The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Cabotage
The Government are carefully considering the potential impacts on cabotage as part of our preparations for negotiating our departure from the EU. The Department for Transport is engaging with industry on the matter. It is too soon to say what arrangements will be in place, but we are very conscious of the interest of the transport industry in future arrangements.
The open skies agreement has provided great opportunities for EU-registered airlines, including UK companies such as easyJet that fly largely unrestricted between and within member states, as well as from the EU to the US, but Brexit could change all that. Can the Secretary of State reassure industry and passengers that the UK will remain part of open skies arrangements?
As I said a moment ago, we will reach that agreement in due course. It is our intention across the sectors, whether haulage or aviation, to secure the best possible agreement for the future that will benefit those from elsewhere in the European Union who seek to do business in the UK and those from the UK who seek to do business elsewhere in the European Union.
How important is it to make arrangements for the worst-case scenario, just to show how serious our negotiating intent is?
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that the Government of course take steps to prepare for all eventualities, but we enter the negotiations with good faith and the intention to secure a deal, because we believe very strongly that that is in everybody’s interests, both here in the United Kingdom and across the European Union.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the worst-case scenario is no arrangement at all, that airlines have to schedule 12 to 18 months in advance, and that he therefore has to resolve the issue within the next six months?
I never speculate on these things, but I have had detailed discussions with the aviation industry over the past few weeks. I am well aware of the challenges it faces with regard to its business models. Of course the Government listen very carefully to it about how best to approach that important sector in the context of the negotiations.
Like the aviation sector, the maritime industry relies heavily on the EU with regard to cabotage. The shipping sector warned that Brexit may well cost UK-flagged and owned shipping companies the right to trade in EU coastal waters, which would entail a heavy financial price. What assurances will the Secretary of State give today that he will maintain the same access, and what discussions has he had with the Scottish Government about the implications?
As I said a moment ago, the Government are focused on ensuring that we have the best possible arrangements across the transport sector. We have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on a wide variety of issues. What I will say—I think this is good news for all us—is that the UK flag is increasing in size again, which we all welcome.
The Prime Minister told the House yesterday that she will “deliver certainty” to UK businesses about their position post-Brexit, but without agreement on the principles behind cabotage, trucking companies are already warning that new customer checks will gridlock roads leading to the channel ports. UK-based airlines are already warning that they may need to relocate their bases across the channel if the UK falls out of the common aviation area. Just how and when are Ministers going to deliver the certainty that those companies need now, rather than a ministerial aspiration that everything is going to be all right on the night?
Of course, this is not simply about UK companies, because the vast majority of haulage-based cabotage that takes place in the United Kingdom is undertaken by international hauliers operating in the UK, so they themselves have a vested interested in ensuring that their politicians work with us to make sure that we have the best possible arrangements for the future. That is what we will do, and I am confident that other European Governments will want to do the same.
Northern Powerhouse Rail
As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, Northern Powerhouse Rail will provide faster and more frequent rail services across the region. We have committed £60 million to developing the scheme and we are working closely with Transport for the North on potential route options and their costs and benefits. That analysis is due to arrive with us by the end of 2017.
I am sure the Minister will be aware that Bradford has launched the “Next Stop Bradford” campaign to secure a High Speed 3 station in our city centre. Will the Minister join me in supporting a Northern Powerhouse Rail station in Bradford city centre and thereby support the huge £1.3 billion boost to the northern powerhouse economy that the new station promises?
I am indeed aware of Bradford’s campaign. The leader of the council has already written to me, and I was grateful for that communication. It is important to stress that Northern Powerhouse Rail is about linking not just the major cities in the north but some of the smaller towns and cities where connectivity can be significantly improved.
Is the Minister aware of the economic study on east-west trans-Pennine connectivity that was recently published on behalf of the Lancashire and Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships? The report finds that taking steps such as reopening the Skipton to Colne rail route would boost economic prosperity across the north, but that a failure to improve connectivity from east to west would
“critically restrict the growth potential of the Pennine Corridor economy—a key driver of the Northern Powerhouse”.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct to point to the importance of trans-Pennine links, be they road or rail. I am very familiar, as I am sure he is, with the Skipton to Colne campaign and the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership. I wish it well, and I hope that it features strongly on all the local growth fund bids that come in to the Department.
Transport for the North has great potential to transform the northern economies, but what powers will it actually have? When will it become a statutory body, and will it have the same powers as Transport for London?
We continue to consider carefully what powers we want to give to Transport for the North. I very much hope that it will be placed on a statutory basis in the future, and we will make an announcement in due course. There is an awful lot we can do together with Transport for the North even now, on matters such as smart ticketing and infrastructure improvements. Transport for the North is a great success already, whatever its basis.
There can be no doubt that the Government and Transport for the North have a plethora of plans, strategies and proposals. They are all wonderful, but what mechanisms are in place to ensure that all these plans are turned into some real action?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the immense creativity that exists in the north of England in terms of recommending potential new pieces of infrastructure, but it is vital to remember that there is only a finite amount of money at any one time. That is why in the Department, in the devolved Administrations and in Transport for the North, we have very complicated and, I think, sensible ways to judge the impact of any infrastructure and calculate the benefit-cost ratio.
Switch Island, Sefton
Highways England acknowledged concerns about the safety performance of the Switch Island junction following the opening of the new Broom’s Cross Road and has since implemented interim measures to improve safety. Highways England has also identified options for a further safety improvement scheme and is discussing them with the hon. Gentleman’s local council. Those options include changes to lane markings and traffic signs and the introduction of gantries to make the road layout clearer.
I had two letters from the Minister of State last week, one describing work on the M25 and the other about Switch Island, which he describes. We all know that the Government have a Surrey-first approach to spending money, but my constituents want to know about Switch Island. It has a very serious safety problem. There are accidents nearly every week, and there was one just two days ago. Will he change the priority of this scheme? I was told it would happen next year, but it needs to happen much sooner than that. Safety must come first.
I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would be delighted to hear about our range of plans right across the country. The funding for the Switch Island project has been identified, and the various options are being worked through. Highways England has to work out what is feasible, plan the design side of it and implement the plan. The implementation is planned for the early part of 2018, but of course the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about road safety are part of the consideration.
No, no. The junction would have to be the biggest in human history if it were to stretch from Sefton in the north-west of England to Stroud in Gloucestershire, and it does not. We will accommodate the hon. Gentleman at a later stage, but for now he can resume his seat. We are grateful to the fella.
The Department continues to work with the industry to explore what further improvements can be made to simplify fares. The action plan we announced in December will drive improvement for passengers, including removing jargon, improving ticket vending machines and trialling approaches to simplifying the fares structure.
Many of my constituents travel frequently by train, but not every day and not always at peak hours, so the traditional season ticket is not appropriate for them. What new ticket products is the Minister encouraging train operating companies to introduce to meet and encourage such demand?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue of part-time season tickets. This is a matter of personal importance to me, and I encourage all train operating companies to consider whether the range of products they have on offer actually meets their customers’ needs. With regard to his own route to Milton Keynes, I am sure he will be pleased to know that the next West Midlands franchise will require that a part-time flexible season ticket be offered by the winning bidder, and I look forward to seeing what those bids contain.
Will the Government also simplify the process of compensation for customers when a train is cancelled? The school run train in the Rhondda is often cancelled, as for that matter are First Great Western trains from London to Cardiff. There is no automatic compensation on either of those lines, which other providers give. Why can we not have automatic compensation when a train is cancelled?
There is a very lengthy answer, but I am sure you would not indulge me if I gave it, Mr Speaker. I say briefly to the hon. Gentleman that we need to ensure that whenever a passenger makes a claim for compensation, they can demonstrate they were on the train in question. Automatic compensation can be achieved if they have either a season ticket or an advance purchase ticket. I would also observe that compensation arrangements on the Wales and Borders franchise are a matter for the Welsh Assembly.
One aspect of the ticketing system is that a lot of the money paid in compensation by Network Rail to the rail companies does not reach the passengers, which is quite scandalous. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that that money in fact ends up in passengers’ bank accounts?
We had a very fruitful discussion of schedule 8 payments in the Transport Committee last week, when I explained at some length why the two are not directly comparable. My hon. Friend will have heard what the chief executive of the Office of Rail and Road had to say about trying to make schedule 8 payments more transparent and more closely related to what the passengers themselves have experienced. I look forward to hearing the Select Committee’s recommendations in due course.
Night Flights: Regional Airports
The Government set noise night flight restrictions only at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. We believe that noise is usually best managed locally, so we do not monitor the number of night flights outside those three airports. At Scottish airports, the powers to set night flight restrictions and other noise controls are of course devolved, and therefore lie with Scottish Ministers.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. I acknowledge that the night flight proposals extend only to the three London airports, but given the anticipated growth in night flights generally, does that not seem rather short-sighted? We want such growth in airports because of the gross value added that that brings, but we have to recognise the rights of constituents everywhere, including those in Scotland.
This is clearly a live issue for people living around airports. The airspace modernisation programme will provide additional tools to improve things. I assume the hon. Lady is not asking me to take back powers from the Scottish Government to regulate night flights at Scotland’s airports; were she doing so, she would have to talk to her colleagues in Edinburgh.
What plans do the Government have for nationalising regional airports?
We have no plans to nationalise regional airports. In some cases, local authorities—or, indeed, local authorities in partnership with the private sector—control regional airports, and that is a matter for those local authorities and the current and past owners of those airports. We have no plans to nationalise airports.
It is important to ensure that international flights to regional airports are facilitated, but does the Minister acknowledge that it is equally important not to cause unbearable disruption to neighbourhoods? Does he believe that such a balance is being achieved under the current monitoring process?
The big difference that will come from the airspace modernisation programme is that by moving from systems that are 50 years out of date to ones that use the most modern technology, it will be possible to manage approaches to and departure paths from airports much more exactly, to provide more variation for local communities and to deliver a much smarter way of managing our aviation as a whole. That is why we are consulting on what will be a big change for this country.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has responsibility for off-street parking. I have had discussions with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and we have further meetings planned. Officials from my Department also have regular contact with their DCLG and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency counterparts to discuss issues relating to parking.
Motorists must be able to challenge unfair parking fines. When my constituents were punished by Excel Parking’s poor signage in Ebbw Vale town centre, many were forced to come to me to have any hope of a refund. Have the Government assessed how effective the appeals service POPLA—Parking on Private Land Appeals—has been in protecting motorists? Does the service live up to its name?
That is actually a DCLG matter. We are discussing the independent appeals process, and the DVLA’s role in that in supplying driver information, but also up for consideration is the vigour with which the codes of practice of the two accredited trade associations are enforced. While we recognise that there are many good parking companies, there are some whose standards of customer service do not meet expectations. We had a very good debate on this in Westminster Hall last week, and I look forward to standing up for consumers to make sure they get a better deal.
The British Parking Association represents many of the operators of private car parks, and the Minister has just referred to its code of practice for the industry. What discussions has he had with the association about improving the performance of parking operators?
I have met the British Parking Association and will be having further meetings. This is all about making sure that its independent appeals process and codes of practice work on behalf of consumers. That is our objective and that is what we will be taking forward in discussions with the DCLG.
A constituent of mine, Lisa Smith, was given a ticket for parking on the line. Another constituent of mine, Catherine Cheeseman, saw a £60 fine very quickly escalate to a £180 fine, with threats of court action, and a disabled constituent of mine whose blue badge was out of date by a week was given a fine. When are the Government going to bring forward legislation to deal with rogue private parking companies and those who rip off British motorists?
That was a point the hon. Gentleman made in the debate we had last week. I cannot tell him when the DCLG will be responding to the consultation that it has been running, but I can tell him that my Department will be working with the DVLA and the DCLG to do all we can to ensure that the consumer gets a better deal by tackling some of the bigger rogue parking companies.
Last week in Westminster Hall the Minister told me that the provision of DVLA data to private car parking companies is not subsidised, yet a House of Commons Library report and a 2015 report by the Select Committee on Transport stated that it charges £2.50 for each inquiry. It costs the DVLA £2.84 to process each request. The difference in the cost of the service last year was a shortfall of around £700,000. Will the Minister publish current figures on the cost of DVLA data to back up his claim, or is the taxpayer indeed funding the disgraceful practices of private companies such as Smart Parking in many constituencies, including my own?
The charge is £2.50 for the data. It is basically set on a cost-recovery basis. It is not possible to predict entirely accurately how many claims there will be during the financial year; some years there could be a small deficit, some years a small surplus. As I undertook to do in the debate last week, I will put all the data in a letter in the House of Commons Library.
We have heard about the Westminster Hall debate last week and we have heard complaints from Members across the country about the practices of cowboy parking operators. Extraordinarily, in that debate the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) revealed hitherto undiscovered socialist tendencies by demanding that the Government act and introduce regulation. These cowboy operators need DVLA data to fleece their victims. How many operators have been struck off for poor practice? After years of dithering on this, when are the Government going to step in to protect innocent motorists?
There were a few points there. I shall relay to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) his socialist tendencies, which will be a surprise to him. The answer on suspensions is 18, and I cannot answer for the DCLG on when it will respond to the consultation.
Rail Network: Investment
Network Rail is responsible for delivering a safe, reliable and efficient railway, and is regulated by the Office of Rail and Road. Over the longer term the company has reduced the cost of the railway significantly, and asset reliability has improved. The trend in spending on maintenance at present is broadly stable, but it is vital that the company continues to drive efficiency to ensure a good service to passengers while reducing the burden on passengers and taxpayers.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but the overhead line equipment on the east coast main line route is in urgent need of renewal, having been installed in the 1970s and ’80s. We already know that there is six-times higher spend in the south than in the north on rail and transport infrastructure, but we also seem to have an east-west divide in rail: the east coast route has received £3 billion less than that of the west. Will the Government bring forward their funding to upgrade the east coast main line infrastructure, since the passenger performance measure is now at 25.1% because of overhead line failure? In layman’s terms, my constituents’ journeys are being delayed and seriously diverted.
I predicted that the hon. Lady would raise the issue of overhead line equipment. I have already met the route managing director Rob McIntosh to discuss that specific issue. He said to me that he is looking carefully at how to best improve reliability of the overhead lines, particularly during periods of high winds and heavy storms, which often cause a problem. They are looking at sites with significant gradient and reviewing vegetation management near overhead lines, track geometry and the reliability of system tension during periods of high winds.
Despite all the investment in maintenance, passengers in south-east London who use Southeastern services desperately need investment in rolling stock to deal with the serious overcrowding on the line. Will the Minister tell the House whether he is looking favourably on the revised bid that Southeastern has put forward?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has already noticed our consultation on the future of the Southeastern franchise, which was released last week and clearly puts capacity front and centre. He is right to point out that we received a proposal from Southeastern, as a result of a personal request from me to the parent company for it to come up with better ideas. We have had it for a week now, and are looking carefully to make sure that it at all makes sense and adds up. I hope that those carriages will be hitting the network as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that we expect both those train operating companies to work more closely together, because they have a similar parent company and the rolling stock that they need. I expect a solution to this problem. We have had a proposal, and I want to see it introduced as soon as possible.
As we move towards the post-Brexit world, and as the Scottish Parliament is supposedly going to get new powers, will this Government do something that is already in their gift—devolve the power in Network Rail to Scotland, so that the Scottish Government can fully take control of investment and maintenance delivery and programming in Scotland?
I am always happy to answer this question each month in Transport questions. We looked at that issue carefully in the Smith commission; there was no consensus, and we are not taking the proposal forward.
National Road Safety Targets
The Government are not setting national targets and are not considering reinstating them. We do not believe that targets will provide further persuasion on the importance of road safety; it is already at the heart of departmental thinking.
Is the Minister aware that between September 2015 and September 2016 there was a 2% increase in deaths on roads, and a 6% increase in casualties? The rate of casualties in my constituency of Blackburn is 49% higher than the national average and, shockingly, child casualties are 102% higher than the national average rate. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of dedicated road traffic police officers in England and Wales, outside the Met, has fallen by over a quarter from 5,338 to 3,901. Does the Minister see a direct link between reduced capacity to enforce road laws and the annual increases in road deaths and serious casualties?
I have obviously considered this matter. I look at road safety data on a quarterly basis and an annual basis. On enforcement, how the police use their resource is a matter for individual police authorities and police and crime commissioners, but as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has made clear, there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels. The key is the output achieved, rather than simply measuring how many. It is important to point out that in 2015 we had the second lowest road safety data for those killed or seriously injured in British road history. That is positive and we are working to make our roads even safer.
Most certainly. I am acutely aware of the impact of cycling infrastructure on road safety. It is clearly part of our consideration. We hoped to launch our cycling and walking investment strategy last week, but for very obvious reasons there was a change to the timetable of Government announcements.
Following on from that question, what plans does the Minister have to address the issue of cyclists ignoring not only traffic lights but pedestrian crossings? This has now become a major problem in central London.
That comes down to activity undertaken to enforce the rules and to educating cyclists about the importance of following road safety directions. I am aware of cyclists who go through red lights. It is unsafe. It is part of our THINK! education campaign to help cyclists to know what is good behaviour on our roads.
Two people died in November on the A52 in Bramcote, a suburban part of my constituency. There was another accident just a few weeks ago. In both of those cases, and after many complaints from residents for many years, there is clearly a real problem with people racing at very high speeds. Would the Minister be so good as to meet my constituent Tony Smith, who organised a petition, presented in this place only last month, of 1,600 people calling on Highways England to introduce speed regulation measures? We would be very grateful for that meeting in order to advance the campaign.
I meet local road safety campaigners on a regular basis, in particular families who have lost loved ones in incidents on our roads. They are difficult meetings, but I would of course be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend and her constituent.
National road safety targets were introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1980 at a time when deaths and serious injuries on our roads were at horrendous levels. The numbers fell consistently until 2011, when the coalition Government abolished targets almost at the same time as they abolished the grant for speed cameras. Surprisingly, the numbers have started to increase. I accept that we are nowhere near the levels of 1980, but if it is your loved one or your child, that is matterless. The last time the Minister was asked about this he said that he was open to any useful ideas on how to turn the trend, so is it not time to accept that road safety targets decrease the numbers of deaths and injuries on our roads? They worked, and at the moment nothing the Government seem to be doing is reversing that trend.
I simply do not accept that policymaking is as simple as setting targets. If we look at all the action the Government are undertaking—the changes to the statutory option on drink driving, drug driving legislation, the THINK! campaign, the increase in penalties in relation to mobile phone use and so on—we see that our efforts to take road safety further are significant. If policymaking was as simple as setting targets, Gordon Brown would have left us a very well-run Government and nobody pretends he did that.
Heathrow: Noise Monitoring
Noise is measured around Heathrow airport by a set of fixed and mobile monitors. To ensure effective monitoring, the Government have instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to validate the data from the monitors, and reports based on that information are published annually.
Planes are currently flying at too low an altitude, which is causing excessive noise pollution over homes and schools in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how the new noise commission will be able to prevent medically unsafe noise levels from aircraft flying over residential areas?
I am well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents and others, particularly about aircraft such as the A380 as it comes in on the flightpath into Heathrow airport. Obviously we need to get this right, and I hope that the airspace modernisation programme will help in that regard. We are pressing ahead with the establishment of an independent commission on civil aviation noise, and consulting on the powers that it should have. My hon. Friend has had a number of sensible thoughts about how we might address the problem, and I should be happy to meet her to discuss it.
Thousands of my constituents will live under an extremely loud noise environment if and when runway 3 goes ahead, but they do not at present, and I welcome the formation of the new community campaign group Brentford and Hounslow Stop Heathrow Expansion. Will the Government insist that if runway 3 goes ahead, Heathrow must match Gatwick’s offer to pay all council tax payers within the 57 dBA contour £1,000 per annum in compensation?
I do not think that it is a question of comparison between airports. What we have at Heathrow is a world-beating package of compensation for those affected, combined with a rapid change in aircraft technology which means that the new generation of aircraft coming on stream are much quieter than any we have seen before. Alongside that are our plans for the modernisation of airspace. We also need to ensure that the angles of approach to Heathrow are the best possible, in order to minimise the impact on local residents. I believe that, overall, we are taking the right approach to what I know is a difficult issue for the hon. Lady’s constituents and others. We have tried to get the balance right.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of reducing congestion and noise pollution around Heathrow would be better use of regional airports, and does he agree that a reduction in air passenger duty for regional airports would be a good incentive?
I am a strong supporter of our regional airports. There are some great success stories, including what I suspect is my hon. Friend’s pet regional local airport, Birmingham: it has been enormously successful in recent years. However, I fear that my hon. Friend will have to make representations about air passenger duty to the Chancellor during Treasury questions.
Can the Secretary of State explain why the consultation on the draft national policy statement promoted improved certainty of respite from aircraft noise from an expanded Heathrow, but failed to mention that that respite would be reduced from eight hours a day to just six, or even four?
We have tried to set out the impact of the change in broad terms. It is certainly the case that in comparison with Gatwick and its fully mixed-mode operation, Heathrow, across three runways, is able to offer respite in a way that was not assumed by the Airports Commission in its consideration of both proposals. The impact on neighbouring communities is one factor among many that the commission considered, as did the Government.
Road Collision Investigation Unit
No assessment has been made of the merits of establishing a road collision investigation unit, as there are well-established collision investigation units in the police service, and effective ways of reporting conclusions and outcomes. The Department does, however, directly fund a programme of detailed investigation under the road accident in-depth study, in conjunction with police forces, coroners and several hospitals.
The Minister knows of the interest that I take in this matter, as chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety and the international council for road safety research. There is no doubt that we need an investigation unit to deal with sea, air and rail transport. All the transport safety interests across the board are in favour of the establishment of such a unit. We do not think that it would be costly, and it would be effective. Will the Minister think again?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s long-established campaigning interest in road safety, and I would just refer back to the earlier answer: we have well-established collision investigation units within the police service, so I see no point in duplication.
Collisions have a range of causes, but one of them is undoubtedly the poor condition of our local roads. The Minister will be aware of the ALARM—annual local authority road maintenance—survey published this week showing that one in six local roads will not be fit for purpose in five years’ time, and that the number of potholes filled per authority fell by 19% last year. I anticipate that he will tell me how just much money is being poured into those potholes, but does he accept that short-term fixes are no substitute for proper resurfacing, which for most roads currently happens just once every 55 years?
The condition of the local roads is the responsibility of the local highways authorities, and we are very keen to support them in their work. I fully recognise that there is a backlog and have seen various projections of how much that might cost to fill, which is why we have allocated a record amount of money to support local highways authorities. The sum stands at over £6 billion during this Parliament, including £250 million specifically to help fix potholes.
The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion right across the country. In Oxfordshire this includes investing £35 million for public transport improvements on the A40 and a £9.5 million budget for Didcot station car park expansion, as well as investing some £19.4 million in the next financial year to reduce congestion at key locations across the county.
Congestion on the A40 between Witney and Oxford causes daily misery for commuters and restricts the economic growth of this vital dynamic area. It is essential that a complete solution to this problem is found. The £35 million for the public transport solution is welcome, but what steps will the Government take to provide funding for a complete solution to the congestion on that busy road?
As ever, my hon. Friend speaks up vigorously on behalf of his constituency. We recognise the importance of that local road to the economic growth of the area, which is why we are supporting the A40 science transit scheme, with £35 million of local growth funding for enhancements to the A40 corridor. I encourage local partners to continue to work together to explore further options to address the issues along that stretch of road. I would of course be happy to discuss any of the options with my hon. Friend.
I am afraid Newcastle and Islwyn are too far away. Those Members will have to try to come in on another question; the M40 is not that big.
North Wales-England Transport Links
The Government are investing in major signalling renewals on the north Wales line to improve reliability and, after years of waiting, in the Halton curve. This will improve rail connectivity between north Wales, west Cheshire and the Liverpool city region, including Liverpool John Lennon airport. Our recently announced national productivity investment fund will also support local authority investment on the A483 corridor between Chester and Wrexham.
I am grateful for that answer, and the Minister knows that I support all of those initiatives, but will he consider the letter sent to him by Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament on behalf of the Mersey Dee Alliance and Cheshire East council asking him to look at the developments of High Speed 2 and the hub at Crewe? Building on that progress will help connectivity on behalf of all of us in the region.
I know all about the letter, and indeed had a meeting to discuss the issue yesterday. I am seized of the necessity to make sure that north Wales does not miss out in the investment that we are putting into our rail network. We will bring forward our thoughts in due course, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is very much top of mind in the Department.
Mid Wales has difficulty with transport links to both north and south Wales, and indeed to England—although I can assure everyone that it is worth the difficulty of the journey in getting to mid Wales. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that road links to mid Wales are improved?
We will do our bit on the English side of the border—we are spending more money than ever on the road network in England—but I fear that it is to Cardiff that my hon. Friend will have to look for the improvements that will provide that final link into his constituency. His is, of course, a beautiful part of the country, and all of us would want to be able to visit it.
The Secretary of State rightly mentioned the Halton curve, for which I have campaigned for many years. It opens up all sorts of possibilities, not least in respect of our connectivity with north Wales. Will he look at the importance of reopening Ditton station in Halton and, when the new city region mayor is elected, talk to them about how that can be brought about much more quickly?
I had a meeting yesterday with the man who I hope will be the next city region mayor, the Conservative candidate Tony Caldeira, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he has ambitious plans to improve the transport infrastructure in and around the Merseyside region.
East Midlands Rail Franchise
On 1 March this year, the Department announced the three companies that are shortlisted to bid for the next east midlands franchise. A public consultation will be held in due course, followed by the publication of the invitation to tender and the stakeholder briefing document.
I welcome that answer. In the context of my hon. Friend’s work on the franchise, can he reassure me and my constituents that when the new franchise is awarded we will see new, modern rolling stock capable of operating on diesel and electric lines on that route, as well as later services and Sunday services operating on the popular local Ivanhoe line?
My hon. Friend is quite right to campaign on behalf of the Ivanhoe line and of his constituents. I hope that all Members of Parliament across the east midlands will contribute to the consultation and make it clear what they want to see in the new franchise. We look forward to reading their responses to the consultation.
May I press the Minister again on that point? When the franchise is let, the HSTs are going to be phased out, having reached the end of their very long lives, and will need to be replaced. Will they be replaced with hybrid trains that will not have to be changed again when the midland main line is eventually electrified?
The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me for making a somewhat elliptical response. We are continuing to look at the options for rolling stock on that route, working closely with the current franchisee and other bidders for the franchise. We hope to make an announcement in due course.
Kettering Rail Service
As my hon. Friend has just heard, the train timetable options for the new east midlands franchise are still under development. Once it is complete and we have reviewed the responses to the public consultation, we will have a much better idea of what we want the bidders to deliver against. This will clearly include significant improvements, where possible to services to and from Kettering.
This relates to the junction between the suburban service out of St Pancras to Corby and the midland main line service from St Pancras to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. The connectivity from Kettering northward was halved by the last Labour Government to one train per hour. Will the Minister make it one of his top priorities to reinstate the half-hourly service northward?
My hon. Friend and I have already discussed at some length the opportunities to improve services from Kettering, and everyone in the House knows what a doughty campaigner he is for his constituency. I am sure that I will be reminded time and again of these issues. A sixth path is being created on the route, and I look forward to seeing how the consultation recommends that it be best deployed. I am sure that Kettering will feature heavily in those submissions.
Bus Passenger Satisfaction
The independent transport user watchdog, Transport Focus, produces an annual bus passenger satisfaction survey, and the autumn 2016 report was published last week. Overall bus passenger survey results scored 87%, up from 86% in the previous year.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but the Manchester Evening News recently ran its own survey of Greater Manchester residents, and in response to being asked which part of the transport network people most wanted to see improved, more than one in five identified poor bus services. Their complaints covered a whole range of issues including pricing, difficulty in making long journeys, the lack of night buses and general unreliability. What reassurance can the Minister give to Greater Manchester bus users that their complaints are being heard?
I would draw their attention to the Government’s commitment to financing the bus service operators grant during the course of this Parliament, and to the Bus Services Bill, which received its Third Reading on Monday.
Neither I nor the Minister responsible for this issue, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), has had any contact with the Scottish Government so far about the devolution of ship-to-ship transfers. However, the Minister of State wrote to Scottish Ministers earlier this month, acknowledging that the permitting arrangements for granting oil transfer licences for ship-to-ship transfers needed improvement. Our intention is to review the process around the application and assessment of licences in consultation with the devolved Administrations later this year.
I thank the Minister for that positive response. SNP colleagues, the Scottish Government and local communities are unconvinced by the safety of ship-to-ship oil transfers, particularly in the Cromarty firth, which is a European special protection area for bottlenose dolphins. I am pleased that the Minister is prepared to take up the case with Scottish Ministers, and I wonder whether he would consider devolving powers, which I think is appropriate, so that such decisions could be taken in Scotland.
We will certainly be consulting, as I just said. I understand that the original application from the Cromarty Firth port authority was not suitable and that it is looking to make a further application. If one is submitted, there will be a full consultation exercise, and the Scottish Government will be formally consulted.
Litter Removal: Highways England
Litter collection is an important part of Highways England’s duties. The Department recently asked Highways England to identify the worst spots on the network, and they were targeted for cleaning in early March. Highways England is responsible for cleaning litter only on motorways and the strategic road network—about 2.5% of the total road network—but it removes 200,000 sacks of litter from the roadside every year.
Over 2,000 people responded to my recent rural residents survey in Faversham and Mid Kent, and one of the most common concerns was litter, especially on the A2 and the M2. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that Highways England fulfils its statutory duty to keep Kent’s roads clean?
This issue is raised constantly by Ministers with Highways England. It has a duty to adhere to the code of practice on litter and refuse, which is part of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and we monitor that very carefully. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that 200 bags of litter were collected in March at the Marling Cross lorry park on the A2.
European Transport and Safety Organisations
I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of Exiting the European Union on a regular basis to discuss the UK’s exit. Ministers and officials in both Departments are working closely together to analyse the impact on the aviation industry after we leave the EU. We are carefully considering the implications for the UK’s future participation in the EASA, the Single European Sky initiative and the European common aviation area.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. The Prime Minister flippantly said that we will be leaving EU institutions, but not Europe, as if that was a good thing. EASA plays a crucial role in excluding from European airspace any aircraft or company that has poor safety records, safeguarding the security and wellbeing of people right across the continent. Now that the negotiations are under way, the Government have a duty to tell passengers in the aviation sector whether the UK will be a participant, or are they happy to compromise our economy and passenger wellbeing to achieve their Little Britain hard Brexit?
I must say to the hon. Lady, in the friendliest possible spirit, that there is no danger of her suffering ill health as a result of excessive hurry.
That may be, Mr Speaker, but the hon. Lady does speak an awful lot of nonsense. We are not pursuing a Little Britain strategy; we are looking to build our role in the world, and aviation will be an important part of that, which is why we are seeking to expand Heathrow airport—subject to the consultation happening at the moment. We will of course bring forward our proposals in due course to this House and to this country. Many of these international bodies go far beyond the European Union, and we will carry on playing a role in many international bodies that go far beyond the European Union.
I call David Lammy. He is not here.
Last year I set out a bold vision for a railway that puts passengers at the heart of everything it does. We have already heard today about our plans to deliver more capacity for commuters on Southeastern trains. Longer trains on the Southeastern network are a priority for this Government and an absolute priority for the new franchise. On Monday, I announced news for commuters on the south-western routes, with the new franchise announcement. With the experience of MTR, which delivers 99.9% reliability on the Hong Kong metro, the new franchisee will oversee a £1.2 billion investment, delivering more trains, faster journeys and more space. That will bring about a transformation for those passengers, which we are also looking to do for passengers around Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff in addition to those around London.
The recently published “Kent Corridors to M25 Route Strategy” identifies Brenley Corner in my constituency as a congestion and accident hotspot. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department is considering significant investment in that junction?
We are in the process of digesting the route strategies provided by Highways England. The strategies set a blueprint for the projects we will need to deliver in the future to ease those points of congestion. I cannot at this early stage give a Government commitment to individual projects, but we are looking carefully at that study and others. We are seized of the need to make sure that we address such problems.
Three years ago the Law Commission recommended wholesale reform of taxi and private hire services, but the Government have not responded. Uber proliferates, but it pays no VAT and the country loses a fortune in avoided corporation tax. The former London Mayor was sat on when he tried to bring Uber to heel, despite the denials of his Bullingdon club friends. A No. 10 adviser, lo and behold, now runs Uber. Is it not time that we saw some urgent action from the Secretary of State on the taxi and private hire industry and, while he is at it, on the way in which his party runs its chumocracy?
Given the current state of the Labour party, I am not sure I would go down that road if I were the hon. Gentleman. We are currently looking at what is the best approach to the future regulation and structure of our taxi and private hire services. I see it as a particular priority to ensure public safety. We and local authorities are doing that work, and we want to deliver the right framework for it. Our job is to ensure that we have the right choice for consumers and the right options in our marketplace, but we also want to protect those parts of our industry, such as London black cabs, that are a national institution and that none of us would wish to see disappear. This is about a measured approach. Of course, some of the most evocative issues lie in the hands of the London Mayor and not of this Government.
The Uber scandal is not the only issue of concern right at the heart of this Tory Government, given their perpetual revolving-door employment strategy. While we await a formal response on how a senior Department for Transport civil servant awarded a rail franchise while part-owning the consultancy advising the successful bidder, yesterday it was announced that HS2 had dropped the £170 million engineering contract with CH2M. The chief executive officer of HS2, now a full-time appointment, came from CH2M and, more than that, HS2’s former chief of staff worked on the engineering company’s bid for the project. Now the director general of HS2 has resigned this very morning. I do not agree with the TaxPayers Alliance when it says that it does not pass “the smell test,” because in fact it stinks to high heaven. Will the Secretary of State order an immediate independent inquiry into these goings on? His silence on the issue speaks volumes.
Let us be clear about this. First, on the appointment to the chief executive role of HS2, I want the best person for that job, and we will always seek to recruit the best person for that job. I will also ensure that if there are any questions about the recruitment process, they are addressed and investigated carefully by the civil service to reassure me that we can make an appointment without any concern. That we did, and I have absolute confidence in both that recruitment process and in that new chief executive. Yesterday’s announcement that CH2M HILL has decided to withdraw from the contract after an issue—not a massive one—emerged in the contracting process is the right one. I am grateful to the company for doing that, as it is the right thing to do. I want to make sure that Government contracting processes recruit the right expertise, corporate or individual, but are also robust in making sure that, if things are not done right, it is addressed. That is what has happened.
I know about my hon. Friend’s interest in that potential scheme. Sir John is an important adviser to the Government in a number of different roles, and I respect and value his expertise. There is a substantial amount of private finance out there looking for projects to develop, and we always welcome serious proposals to improve our infrastructure with the support of private finance.
I have told the board of Transport for the North that I am happy that that should happen, and it will happen very shortly.
My hon. Friend rightly identifies that we need to improve the service on the Great Western main line, particularly to Cardiff, Swansea and beyond. We are looking at all the options for how we can deliver passenger benefits. A re-franchising process will commence shortly and I look forward to hearing all the ideas that hon. Members on both sides of the House have.
I am well aware of this issue, and of course this is a consultation on a draft national policy statement. The ultimate decisions about that plant will be a matter for both its owners and Heathrow airport, and both will have to be satisfied that they are putting appropriate arrangements in place in order for things to go ahead. I take the right hon. Lady’s comments today as a representation to that consultation.
I can only vouch for the anticipation in the Maynard household about this coming Sunday, but I am also glad to hear that Ilkeston is looking forward to utilising its new train services. I am heartened by the number of Members on both sides of the House who have approached me regarding potential new stations on their local rail network. This is a very welcome change from the era when the network was contracting, with people now seeing rail stations as opportunities for growth, both economically and in terms of population. I really welcome that progress.
As my right hon. Friend is not here, I am very happy to put dates in his diary for him, and I am sure that such a meeting will be achievable.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State may well be trapped in the congestion around Newark on the A1 on his way back home to Lincolnshire. As you will have seen, Mr Speaker, according to the Office for National Statistics my constituents are the happiest of any in the country, but they are kept awake at night by the spate of terrible accidents on the A1 between Grantham and Retford. In the Minister of State’s absence, will the Secretary of State commission a full review of safety along the A1, particularly at Newark and through this dangerous stretch between Grantham and Retford?
I can tell the House that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) wrote to me to explain that he would be absent today, and I detected in his letter a very considerable sense of regret that he would be outside this country rather than in this Chamber. Personally, I have found it difficult, but we have done our best to manage without him today, and we look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s return at a subsequent session.
My right hon. Friend is actually in China, rather than delayed around Newark. I am happy to look into the issues raised by my hon. Friend.
Anyone who has ever driven between the great cities of Sheffield and Manchester will have undoubtedly been caught in congestion in the Longdendale area of my constituency. The first public inquiry into a solution took place in 1967, and in the seven years I have been the MP for the area I have raised the matter repeatedly, so I am pleased that the consultation on a bypass route is now open as part of the trans-Pennine upgrade programme. Will the Minister join my constituents in getting involved and getting the route sorted?
I have met the hon. Gentleman and been to see the particular problems in his area, and I agree that they are acute. I urge everybody to participate in the consultation. Let us try to get the problem finally solved.
With billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at stake, after last night’s announcement on HS2, confidence in the transparency and decision-making processes in HS2 Ltd and CH2M have been called seriously into question. First, will the Secretary of State tell us whether CH2M jumped, or was it pushed? For a company to give up a £170 million contract is enormous news. Secondly, will he give the House an undertaking that no further contracts will be issued to other bidders—such as Bechtel or Mace—further down the line before there has been a full inquiry into the decision-making processes in HS2 Ltd and CH2M?
I do not normally like to differ with my right hon. Friend, but I am very clear on this: CH2M has done the right thing in taking a step back, having identified a problem that would have called into question whether it could and should operate the contract. It was not some massive misdemeanour, but an error in process that has caused CH2M to take a step back. It is now for the board of HS2 Ltd and its independent directors to make sure that they do the right thing in taking the contract forward. From the country’s point of view, it is important that we get on with the job. We will have all the necessary governance in place as we go through the process of replacing CH2M, but we do need to get on with the job.
My constituents have endured all the disruption and chaos while the Thameslink work is going on at London Bridge, and they did so in the expectation that they were going to get an improved service. They are now incandescent with rage, because the new franchise proposes cutting services to Charing Cross and Victoria and reducing off-peak services. This is unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the matter?
The whole point is that it is a consultation. We have not taken any decisions, and we do not even have an intent. It is about asking people, “There are ways of running this railway that could potentially make it more reliable. What do you think?” If the answer is, “We don’t want you to do that,” we will listen. My focus for the hon. Gentleman’s local passengers and for those local railways is to deliver more capacity, the best possible reliability and, in particular, longer trains. All those things are firmly on our agenda.
The CH2M issue is a bigger problem for my constituents. It is welcome that instead of the proposed viaducts in my area there is now going to be a tunnel, but other changes and mitigation are still required. My constituents want to know whether the CH2M issue delays any potential changes or decisions that will affect their lives.
No, it does not.
On Saturday, I am going to speak at the Newcastle Cycling Campaign annual general meeting. What can I tell the people there about what the Government are doing to bring the benefits of cycling to everyone, when studies show that the average cyclist is male, white, middle class, under-40 and in Lycra?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that cycling needs to broaden its range. Part of the plan we will announce shortly will be to help local authorities to set up their own local cycling and walking investment plans, which will include broadening the range of potential cyclists.
Last Friday, the A34 between Stafford and Stoke was at gridlock for several hours because of the closure of the M6, disrupting not only my constituents’ journeys but the entire north-south commerce. What plans do the Government have to ensure that, when HS2 comes through Staffordshire and cuts across all the main arterial routes, we do not have repeats of this kind of congestion?
The planning for the construction phase of HS2 is obviously a critical part of delivering this project. As a part of that, there is local engagement between HS2, Highways England and the local highways authorities. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the potential risk, but all the conversations and the collaborations are taking place to make sure that that does not happen.
Last November, the rail Minister sat in a meeting with 15 colleagues, including three Cabinet Ministers, and promised additional carriages for the Southeastern network. This cannot be kicked into the long grass or delayed until the new franchise. It needs to happen now. When, and how many?
This is not being delayed until the new franchise. It will happen very soon. As I explained in my answer to an earlier question, we have received a proposal for new carriages from Southeastern. We have only had it a week and we are looking at it now. We want things to happen as soon as possible.
The long-promised extension of the Metropolitan line from Croxley Green is running into financial difficulties. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the project, and what discussions have taken place with the Mayor of London and Transport for London?
The basis of this project was that Hertfordshire County Council and the Department for Transport provided money to TfL for the extension work. The agreement was that TfL would meet any costs above the agreed price, and would retain any funds below the agreed price. That agreement was reached a couple of years ago. Quite a chunk of money has already been spent, including on the acquisition of a train. It is for the Mayor to complete this project, and I have asked him for his plans to do so.
Is the Secretary of State aware that he cannot easily brush off what has happened with that fiasco at HS2 and the resignation? Will he take into account the fact that now is the time—very opportune—to get rid of that stupid idea of having two HS2 lines running through the county of Derbyshire? The one called the Newton spur will lose us 1,000 jobs in the area and knock down 32 houses. It is called the “dawdle through Derbyshire”. Get rid of it.
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s questions, but this is not a dawdle through Derbyshire. What we are looking at here is a consultation on how we get the routes through South Yorkshire. It is fair to say that there is no consensus on this matter, and I have met him and colleagues from South Yorkshire. We will be responding to that consultation later this year. The point is how we maximise the opportunities for South Yorkshire and the east midlands from HS2. These opportunities will be significant. He should get behind the project and work with us to mitigate the impact, but recognise also the positive economic impact that HS2 will have on our country.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister, but we are running late. I want to hear two more questions.
Well, the people of Broxtowe are looking forward to HS2 coming to Toton Sidings, where we will have the east midlands hub, which will bring considerable benefit. May I thank the Minister for his visit to Trowell, for his interest and for the conversations with the Secretary of State, because in Trowell there is opposition, not necessarily to the route—although there is some concern—but to a 60 foot viaduct that will deliver HS2? Will the Minister be so good as to confirm that he will do everything that he can to ensure that all options are considered to deliver HS2 through the east midlands and through the village of Trowell?
I much enjoyed my visit to Toton and Trowell to see the economic impact that HS2 will have there, to talk to businesses and to look at the implications for local communities. I will of course be very happy to take every action we can to ensure that this works for everybody, including the mitigation that my right hon. Friend suggests. We want to minimise the impact and maximise the benefits from this exciting project.
Back in a 2015 debate, the Under-Secretary said that he recognised that the 40-year rolling stock was coming to the end of its life and that he was looking towards having a new fleet. This was in relation to our Tyne and Wear metro. As we are now two years on, can he say when he is going to invest in our metro?
We are in discussion with Nexus at the moment on how we go about this. I have met representatives from the company and we are hoping to make it happen very soon.