Skip to main content


Volume 617: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

High-performance Sports Cars: Rentals

1. What steps his Department is taking to prevent the rent of high-performance sports cars by dangerous drivers. (907292)

The Government are committed to ensuring that courts have sufficient powers to deal with dangerous driving and will soon commence a consultation looking at driving offences and penalties. Rental companies can check Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency driver records and should not be renting vehicles to unsafe drivers. The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association has a code of conduct it expects its members to comply with, and, if concerned, the public can contact the BVRLA or trading standards.

In my area, and across the UK, a large number of accidents and deaths have been caused by inexperienced drivers, who often hire high-performance cars for just a few days at a time. Later this month, the Lancashire Telegraph will launch a dangerous driving campaign looking at this and many other aspects of road safety. Will the Minister join me in supporting the campaign, which aims to shine a light on what is happening on our roads?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about road safety, which is a critical issue, because, despite our enviable national record, 1,730 people lost their lives on British roads last year. Media campaigns in this area can be very helpful, so I do, indeed, support the Lancashire Telegraph campaign in principle, and I look forward to hearing more when it starts.

I, too, am supporting that campaign, and we have seen numerous incidents across east Lancashire, but would the Government not accept that one thing that is not helping on motorways is the fact that local government cuts mean that motorway lights are being turned off?

There is no evidence that any of the changes taking place on our motorways are impacting on road safety; in fact, it is the other way round—our motorways are some of the safest roads on our network, and our network is among the safest in the world.

Does the Minister agree that anyone with points on their licence indicating a number of offences should be excluded from the rental of cars with above a 2-litre engine? Would he consider co-operation with the police and insurance companies on this issue?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. I do not think we can necessarily exclude people from a marketplace, but, of course, all the rental companies do have access to driver records, and I will take that idea forward.

Car Manufacturers: Emissions

2. Whether he has had discussions with the Attorney General on investigations into car manufacturers and emissions irregularities. (907293)

The Secretary of State has regular discussions with the Attorney General on a range of issues.

The Government take any matters regarding the safety and environmental performance of vehicles on UK roads extremely seriously.

We hear that quite often, but as consumers in this country look around the world—to New Zealand, Brazil, France, Germany and South Korea—they see action being taken against companies such as Volkswagen, while this Government let people down and drag their heels. Can I hear something firm about what the Government have been doing to take these companies to task?

The hon. Gentleman underestimates me. It is true that, in a hard world, I have a soft heart, but companies that care less for their workers or treat their customers without integrity will soon learn that, in my velvet glove, there is a steely fist I am not afraid to use. To that end, I have met Volkswagen twice. I am absolutely determined it should meet its legal obligations. It will meet in full the costs that we have endured as a Government. I can tell the House today that I have received a pledge from Volkswagen to pay £1.1 million, which taxpayers have had to spend as a result of its behaviour, and I expect to receive that cheque before Christmas.

Drivers have been very concerned by pollution rulings on diesel cars. Would it not be wholly wrong for drivers of diesel cars to be punished for buying cars they were encouraged to buy by the Labour Government?

It would certainly be right to encourage people to behave in a way that met the Government’s objectives for emissions. To that end, my hon. Friend, who is a knowledgeable and assiduous Member of this House, will know that the Government have taken direct action to promote the use of electric vehicles and to encourage those who choose to purchase vehicles with lower emissions. He is right that we must act with moderation, but, equally, we must act with determination to ensure that our vehicles are as clean as they can be, for it is emissions that lead to particulate material, which we know—this is a matter not of speculation but of evidence—is injurious to our health and wellbeing.

This is a scandal of huge proportions. Thousands of people have died in this country because of the defeat devices that Volkswagen inserted. The fact is that the European Union’s legislative framework is weaker than the framework of capitalist United States. Does the Minister agree that the European Union does not deserve its reputation for protecting the environment?

I am tempted to say that I find it difficult to believe that anything that emanates from the European Union is virtuous, but I will not say that. What I will say is that the Volkswagen scandal is, as the hon. Gentleman says, unacceptable. It would be unacceptable whether we were members of the European Union or not. There are other aspects to this, however. There is the programme of technical fixes that Volkswagen is engaged in, which I pressed it to get on with. There is also the issue of its legal obligations, which I mentioned a moment ago. Let me also be clear that I have not ruled out a separate investigation into these affairs by this Government, and I have told Volkswagen that.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that modern diesel vehicles have either exhaust gas recirculation systems or diesel particulate filters fitted to stop the emission of harmful gases and particles. Is he aware of the increasing practice among the owners of diesel vehicles, including taxis and buses, of illegally removing these systems and causing these harmful gases to be emitted into the atmosphere? If he is aware of it, what is he doing about it, and if he is not will he investigate it and write to me about the action that he intends to take?

To write to the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished Member of this House whom I met briefly earlier this week, albeit not on these issues, would be inadequate. I will meet him to discuss this matter in some detail, because he clearly has expert understanding to bring to bear.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels enormously privileged at the prospect of a meeting with the Minister of State, as of course would most sane people.

Rail Stations: Disabled Access

3. When he plans to announce the next tranche of railway stations to be provided with disabled access to all platforms; and if he will make a statement. (907294)

All the funding under the current pot of money for Access for All has been allocated to stations. We intend to seek further funding for the next rail control period. We will seek nominations from the industry and start to announce the successful projects in 2018.

Lichfield happens to be one of the smallest cities in the country, but Lichfield Trent Valley railway station is an important interchange between the west coast main line and the cross-city line that connects Lichfield with Birmingham and with Redditch. Yet two out of the three platforms are completely inaccessible to anybody who is disabled, or indeed anybody who has baggage with them and wants to get to one of those platforms. We were meant to get disabled access in October this year, so when is it going to happen?

I am glad that my hon. Friend shares my commitment to and passion for improving disabled accessibility. I understand that he has met Network Rail at the station to discuss its plans for the project. It intends to start work as soon as possible and it should take about a year to complete, so I hope it will been seen within a year. Network Rail should appreciate that Access for All projects are as important as any of its major prestige projects.

On Saturday there was a tragic suicide at Pencoed station in my constituency. One of the issues is that it has a level crossing, which is the only way in which disabled people are able to go between the lines. It is far too accessible in terms of the station lines, and there is a very high suicide rate. Network Rail has allocated funding via the Department for Transport to improve the level crossing, but I would like to see it closed. Will the Minister meet me to discuss additional funding to try to close off the access at that station?

I am always happy to meet hon. Members. I know that level crossing safety is a particular concern across the country. Every level crossing has its own characteristics and difficulties, so I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this case.

There is obviously no cause for complacency in relation to disabled access, but it is worth putting it on record that in the past 15 years there has been a sea change on our railways; I certainly see that from a London and home counties perspective. While I hope that we can continue this progress on disabled access, substantial improvements have been made in recent years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to indicate the progress that has been made. However, we cannot accept a situation where some of our busiest stations remain inaccessible, so work will have to continue into the next rail period and beyond. I intend to keep up the pressure on Network Rail and train operating companies, as I am sure Members across the House will, too.

Despite the fact that so many disabled people rely on public transport, the Government have slashed the Access for All programme, which pays for improvements to access at stations, by 40%. Some 19% of stations currently have step-free access via lifts and ramps to all their platforms. Given that record, we can hardly describe ourselves as an inclusive society when so many stations are inaccessible to disabled people. What representations will the Minister make to the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement to address that appalling state of affairs?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman also shares my commitment to the issue. We have made important progress in delivering improved accessibility at many of our busiest stations, but there is still more to do. I will not pre-empt the autumn statement, however much he might like me to do so, but I will seek more money for Access for All in control period 6 of our rail investment. That will deliver far more accessibility at far more stations.

Railways: South-west

We need to continue to improve transport and rail links in the south-west, and my No. 1 priority is to deal with resilience near the Dawlish sea wall and the Dawlish cliffs. The next stage of the project requires a further £10 million to continue to develop the programme and deal with the issue once and for all, and I can announce to the House today that that funding will be granted and the work will go ahead. That is an important part of ensuring that we protect the essential rail links to the south-west, and I hope that people there will see it as a commitment to making sure that they have a proper transport system for the future.

That is fantastic news and it shows that this Government really are investing in the south-west. Given that resilience work, will they consider a potential branch line to Okehampton as part of the wider south-west rail package?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to all my south-west colleagues, who are vociferous champions of the need to make sure that we have the best possible transport links to the constituencies that they represent. I will be very happy to discuss with him the needs of his constituents in Cornwall and, in particular, the potential for improving links to Okehampton.

The National Audit Office’s verdict on the Great Western Railway electrification fiasco was absolutely damning. It described it as

“a case study in how not to manage a major programme.”

It is estimated that passenger growth on the line will be 81% over the five-year period leading up to 2018-19. Anyone who uses the line will know how overcrowded it is. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give that there will be an improvement in our area?

The hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that I am not happy about the way in which the modernisation and electrification programme has been managed. The NAO report also said that, since 2015, my Department has had a much firmer grip on the programme. I am still not satisfied with the progress that is being made. New trains will, of course, be rolled out across the network sooner rather than later. I am committed to making sure that the project is delivered and that the improvements it brings will happen for passengers.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on the Dawlish line, given how vital it is in ensuring that my constituency actually has a train service. Does he agree that it was not acceptable for CrossCountry trains to bury in a lengthy timetable consultation document a proposal to axe virtually all of its direct services between the bay and the midlands and Manchester?

We have discussed the issue with my hon. Friend. When timetable changes are proposed, it is important that they are as transparent as possible, and I want the cross-country service to grow rather than shrink in future.

19. The NAO says that the Government’s very poor implementation of the London and Bristol to Wales electrification project has wasted—wasted—£330 million of taxpayers’ money. With funding stretched, will the Government and the Secretary of State accept responsibility for putting the Cardiff, Swansea and south-west improvements at risk for the future? (907314)

My objective is to make sure that the programmes under way are delivered properly, with the benefits delivered as quickly as possible. As I said, I am not happy with what has happened so far. One great irony is that during the Labour party’s 13 years in power only 10 miles of railway line were electrified. The other is that at a time when Labour is demanding the nationalisation of the railways, these problems have arisen in the one bit of the railway in the public sector.

Transport Infrastructure: North England

Improving northern transport infrastructure is vital to the success of the northern powerhouse. The Government are committing £13 billion in transport improvements over this Parliament, and we have created Transport for the North, a partnership of key organisations to drive forward a northern transport strategy. Our announcement this week on HS2 phase 2b is further confirmation of our commitment.

We are told that HS2 will cut journey times from the north to London and therefore benefit places such as St Helens, but surely the real driver of economic growth and regeneration in the north is good transport infrastructure across the region from west to east. When will we see a commitment to, and action from the Government on, connecting our great northern cities and towns to each other, not just to London?

The action the hon. Gentleman is calling for is already under way, with the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail links, the road investments that are taking place and HS3, which we have called “northern powerhouse rail”. That project is being developed by TfN and we will be seeing its proposals early next year.

Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, when I attended the UK Major Ports Group reception on Monday evening, the port director for the Humber stressed to me how urgently needed east-west connections from Immingham and the Humber ports to Liverpool and Manchester were. He talked about trans-Pennine tunnels and so on, which are decades off, so can the Minister reassure him that action will be taken immediately?

I can provide my hon. Friend with much reassurance. I entirely agree on the importance of connecting businesses to our key modes of transport, especially our ports. Developing the connectivity of our ports is a project being taken forward by the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes).

Liverpool2 has recently opened, with a new deepwater port, which raises the possibility of the whole of the north becoming an economic powerhouse. What can the Minister tell us about plans to improve freight access to ports right across the north, in an integrated approach with road and rail?

The Liverpool2 development is a very exciting one, opening up the port of Liverpool to 95% of world shipping. Access to the port is, of course, part of the project being taken forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Does the Minister agree it is vital for infrastructure in the north that we electrify the midland main line through the midlands and on to Sheffield on the existing timetable?

The next stage to Corby is just about to start, but my hon. Friend’s point will have been heard by the rail Minister and I will pick that up with him afterwards.

17. What progress are the Government making on implementing their new steel procurement guidelines in relation to projects such as those in the north of England? (907311)

Ninety-five per cent. of the steel used on our railways already comes from Scunthorpe, and that is a key part of all of our procurement. We want to see British steel used in our transport infrastructure, and Scunthorpe will of course play a key part in that.

By the time HS2 eventually opens from Manchester Piccadilly, it will take some of my constituents, who live within Greater Manchester, longer to drive to Manchester, especially at peak times, than to travel by train from Manchester to London. What plans do the Government have to improve that?

It is not as though HS2 is the only investment taking place in the north: more than £1.25 billion is being spent in the north-west on local transport schemes through the growth deal; £800 million-plus is being spent on north-west road schemes; and a further £1 billion is being spent on other parts of the rail network. It is HS2 plus all the other investments that makes the comprehensive transformation of transport in the north.

Does the Minister agree with a group of leading north-west businesses that the gap between investment in north-west transport infrastructure and investment in London transport infrastructure is unacceptably high? Does he agree that if we were to close that gap, we could really transform the commuter services, trams and buses, and we could get the Oyster card of the north, which we so desperately need to transform our transport?

Transport investments around the country are not necessarily happening at the same pace, but I suggest to the hon. Lady that £340 million is being spent on rail in the Liverpool city region right now, and nobody could really doubt our commitment to the north after this week’s announcements on HS2.

I do not want to prick the bubble of self-congratulation, but new analysis published yesterday by the TUC reveals that the UK ranks towards the bottom of the table of OECD countries for capital investment in important areas of economic development, and worst of all is transport. As a percentage of 2014 GDP—these are the latest figures—UK investment was the lowest ranking, in last place out of 34 countries. With pauses and unpauses, and shunting programmes off into the distant future—be it HS3, northern powerhouse rail, or whatever we want to call it—is it not time that the Government started delivering instead of continually breaking their promises?

I remind the hon. Gentleman how we collapsed in OECD league tables under the last Labour Government, and that we are spending £13 billion on transport investment in the north during this Parliament, as I outlined earlier.

Rail Passengers: Delay Compensation

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we recently announced an improved compensation scheme for passengers that will apply if their train is more than 15 minutes late. All franchise competitions let by the Department will include that policy, and we will be exploring how to roll it out for all our existing franchises during this Parliament.

I thank the Minister for his response. On the Chase line, passengers face not only delays, but cancellations and part cancellations. Services often do not reach the two Rugeley stations, leaving passengers stranded and resulting in overcrowding on subsequent services. Will my hon. Friend outline how the compensation scheme will benefit those who are affected by part cancellations?

This is the third time that my hon. Friend has brought me to the Dispatch Box to discuss the Chase line, so no one can say that she is not assiduous on the matter. As she may well be aware, if a passenger’s journey is delayed by 30 minutes, for whatever reason—be it cancellation, part cancellation or a train turning around short of its destination—they are entitled to claim delay repay compensation. Under the new invitation to tender for the west midlands franchise, we are looking at how we scope the “delay repay 15” scheme, which will be brought in under that franchise.

My constituency is not served directly by the London underground or the docklands light railway, much as we would like it to be, which means that we are heavily reliant on rail services. I receive a stream of complaints almost daily about delays on Southeastern railway. This cannot be allowed to continue, because people are heavily reliant on that service. One thing I would say for Southeastern is that it needs extra capacity—it needs extra carriages. The carriages that become available when the Thameslink programme is complete must be made available for Southeastern so that we can deal with the capacity problem, but we must also deal with Southeastern’s performance.

I think that the question was rhetorical in nature, but if the Minister wants briefly to reply, he may.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and look forward to seeing him at our meeting on Southeastern for all affected MPs later this month. He will know the impact that the London Bridge works have had and the extra capacity that they will unlock. We are having a meeting later today with Southeastern to discuss performance issues further, to make sure that we are on top of ensuring that this is an adequate service, delivering for passengers.

However welcome the Minister’s response is, given the regularity of interruptions to services—they are primarily the fault of Network Rail—for my constituents travelling to Liverpool Street, the end of the Parliament is too long to wait for this improvement in the compensation scheme. May I urge the Minister to ensure that it is brought in for all rail users across the country as soon as possible, rather than by 2020?

I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for bringing in the scheme as soon as we possibly can. As he will understand, an in-franchise change involves a more complex commercial negotiation, but that does not mean that we do not wish to do this as soon as we can.

Although Northern Rail is very reluctant to pay out compensation to rail passengers, it is over-enthusiastic about prosecuting people who have not been able to buy a ticket through no fault of their own. Will the Minister put pressure on Northern Rail to reconsider its approach?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of engaging in adequate revenue protection on the railways, but I accept that when people have inadvertently, for whatever reason, not been able to purchase a ticket, there is a sense of unfairness. I will make sure that I write to Northern Rail and get a reply for him.

Rail Infrastructure: Sussex

My hon. Friend will be aware that we are making a range of substantial investments on the rail network in Sussex, including in longer platforms on the Uckfield line, a new Thameslink depot and upgraded power systems. That said, I want to be clear that I am well aware of the frustrations felt by passengers in her constituency. Quite apart from the disgraceful and unwarranted industrial action that is taking place at the moment, one of the key issues is that this network is not reliable enough. I give her and her constituents an assurance that I am looking very hard at how to step up a programme of incremental improvements to stop the day-by-day breakdowns that are making the current issues much worse.

I welcome the investment in infrastructure, which is causing 50% of the delays. Does the Secretary of State not agree that, in the long term, a second rail main line between Sussex and London is needed to increase rail capacity in the south-east and to improve journey times for my constituents?

I am well aware of the degree of campaigning behind the Brighton main line 2 concept. My hon. Friend the rail Minister and I have discussed that, and I am aware that a report has sat on the desk for much too long. I intend to make sure that it does not sit on the desk for very much longer.

The Secretary of State will no doubt have seen the “Panorama” programme that was broadcast on 7 November that highlighted the daily hell faced by passengers, especially those using Southern rail on the line mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield). Is he content that Southern rail customers are facing this commuting hell every day, or will he act to do something about it?

No, I am not at all content. Of course, the biggest step that could be taken would be for the rail unions to call off their action so that we can deal with some of the underlying infrastructure problems, which I described a moment ago. One of the things I find sad is that, far from joining us in calling for the strikes to end so that we can improve the situation, Labour Members seem keener to line up with the militants rather than opposing them.

Southern rail was a disgrace before the current industrial action, and it will continue to be a disgrace long after the current industrial action is complete and the dispute is settled. The Department for Transport sets the routes, allocates the franchises, dictates the number of trains that run and sets fare increases, so when will the Secretary of State stop pretending that this is nothing to do with him, stop blaming everybody else around him and act to stop the daily hell on this line?

I have every intention of addressing the issue and I am working as hard as I can to do so. I would tell Labour Members that figures published this morning show that, across our railways, far more—more than twice as many—problems arise as a result of infrastructure, which is in the public sector, than as a result of train operations, which are in the private sector. Their persistent arguments that nationalising would solve the problems are just plain wrong. We need to invest; interestingly, we, unlike the Labour party, are doing so.

The utility of any rail infrastructure investment on the Brighton main line in Sussex will depend on the trains running effectively through Surrey. Will the Secretary of State undertake to look at proposals from people in my constituency about extra infrastructure investment in Surrey, alongside the Sussex proposals?

This is a Surrey, Sussex and south London problem, and we must look at the whole thing holistically. My hon. Friend will be aware that I have asked Chris Gibb, a senior rail executive, to look at the issues and to identify ways of addressing resilience problems. He has now put in place detailed plans, and some of that work has already started. For example, a joint team to control the railway on a day-by-day basis was put in place three weeks ago—at Three Bridges, one person will be in charge on a day-by-day basis—and individual infrastructure issues are now beginning to be addressed. I am determined that we do as much as we can, as fast as we can, to improve the resilience of the network.

High Speed 3: Bradford

Northern powerhouse rail, which is sometimes called HS3, is the Government’s vision for dramatically faster and more frequent rail journeys across the north, to help to build the northern powerhouse and strengthen the British economy. With Transport for the North, we are investigating the benefits, both to passengers and to the economy, of northern powerhouse rail serving key markets such as Bradford.

It is absolutely essential that a city the size of Bradford has a station stop on the HS3 route, otherwise the economic benefits in West Yorkshire will be only for Leeds, which will be like throwing apples into an orchard that is already full. Will the Minister therefore commit to making sure that Bradford is on the route so that the Bradford district can also benefit from the northern powerhouse?

We are expecting Transport for the North to publish its priorities for northern powerhouse rail development early next year. I will make sure that the voice of my hon. Friend is heard in that planning, and I will keep him informed of progress.

Will the Minister give a good talking to to the infrastructure tsar—who waxed lyrical on the radio this week about how important it was to link Oxford and Cambridge—about concentrating on the links across Yorkshire and Lancashire? That is the emphasis we want. We do not want Huddersfield left off the map on any occasion.

It is impossible to think that Huddersfield would be left off the map on any occasion. Obviously, we are investing in transport in all parts of our country, including connectivity in the north, and between Oxford and Cambridge.

Overcrowding: Calderdale Line

10. What estimate he has made of the level of overcrowding on the Caldervale line between Leeds and Manchester. (907302)

I am very aware that that is a busy line, which is why we are seeking to ensure that the new northern franchise tackles overcrowding with investment in new rolling stock that will increase capacity by 37% on peak services into our northern cities. There will be the improvements on the line that the hon. Lady seeks.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response but, further to the comments made by other hon. Members from the region, HADRAG—the Halifax District Rail Action Group—tells me that two morning trains from Halifax to Leeds have been cut from four carriages to two, leading to quite serious overcrowding. Services connecting our major northern towns and cities are essential to delivering the northern powerhouse, so will the Minister tell me what he is doing to avoid the crush that we are seeing on those commuter services?

I recognise that we have a number of issues with trains arriving in Manchester and Leeds with passengers standing because of issues with capacity. That needs to change, which is why in the new northern franchise we have ensured that the pacers will be removed, and we are investing in new carriages that will mean more seats for passengers. We are also investing specifically in the Caldervale line. We have just completed work on the west section, and we will start on the east section in the new year. I hope that the hon. Lady will start to see improvements on that particular network soon, not least because that will help to improve connectivity to Bradford as well, which will bring joy, I am sure, to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

Light Rail: Leeds

11. What recent discussions he has had with Leeds City Council on the provision of a light rail scheme for that city. (907304)

That is a worrying answer. The Government made an excellent decision when agreeing with the inspector that the new generation trolleybus scheme was not right, while allowing Leeds to keep £173.5 million to be match funded with £81 million from local authorities. The Department said that that money was clearly for the right system and that NGT was the wrong one, so does the Minister share my dismay that authorities have failed to consider any other system, and specifically failed to consider light rail?

We should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on his work to ensure that that money was retained in Leeds, but it is now a matter for Leeds City Council to decide the appropriate scheme for Leeds. It is not my role as rail Minister to dictate to Leeds what scheme should be selected.

A survey by Rawdon Parish Council showed that Leeds’s solution of getting passengers to the airport through the road system would not cope with the number of passengers and where they would be coming from. Surely using money for the road and the £173 million for a rail link to the airport would give us an opportunity to address that problem, and would also be the first stage of the properly integrated transport system that the city deserves.

My hon. Friend’s question demonstrates the range of ideas in the wider Leeds region about how the money can be spent. I understand that the combined authority is also looking at matters. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss such ideas further, but it has to be Leeds City Council that decides what the best option is for Leeds.

Thousands of people in Leeds, and my constituents in Wakefield, use buses to travel to work, school and college every day. In the absence of a new light rail system for Leeds, will the Minister look at the Bus Services Bill, which is about to be introduced in this place, and giving powers to integrate and regulate bus services not just to the metro mayors of Manchester and Liverpool, but to the cities of Leeds and Wakefield? That would have the advantage of not costing the Government one penny piece.

I recognise the importance of bus services, particularly in many of the great northern communities—they are vital to Blackpool, too. We will have ample chance to discuss the Bus Services Bill in this place, and I am sure the hon. Lady will make her voice heard.

This is about light rail schemes for the city of Leeds, which is a very considerable distance from the constituency so ably and eloquently represented by the hon. Gentleman.

National Minimum Wage: Seafarers

12. What discussions he has had with officials of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on enforcement of the national minimum wage for seafarers employed in the North sea. (907305)

The right hon. Gentleman will know I am a proud trade unionist. This is an area of great concern to me. I have met my friends in the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Nautilus International—I have Nautilus’ charter with me. My officials have been working closely with officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HMRC, as well as stakeholders, on the application of the national minimum wage to seafarers in UK waters more generally.

I am grateful to hear that the Minister is taking this matter seriously. It surely cannot be right for HMRC to deem that a ferry service that starts in Aberdeen and finishes in Lerwick is operating wholly outside UK territorial waters. It is nonsense for the body that is supposed to enforce the minimum wage to be undermining it in this way. Will the Government do something to stop this?

I worked with the right hon. Gentleman in government and he knows of me what I know of him, which is that he does his homework. I have the statutory instrument and the original legislation in my hand as I speak. Let me tell him this: I am committed to reviewing the legislation to ensure that it applies to the offshore sector.

Heathrow Airport Expansion

13. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that air connectivity between Northern Ireland and London is improved by the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport. (907306)

Heathrow airport expects to add six more domestic routes across the UK when the new runway opens in the middle of the next decade. This will strengthen existing domestic links to regions such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, and allow the development of new connections to regions such as the south-west. We expect Heathrow to meet these pledges. We will ensure that the Government hold the airport to account; that is an obligation, not a desirable.

I thank the Secretary of State for that excellent answer, and for the hope and expectation contained therein. Is he, like me, taken aback by the EU’s decision to block a multimillion pound aid package to United Airlines, which has effectively removed one of our air carriers out of Northern Ireland? Will he investigate who lodged the complaint to the EU that has effectively destroyed this business in Northern Ireland?

I fear it probably will not tell us, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the decision was deeply unwelcome. My Department spent a fair amount of time working alongside the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Executive on trying to make sure that we sustained this route for Northern Ireland. The loss of the route because of EU action is deeply unwelcome and precisely the kind of unnecessary decision from Brussels that led this country to vote to leave the European Union.

Could air connectivity between Northern Ireland, Heathrow and other parts of England be improved by changes to air passenger duty, especially in response to the impending cut to APD in Scotland?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is listening carefully to representations on this issue. The Scottish National party stood on a platform of getting rid of air passenger duty in Scotland, but it is now discovering that it is more difficult to make ends meet than perhaps it had previously realised. That is one of the challenges of actually having to take decisions, rather than just talking.

What further discussions have taken place with the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Executive on lowering air passenger duty to underpin our local economy?

The Treasury has held detailed discussions about this, and lots of Members representing different parts of the United Kingdom have made representations, but I fear that it is a matter for the Treasury to indicate whether it plans to do anything in response.

Lord Empey’s Bill in the other House would have guaranteed slots to Northern Ireland. As the Secretary of State knows, air connectivity is very important to us, but the Bill fell because of EU regulation. Can we ensure that it is put back after Brexit?

We have to be quite careful about the mechanism. I am not personally of the view that the solution is just about slots. There are slots at inconvenient times of the day. We want connectivity at times that maximise benefits to the regions of the UK, so that Northern Ireland, Scotland, the south-west and the north of England have proper, good, effective international links. My commitment to the hon. Gentleman and to the House is that we will ensure proper protection for that connectivity, but the actual mechanism needs to await more detailed work.

Just to correct the Secretary of State: it is Ruth Davidson and the Tories who are trying to stop the APD cut in Scotland.

Additional regional capacity is of use only if there are airlines willing to fill it. The lack of a Brexit plan has seen businesses literally in flight from the UK. For instance, easyJet has confirmed that it is in the process of setting up a separate airline based on the European mainland. It said:

“We are not saying there will be no agreement. We just don’t know the shape or form. We don’t have the luxury of waiting”—

and neither do we or those counting on these services. What is your plan?

I do not have any plan on this matter. The hon. Gentleman is a well-meaning fellow, but the question was too long.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman who does have a plan. Bombardier has a plan: it is now investing in a major international rail hub in the UK based on the excellent work in Derby. Nissan has a plan: it is expanding its plants in the north-east. Honda has a plan: it is investing more money in Swindon. Google, Facebook and Apple have plans: they are opening new headquarters in London. In an economy that continues to grow well post-Brexit, that proves that this country will do well regardless.

Instead of deflecting, will the Secretary of State at least agree to a meaningful update of route development and assistance for supporting additional services on existing routes, as well as new services, and—crucially—will he bring forward, before March 2017, firm proposals for specific airport-to-airport public service obligations?

The Government have not shied away from public service obligations when necessary—most recently, between Londonderry and Stansted airport. There are routes in and around the UK that are essential to the maintenance of our regional economies, and we have always been committed, and will remain committed, to ensuring that those obligations are met when necessary.

Electric Vehicles: Charge Points

14. What assessment he has made of the level of availability of charge points for electric vehicles. (907307)

The UK now has 11,000 publicly accessible charge points, with Europe’s largest network of rapid charge points and provision at 96% of motorway service areas. We will continue to support the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure to ensure that we realise our ambition that almost every car and van on UK roads is a zero-emission vehicle by 2050.

I welcome the Minister’s reply. I also declare an interest: I am in the process of buying a Nissan Leaf to show my support for Nissan’s welcome investment in electric vehicles and indeed in other vehicles. Will the Minister explain how he is looking to support small businesses investing in electric vehicles for their staff and their businesses?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is taking that step. I had the joy of driving a Nissan Leaf for the first time last week, and I know that he is as committed to this cause as I am, but he asked a very particular question. Disraeli said that justice is truth in action. Now, I am going to offer him some justice for those who want to get this right. I am pleased to inform the House that the £7.5 million grant scheme for charge points at workplaces will be rolled out—applications will begin—this Monday.

Sorry to break the consensus, but is there not a danger of the Government putting too much emphasis on electric vehicles and not enough on liquefied petroleum gas and hydrogen cells, which do not require the same level of infrastructure?

The hon. Gentleman is right that technology is changing in all kinds of ways, and there will be all kinds of results from that in respect of the zero emission ambition that I set out. The electric vehicle developments that I described, and to which the hon. Gentleman referred, are important. The Government’s role is to make sure that we do what we can to make them as attractive to consumers as possible. Charge points are at the heart of that.

Leaving the EU: Passenger Rights

15. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the protection of passenger rights in the UK. (907309)

The Prime Minister has made it clear that we will convert existing EU regulations into UK law when we leave the European Union. Once the great repeal Bill is given Royal Assent, Parliament will be free—subject to international agreements and treaties with other countries and the EU on matters such as trade—to amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses.

The collapse of low-cost holidays this summer emphasises the importance of the EU package travel directive, which offers consumers protection in the case of insolvency. Can the Minister give me a guarantee that any rights to which UK passengers are currently entitled will not be eroded by Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman must understand that this Government remain entirely committed to putting passengers at the heart of our transport policy and ensuring that we have the right regime for passenger rights. In the end, it comes down to this simple fact. As Ruskin said, quality is never a matter of accident, but the result of intelligent effort. I believe in the determination of this House to do right by passengers. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that, I suggest that he comes into the new light of the dawn of our leaving the EU rather than staying in the murky darkness of Scottish nationalism.

Topical Questions

In the wake of last week’s dreadful accident in Croydon, I would like to start this topical questions session by paying tribute to the British Transport police, for which I have ministerial responsibility, to all the emergency services and to the transport staff who worked so hard in the aftermath. I want to send all the good wishes of this House to those injured and our condolences to the families who tragically lost loved ones.

Recently published annual figures for those killed or seriously injured on our roads at the end of the second quarter of 2016 show a 3% increase on last year. For the third year running, deaths are higher than they were the year before and went up by 2% last year and this year. Thirty deaths may not sound that many out of 1,800, but for every grieving family, they are a tragedy. What is the Government’s plan to arrest and reverse this disturbing trend?

Of course every death on our roads is one death too many. It has to be said that our roads are among the safest in Europe and the world, but that is no reason for complacency. A trend in the wrong direction is an unwelcome one. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who is in his place alongside me, has responsibility for road safety. He is actively engaged, and will continue to be actively engaged, in looking at measures we could take that will improve things. We will look at different investment measures and different ways of educating motorists and those using the roads, and we will work with anyone who can come up with suggestions about how we can improve the situation.

T4. The case for a Shipley eastern bypass was first made in the Airedale masterplan many years ago. The Government say that it is a matter for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, while the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council say it was the Government rules on return on investment that made the scheme an impossibility. Will the Minister get together with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council to make sure that this scheme can become a reality for the benefit of my constituents and the local economy? (907285)

I am fully aware of the merits of the scheme, and I will make sure that officials from the Department, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council sit down to sort this out. There is no reason why Government mechanisms for approval should hold back schemes in Bradford. We are seeing schemes progressing all over the country, so I shall make sure that Bradford knows what to do so that the people of Bradford can see the investment they need.

May I associate Opposition Members with the Secretary of State’s comments about the tragedy in Croydon?

The latest statistics from the Department for Transport show a marked decline in bus patronage across the whole country—a drop of some 3%, along with a drop of 2% in bus mileage. Given that we are trying to get passengers out of cars and on to buses, is this not a mark of Government failure? What is the Secretary of State planning to do about it?

We are, of course, maintaining our support for buses, which we see as the workhorses of our public transport system. They make more than 5 billion passenger journeys per year, compared with 1.7 billion on our railways. We are maintaining, for instance, the bus service operators grant and the £1 billion for the concessionary bus pass scheme, and the Bus Services Bill will be introduced next week.

I rather expected the Minister to refer to the Bus Services Bill. Given that franchising is the answer, why is he denying the choice to many swathes of the country? Why cannot parts of England which do not take on elected mayors—and which are represented largely by his own side—have powers to improve their services as well?

I think the hon. Gentleman is mistaken when he says that franchising is the answer. All the conversations that I have had with local authorities have produced a mixture of solutions, but most of have focused on partnerships: good partnerships between local authorities and bus companies which will meet local needs.

T5. At the request of the HS2 Committee, to ensure compliance with the aim to achieve “no net loss in biodiversity” during the construction of the project, Natural England produced a report on the subject. The Department appears to be dismissing that report, if the brevity of its response is anything to go by. Will the Secretary of State undertake to give detailed consideration to fulfilling Natural England’s recommendations, and will he put the protection of our ancient woodland at the top of his list of priorities? (907286)

I have looked at the report, and I recognise the importance of protecting our biodiversity. Our country is probably more covered in woodland today than it has been for many centuries in our history, and I find it encouraging that organisations such as the Woodland Trust are continuing to plant the forests and woods of the future. However, I am sceptical about a 1:30 ratio which appears to be based on nothing more than a gut instinct. I am not sure that that is an appropriate way of dealing with the issue. What is important, to my mind, is replacing lost woodland with extra planting, and following a “finger in the air” formula may not be the best way of doing so.

T2. Many logistics organisations, such as the Freight Transport Association, are doing excellent work in trying to establish what the most important parts of British industry need from Brexit, but what is the Department doing to ensure that the important views of the smallest operators—single owner drivers, for example—are heard and given equal weight to those of the largest businesses? Will the Minister’s officials meet me to discuss mechanisms that would allow their views to be heard? (907283)

The hon. Gentleman has already attended a round table discussion with me on just such matters, and I believe he will be attending another this afternoon. I am spending more time with him and the truckers than with almost anyone else. He can be assured that the case that he makes is dear to my heart, and that it will inform Government policy. He is right to say that we need to look after the smaller operators as well—he has taken a proud and informed stance on that—and I will ensure, through him and through other mechanisms, that they are involved in the discussions.

As my hon. Friend knows, rural Wales is the most beautiful part of any country in the world to drive through. I wonder what more he can do to press the Welsh Government to improve investment in roads in my area, so that our world-class countryside is accessible via a world-class road network.

I do indeed know how beautiful rural Wales is, and my hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of good connections to the tourism industry. I, too, wonder what I could do to press the Welsh Government. Perhaps we could simply highlight to the people of Wales the greater priority placed on investment in infrastructure by Conservative Governments.

T3. I welcome the Minister’s positive comments about the quality of British steel, and the fact that 95% of steel in rail is UK steel. Does he believe that that record will be matched by the steel used for HS2? (907284)

Absolutely, but that does not apply only to the steel industry. I believe that HS2 is a great engineering project for the United Kingdom, and I was pleased to note a substantial British presence in the first set of contracts that we announced this week. I have made it very clear that the firms that hope to participate in this project should expect to leave a skills and expertise footprint behind in the United Kingdom, and that those that fail to do so should not expect to find themselves at the front of the queue when it comes to contracting.

On the midland main line, East Midlands Trains often gets it in the neck for train delays when often the responsibility is failures by Network Rail. Will the Secretary of State and the rail Minister design a rail compensation scheme that sends the correct signals to Network Rail to raise its game?

I recognise the situation my hon. Friend describes. We have a number of compensation schemes operating within the rail industry focusing on schedule 8 payments. I recognise the need to make sure that that remains a very clear system for passengers to understand why delay attribution occurs and recognise that there is much work to be done.

T6. Deep in the Airport Commission’s papers is the hugely costly and disruptive proposal to double the capacity of the M4 at its London end with a tunnel coming up in Brentford or Chiswick. Will the Secretary of State confirm the Government’s estimate of the cost of service transport infrastructure needed for a third runway at Heathrow, and what proportion of that will Heathrow airport be required to pay? (907287)

There are two separate issues here. Improvements are needed to local roads in west London, and the M4 is one of those where plans are afoot now to deliver improvements way before we have a new runway in place. Heathrow airport will be expected to pay for the infrastructure improvements directly linked to the new runway. There are of course other improvements, such as M4 improvements, that are not directly linked and that have for some while been envisaged as part of the ongoing road improvement programme this Government are pursuing. My commitment is that where a transport improvement is required to make the third runway possible, that will be met by Heathrow airport.

I thank the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), for his commitment to tackling illegal HGV fly-parking across roads in Kent and throughout the country. Does he agree that ending this blight requires not only more lorry parking spaces, but more effective enforcement?

My hon. Friend knows I have also held a round table on that issue—as I have said before, my table is ever more round and I always welcome hearing from hon. Members across this House. My hon. Friend has made this case forcefully; she has done so at Westminster Hall and again today. She is right that we need to look at these matters because they affect local residents in exactly the way she said. We want to get a balanced package for HGVs, but a package that takes account of the overtures my hon. Friend has made in the interests of her constituents.

When the Minister has discussions with Leeds City Council about the light rail scheme, will he also discuss trolleybuses? I drove a trolleybus for three years; they are very efficient and are a lot cheaper in infrastructural costs, and it would be a lot cheaper for Leeds and elsewhere if we had trolleybuses rather than trams.

The hon. Gentleman does not need to localise it any more to Leeds or Wolverhampton. I am in constant discussion with UK Tram and am very keen to lower the cost of all options, whether it be light rail, tram, train or trolley bus, but it is for local councils to decide on the most appropriate scheme for their local area.

I never cease to be impressed by the varied life experience of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris).

Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the reduced growth deal 3 offer made to the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership has threatened a number of important road and rail improvement schemes in Somerset? Does he also agree that driving growth through improvement to transport infrastructure should trump the devolution agenda?

First, it is important that the funding we allocate to different parts of the country delivers real improvement, whether to congestion and connectivity, economic development or housing. I met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government earlier this week to discuss the issue. No offers have yet been made on funding to LEPs; that will happen shortly.

The electrification of the line to Hull was included in the Government’s northern transport plan published in March. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), now the Minister for the northern powerhouse, said:

“The problem if you are not included in the electrification is the risk that you then become just a shuttle service connecting into the main line.”

So can the Secretary of State explain to me why yesterday the decision was made not to include the electrification of the line to Hull, and to leave the TransPennine electrification finishing at Selby, 30 miles outside Hull?

The train companies got there first, and the good news for Hull is that both Hull Trains and TransPennine Express are going to be running on this route with new generation state-of-the-art hybrid trains that will run on both electric and diesel, and will connect Hull across the Pennines and connect Hull to London. That is good news for the passengers.