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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

High Speed 2

HS2 Ltd let the early works contract for activities such as demolitions, site clearances and species translocations in November 2016, with work commencing after Royal Assent—you will be aware, Mr Speaker, that earlier this week the Bill passed its last stages prior to Royal Assent. The main works civil contracts to construct the main physical works for the railway, including tunnels, viaducts and embankments, are due to be let later this year. The initial works on the project will begin shortly after Royal Assent. I have been very clear that through the construction phase I expect HS2 Ltd and my Department to do everything we can to ensure that the impact of construction on those affected is mitigated wherever possible.

It is ironic that I should have drawn the first Transport question on the day the Bill for phase 1 of HS2 gets Royal Assent. Although some people are crowing and backslapping each other about it, let us remember that it is tragic for many people. The impact is disproportionately felt by my local authorities, such as Buckinghamshire County Council, and our parish councils, such as Great Missenden. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me, my constituents and my excellent councils that the Department for Transport will reimburse parish, county and district councils for any reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the construction of this dreadful project, HS2?

I am well aware that when a project of such national importance is constructed, it inevitably has an effect on some of those who live on the route. I reiterate that we will do everything we can to ensure that the process is as reasonable and fair as possible for those affected. With regard to local authorities, I give my right hon. Friend that assurance and repeat the assurances made in the debate on Monday by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). HS2 is putting service-level agreements in place with every single local authority along the line of route to set out the additional funding that we will make available for the new railway line’s construction process.

I welcome Royal Assent being given to this much needed investment, but how will the Secretary of State ensure that the promises made about jobs and training opportunities during the construction of High Speed 2 actually materialise?

I take this very seriously. We have been very clear when letting contracts—most recently in the information that we put into the market about rolling stock—that we expect this project to leave a lasting skills footprint not just in the areas of construction but around the United Kingdom. A number of events have been held for potential suppliers to the project around the UK, and we have been very clear with all firms, both UK and international, that want to bid to be part of it that we expect them to leave that footprint. It is an essential part of the project.

Is the Secretary of State aware that because of the decision to have a station at Sheffield, we will have two HS2 lines running through Derbyshire: a fast track and a slow track? Many villages throughout Bolsover will be affected as a result. There is one in particular, Newton, where more than 30 houses are due to be demolished. Will he meet a group of residents from that village to try to sort this matter out?

I am aware of the issue the hon. Gentleman refers to. I give him the same assurance that I just gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan): we will do our best to minimise impacts. The Minister alongside me, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, will answer these questions in more detail in the Adjournment debate tonight. Either he or I will also meet residents to discuss the issue.

Some of the homes on the route that are worst affected are in East Acton, which faces 10 years of construction disruption, 24/7. Their gardens have been compulsorily purchased and the main access route is to be blocked. HS2’s QC called my residents “tedious” for pointing out that they do not qualify for compensation under the rural support scheme and that unlike Camden they have not been granted exceptional status. I am encouraged to hear that the Secretary of State is putting emphasis on mitigation, because all my constituents have been offered is express purchase. Will he urgently meet them and the London Borough of Ealing? These people just want to preserve their suburban way of life and not be ridden roughshod over.

It is important that I remind the hon. Lady and reiterate what I said. The matters relating to her constituency—the routes through London and the route on phase 1—have been exhaustively examined, not simply by my Department but by Committees of this House and the other place. Although we will always be open to representations about ways in which we can minimise impact, these issues have been exhaustively dealt with by this Parliament.

Diesel Cars

We are working with local authorities to drive the improvements in air quality that are so needed in our more polluted cities. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will consult on a new air quality plan later this spring.

Diesel vehicles are part of the problem and we need urgent action on them, but is the Minister also aware of today’s Environmental Audit Committee report on how Heathrow will affect pollution and climate change? I have just come back from Beijing and saw the level of pollution there. Will the Minister bear it in mind that that is not where we want to go for towns and cities in this country?

It is important to appreciate, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, that this is not a matter of some high-flown theory about what might happen in many centuries’ time; it is about the wellbeing of people now in our cities and elsewhere. The direct relationship between air quality and health is well established. Pollutants are affecting the quality of life—more than that, they are affecting the health and wellbeing of our people. The issue is about the defence and promotion of the common good, which, as he and the whole House know, is always central to my heart.

I urge Ministers and the Government to do something about older diesel cars, either through taxation or a scrappage scheme. We can get electric vehicles in, but we also need to take diesels out, especially in our inner cities, with their hotspots of pollution. Unless we tackle that issue, we will not get the levels down.

Just this morning, I was with no fewer than 16 motor manufacturers looking at low-emission vehicles. It is vital that we promote electric cars. As you will know, Mr Speaker, this week we have published our Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which deals with the electric car charging infrastructure, among many other things. One can deal with this by sanction and penalty or through encouragement, incentive and a change of mind. I prefer to look on the positive side of these things.

The penalty is going to be the millions of pounds of fines faced by our constituents because of the Government’s failure to act. When are we going to hear about some practical action from the Government to reduce the number of diesel vehicles? The Minister has not answered the question. Air pollution is the second biggest avoidable killer after smoking.

Let us be clear: we have made real progress to date. In 2016, the UK was the largest market for ultra-low emission vehicles in the EU and a global leader in this development.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in the spirit of bipartisan generosity that characterises all he does in the House, will welcome the announcement in the autumn statement setting out a further £290 million of funding for ultra-low emission vehicles. He says that he wants action, but what more action does he want than the policy, the legislation and the resources—we are taking action. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is feeling grumpy because it is Thursday morning, but he really ought to welcome that.

I point out to the Minister that figures from the London Assembly Environment Committee from 2015 set out why it is wrong to try to demonise diesel cars and their drivers. Diesel cars account for just over 10% of all emissions in London: the same amount, nearly, as Transport for London’s buses; the same amount, nearly, as ageing trains; the same amount, nearly, as ground-based aviation services. The issue is not simply diesels.

As this short discussion on low-emission vehicles and emissions began, I thought, as you Mr Speaker, must have done, of Proust, who said, as you will remember:

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.

Using those eyes to see to the future is necessary if we are to be ambitious and have vision about where we can go with low-emission vehicles, particularly electric vehicles. We are making progress and we will continue to make more. The plan that I described, which we will draw up this spring, will set out exactly what that progress looks like.

On diesel vehicle manufacturers, the Minister knows of my particular interest in Volkswagen. Will he confirm from the Dispatch Box the extraordinary and contradictory evidence that the Select Committee on Transport received on Monday from Volkswagen’s managing director, Paul Willis, and that Mr Willis has not given the Minister’s Department everything it asked for?

The hon. Gentleman was at the sitting of that Committee, on which he serves, where he will have heard the extraordinary statements made by Mr Willis, which I described at the time as “little short of ridiculous.” I have met Mr Willis and Volkswagen on numerous occasions and asked them for four things: a quicker retrofit to the vehicles affected; compensation for customers who are affected; a warranty for those retrofits; and the money the taxpayer has had to spend as a result of what Volkswagen did to be repaid in full. None of those things has yet been done to my satisfaction, which is why I have written again to Mr Willis, setting out exactly our Government demands—not Government demands, but demands on behalf of the people.

The public are perplexed about where we are going with diesel cars. Will the Minister be sure to remember that many people bought a diesel car because they knew it would be cheaper to run, even though it was a more expensive car? They cannot afford to make the coming changes. Does the Minister recognise that?

It is certainly true that we need to make the transition to low-emission vehicles affordable. We are not in the business, as a Government who champion the cause of ordinary, hard-working people, of penalising people to the point at which they cannot go about their lives or access employment and other opportunities in a way in which the whole House would expect, so it is absolutely right that we take a measured view. Having said that, we have to make more progress, and being measured does not mean being complacent. As I set out earlier, we will make that progress, and we will change minds and behaviour through what we do.

Following the Transport Committee hearing earlier in the week, am I right in thinking that Volkswagen situation now denies any wrongdoing in the UK but still feels obliged to fix 472,000 vehicles, with another half a million remaining to be looked at? The company says it has provided the Government with all the information requested, but the Minister denies that, and it is refusing to publish the report it commissioned from its lawyers, Jones Day. The Minister told the House in November that there would be a “steely fist” in his “velvet glove” if Volkswagen did not meet its obligations, so will he tell the House what that steely fist will actually mean and what he will actually do when he meets VW again next month?

First, to establish the detail of what Volkswagen has and has not done, and what the Government have asked it to do, it might be best if I let the hon. Gentleman and the House have a copy of the letter I have just written to Mr Willis, which sets out how and where Volkswagen has not done what the Government have asked. Secondly, as I said a moment ago, I am determined to use every avenue to pursue the interests of the consumer. The Secretary of State and I will travel to Berlin to meet German counterparts to have discussions because much of the evidence lies there, where the tests were done. Yesterday I met the legal representatives of the consumers who are moving a private prosecution against Volkswagen. I will leave no avenue unexplored and no stone unturned. My steely fist is now a galvanised steely fist.

Transport Modal Integration

The Government have strongly supported the north of England’s local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to come together to form Transport for the North. We have committed £50 million to Transport for the North to produce a comprehensive transport strategy covering all modes of transport in an integrated manner to support delivery of the wider northern powerhouse strategy.

The Institute for Public Policy Research North report this week revealed that London gets £1,500 more transport spend per head than the north. For the cost of one Crossrail project we could connect the four major cities of the powerhouse and the four existing runways, utilising the spare capacity, adding £100 billion to the economy and creating 850,000 new jobs. Does the Minister agree with the report?

I am aware of the report, and we await the recommendations from Transport for the North on northern powerhouse rail, but the point about the report is that it offers a snapshot of where we are at the moment. It reflects where individual projects are in development and delivery. The situation will look extremely different in a few years.

Is the Minister aware that a 21% cut, on top of existing cuts, to the mode shift revenue support grant will have a devastating effect on the rail freight sector in the north of England and could lead overall to up to 190,000 extra lorry journeys every year? Surely this is taking things in absolutely the wrong direction. Will he undertake to reverse the cuts?

I hear the right hon. Lady’s comments. Our policy is to get more freight on to the railways. One of the points of HS2 is to free up capacity on the existing network for more freight. I will relay her points about the mode shift revenue support grant to the rail Minister.

The Government have said that one of the benefits of HS2 will be how well it links into, and integrates with, other forms of transport. Why, then, in the alternatives for HS2’s route through Sheffield and south Yorkshire is there no reference to how HS2 connects to HS3?

Northern powerhouse rail is being developed with the platform of HS2 being delivered—we are looking potentially to use parts of the HS2 network for northern powerhouse rail—but the final decisions on the routes through south Yorkshire have not been made. This is a live consultation, running until 9 March, and I ask that the hon. Gentleman participate in it.

HS2: A4010 Plan

HS2 Ltd anticipates that draft route management improvement and safety plans, including that for Buckinghamshire covering the A4010, will be available for discussion and consultation with highway authorities in March.

That is great news. I am glad that the people of Wycombe, Aylesbury and Buckingham will have an opportunity to scrutinise this essential emergency route. Will my hon. Friend take steps to enhance the safety of the route?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Safety is critical as we go into the delivery phase of HS2. As a result of the petitioning process, the Secretary of State has committed to contributing £480,000 for permanent safety measures along the A4010 and A4129 in Buckinghamshire. The Government have also created a £30 million road safety fund for HS2, the details of which we will be announcing very shortly.

Harmful Emissions: Road Transport

As you would expect, Mr Speaker, I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the vital issue of air pollution, and as I said earlier, we intend to consult on a new air quality plan later this spring.

Given that 40,000 people die prematurely every year from air pollution and that the Government have lost two High Court cases over their lack of action, will the Minister now use his large, galvanised fist to push through clean air zones in cities such as Norwich to protect people’s health?

Yes, I think the hon. Gentleman is right. Clean air zones play a vital role in that work. Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe. Certainly, we all need and deserve clean air. He will know that Norwich is one of the cities that has already implemented a bus low-emission zone and that the Campaign for Better Transport has welcomed the themes to be addressed by the clean air zones, including the plans for local growth, air quality and health. It has said that these are

“sound principles to underpin transport and planning”.

He is right, however, that we need to do more on clean air zones, and we will consult on that. I am in weekly discussions with my colleagues in DEFRA accordingly. The key thing—if I might add this, Mr Speaker, at your discretion—is that it is really important that we not only have good, consistent national standards, but respect the local particularities of different places and cities, so the role of local government will be vital. These zones will not be vanilla flavoured. They will reflect local circumstances, but they must all work to high national standards.

One of the reasons for harmful road emissions in my constituency is the queues of traffic from Baildon through to Shipley, so when can we have a Shipley eastern bypass, which would be good for the local economy, alleviate congestion, and deal with these harmful emissions?

My hon. Friend’s perspicacity means that he has managed to weave a point about local roads into a question about air quality. On that basis, I think the best thing for me to do is to agree to meet him to discuss its particularities in greater detail.

20. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the new report “Any Journey is Greener by Bus”, which shows how bus patronage has grown in Labour-led cities such as Nottingham that have adopted new and innovative approaches, including greener buses, and reduced harmful emissions. That has brought about wider social and economic benefits. Given that bus use in the UK as a whole has fallen by about 7% in the past six years, and that in the past year mileage fell on commercial and local authority-supported bus services, are not his Government failing to support one of the most effective ways to tackle air pollution? (908861)

It will not come as any surprise to the hon. Lady to know that when I am in Nottingham I travel on the bus from my mother-in-law’s home to the city, so I can speak with some authority about bus journeys in Nottingham. She is right that bus travel is a key part of this, which is why we have made an extra £150 million available specifically for cleaner buses. She is right, too, that we need to encourage that as part of our low-emission zones.

Encouraging parents to leave their cars at home and get their children on to local public transport can have a major impact on air quality. Has my right hon. Friend done any analysis of how much free bus travel for children will cost? The Labour metro mayor candidate has promised free bus travel for all children across the west of England, even though the devolution deal is £30 million a year. Is this another underfunded Labour promise?

Order. That is very wide of the substance of the question, so I think that a single sentence of eloquence from the Minister of State will probably suffice on this occasion.

The Minister promised new eyes, so will he use them to recognise that there are some 10 million diesel car drivers in the UK. Rather than joining in their demonisation by a hysterical media, will he hold a full and proper inquiry into the pros and cons of diesel, including for buses, trucks and trains, and thereby adopt a proportionate approach to what remedies might be necessary?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise from my immensely measured remarks earlier that I am not prepared to demonise anyone. I am certainly not prepared to put at risk the wellbeing of people who need to travel to work and school, and to access other opportunities—public services and so forth. Of course we need to be balanced in our approach to this.

Night Flights: London Airports

I fully recognise the effect on local communities of aircraft noise during the night, particularly the health effects associated with sleep disturbance. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are consulting on future night flight restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, including options that will reduce the amount of noise that airports are allowed to make while ensuring that we maintain the benefits to the economy of night flights on some key routes.

I hugely welcome the work on this that the Secretary of State is doing, but may I urge him to agree that the major European airports that have brought in quiet periods from 2200 hours onwards offer a very suitable example for airports such as Gatwick that are blighting the lives of many people in towns such as Edenbridge and Penshurst?

I am well aware of the pressures on my hon. Friend’s constituency and neighbouring ones due to night flights and the way in which routes currently operate around Gatwick. As he will know, part of our consultation is about exactly how we use airspace, as well as how we limit the use of night hours for aircraft. I encourage him to take part in that consultation. I do believe, however, that new technology can help us to make a significant difference.

Will the Secretary of State outline his plans to ensure that air links are strengthened for routes from Northern Ireland to the UK mainland, and that any reduction in flights, wherever they may be, will not adversely affect those links or any enhanced provision for Northern Ireland?

That is clearly a very important issue. I am pleased that yesterday my Department announced the very important decision to continue support for the flight from Derry to Stansted. We decided that it was important to make the resource available for that to continue, and I hope that people in Northern Ireland will welcome that.

11. Will my right hon. Friend, while acknowledging the growing importance of the package freight business, try to do more to ensure that prominent companies in that business replace what are often very ageing aircraft with more modern equipment, because such aircraft aggravate the noise factors in rural areas? (908848)

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I want airports to provide clear incentives to the airlines that use them to make sure that, if they use the night hours, they do so with a new generation of quiet aircraft, which can make a real difference to local people.

May I thank the Secretary of State and his Department for the public service obligation announcement about the Londonderry to London route? Will he also pass on our thanks to Lord Ahmad for the meeting that I suggested should take place in the House several weeks ago, which helped to resolve the matter? We now look forward to the effective marketing of that route so that it can be successful beyond the two-year period that the PSO covers.

I am very happy to pass on those thanks to Lord Ahmad, who has done a great job as aviation Minister. I am glad that we have reached a resolution. I hope that the route will build up sufficiently such that it will become permanently commercial and will not need public support.

15. For most people, night flights include those that arrive in the very early hours of the morning. Such flights affect my constituents in Henley, particularly when planes land in an easterly wind. To what extent will the Secretary of State take their views into consideration? (908854)

I am very sensitive to issues affecting not just people who live near the immediate approaches to airports, but those who live further away, such as my hon. Friend’s constituents. That is why I believe that the better use of air space, particularly with state-of-the-art technology rather than the methods of 40 or 50 years ago, will enable us to provide much more respite for individual communities that are currently affected by aircraft noise.

Exiting the EU: Inbound Passengers

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908844)

9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908846)

10. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908847)

The Government are considering potential impacts on the border as part of our preparations for negotiating our departure from the EU. It is too soon to say what arrangements will be needed, but we are very conscious of the interest of the transport industry in future arrangements. We remain committed to putting passengers at the heart of our transport policy.

Does taking back control of our borders mean that the 23 million inbound passengers from the EU who pass through our airports each year will be subject to full border checks? Is the Secretary of State aware of research by the Tourism Industry Council that shows that that would require the resources of UK Border Force to be increased by 200%? Will he assure us that those costs will not be met from the £350 million he promised for the NHS each week?

It is already the case that when an EU citizen arrives in this country, they have to show their passport. I do not envisage that changing in the future.

The reality is that since 2011 this Government have cut the UK Border Force budget by 15%, despite it having to cope with an 11% increase in passenger numbers over the same period. That is already having an impact on passengers. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary to make sure that neither passengers nor border security are prejudiced or compromised after Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman will know that in recent years we have significantly increased automation at airports, with e-gates for passports, which provides a good way of balancing the need for effective border controls and the ability to live within our means.

Under service level agreements between the Government and UK airports, passengers from the European economic area are expected to queue for no longer than 25 minutes while those from outside that area are expected to queue for no longer for 45 minutes. Does the Secretary of State believe that those service level agreements will need to be revised post-Brexit?

I reiterate what the Prime Minister said recently: our desire post-Brexit is not to have long queues at our borders, but to have sensible arrangements that allow people to travel to do business, and controls on migration to the United Kingdom, which I think people voted for last year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the UK leaves the EU, we will be free to open dedicated entry lanes at our airports for UK citizens and citizens of our overseas territories, thereby speeding up entry to the UK?

As my hon. Friend knows, it will be for this House and this Government to decide how best to manage our borders post-Brexit. I am sure that he would wish to ensure that, where appropriate, there is the smoothest possible passage through our borders for people we wish to welcome to our country.

At a sitting of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week, several witnesses expressed concern about the time that would be required to undertake a considerable physical reconfiguration of airports. Is the Secretary of State having conversations with the airports about the possible scenarios?

I had a meeting with airlines and airports earlier this week and we will continue to consult the industry carefully. As I have said, people who arrive from all around the world already have to show their passports when they arrive in the United Kingdom, so I do not envisage the dramatic change that some are suggesting.

21. It is of course likely that queues for inbound passengers will increase in the UK post-Brexit, which will have an effect on the UK’s competitiveness in the pan-European tourism market. What assurances and evidence can the Secretary of State provide that interdepartmental work is being done to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible and our tourism market, which is vital for jobs and the economy, is not adversely affected? (908862)

The hon. Lady makes an assumption that I simply do not accept. It is already the case that people arriving at our borders have to show their passports before entering the country. I do not envisage that changing. We certainly do not envisage a situation in which we create vast additional queues at our borders. We want a smooth, streamlined process so that people who have a right to come here can do so and be welcome.

In addition to the ongoing discussions with UK ports and airports, what discussions have taken place with the Treasury about encouraging inbound passengers by reducing VAT on tourism?

Taxation is an issue for the Budget. Many representations are made by people across this House and across society to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what he might or might not do in his Budget. I fear that the hon. Lady will have to wait for a short while to see what he has in store for us this year.

To reduce delays at UK airports, EU nationals who arrive in the UK are processed faster due to what is called a “soft border” approach, using special lanes and scanning. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government intend to continue those measures after the UK has left the EU?

We will decide the detailed arrangements as the months go by but, as I have said, it is not our intention to create queues at our borders. It will remain the case that people have to show their passports when they arrive in the United Kingdom. There is a warm welcome for people from all around the world who come to the UK as tourists, as visitors or to do business, and there will continue to be so.

Currently EU nationals can use the expensive but effective e-passport gates. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those machines will effectively become redundant? If so, do the Government intend to offer them second hand to our European neighbours at bargain prices to recoup some of the cost?

Actually, I expect more use of technology in countries around the world to move people through passport lanes. I expect such a change to accelerate, rather than decelerate.

Road Tolls

The Government have no plans to roll out tolling on existing roads. Successive Governments have taken the view that tolls are occasionally justified when private finance enables some of the most expensive road infrastructure, such as significant river crossings, to proceed. It is right that the user pays, rather than the taxpayer, because the user benefits.

My constituents who work in Liverpool will need a pay rise of £1,000 a year just to stand still when the Mersey crossing tolls are introduced. Will the Minister consider a scheme whereby those who can demonstrate that they were in permanent employment on the other side of the water on the day the tolls were announced would have either some kind of tapered introduction or a discount to reflect the additional costs?

As I said, it is not unusual for Governments to use tolls to finance large estuary crossings. I would rather be straightforward with the hon. Gentleman about this matter because he is a diligent, popular and well-respected Member of this House and, more importantly, he is one of my friends. I cannot do what he wants and I would rather say that now. We did consider whether we could widen or add to the discount scheme, but we could not make that cost-effective, so I would rather be absolutely frank with him and just say that.

19. Last week marked nine years since the Scottish National party scrapped the last of the transport tolls in Scotland. Since then, the average commuter travelling on the Forth and Tay bridges has saved around £2,000. In the same period, the average toll-paying commuter in England and Wales will have paid just under £4,000. If the Government are serious about helping what they call “just about managing” families, why will not the Secretary of State reassess his transport toll policy? (908860)

My goodness, what barefaced cheek from the SNP. It did indeed cancel the tolls, and the crossing closed because the SNP did not have enough money—[Interruption.] There was not enough money to make it work.

Cycling and Walking

The Wirral Way in my constituency is a beautiful path that is popular with cyclists and walkers for the expansive views it gives over the Dee estuary, and, of course, the fresh air it affords and the internationally renowned bird life. The Government have committed more than £15 billion over five years for their roads investment strategy, but just £316 million for their draft cycling and walking investment strategy. What more will the Government do to increase cycling and walking in the United Kingdom?

We will publish our strategy shortly, but let me correct the hon. Lady. We are spending approximately 2% of the Department’s total budget in this Parliament on cycling, which amounts to just under £1 billion out of a total budget of around £50 billion. We want to make cycling and walking the default choice for shorter journeys, and I recognise all the hon. Lady’s points about the very pleasant area that she represents.

That was an extraordinary answer from the Minister because at Transport questions six weeks ago, the Secretary of State told us that we would not have long to wait for CWIS, but it is almost a year since the consultation was launched. The Department seems to have a problem with lateness: the Bus Services Bill—late; CWIS—late; taxi regulation—who knows?; and private parking measures—more than a year late. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many people in the Department are working on CWIS and give us a firm date—or is it just the Department being late?

That question did not quite capture the hon. Gentleman’s customary generosity at the Dispatch Box. It is clearly a load of nonsense. The Government are investing more in transport than any other Government in British history. Publication of the strategy is slightly delayed because so many people have responded to the consultation, which we will go through very shortly. The strategy is near publication and I will let the hon. Gentleman know exactly when we will publish it shortly.

Rail Services: Disabled Access

13. What steps he is taking to ensure that disabled passengers have equality of access to rail services. (908852)

This is an issue worth waiting for, as I am sure the House will agree.

We are committed to improving the accessibility of the rail network. Currently 70% of train fleets’ operating passenger services meet modern accessibility standards, with the remaining vehicles due to be either upgraded or replaced by 1 January 2020.

Has the Minister had a chance to read the Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers’ “End of the Line” report, in which young disabled people identify problems with accessibility to train stations, to which the Minister referred, and the advance booking system? Will the Government commit to looking at both issues with a view to finding a solution?

Probably the most rewarding period of my time as a Member of Parliament has been spent chairing the Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers all-party group and challenging and cross-examining the industry, so I am well aware of the report. It is worth pointing out that Passenger Assist bookings are increasing by 7% year on year. The challenge for the industry is to ensure that passengers who wish to just turn up and go get the same service as those who book through Passenger Assist. More than that, the industry should ensure that when Passenger Assist does not work properly, people have adequate recourse to an ombudsman’s system to get redress. That is not currently the case.

Can the Minister confirm that the number and availability of on-board supervisors at Southern Rail is increasing? As a result, can we expect to see an improvement in services for disabled passengers?

I am certainly keeping a very careful eye on Govia Thameslink Railway both in terms of official passenger assist bookings and the unofficial turn-up-and-go service. I am very keen to see the outcome of the mystery shopping exercises being conducted by the Office of Rail and Road. I want to ensure that all passengers who travel on GTR get the service they need from the on-board supervisors.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, that six weeks ago I asked a question at Transport questions about the experience of disabled passengers. I have subsequently been contacted by lots of people who have told me their stories—awful stories that shame us all. I want to ask the Minister about the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, of which this House can be rightly proud. Does the Act apply to train operating companies? I think we would all expect the answer to be yes. If so, what are the Government doing to make sure that train operating companies allow disabled passengers to travel? I have been told that in the past disabled passengers were able to turn up at the station and travel in the guard’s van like a parcel. However unacceptable that is, we are taking that away. Do the Government accept that by encouraging train operating companies to take guards off trains, they are contributing to a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act?

I would be very concerned at any suggestion that it is appropriate, in any way shape or form, for passengers with a disability to travel in the guard’s van. Indeed, most of our rolling stock these days does not have a guard’s van to travel in. Like the hon. Lady, I have received a number of worrying complaints. I have met the Office of Rail and Road, which scrutinises the licence conditions under which all train operating companies operate. It is conducting a very careful evaluation of the thresholds for triggering licence conditions, which is why it is doing a mystery shopping exercise. Over and above that, I want to ensure that where individual passengers have an inadequate level of service, they too have a route to go down to seek redress from train operating companies.

Departmental Plans

14. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on plans for his Department to be set out in the 2017 spring Budget. (908853)

I regularly meet the Chancellor, and plans for the spring Budget have been included in those discussions. At the autumn statement, my Department was allocated over £2 billion of additional funding as part of the wider national productivity investment fund. My focus is on making the best possible use of that funding for travellers and passengers across the country.

The collapse in the value of the pound has led to steep rises in fuel costs for motorists. Will the Secretary of State impress on the Chancellor the need to avoid any rise in fuel duty in the forthcoming Budget?

I am very proud that the Government, having inherited a fuel duty escalator from the Labour party, have been very good at keeping fuel duty down over the years. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one current pressure is the rise in the oil price. I am certain that he will be confident that the Chancellor will keep this matter constantly under review, as the Government have demonstrated how important it is to be thoughtful about motorists when it comes to costs.

17. As my right hon. Friend knows, Brecon and Radnorshire is the most beautiful part of the country to visit. With the height of the tourism season fast approaching, will he push the lacklustre Welsh Labour Government to spend more money to provide improvements to link roads in mid-Wales, so that even more people can discover what my right hon. Friend already knows? (908857)

I have both visited my hon. Friend and holidayed in his constituency, so I know that it is indeed a lovely area and we encourage people from around United Kingdom to visit it on a regular basis. He will be aware of how important we regard the transport links to such areas. On the English side of the border, we will always seek to ensure the right connectivity is in place to support tourism. It is simply a shame that the Welsh Labour Government have proved so ineffective in such a wide variety of ways of working.

Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Regulation

At the request of the Department for Transport, the Law Commission conducted a comprehensive review of taxi and private hire regulation in England and Wales. The Government are currently considering all the recommendations in the report, against the background of a rapidly changing industry. We will formally respond to the Law Commission and announce our intentions once that scrutiny is completed.

That is useful. However, I share Stockton Borough Council’s concern at the fact that a taxi driver whose licence had been revoked following inappropriate conduct with young female passengers was able to go on working for the same company, driving a minibus. There are countless other examples, including examples of sex offenders doing likewise with public service vehicle licences. When will the Government actually do something, and change the law to close this loophole?

Loopholes are, of course being closed, and we are working with the Home Office on the issue, but it is critically important and has, I think, united the House before. We can have a further conversation about it outside the Chamber.

The theme continues. Last month, two taxi drivers in Southend who had been stripped of their licences by the council were found to be working in the town once again, having simply gone to another authority to obtain licences. The Conservative councillor responsible for such matters has been quoted as saying that the loophole has left the council

“impotent to protect the public.”

Does the Minister think it reasonable for the council to be left “impotent”? When will the Government actually take some action?

In fact, we are strengthening the law in this area. The Government tabled an amendment to the Bill that became the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to allow the issuing of statutory guidance to licensing authorities. That is obviously work in progress. This is a critical issue which is taken seriously by the Department and also by the Home Office, and action is clearly being taken.

Roads: East England

My hon. Friend is well aware of the investment that we have made in the A47, which affects his constituency and indeed mine, to some degree. I know that he has been a consistent and effective campaigner for improvements to the road, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to complete those improvements.

Given that nearly 30 years ago, back in 1988, the then Transport Secretary promised to dual the entire length of the A47, will the Minister give serious priority to the six schemes that are currently planned, and ensure that they start as soon as possible?

There is indeed a series of schemes for improvements along the road, particularly in the parts where it could be dualled, and, as my hon. Friend will know, Highways England is looking into the matter. However, I think that I should meet my hon. Friend on the road, with representatives of Highways England and my officials, to look at the specificity of this, because I owe him and the House that at least.

Topical Questions

As you know, Mr Speaker, we are a Government who make big decisions and are ambitious for the future of our country. This is an important week for my Department in terms of legislation. We will shortly see the Bus Services Bill back in the House of Commons to bring improvements to bus services throughout the country; earlier in the week we introduced the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which will ensure that we are at the head of the game when it comes to the new generation of vehicle technology; we have published, in draft, the Spaceflight Bill, which will also take us forward in an important area of new technology; and, as we heard earlier, this is the week in which we see the completion of the progress of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill.

The current Highways England scheme for improvements to the A64, which is a key road in my constituency, involves spending £135 million on a roundabout when what we need is a dual carriageway between York and Malton. Will the Minister agree to meet me and members of the A64 Growth Partnership to discuss how we can secure the best scheme for local residents and the best value for the taxpayer?

We are well aware of the importance of the A64 to my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, to the economy of Yorkshire. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend, as will my hon. Friend the roads Minister. We will ensure that progress in the road’s development continues as we move towards the start of the next investment period.

A report by the Office of Rail and Road on Highways England revealed that the road investment strategy is in chaos. The agency is £1 billion over budget, the cost of 31 projects has more than doubled, and there is little evidence that 60 major schemes can be delivered on time. The strategy is beginning to look more like a fantasy wish list than a deliverable plan to improve England’s road network. Will the Minister take this opportunity to try to reassure the House that it is not the comedy of errors that it appears to be, and will he guarantee to deliver it on time and on budget?

Let us be clear about the road investment programme. It is a £13 billion programme that is currently delivering improvements around the country, and is on track. It is absolutely not the disaster that the hon. Gentleman says it is. Let me also remind him—Conservative Members will remember—how ineffective 13 years of Labour government were in dealing with infrastructure challenges. We will not be taking any lessons from Labour Members.

It is about time the Government took responsibility. Labour has been warning consistently that this Government have been over promising and under delivering on investment in England’s road network. We were promised the biggest upgrade in a generation, but the ORR is now warning of the deterioration of England’s roads. The number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads is already rising, so can the Minister explain how he will guarantee road user safety and mitigate the increased safety risk caused by his Government’s failure to manage investment in England’s roads?

The Labour party neglected our roads for 13 years. The hon. Gentleman needs to travel around the country today and see the schemes that they did not do, that we are doing: dualling the A1; building the link road between the M56 and the M6; smart motorways; starting the progress, finally, on the A303 and developing the tunnel there; as well as smaller schemes around the country. Last week I was in Staffordshire, seeing an important improvement to the A50. None of that happened when the Labour party was in power. It is, frankly, bare-faced cheek to hear them saying what they are saying now. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that in the autumn statement we provided an additional £75 million to improve Britain’s most dangerous roads.

T5. I was hoping to ask some questions about spaceflight, but, sadly, when others are able to focus on the stars, some of us are stuck in the gutter just outside East Croydon waiting for Southern rail to get us in. Can the Secretary of State tell us a little bit about not just how Tim Peake is getting to the space station, which is obviously wonderful, but how some of us can, perhaps, get into London Bridge on time? (908867)

My hon. Friend is identifying the fact that the problems on the Southern rail network are not simply about the trains; they are also about the track and infrastructure. That is why we are now spending £300 million, in addition to the money I announced last September, on things like points replacement, track replacement, and replacing the small things on the infrastructure that go wrong regularly and cause frustrating delays for commuters. We are now moving ahead with that quickly, and it is very important in making sure that my hon. Friend spends less time on a train outside East Croydon and more time in this House asking about space.

T2. The Minister has told us today that he is pursuing the interests of consumers, but can he explain why we still have no timescale for UK drivers of Volkswagen cars to have them fixed and compensation paid, as has happened for US consumers, and will he tell us who in the UK Government will be taking responsibility as they face legal action from the EU Commission for their poor response to the scandal? (908864)

Having been a little unkind to the Scottish National party earlier, let me be rather more generous now: the hon. Lady is right, and this is a matter for the whole House to work together on. As I made absolutely clear earlier, Volkswagen’s behaviour has been unacceptable. It is vitally important that we move ahead with rigour, but with care, too, to make sure that consumers are properly dealt with by Volkswagen as a result of this unacceptable behaviour.

As most of East Anglia has a two-track railway at best, does my right hon. Friend accept that it is very difficult to reconcile the ambitions of the Mayor to have increased frequency services to inner London train stations while there is a growing need for faster services to Norwich, Chelmsford, Stansted airport and Cambridge, without providing extra track capacity at key points?

My right hon. Friend is certainly right to observe that on any crowded part of the network—be it in the south-east or elsewhere—we have to make choices over the stations that are served. He rightly points out that that choice will involve outer stations in the south-east versus inner London stations. I can certainly assure him that this ministerial team is more than aware of those challenges, and I am sure my officials can benefit from his wisdom on this part of the network and look forward to his meeting with them.

T3. Today marks another step towards the national folly that is High Speed 2. May I beg the Secretary of State, even at this late stage? Here is a project that is totally out of control in terms of expenditure—zooming past £60 billion—with the chief executive having resigned. Will the Secretary of State change his mind, and invest this money in fast network rail in the north of England and the NHS? (908865)

Of course, it is not an either/or. We are currently spending money on the Ordsall Chord in Manchester, which will provide a dramatic improvement to services in the Manchester area and enable more services across the Pennines. We also have the most ambitious improvement plan that the northern rail network has seen in modern times. So I am very proud of what we are doing transport-wise in the north of England. I would simply say that if we are going to meet the capacity challenges of the future, we are going to need to build a new railway line, and if we are going to build something new, why would we not build something state-of-the-art? That, I am afraid, is the view of the overwhelming majority of Members of this House?

The Minister of State will recall our meeting in December with representatives of Vivergo Fuels, where jobs are under threat. The renewable transport fuel obligation consultation has now closed. Will he enlighten us as to when he is going to make a decision and lift those threats of redundancy?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we are looking closely at these matters following the consultation. He will know that I held a meeting with all those concerned recently. We will consider the representations that we have received and make a decision as soon as possible.

T4. In the light of this morning’s release from the Government, what guarantee can the Minister give us that any savings resulting from reducing pay-outs to innocent victims of motor traffic accidents will be passed on to drivers? (908866)

We are working hard to ensure that the benefits of technology and improvements in road safety are passed on to drivers through motor insurance premiums. We are working particularly with younger drivers, and a research programme on this is under way. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with details of the work we are undertaking.

I am sure the whole House will be disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) was unable to ask about space flight, so will my right hon. Friend the Minister please set out what steps he is taking to ensure that the UK becomes the world leader in commercial space flight?

Ah, the final frontier! And who better to take us there than Britons? Our journey to the stars will be informed, and we will become the premier site for satellite launches and lead the way in commercial space flights, as we set out in our document earlier this week. Mr Speaker, I see you as Captain Kirk and me as Mr Spock. Other parts will be played by members of the cast.

We will leave that open to the imagination, but I think it is safe to say that the right hon. Gentleman will always shine brightly on the outer edges of the galaxy.

At the last Transport questions, and again today, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) has been bullish about Volkswagen executives facing criminal charges for the diesel emissions scandal in the UK. How is that going?

It is important that we work with the Germans on this. The tests were done in Germany, and they have much of the evidence that we need to proceed with all that we are doing to force Volkswagen to do the right thing. It is also important that we work with and support the private prosecution that is being brought by consumers. I am doing both, and I will bring the results of all that work back to the House in due course. The hon. Gentleman can be sure that I am absolutely determined to defend the interests of people against this soulless corporate behaviour.

The A27 Reference Group has long campaigned for investment, and my constituency of Wealden—and especially my town of Hailsham—are in desperate need of modern roads. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the A27 Reference Group to discuss how we can secure extra funding for the A27?

I can hardly wait. Coffee, tea, supper—whatever my hon. Friend wishes. I will be happy to meet her and her friends to consider these matters.

T7. Seeing the first Aventra train undergoing trials on the existing Crossrail network east of Liverpool Street earlier this month was a proud moment for the workers at Bombardier, and indeed for the whole east midlands rail supply chain. Given Bombardier’s success with sales of Aventra to the East Anglia franchise, does the Minister share my hope that we will see this train being deployed more widely across Britain? (908870)

Yes, but I actually have a slightly different ambition. I have an ambition to see that train deployed in other countries as well. I have already told the Japanese Transport Minister that, although he has good trains on the suburban network in Tokyo, our Bombardier trains from Derby are better and that he should buy some for his network.

Back on planet Earth, the recent ASLEF ballot was obviously disappointing, and the guarantee of a second person on the train clearly remains a bone of contention. Will the Secretary of State consider making it a performance indicator measure when, in exceptional circumstances, a train leaves without that second person?

I am happy to look carefully at that option. It is not my policy or the Government’s policy to remove people from trains. Ways of working will change, but we will need more people, not fewer, delivering services to customers on our railways as demand grows.

T8. Some 54% of all train delays in Scotland are due to the Tory Government’s responsibility for Network Rail, so the Secretary of State must agree with my colleagues here and in the Scottish Government that critical functions, such as capacity planning, major projects delivery, and legal and property management relating to Scotland, could and should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Are the Government sitting on their hands for purely political reasons, and not because it is in the best interests of the people of Scotland? (908872)

The thing is that I have seen the SNP make such a hash of education in Scotland that I do not trust it with the transport system. We benefit from having a national rail infrastructure operator as part of the United Kingdom.

Is the Secretary of State in a position to confirm that Bradford will be one of the stations on the northern powerhouse rail?

I imagine that there is a strong case for that. We are waiting to see what Transport for the North has to say about northern powerhouse rail, but I will be surprised if Bradford does not feature in those plans.

I support the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) in raising the issue of Vivergo Fuels and the danger that the 2% crop cap may pose to an important local business. Will the Minister meet MPs of all parties from the region to consider the matter before determining what to do?

I have had meetings about that. I know how closely the hon. Gentleman has worked with colleagues from across the House to promote the interests of his constituents and others. I will happily have more meetings. It is a challenging matter, but we must get it right. The hon. Gentleman is right that we do not want unintended consequences, so I will of course be delighted to meet.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the proposals for Crossrail 2? If there are to be any delays, will he tell us what can be done about overcrowding on our trains, such as the one I was on this morning, in the meantime?

I am waiting for Transport for London to deliver the business case for Crossrail 2. I am expecting that in the next few weeks, but we are taking action on capacity in the meantime. I will be at Waterloo station this afternoon to see one of the new generation of trains that will be operating in the coming months on the routes that serve both our constituencies. The works taking place at Waterloo this summer will allow 10-coach trains, rather than eight-coach trains, to serve our suburban networks. That is good news for passengers.

The Department for Transport is currently consulting on the airports national policy statement. Why are residents in Chiswick, Brentford, and Osterley not being told in that consultation that the approach path to runway three will be over their heads? Will he meet my constituents to explain the noise impact that the runway will have?

The important thing to understand about the consultation, and about airspace management in particular, is that more precise technology will enable us to provide a much more varied management of airspace in a way that minimises impacts on communities. Much more precise flightpaths are one of several measures that we can take to minimise those impacts. We have been pretty clear in the consultation. We are consulting all the areas that will be affected by the airport’s expansion, and we are expressing a desire for views and opinions from across the House and across the affected areas.

Points of order ordinarily come later, but if it flows from Question Time and is brief and not disputatious, we will hear it briefly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. In response to my earlier question, the Minister suggested that ending toll charges in Scotland had led to bridges in Scotland being closed. When the Forth road bridge was damaged it was repaired ahead of schedule. The Queensferry crossing is being completed on time and significantly under budget without the need for tolls. Perhaps the Minister of State would like to take this opportunity to correct his earlier comments.

I very much doubt that the Minister wishes to do so. The hon. Lady, who is well informed and I imagine has a very good vocabulary, has just feigned ignorance of the word “disputatious.” I said that her point of order should not be disputatious, but it was disputatious. I think we will leave it there. I am not knowledgeable upon the matters to which she has referred and, more importantly, I have absolutely no responsibility for them myself, which is a great source of relief.

Royal Assent

Before we come to the urgent question, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 2017

Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Act 2017.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you might indulge me. As you have now confirmed Royal Assent for the HS2 Act, I thank everyone in the House who was involved in its passage. It has been a long and arduous process, particularly for those who served on the Committees in both Houses. I thank them for their work.

The Secretary of State’s courtesy will be warmly appreciated on both sides of the House, and I thank him for what he has just said.