Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 632: debated on Thursday 30 November 2017

In the case of the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), I am sure that we have not had too much of a good thing, Mr Speaker. You will be delighted to know that it is not only the House that has heard extensively from him this week but 175 Ministers from around the world. We have been hosting the biennial meeting of the International Maritime Organisation general assembly in London. The IMO is the specialist United Nations organisation responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships. We host the IMO here in London. I want to thank everyone who has been involved in organising that event and to extend a warm welcome on behalf of the United Kingdom Government to all the Ministers and other delegates who have attended the convention this week.

I am sure that all those Ministers from around the world feel both informed and improved as a result of their interaction with the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

I warmly welcome last week’s announcement of an £8 million road safety fund for the areas of Warwickshire affected by HS2. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Trinity Road-Overwoods Road junction in my constituency, which has seen numerous fatalities and serious accidents, would be an excellent candidate for some of that funding, given that the proposed solution is now unlikely to go ahead owing to the development of HS2?

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is responsible for HS2, was able to visit that junction last week with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). I am also pleased that Warwickshire County Council has been such a beneficiary of the available funding. While it will be for the council to decide what schemes to support, I hope that it will focus on where it can make the biggest difference to safety.

This Government are presiding over a sustained fall in the number of bus journeys taken. Just this week, Kent County Council outlined plans to axe more than 70 bus routes in a bid to save £4 million. Does the Secretary of State accept that bus passenger numbers will continue to fall until his Government halt the cuts to local authorities?

We want bus passenger numbers to rise, and the measures in the Bus Services Act 2017, which passed through the House a few months ago, will provide an environment in which bus ridership can recover and improve and will lead to more and better services around the country.

T5. What assurances can Ministers give to help taxi drivers who buy the new electric taxi before the vehicle excise duty change comes into force? (902684)

My hon. Friend is right that that matters to taxi drivers. A legal change is required to allow the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to identify electric taxis as separate from cars and vans in order to apply the exemption. I wrote to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury—I emphasise for the record that he is my former PPS—on 25 October, and I am meeting him on 12 December to discuss exactly the issue my hon. Friend raises.

T2. Train services in Manchester and the north are poor, but prices keep going up and up. A constituent sent me a photo showing delays on all but one of 18 trains between 8 am and 9 am from Levenshulme in my constituency. Appallingly, the stations does not have disabled access either. Will the Minister take steps to improve the situation so that my constituents can get to work? (902681)

We are always keen to work with our Labour friends with whom we co-manage Rail North and Transport for the North. I recognise the importance of step-free access in Greater Manchester, and I will look at the station to which the hon. Gentleman refers to see what we can do.

T6. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement yesterday, which will be broadly welcomed? I much admire his gumption in sticking to his guns on an important matter. Does he agree that the service for my constituents on the East Grinstead line continues to fall well short of satisfactory? Is he aware that that is often due to the fact that train crew do not turn up? Does he agree that that is a failure of leadership and management and will he tell the company to smarten itself up? (902685)

I will happily do that. Staffing issues are always disappointing, but the other area of challenge on the Southern network has been the condition of the infrastructure. We will in the coming months be taking some major steps with some major projects to start to improve the quality of that infrastructure, including spending the £300 million we have already committed, with more to follow in the next control period.

T3. Transport for London transformed the dilapidated Silverlink north London line, changing it from two-car trains twice an hour to the renewed London Overground with five-car trains every 10 minutes. My constituents want to know when the delays at the decrepit Acton Main Line and West Ealing stations will finish and when TfL Crossrail will take over. First Group seems to have forgotten how to run small stations. (902682)

Crossrail is of course a massive investment in transport in London. It is not a TfL project; it is a joint project between my Department and TfL that is designed to improve the lot of passengers both inside and outside London. It will make a real difference to the south-east.

T7. The central forecast of the Office for National Statistics is that the population will hit 70 million by 2029—just 12 years’ time—which is up by 5 million from today and represents an increase of 8%. What is the Department’s estimate of growth in the number of vehicles over that same 12-year period? Given that our superb roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), is enthusiastic about the design of our road network, how will his enthusiasm help to meet that challenge? (902686)

There are three things I can say immediately: the record road investment programme will help; the development of vehicle technology will change the use of cars—we talk about autonomous vehicles in many ways, but one effect they may have is to change our sense of car ownership by encouraging more sharing of cars; and, as my hon. Friend rightly says, we need to think about transport infrastructure in connection with other development, such as economic development, housing development, et cetera. The question he asks is so profound that it cannot be answered in a few moments here, so I invite him to the Department to sit down with officials and have a serious discussion about this important matter.

T4. In July a three-year-old boy experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction on a plane when fellow passengers started eating the nuts they had been served. Thankfully he survived, but I know from personal experience how terrifying it is to go into anaphylactic shock, and the last place a person would want that to happen is 30,000 feet in the air when they are hours from formal medical attention. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and a group of campaigners to explore solutions that would enable the 2% of the population who have a nut allergy to fly with confidence? (902683)

I understand why this is such a serious issue, and I would be delighted to extend an invitation to the hon. Lady to come to the Department to meet Ministers and officials to talk about what is clearly an important matter.

T9. Along with many other Londoners, my constituents are concerned about the number of promises the Mayor appears to be breaking on transport infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend confirm exactly what the Mayor now needs to do to progress Crossrail 2 so it does not become another one of his broken promises? (902688)

We are now conducting the kind of review of the financing of Crossrail 2 that we conducted on Crossrail 1—the Montague report. I am keen to see the project progress in lock step and parallel with northern powerhouse rail, and I make it clear that they are both important projects. I also make it clear that the London contribution cannot be an IOU paid for by the Government. We have to make sure that we have a robust, absolutely reliable funding package so this project can go ahead in good shape.

T8. Bradford and the whole Yorkshire region have been locked in a dispute with the Department for Communities and Local Government over Yorkshire devolution, meaning that we will have to compete for limited funding from the transforming cities fund, rather than being entitled to it like areas with elected Mayors, because of DCLG’s stubbornness. Will the Minister therefore speak to colleagues in DCLG to help to break this deadlock and unlock the transport funding the region desperately needs? (902687)

I am obviously well aware of that issue. It is worth remembering that we have just allocated £175 million to Leeds, which will be spent on a variety of projects around the city, but I am also aware that funding needs to flow to West Yorkshire. I will personally make sure that, as we allocate the funding, West Yorkshire is not left out.

Will the Secretary of State welcome the fourth season of the Formula E series? The series starts in Hong Kong this Sunday and will be broadcast on Channel 5, and it aims to advance electric vehicle technology. With races taking place in 11 cities such as Paris and New York, will he look at attracting future races to the UK to complement our rapidly increasing electric vehicle technology?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Motor racing is a great success story for this country, and it is an important part of our economy. People often do not understand the importance of the industry, which is particularly centred on Silverstone in Northamptonshire, where many of the leading teams are based. The technologies that come from small businesses and suppliers change the automotive world, not just in motor racing but across the piece. I am delighted to see the success of Formula E, and I would like to see more Formula E and more development of technologies for it in the UK. I am happy to extend the Government’s support to the motor racing industry.

T10. South Western Railway plans to reduce the number of trains going through Queenstown Road station in my constituency from seven trains an hour to just four. Given the increased number of residents and commuters, and given that the station is on one of the busiest lines, will the Secretary of State commit to looking again at this ill-thought-out policy? (902689)

I am grateful for the question. As the hon. Lady will know, we are having a consultation at the moment, through South Western Railway, listening carefully to what passengers want. We take all submissions seriously, so we will listen carefully to what passengers say in this consultation and respond in due course. I have heard her point.

Will the Secretary of State keep in mind the other northern powerhouse, Aberdeen, and the economic importance of its airport, including in servicing the oil and gas industry?

My hon. Friend and I had a productive visit to Aberdeen airport recently, and I absolutely understand its importance to the whole economy of the north-east of Scotland and indeed to the United Kingdom, because Aberdeen is central to one of our key industries. I have made it clear that as we expand Heathrow airport, we will make sure that capacity is set aside for regional links to airports in Scotland and elsewhere, so that every part of the UK benefits from the expansion of that airport.

TfL has clearly demonstrated its ability to run efficient services and improve them in London, so will the Secretary of State enter into negotiations with the Mayor of London about south eastern suburban services before my constituents are forced to endure yet another bungled privatisation?

The first thing to remind the hon. Gentleman of is that London Overground is also a franchise—Labour always conveniently forgets that. It is run by Arriva. The other thing to say is that the document we published yesterday on the new south eastern franchise involves far greater additional benefits for passengers than was ever the case in the Mayor’s business plan for that franchise. The last point to make is that I have extended to TfL and the Mayor the same offer that I made and is now in force in the north for a partnership in operating, designing and managing the franchise, but that offer is yet to be accepted.

Cheshire East has the highest gross value added in the north. My constituents are extremely grateful for the Middlewich bypass funding, which is key to continuing this economic growth and delivering even more, as is the need to improve junction 17 of the M6 nearby. Will Ministers kindly give consideration to including that as part of the north’s emerging strategic transport plan?

I absolutely hear what my hon. Friend says. As someone who used to live close to that area, I understand the issues she raised, and I am sure Transport for the North will listen to her comments today. It is finalising its plans. As Cheshire and mid-Cheshire grow—the towns there have expanded considerably in recent years—there is a need to make sure that the infrastructure is fit for purpose, which is why my earlier comments about the mid-Cheshire line are also important.

I welcome the public funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro announced in the Budget, which will come through the northern powerhouse. But if the northern powerhouse is to be anything more than a marketing gimmick, such funding must be part of an overall commitment to redress the dire imbalance in transport funding between the north and the south of England. Will the Secretary of State make that commitment here and now?

I keep saying that we are actually doing things right across the north: what we are doing on the Tyne and Wear Metro; the improvements to the A1; the completion of that last motorway link; the works taking place on the M1, M6 and M62; and the A66 widening. There are projects happening all across the north. We have brand new trains arriving on the east coast main line, the upgrade of that line that lies ahead and northern powerhouse rail in the future. This Government are delivering better transport for the north of England.

Following the announcement by the Secretary of State yesterday that he will explore opportunities to restore capacity lost under the Beeching reforms in the 1960s, will he commit to looking into the possibility of reopening Aldridge station and perhaps coming to visit me in Aldridge to examine the benefits that could bring?

My hon. Friend is right to identify that project as one worth considering, and I was discussing it only this morning with the Mayor of the west midlands, Andy Street. I am more than happy to have further conversations with my hon. Friend on that matter.

Yesterday, I met people from nextbike, who run an excellent cycle hire scheme in Glasgow, which I often use to get to my surgeries. Does the Minister have any plans to regulate public cycle hire schemes, so that the public can be assured of their safety?

Public hire schemes are an important part of extending provision and making cycling more widely available. As the hon. Lady will know, different schemes apply in different localities. Clearly, I am always happy to have discussions with her about this, but there are no imminent plans to make the changes that she describes.

Residents and businesses in Rugeley face real issues as a result of HGV fly parking. Will the Minister update the House on any measures that are being taken to improve and increase HGV parking facilities?

This scheme is a subject very dear to my heart, and my hon. Friend has raised it previously in the House. She is absolutely right that the inappropriate parking of HGVs is a menace. We are trialling a “clamp first” policy in Kent. The preponderance of people who park most irresponsibly are not drivers from the United Kingdom; it is therefore difficult for local authorities to pursue them in the way that one would expect. We will look at the results of that trial and we will go further. I am determined to stop the irresponsible parking of HGVs, which causes such nuisance.

Does the Secretary of State feel any guilt about the fact that many of my constituents and many people in this country thought during the referendum campaign that people like him were promising that more money would be spent on transport infrastructure and the NHS because we would save so much money from leaving the EU? Yesterday’s announcement of a £50 billion debt that we have to pay to the EU was a shocking revelation. What is he going to do about it?

First, we made no announcement yesterday about money for the EU. Secondly, we are spending more money on transport infrastructure.

Montrose port is vital to Angus’s local economy, and good transport links to and from the port are essential for it to flourish further. Will the Secretary of State tell me what communications he has had with Network Rail since his visit to Montrose, regarding progress on negotiations to open a direct link to Montrose port?

I have exciting news for my hon. Friend because, as she may not know, I have initiated a full connectivity study. It is absolutely right that as we invest in our ports we look at the rail and road links to them, too. The study will be published early next year.

Further to my earlier question to the Secretary of State about Crossrail for the north, will he confirm that Crossrail 2 will not be wholly electrified?

We have finished the design of neither Crossrail 2 nor northern powerhouse rail. My focus right now is on the projects that are under way, including electrification across parts of the north of England and a £3 billion upgrade to the trans-Pennine routes. We are already seeing better investment in the north. When we see the final shape of Crossrail 2 and northern powerhouse rail, we will see what the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is.

I will take the point of order as I understand it flows from questions, but it had better be a genuine point of order and it had better be extremely brief.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification. Not an hour ago, I raised the question of the £2 billion that was due from Stagecoach to the Treasury. The Secretary of State said yesterday:

“let us be absolutely clear for the House that as we bring the east coast franchise to a close and move to the new arrangements, no one will get any bail-out”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2017; Vol. 632, c. 344.]

He clarified that by also saying that every franchise makes a parent-company commitment before taking out a contract and will be held to that commitment, to be paid in full. That is £232 million—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I am extremely grateful to him for his attempted point of order, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Order. It is not a matter for the Chair. If he wishes to, the Secretary of State can respond, briefly. The truth is that the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the position that the Government have taken. If he wishes to explore the matter further, which of course he can and, I dare say, will do, he can do so through questions, the use of the Order Paper or further debates, but he cannot do it any further now.

There is substantial pressure on time today, as a study of the Order Paper will demonstrate, but I thought the House would want urgently to express support for the victims of racism and bigotry and to denounce their purveyors.