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.