in particular? This saga has been going on for so long, and I want him to ensure that we have no further delays in reaching a conclusion on the Davies recommendations. May I also tell him that there is only one obvious answer, and that it is Heathrow?

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As you know, Mr Speaker, there are differing opinions on this across the House, and it is right and proper that the Government should look in a dispassionate way at all three options recommended to us by the Davies commission, assess the strengths and weaknesses of what is being offered and take the right decision in the interests of our nation. I assure the House that that is what we will do.

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As Britain leaves the European Union, we are going to have to develop more markets in Asia and the far east. That will mean more passenger traffic and, in particular, more freight traffic. Is it not therefore essential for the national interest that RiverOak’s plans for a freight hub at Manston should be allowed to proceed and to be successful, and that we should preserve Manston as an airport?

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I absolutely understand how strongly people in Thanet feel about the future of Manston. I know how controversial it is, and has been. I can simply say to my hon. Friend that this Government would be perfectly supportive of proposals to develop a freight hub at Manston, but I am afraid that that has to be a matter for the local community, the owners and the local authority, and I hope that they reach the right decision in the interest of the nation.

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The expansion will use 370,000 tonnes of steel and Heathrow has committed to using UK steel. Whatever the decision on airport infrastructure, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that UK steel is used in any expansion?

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I am an unashamed champion of this country’s businesses and of what we do as a nation to give them the best possible opportunities. While we are an outward-facing nation and will always do business with companies from around the world, it is right and proper that we champion organisations that deliver in this country, such as our steelmakers. I am proud that our railways use almost entirely British steel and want British steel to be used in all our major infrastructure projects.

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Although residents would agree that there is a need for airport expansion, does the Secretary of State share the concerns of the three quarters of a million people who live under Heathrow’s flight path about the new plan, about the change to the tunnelling of the M25 and about the lifting of a cap on the limit of aircraft movement? Does he agree with residents that Heathrow cannot be trusted not to go for a fourth runway and not to have night flights?

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I am well aware of how strongly people in west London feel. I am also aware of how strongly people around Gatwick feel, albeit they are smaller in number than those around Heathrow. My hon. Friend is passionate about such issues and I can only assure her that the Government will have in mind the impact on noise and air quality and how that is dealt with as we reach a view on the Davies commission’s recommendations.

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As a veteran of almost 12 weeks in post, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He is the second Secretary of State I have had the pleasure of shadowing. I welcome him and his new Ministers to their places and look forward to many discussions about transport in the months ahead.

A decision on airport expansion in the south-east is long overdue and has been made only more urgent by the vote to leave the European Union and the consequent need to demonstrate that the UK is open for business. Already twice delayed to avoid party political bickering inside the Tory party, there are now rumours that Ministers will be given a free vote. This is neither a constitutional issue nor a matter of conscience; it is a nationally critical infrastructure project. Will the Secretary of State tell the House the exact date on which he will confirm that the decision, whatever it is, will have the backing of the full Cabinet?

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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s words of welcome. He is underemployed in comparison with my previous shadow, who held two shadow Cabinet roles, so perhaps there will also be an opportunity for him to have additional responsibilities. I look forward to sparring across the Dispatch Box with somebody so much more experienced than I am in this role.

The decision is important for our nation’s strategic interests. I am new to this job, as the hon. Gentleman points out, and the Prime Minister is new to hers, so we want to ensure that we have done the necessary work and are properly informed before we take a decision. I did a lot over the summer to ensure that that was the case, including visiting the sites of all three proposals. I have carefully considered the issues and the Prime Minister is doing the same. We will reach a view shortly and will bring it to the House. It is right and proper that everyone in the House will be able to have a say in this important matter.

Airport Expansion: EU Referendum

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5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the result of the EU referendum on the timetable for a decision on Heathrow expansion. [906359]

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8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the result of the EU referendum on the timetable for a decision on Heathrow expansion. [906363]

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The Prime Minister will begin the negotiation for Britain’s future relationship with the EU and will also take the decision about when to trigger article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU. As I said a moment ago, as we move into the new world beyond our membership of the European Union, it is important that we are an outward-facing nation with strong business ties around the world. The decision on runway capacity is an important part of that, and it is important that we get it right. We will take that decision and move ahead with our plans, ensuring that we have the right links for the future.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my enthusiasm about the referendum result giving us vast opportunities to forge new links around the world. The Airports Commission estimated that the economic benefit of expanding Heathrow would be up to £23.6 billion for the south-east, as opposed to £12.4 billion if Gatwick is expanded. Expansion at Heathrow would greatly benefit Buckinghamshire. Will my right hon. Friend think about putting a date on this and letting us know when he will make a decision? Will he commit to an integrated transport strategy that benefits the people of Bucks—unlike HS2?

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I will not give an exact date today, but I assure the House that we intend to take the decision soon. It is important that we move ahead with these plans. I hear what my right hon. Friend says about Heathrow. I have seen three effective, well-crafted proposals for the Government and this House to consider. We will reach a view shortly about what recommendation we will seek to make.

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The Prime Minister has claimed that she wishes to govern in the interests of the whole country. The expansion of Heathrow would deliver more than 8,000 jobs for Wales and contribute more than £6 billion to the growth of our economy. Does the Secretary of State agree that the expansion of Heathrow is the only right answer for the economy of Wales?

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I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and he clearly has a strong view on this matter. As he will have seen, strong views are held on both sides of the House and on all three sides of this argument. I note what he says about the importance of proper air links for Wales. This Government will always focus on the best way we have at our disposal to help Wales, but we have to take a decision about the interests of our collective United Kingdom and which option is better, and that is the decision we will take.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, now that the British people have decided to leave the EU and free our country from the interference and over-regulation it brought, the Government have new opportunities to support regional connectivity? Will he look closely at the opportunities that a decision on Heathrow would bring?

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It is worth saying that whatever decision we take about airport expansion, it is important that we have in mind the need to make sure that we have good connectivity around the UK, and I assure my hon. Friend that that will be a priority in our considerations.

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Will the Secretary of State reassure me that he will not be diverted by claims about the difference Brexit makes to airport expansion and will address the costs to the taxpayer of road and rail infrastructure that would be required for a third runway? Will he also look at the comparative costs for other alternatives, such as Gatwick?

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It is clearly important that we take our decision in the interests of the nation and that we foster ties around the world and within Europe. We are not leaving Europe; we are leaving the European Union. We want to retain good, strong economic ties with our neighbours in Europe. It is important that we take the right decision for the whole of our nation, and that is what we will do.

Tolls: Roads and Bridges

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6. What his policy is on tolls for roads and bridges. [906360]

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Successive Governments have taken the view that tolling is justified on certain infrastructure, such as significant river crossings.

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I thank the Minister for the reply. Before the general election, the former Chancellor promised motorists in Cheshire West, Warrington and Chester discounts on the tolls that are to be introduced in 2017 on the new Mersey Gateway bridge and the old Silver Jubilee bridge. I have no objection to the Government’s paying for discounts for motorists, but my constituents in Liverpool and in Knowsley live closer to those bridges and rely on them just as much as people who live in Chester and Warrington. So will the Minister have a word with the new Chancellor and ask him to provide some money to pay for those discounts to be extended to my constituents?

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I imagined that the hon. Lady would ask that question, because she has tabled a number of written questions in a similar vein. She rightly says that a local discount scheme will operate on the Mersey Gateway bridge. The Government have said that they were looking to extend those discounts, as she also said. Let me be clear: officials are currently working through the character and effect of that extension, and no decision has been made upon it. Of course, I will give full consideration to the arguments she has made on behalf of her constituents and others.

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Is a toll being considered for the proposed cross-Pennine road link?

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I did say at the outset that successive Governments have taken the view that tolling is justified on major infrastructure schemes. My hon. Friend will know that those matters are, as I said earlier, also being considered in the round. No decisions have been made to the effect that he describes.

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The M4 is the main supply route into the Welsh economy and hence there is cross-party support in the National Assembly for devolving ownership of the Severn bridges once they return to public ownership. Will the right hon. Gentleman update the House on what discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on this issue?

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I am always happy to have discussions with the Welsh Government, and I have done so in a variety of ministerial roles. My view is very clear, and I think that we have been plain about the toll on that important crossing. It is this Government who, when the current regime comes to its conclusion in 2018, will halve the toll. The hon. Gentleman must welcome that, as he knows how good it will be for his constituents, so I hope that after today’s questions he will put out a press release, congratulating the Government on their decision.

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On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I welcome the Secretary of State and his new Ministers to their places?

Was the Minister aware that the very first act of the SNP Scottish Government was to introduce the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Act 2008, which means that, in Scotland, there is no need for discounts? Tolls are gone, saving commuters around Scotland hundreds of pounds a year and boosting tourism and the economy. Has he studied that model for his own use?

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I will give a mercifully short answer: Scottish independence would mean that the SNP Government could not afford that anymore.

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Of course, there will be no tolls either on the new £3 billion dual carriageway of the A9. On the subject of the A9, will the Minister congratulate the Scottish Government on the safety cameras on the non-dualled section between Perth and Inverness, which was unbelievably opposed by one of the Minister’s former colleagues, Sir Daniel Alexander? Those cameras have seen speeding drop from 43% to 10% since 2012, thereby reducing death and injuries. Will the Minister consider that matter?

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Of course we always give consideration to those kind of matters and it is important that we give credit where credit is due. When I have worked out, following the hon. Gentleman’s rather long question, whether credit is due, I will decide whether or not to give it.

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles

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9. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of existing legislation for the taxi and private hire vehicle industries. [906364]

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15. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the provisions of the Deregulation Act 2015 relating to taxi licensing on the ability of licensing authorities to regulate taxi trade. [906371]

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Local councils have the powers to provide effective licensing arrangements in their area, but legislation is in the House to strengthen the current framework. We will consult on new statutory guidance for local licensing authorities once the parliamentary process is complete.

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I thank the Minister for his reply. Internet and smartphone use has revolutionised private hire vehicle services. Does he believe that current legislation, which is now several decades old, is adequately regulating this technology?

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The legislation that governs this sector goes back many, many more decades, to the age of the horse and carriage. That is why the Government asked the Law Commission to take a comprehensive review of taxi and private hire regulation in England and Wales. Obviously, it is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We will be responding to the Law Commission’s report in due course.

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Sheffield City Council believes that its tough policy on child sexual exploitation is basically useless because other taxi operators can license themselves outside Sheffield and then operate in Sheffield. Will the Minister meet me and other colleagues from Sheffield city region to discuss taxi licensing in relation to CSE?

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I will be happy to meet the hon. Lady. I just point out that whatever licensing area a company is operating in, it has to ensure that a fit and proper person test is carried out, but I will be very happy to meet her.

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May I also welcome the Secretary of State. He knows my city of Cambridge very well. We look forward to him coming to open the new railway station, which is long overdue. He also knows that Cambridge is full of people who think that prisoners should read books and that Britain should be in the European Union. I suggest that he brings a very hard hat with him when he comes.

We heard in an Adjournment debate raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) about the problems in the taxi trade and the procrastination and inaction over two years since the Law Commission report. Some months ago, the Minister told us that he was about to act, and yet in a written question to me a few days ago, he said that the Government have no plans to bring forward legislation in the current Session. How much longer will we have to wait?

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That is a complex matter and we are working on it and through it, but we are already taking action on the key issue of child sexual exploitation in the taxi and private car sector by putting the guidance on to a statutory basis. We hope to be consulting on that as soon as the Policing and Crime Bill has reached Royal Assent.

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What a striking contrast with the new Mayor of London, who has done more in a few weeks than his predecessor did in eight years, and more than that lot have done in six years. Does the Minister recognise the problem with cross-border licensing? As we have heard, there are councils in this country handing out licences like confetti. These vehicles are clogging up the streets of London and adding to congestion. How much longer will we have to wait until he takes the problem seriously?

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The Government are clearly taking the issue seriously. I am aware of the actions taken by the new Mayor of London, but it is worth making sure that one gets those actions right; I understand that one of the operators has already won the right to a judicial review.

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Order. We started late because of the preliminary announcements, so we can run on slightly, but we must have much shorter questions from now on. To be honest, questions today have been simply far too long.

Crossrail

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10. What plans he has for expansion of the proposed Crossrail network. [906365]

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There are no current plans to extend the Crossrail route. Any proposed extension would require a strong business case, and would need to be in the best interests of rail passengers.

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Crossrail is on budget and on time, and will dramatically reduce journey times across London. The one area of the capital that does not benefit from it is north-west London, and Harrow and Wealdstone in particular. Will my hon. Friend look at the business case for expanding the network so that all Londoners can benefit from Crossrail?

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My hon. Friend is right to point out the connectivity benefits of Crossrail. I know that it has looked at the possibility of an extension through Harrow and Wealdstone, which he has been campaigning for, and into Hertfordshire, to join the west coast main line there. That was found by Crossrail, Transport for London and Network Rail to offer poor value for money, so we are not taking it forward at this time, but of course we always keep the issue under review.

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As much as I would like my constituents to benefit from an expanded Crossrail network, geography makes that unlikely, so can the Minister with responsibility for rail tell me his assessment of Southeastern’s submission for additional rolling stock?

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We always want to make sure that commuters in London, which is one of the most burdened parts of the network, have the best possible chance of having a reliable, predictable, punctual service, with a good chance of getting a seat. That is why we, contrary to what happened in the 13 years of Labour Government, are investing so many billions of pounds in new carriages across London and the south-east.

High Speed 2

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11. What assessment he has made of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed High Speed 2 route. [906366]

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To be absolutely clear, the Government are firmly committed to HS2, which will become the backbone of our national rail network and help us to build an economy that works for everyone. I have spent a lot of time this summer looking at the full extent of the route, so I fully understand all the issues around it.

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In Liverpool, there are many concerns that we will not be properly connected to HS2, which will be challenging not only for passengers, but for transporting the freight that comes into the new super-port; that will throw into question the notion of a genuine northern powerhouse. Will the Secretary of State please confirm that the provision of a junction allowing a future line to Liverpool from the Golborne link of HS2 will be announced in the autumn statement?

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I cannot pre-announce the autumn statement, but I can say this: the hon. Lady knows that I am a regular visitor to Liverpool—I was there during the summer—and I am well aware of the transport challenges around the city. I am also proud that we are spending something like £350 million today on rail improvements. We need to make sure that Liverpool is well served in future.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest disadvantage of the HS2 route is that it does not go to Cleethorpes? As he knows, we are urgently in need of a direct service to King’s Cross. Will he continue to work with me to try to deliver a direct service to Cleethorpes?

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I am always delighted to work with my hon. Friend on improving the rail service and transport system in Cleethorpes. I fear that I probably will not be able to deliver on getting HS2 to go there.

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HS2 is intended to be a jewel in the crown of British infrastructure, but as was revealed in the Public Accounts Committee’s report, it is losing some of its lustre. To be at this stage and still not know how much HS2 will cost, what the route will be and when it will open is unacceptable. The Government are quite clearly losing their grip on the project. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to say why his Department has failed to set a workable, realistic timetable for HS2 Ltd, and will he give a guarantee to deliver an entire high-speed railway?

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I do not want to start my relationship with the hon. Gentleman on a bad note, but I have to say that that is a lot of nonsense. We have a proposal for an innovative railway line that is completing its journey as a hybrid Bill through the Lords, and we will start work next year. We aim to deliver the first stage, as planned, in the middle of the next decade, and later this autumn, we will set out the remaining route in detail. I am proud to do that for this important project for our nation.

Driving Licence Withdrawals

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12. Whether he is taking steps to expedite the processing of requests to return driving licences which were withdrawn for medical reasons. [906367]

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The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency deals with around 600,000 medical cases each year. The vast majority of cases, 90%, are dealt with quickly and efficiently, but the other 10% are complex, often requiring consultation with several medical professionals. As each case is taken on its merits, that can take time, but we are aware of the importance of the issue. The DVLA has taken on more than 100 extra staff and additional medical advisers to handle cases.

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If someone is cleared of their medical condition, it is very frustrating to have to wait a long time for the processing to be completed, so I am grateful for whatever the Minister can do.

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I am acutely aware of how important this is for people. If some people lose their licence, they may also be losing their means to continue their careers. The DVLA is working on the matter by bringing in extra personnel and so far it has been successful: the average processing time last year was 53 days, and so far this year it is 38 days and we are working to reduce that even further.

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The Minister felt a compelling need to read out part B of the brief, but we are grateful and we are better informed.

Rail Services: Overcrowding

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13. What steps he is taking to reduce overcrowding on passenger rail services. [906369]

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This Government are making the biggest investment in our railways since the Victorian era, enabling more trains and longer trains to operate on many of our busiest routes. More than 563 new carriages are planned to enter service by the end of 2020.

[Official Report, 10 October 2016, Vol. 615, c. 1MC.]

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The Minister is right that investment is the key to tackling overcrowding, so why has his Department waited two years before even making a decision on the private finance available to electrify the line to Hull?

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In the interests of brevity, I will not have a theological debate with the hon. Lady about whether that is privately or publicly financed, but it is publicly financed. I recognise that she has been a doughty campaigner for improved services to Hull. Connectivity to Hull is very important and I look forward to giving her good news as soon as we can.

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Electrification of the Chase line will help to address overcrowding. However, I am aware that there may be delays in getting electric trains on the line. Will my hon. Friend review the position and do everything in his power to ensure that we get electric trains as soon as possible?

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We had a very productive meeting with my hon. Friend last week. She is a doughty campaigner on behalf of that line and I will continue to press for further advances on the issue, as she asks.

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The service on Southern is officially the worst in the country, and passengers have endured appalling overcrowding for far too long. Removing hundreds of services a day has served only to exacerbate overcrowding on the services that survive. When will the Secretary of State bring to an end the misery of long-suffering passengers and intervene, or does he agree with the former Rail Minister, who effectively said that there are no circumstances that would warrant Govia Thameslink Railway being stripped of this franchise?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that more than two thirds of the services that were taken out of the timetable have now been put back in again. Our focus is on restoring normality to the service and putting the interests of passengers first. The service is improving on a regular basis, with more services returning to the full timetable, and I will focus on that to make sure that we get back to the full timetable.[Official Report, 10 October 2016, Vol. 615, c. 2MC.]

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906379]

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First, I thank the Scottish National party and others for their kind words of welcome to me and the new team. It is great to be back in the transport brief after a decade. I am very proud that my first actions as Secretary of State were to give the go-ahead for the expansion of London City airport and to visit the Bombardier factory in Derby to announce a £1 billion new train order for a service that is essential to this country. I am grateful to all the people throughout our transport network who are making it a success across most of the country.

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As they do not know, will the Government count the mileage of residential roads that remain unadopted by local highways authorities, including a large and growing number in Kettering, and ensure that no residential road remains unadopted after 10 years?

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That is an issue that I have experienced in my own constituency. It is not acceptable. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to talk about the situation in Kettering and how we address it.

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The Minister will be aware of the calls in national newspapers today, including the Daily Mirror, for action on the increasing number of drivers who put other people’s lives at risk by using mobile phones while driving. In the past couple of years the RAC has found that more people think that is okay. That has happened on this Government’s watch. Will he work with us, the Mirror and others to clamp down on this dangerous practice?

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Let us be clear. Labour was in power for 13 years and did not tackle the issue. I am very clear that this is an unacceptable practice, and we intend to unveil tough action on it shortly.

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T2. Do Ministers agree that the Brighton main line 2 rail line, which will reopen the Lewes to Uckfield line and has a feasibility study ongoing at the moment, is the only realistic long-term solution that will increase rail capacity to the Sussex coast? [906380]

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I am very interested in this as a proposal, and it is being looked at very carefully. What I would say to my hon. Friend, to every Member on the Southern route and to all the passengers on the Southern route is that I recognise that the issues over the last few months have been unacceptable. I am working hard with all those involved, and I have unveiled a number of changes in recent weeks, which I believe will help to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible. It has not been acceptable; it has to be dealt with, and we are working as hard as we can to ensure that it is.

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T5. Clause 21 of the Bus Services Bill bans local authorities from forming their own bus companies. This policy went unmentioned in bus reform workshop documents and in any prior announcements. Will the Minister explain how this clause can possibly be reconciled with the Government’s so-called devolution revolution? [906383]

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It is simply because the Government are giving more powers to local authorities to franchise services, and we were anxious that the powers to commission and provide were separated.

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T4. Two out of three platforms at Lichfield Trent Valley railway station, which is on the west coast main line, are completely inaccessible to disabled people. First there was a plan to make them accessible; then we were told it was delayed. People in Lichfield—and, in particular, the Member of Parliament for Lichfield—are getting rather irritated about this. What is happening? [906382]

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Like me, my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of improved accessibility on our rail network. As he will know, some of the Access for All funding was re-prioritised under the Hendy recommendations. I am hoping to announce very shortly which stations will be prioritised again. I stop in Lichfield Trent Valley often myself—largely in the dark, I must confess—and I am sure there is a great need for improved accessibility there. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend to further discuss that.

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I call Stephen Kinnock. What has happened? The hon. Gentleman has bunked off.

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Rail passengers in the north, including on the Calder Valley line, which serves my constituency, are frequently packed on to ageing trains, including Pacers. It is encouraging to see that Arriva Rail North has signed a deal to deliver hundreds of new carriages from October 2018, but what assurances can the Minister give my constituents that Eversholt’s financing of new rolling stock will not lead to delays, sharp fare increases or de-staffing?

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As a fellow north-west MP, I am sure the hon. Lady shares my interest in seeing the back of our inefficient and unpleasant Pacers, and she will welcome the fact they will be disappearing by December 2019. I hope she will also welcome the improvement on the Calder Valley line, which will occur in two phases: Calder Valley East in December 2018 and Calder Valley West completing this year—a full upgrade to signalling and speed on the line.

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T8. The public consultation on the 2018 Great Northern timetable launches today, but I understand that the platform 5 turn-back facility at Stevenage may not be completed on schedule, jeopardising the promise of additional semi-fast trains to Peterborough. Can the Minister intervene and persuade Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership and Network Rail to sort this problem out as a matter of urgency? [906386]

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I have recently been made aware of this situation. I do not want to see the timetable held back, and I will be engaging with all those involved to see how we address the issue.

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T7. A constituent has complained to me that his Virgin Trains East Coast commuter rail fare back and forward to work has been increased from last week by 35%. Does the Minister agree that that should not be done without consultation and, furthermore, that it should be against the law? [906385]

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I always recognise customers’ concerns about the amount they pay on fares. I have been very clear with the rail industry so far in my dealings with it that it has to put the passengers first in all the decisions that it takes, and the convenience of the industry must be a subsidiary concern.

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T9. Current noise levels from Heathrow flights are breaching medically safe guidelines for my residents. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how his Department can help us to address this very serious concern? [906387]

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I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I am obviously aware of the noise issues. I am pleased to see that the latest generation of aircraft are bringing down noise levels, but I recognise there is still a big challenge for residents close not just to Heathrow but other airports around the United Kingdom. I will be very happy to talk to her.

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T10. Is the Secretary of State able to offer any reassurance to my local residents and businesses on HS2 compensation? We have heard about the Public Accounts Committee report. HS2’s chief executive resigned this week. People’s lives have been blighted and they see the scheme as a white elephant. [906388]

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As the hon. Lady knows, there is a substantial compensation scheme in place for those affected by HS2. HS2 will bring greater prosperity across the United Kingdom. I hope that she and her party would recognise that and support it, notwithstanding local challenges.

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It is likely that in a few weeks’ time this House will be asked to decide if it wants a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. One of the core considerations will be deliverability of those schemes. All the evidence suggests that even if the Government give a green light to Heathrow, it cannot happen. To that end, will my right hon. Friend commit to providing this House, before any vote, with a clear risk assessment looking at environmental risk, planning risk, legal risk and financial risk so that it can take a properly informed decision on the deliverability of those schemes?

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I can assure my hon. Friend that when the time comes to bring these matters to the House, we will place before it the detailed information on which the Government have formed their view. That is right is proper. He will know that there are differing opinions and strong views across this House. There are three strong proposals for us to consider. We will take the best possible decision in the interests of the nation, and I am sure that subsequently this House will do the same.

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A constituent of mine has raised concerns about the number of road accidents involving young people. The most recent research from Swansea University supports his case that young drivers aged between 17 and 21 are five times more likely to crash than drivers over 70. With this in mind, will the Minister agree to look at policies such as a graduated driver licensing scheme?

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We want to strike the right balance between safety and freedom for young drivers, many of whom rely on their cars to get to work or to college. We are focusing on efforts to encourage learner drivers to be better prepared for the wonderful freedom that a licence provides, through the reform package on changes to the driving test. The consultation on that closed only a few days ago. I hope that the hon. Lady participated in it.

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Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new proposals for the HS2 route to Leeds will still be published this autumn?

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It is definitely my intention to publish details of the proposed northern part of the route—the right-hand side of the Y on the last leg to Manchester—later this autumn.

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What is the Minister’s current assessment of when the Severn bridge’s concession will end, given the extra traffic when the Severn tunnel is closed for electrification work? Are the Government on top of this, given that we have not yet had a date for the public consultation?

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It is right that we should have that confidence. I am more than happy to commit to doing the work necessary to reassure the hon. Lady about that. It needs to be safe, it needs to be secure, and it needs to be right which is why I am more than happy to make that commitment.

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I call Parliament’s grassroots sports champion of the year, Mr Tom Pursglove.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. People in Corby would like to see a greater number of rail services, both northbound and southbound. Will Ministers commit to factoring that into any future discussions that they have on this?

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I am always happy to take suggestions from all parts of the House as to how we can improve rail services across the country. I look forward to hearing more from my hon. Friend about what he perceives in Corby.

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Given his earlier line on regional connectivity, will the Secretary of State ensure that the aviation Minister and officials give positive and prompt consideration to the submission by City of Derry airport for at least PSO—public service obligation—support for a twice daily service to London?

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Yes. This is on my desk right now and I recognise its importance. I am very pleased that over the summer the link to north America was kept in place. Good connectivity in Northern Ireland is, remains, and always will be very important.

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On 16 July I wrote to the rail Minister requesting a meeting to discuss the daily failings that my constituents have at the hands of Southeastern Trains and Network Rail. Will he say yes to that meeting today?

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As we are seeing a bonfire of the vanity projects associated with the former Chancellor and Prime Minister, would it not be sensible not to be seduced by “grands projets” and to add to that list, heeding the sage advice of Rod Eddington in his 2006 study, binning HS2 and focusing on local capacity to benefit, much sooner, passengers and regions?

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The trick is to do both. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he, as a Birmingham Member of Parliament, is absolutely not speaking the same language as his city council and many of those involved in the business community in Birmingham, who are looking forward to the improvements that HS2 will bring to that city.

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Will my right hon. Friend commit that if there are any further delays in phase 2b of HS2, which affects my constituency, compensation will be given to my residents whose properties are blighted?

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I will happily talk to my hon. Friend about that, but it is not my desire that we delay announcing routes any further. As I have said, I intend to set out our plans later this autumn.

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What discussions is the Minister having with Vauxhall concerning its Zafira models that have been catching fire—over 300 of them in the UK alone—and will he agree to meet me and affected drivers later in the year?

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The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is leading on this issue, on which it has met, corresponded with and continues to liaise with Vauxhall. There have been two safety recalls. I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but significant progress is being made on the issue.

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Missing for 25 years, the Chickenhall Lane link road is a vital piece of infrastructure for my constituency. It is backed by the Solent local enterprise partnership and the local council, and it was in July’s Budget book. Will the Minister meet me at a rectangular, round or square table to discussing bringing it forward?

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Will the Minister agree to invite all Members whose constituencies are served by Southeastern trains to the meeting with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)? Our constituents are suffering daily disruption to their lives, as a result of the poor performance of Network Rail and Southeastern, and we would welcome a meeting with him to bring that to his attention.

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I very much recognise that there are issues involving Southeastern. I am happy to meet Members from all parts of the House.

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As the Government have committed to the development of Crossrail 2, will my hon. Friend give equal support to the construction of four-tracking on the West Anglia line, which is an integral part of it?

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If that is a key part of my right hon. Friend’s forthcoming report, I look forward to reading all about it and discussing it with him.

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My constituents who work at Liverpool airport face paying an extra £1,000 a year in tolls when the new Mersey crossing is opened. Will Ministers try to find some mechanism for existing employees so that they are not hit with what is essentially a retrospective charge for going to work?

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Yes. The answer is that that sounds like a very good idea to me. I will obviously need to look at the detail, but I am very happy to do so. My open mind is well known.

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I always thought, having known him for 30 years, that it was the defining characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman.

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Insurance for young drivers has become very expensive. One method that some insurance companies have put forward is the black box system, whereby they monitor people’s driving and reduce their costs. What steps have been taken with insurance companies to ensure that young drivers can take advantage of that system?

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Such a system is already built into some companies’ pricing, because people get cheaper premiums if they accept some of the benefits that technology can provide. I have met the insurance industry, and will meet it again shortly, when I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

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Further to the Secretary of State’s inadequate reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the deadly menace of mobile phone use, may I ask him whether he heard an expert say on the radio this morning that the use of mobile phones impairs drivers’ ability more seriously than drinking? Does he accept that a £50 increase in the already paltry fine is a totally inadequate response to this deadly menace on our roads?

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I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman thought that. I will be announcing tough plans on this matter shortly, in response to sensible pressure from a wide variety of outside groups. The hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned one national newspaper group. In fact, the campaign is coming from both sides of the spectrum, because the Daily Mail is running the same campaign. Those newspapers are right to do so, and the truth is that, in my view, this requires strong action. It is happening far too often.

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The Secretary of State may be aware that I secured a debate earlier in the year on the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority. Given his warm words today and the concerns of my constituents about noise pollution from aircraft, will he commit to supporting the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority?

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Given the impending decision on runways, I am not going to set out any plans today. All I will say is that I have taken note of what the hon. Lady has said. Noise is of course a major issue for us.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm that he supports his predecessor’s welcome announcement earlier in the year allowing Transport for London to take over Southeastern services when its franchise lapses in 2018?

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My policy and the Government’s policy is that devolution should happen where it will make a difference, not simply for its own sake. I need to see the Mayor’s proposals about how he thinks he can enhance services in London—I am looking forward to seeing them—before I consider any changes.

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Given that the Secretary of State has today confirmed his commitments to Scotland and to investment in infrastructure, will he have a word with the Chancellor about reversing the 25% cut that Scotland has suffered in its capital budget to allow further investment in roads and rail in Scotland?

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Scotland benefits enormously from the funding support that is provided to it as part of the United Kingdom. That will continue, unless people seek to change the situation and put Scotland in a position where it would be far worse off and far less able to invest for its future.