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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 19 April 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Rail Fares

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, by the end of 2018, almost all passengers will have the choice of a smart ticket, making buying a ticket easier and giving passengers much greater choice.

What plans does the Minister have to ensure that split ticketing does not erode trust in the rail fare system? How can he ensure that ticket machines on the East Lancs line provide the cheapest option to passengers when there are not necessarily offices to buy tickets from?

Simplification of ticketing and ease of understanding for passengers is extremely important, as is ensuring that passengers have access to the fares that are right for them. It is important that train operating companies look carefully at their ticketing arrangements to ensure that that is the case.

Simpler may be cheaper, and there may also be circumstances in which it leads to cost increases. It is important that we achieve a system that is comprehensible, in which passengers do not have to struggle for hours to work out which ticket is the right one for them. Following the 2016 fares and ticketing action plan, we introduced advance tickets for sale on the day of travel that benefit hundreds of thousands of passengers.

I am grateful for the Minister’s letter of this week, saying that his Department is taking on extra resource to simplify the fare structure on the Brighton main line. Will he reassure passengers in the area that that simplification will involve the rounding down of fares, not just rounding up? Will he also tell passengers when they can expect the review to complete?

I can indeed confirm that the Department has taken on additional resource specifically to address the anomalies within the Govia Thameslink Railway fare structure. As the hon. Gentleman said, there will be a review in order to simplify the structure, with particular reference to complications on that route. We are working with GTR to achieve this as rapidly as we can.

West Coast Main Line

2. What his policy is on the operation of passenger services on the west coast main line after the completion of High Speed 2; and if he will make a statement. (904810)

As my hon. Friend knows, once High Speed 2 comes into operation it will move the express trains off the existing west coast main line and on to the new route. That will provide a great opportunity to improve services to intermediate stops such as Lichfield that do not have a good enough service at the moment.

I am slightly reassured by that answer. The Secretary of State talks about moving express trains off the west coast main line, but of course we currently have a very good Pendolino service and the slower West Midlands trains. Several hundred of my constituents commute to London every single day. What assurance can the Secretary of State give them that the Pendolino service—a fast, express service—will continue, and indeed that the Pendolinos will be replaced with equally fast trains when they come to the end of their life cycle?

The Pendolinos have many years to go, and I have no doubt that they will be replaced by a high-quality fast train in the future. My hon. Friend will have stood on the platform at Lichfield station and seen trains to Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland zooming past at high speed. The new plans will provide an opportunity for more trains to stop at Lichfield.

The Secretary of State knows well that I believe that HS2 is a vanity project that will never come to fruition. He knows that my constituents in the booming town of Huddersfield, which he visited recently, have access to the west coast line and the east coast line, but most of all they want a good trans-Pennine connection everywhere.

Absolutely, which is why I have already announced that the £2.9 billion upgrade of the trans-Pennine line will begin this time next year, as the start of a transformation that is vital to the north. In the coming months we will also see the arrival of the first of a complete new set of trains across the north of England that will transform passengers’ experience.

Previously I have raised concerns that, under the Department’s current proposals, high-speed classic-compatible trains will run slower north of Crewe than existing trains on the west coast main line just now. The Secretary of State said that we need to address that as we go through the 2020s. That is clearly not good enough. We need certainty now. If he will not commit to upgrading the west coast main line north of Crewe, will he look into procuring trains that can tilt and travel on the high-speed network?

The new classic-compatible trains and the arrival of HS2 up to the north-west of England will of course mean more speedy journey times to Scotland. I know the hon. Gentleman’s party’s view. We want to see further improvements through the 2020s to the west coast main line north of Crewe to ensure that we improve journey times. We want the best possible journey times across the whole network, and will continue to work for that.

HS2: Chesterfield Canal Land Purchase

3. What information his Department holds on plans by HS2 Ltd to purchase land close to Chesterfield canal; and if he will make a statement. (904811)

HS2 Ltd will bring forward a draft environmental statement for phase 2b later this year, which will provide greater detail on the land requirements for the construction, maintenance and operation of phase 2b of HS2 and proposed mitigation. This will then be consulted on, and HS2 Ltd will continue to seek the input of landowners, local communities and stakeholders as the design of the railway is developed.

HS2 is an incredibly important regeneration project, but so is Chesterfield canal, which has had five years of blight, being unable to make applications because of the uncertainty around HS2. Near the maintenance depot that is proposed for Staveley, there is a piece of land currently owned by Network Rail that needs to pass over to HS2. May I encourage the Minister to ask HS2 to get on with taking over ownership of that land so that Chesterfield canal can finally put forward plans to apply for new funding and reduce that blight?

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that HS2 Ltd is working with Chesterfield Canal Trust and is committed to finding a solution. HS2 Ltd will be more than happy to meet him to discuss the Staveley design proposals and the interface with Chesterfield canal. I also assure him, however, that Chesterfield Canal Trust has recently publicly said that it is pleased with the recent commitment from HS2 Ltd and is now more confident that a solution will be found.

Two HS2 lines go through Derbyshire—the one that goes through Newton and the other that is now apparently going to create difficulties on Chesterfield canal. We have heard reference to the question of the real cost of HS2, as it changes quite often. What is the latest cost, taking into account those two railway tracks through Derbyshire?

As I said, Chesterfield Canal Trust is working with HS2 Ltd and is happy with the relationship they have and the potential outcome regarding the canal area. The hon. Gentleman has reservations about, and has consistently raised, the cost of HS2, but it is on budget and on time. We must not forget that once HS2 is up and running, it will be the backbone of this country, bringing along with it 100,000 jobs.

The Secretary of State is supporting the sale of Network Rail’s property assets. The Federation of Small Businesses says that this will put small companies out of business because the new private owner will rapidly rack up rents, which will restrict key developments in places such as Chesterfield. Does he not see that the sell-off will lose the railway valuable and vitally important income?

I apologise hugely, Mr Speaker—I had a momentary lapse. I have no idea how to respond. Forgive me—I will take some direction from you.

The Secretary of State is supporting the sale of Network Rail’s property assets. The Federation of Small Businesses says that this will put small companies out of business because the new private owner will rapidly rack up rents, which will restrict key developments in places such as Chesterfield. Does he not see that the sell-off will lose the railway valuable and vitally important income?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for repeating himself. The Secretary of State met the FSB yesterday and discussions on negotiations are ongoing.

In 2015, the DFT accepted Sir Peter Hendy’s plan to sell £1.8 billion of Network Rail property. These assets are now worth only £1 billion but generate £90 million of revenue each year. How can the Secretary of State still argue that this sell-off of the family silver makes sense? Is it not clear that his plan will cost Network Rail and British taxpayers dearly?

The Secretary of State will continue to realise assets when he can. We will then reinvest them in the railway network.

Regional Spending

Transport investment decisions are made based on a rigorous and fair appraisal process that ensures that spending goes where it is needed and delivers greatest value for money. Recent analysis by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests that, in contrast to the five years leading up to 2010, planned central Government transport capital spending per head between 2017-18 and 2020-21 is expected to be higher in the north than in the south. That includes, as the hon. Lady will be pleased to learn, £337 million for new Tyne and Wear Metro rolling stock in her constituency.

Since 2010, transport spending in London has been more than twice that in the whole of the north, and the Government’s own northern powerhouse says that underinvestment stops us exploiting strengths in manufacturing, energy, health and digital, which could transform the lives of my constituents. The Minister’s own Transport for the North says that it will cost £27 billion to transform the north’s economy by taking advantage of those strengths: will he commit to funding it?

We are undertaking unprecedented investment in the north of England—£13 billion, which is the largest in Government history. Of course, we want to do more to ensure that we are building proper transport links and growing the northern powerhouse, which is why we have created Transport for the North and put it on a statutory footing. Over the recess, I was delighted to attend its very first board meeting as a statutory body.

Instead of applying Barnett, why does the Minister not support his Department’s recommendation of £4.2 billion of funding for Scotland?

Scotland will receive significantly greater resources in the next control period between 2019 and 2024 than it has in any period in this country’s history.

Shipley: Eastern Bypass

Top o’ the morning to you, Mr Speaker. The Government have allocated significant resources to west Yorkshire for local transport schemes, including £781 million over 30 years from local growth funding and other sources, but Bradford Council has not yet brought forward that scheme for funding. Our consultation on the major roads network, which could provide another funding route for such schemes, has recently closed. We will respond to the consultation in due course.

May I place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for the interest he has shown in developing a Shipley eastern bypass, especially when he visited the area last year? That was in sharp contrast to Bradford Council, which has shown zero interest in developing such a bypass, despite it being much needed by local residents. The council has not even come up with the costs of development that the Secretary of State asked for more than four months ago. Will the Minister not only develop a bypass for Shipley, but bypass Bradford Council so that we can crack on with a scheme that is much needed by the local economy and residents?

As my hon. Friend says, this scheme potentially offers relief from congestion, better local access and better connectivity to Leeds-Bradford airport, and we are very interested to see it proceed.

Aircraft Noise: Heathrow

6. What plans his Department has to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise near Heathrow airport. (904815)

11. What plans his Department has to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise near Heathrow airport. (904820)

The Government set noise controls at Heathrow airport, including total noise limits and aircraft movement limits for night flights. These controls, in conjunction with stricter aircraft noise standards negotiated by the UK at the international level, have resulted in a long-term reduction in the number of people affected by aircraft noise near the airport.

A freedom of information request revealed Government analysis that expects nearly a million households to face increased daytime noise if Heathrow is allowed to build a third runway. Will the Secretary of State visit my constituents, tens of thousands of whom will face significantly worse noise if the third runway goes ahead, and for whom no amount of noise insulation will be acceptable?

I have been in the hon. Lady’s constituency on many occasions and heard the noise there, and I am very pleased that, over the last 20 years, we have seen a steady reduction in aircraft noise. That is expected to continue as a new generation of aircraft appear in greater numbers. The projections show that, as we enter the 2030s with that change in aircraft fleet, we do not expect an overall noise impact on people around the airport. Nor do we expect an increase in the number of people within the 54 dB bracket, precisely because a new generation of lower-noise aircraft—they will also be lower-emission and lower-fuel consuming aircraft—will mean a quieter airport generally.

The aviation national policy statement states that about 93,000 more people will be significantly affected by noise if the third runway goes ahead, yet Civil Aviation Authority figures indicate that more than 2 million people will be affected. Will the Government acknowledge that vast disparity in numbers, and will they update the aviation national policy statement?

Before the aviation national policy statement is brought to the House, it will be updated off the back of work done by the Transport Committee and the public consultations that have taken place—it will be a refreshed document when it comes before the House. The impact of noise on residents around Heathrow depends on an assessment of the rate of arrival of that new generation of aircraft. As we get into the 2030s, we expect no overall increase in the number of people in the 54 dB noise barrier because of the arrival of those new aircraft. There may be a short period in the mid-2020s when there is a small increase, depending on the airport’s rate of growth and the development of the aircraft fleet, but any such increase will be a short-term one.

When will we get a new train service between Reading and Heathrow? That will help to reduce noise and get Welsh travellers to the airport.

Western rail access to Heathrow is part of our plans for control period 6, and I expect construction to start between 2019 and 2024. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I recently invited the private sector to bring forward proposals for southern access as well, as part of a land and surface access package that will bring substantial increases to the capacity of rail links to Heathrow airport.

These problems are not unique to Heathrow; they also affect areas around Gatwick, which has a lower level of ambient noise. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that any further lessons learned about how we reduce noise at Heathrow can be applied more generally?

They can be, and the point I did not make in my response to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is that we are in the process of modernising the use of airspace in this country. I hope and believe that that will allow us to manage much more carefully respite for airports, and flight paths into and out of airports, and to do the best we can to minimise the impact of aviation on communities. There can be no situation where there is no impact, but I want us to do our best to ensure that that impact is as carefully managed and minimised as possible.

Electric Vehicles: Public Charging Points

7. What steps he is taking to increase the number of public charging points for electric vehicles at commercial and industrial centres. (904816)

The UK is building one of the best global ChargePoint networks. Our new £400 million ChargePoint infrastructure investment fund will see thousands more charge points installed nationwide. We already provide grants to install charging stations in workplaces, homes and residential streets, and for buses and taxis. Through the Go Ultra Low city scheme, Bath—the hon. Lady’s constituency—and other cities are installing publicly accessible charging hubs. Also, the new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will encourage large fuel retailers to install charge points on their premises.

In Bath, the council is considering introducing a clean air zone, focusing particularly on older, more polluting vehicles, but that will disproportionately disadvantage the less well-off, who are more likely to own older vehicles. Will the Government consider a scrappage scheme for old vehicles to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles without disadvantaging the less well-off in our city?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, substantial scrappage schemes already exist in the market through the private sector, and those look to continue.

Expanding the charging infrastructure is a key part of encouraging people to switch to ultra-low emission vehicles, but does the Minister agree that the Government’s decision to cut the plug-in car grant and the home charging grant sends out contradictory signals? Will he commit to maintaining the current value of both grants in real terms, at least at their existing levels?

I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s diagnosis of the situation. As I saw when I visited Nissan recently, electric cars are being taken up at higher rates than ever before, and the plug-in car grant has been an important part of that. As the industry becomes more mature—we are seeing greater signs of that; the new Nissan Leaf has started to have stable resale values, which is an important sign of maturity—we would naturally expect levels of Government subsidy to fall.

It is very welcome that the Government are looking at alternative fuels. Will the Minister agree to place in the House of Commons Library a summary of the grants, incentive payments and similar subsidies being paid out by his Department in respect of each of the different alternatives being explored?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have recently made a new £11 million investment in hydrogen charging, so she is absolutely right that we take a technology-neutral view and that we seek to encourage different forms of technology wherever available. I will certainly talk to officials about what information we can place in the Library, but I think much of it is already in the public domain.

Leaving the EU: Aviation Industry

8. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the aviation industry after the UK leaves the EU. (904817)

19. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the aviation industry after the UK leaves the EU. (904828)

23. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the aviation industry after the UK leaves the EU. (904833)

I meet my right hon. Friends and Cabinet colleagues on a regular basis to discuss the UK’s exit from the EU. Ministers and officials across Departments are working closely to consider carefully the implications for the aviation sector after we leave the EU.

Last month we heard that the first formal talks on a post-Brexit open skies deal with the US were cut short after US negotiators offered an inferior deal to the one we currently enjoy, so when does the Secretary of State plan to return to the negotiating table, and will he do so with a sense of reality about the impact that hard Brexit is having on the aviation industry?

The hon. Lady should not believe everything she reads in the papers. The discussions taking place between my Department and our counterparts in the United States have been cordial and have been going well. There are no issues that would act as an impediment towards a sensible post-Brexit agreement between the two countries.

A key requirement in any deal with the US may well be that UK airlines are required to be UK majority owned, yet very few would be able to meet that standard. What are the realistic chances of the US ditching that long-standing policy for the sake of the UK?

Clearly, airline ownership is more complex as part of the European Union than it was in the pre-EU days, but nobody is seriously suggesting that we are not going to continue with the same kind of transatlantic partnerships we have at the moment. British Airways and American Airlines, for example, operate in lockstep with each other. We will progress in due time towards a sensible agreement that continues the extremely prosperous, important and successful transatlantic aviation routes.

We have less than a year to sort this out. Already people who are attempting to book foreign holidays for next Easter, less than a year from now, are finding that they are having to accept a clause in the contract that waives any right to compensation if their holiday is cancelled because of problems with the lack of an open skies agreement. Is the Secretary of State trying to tell us that those reports from reputable travel agents are myths that we should not believe? Is it not a fact that the travel industry and the aviation industry understand how serious this problem is becoming and the Government, in their complacency, do not?

That is not accurate at all, as the hon. Gentleman will find if he listens to the chief executives of the International Airlines Group, EasyJet or a number of other airlines. I have had no airline, bar one, come to my desk and suggest that they are concerned about the situation. I think we know which the one is, and no other airline believes there is any likelihood of any impediment to aviation next year. Indeed, there will not be. Can you imagine, Mr Speaker, a situation where the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Greek Governments did not want holidaymakers to arrive from the United Kingdom in 2019? I have spoken to my counterparts and they snort with derision at the idea that the planes will not fly.

Snorting with derision may be the response the Secretary of State has had, but people in my constituency who work in the aviation industry are really concerned about how we are going to function outwith the European Aviation Safety Agency. Will he please tell us a bit more about how we are going to function outwith the EASA?

The Civil Aviation Authority is making all preparations necessary if it needs to return to operating as a body in the form that it used to be in. However, it is the Government’s policy and our intent to remain part of EASA. There is no reason not to: countries inside and outside the European Union are part of it, and we supply a substantial proportion of its expertise. The leadership of EASA wants us to stay, and I am confident that, as we get through the process of negotiation, that is where we will end up.

Rail Freight

In September 2016, the Government published a rail freight strategy setting out a vision for how the freight industry can grow. During control period 5, the Department is investing £235 million to improve the capacity of the network. Further funding for investment in the network will be available in control period 6.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but is the reality not that only a small proportion of freight in Britain is carried by rail, and that it has been declining? By contrast, a third of all freight in Germany is transported by rail, and in the US the figure is 50%. To achieve a substantial modal shift in freight from road to rail, is it not essential to introduce a much bigger programme—a major programme—of investment in rail freight capacity starting very soon?

We share the hon. Gentleman’s ambition to support modal shift. The Government are always interested in hearing about ambitious schemes that would encourage that. As he will know, we recently launched a call for ideas for market-led proposals that will enhance the railway, and I encourage him to take part in that.

Residents in north Oxford are gravely concerned about the increase in rail freight and particularly the possibility of the line being used to construct HS2. Children are already shaken out of their beds in the middle of the night because of freight trains. Will the Minister consent to meet me to discuss the concerns and, critically, the solutions, which include monitoring and speed reductions for the trains?

I obviously sympathise with the hon. Lady’s local residents. The Government are committed to getting freight off our roads and on to rail to realise the environmental and economic benefits of rail freight. However, the Department does not specify the level of freight services on the network, as that is a commercial matter for the freight operating companies and is a function of market demand. The Oxford area is essentially at capacity during the day, although the Oxford corridor capacity improvement scheme will deliver two additional freight train paths an hour in each direction. It is anticipated that rail will support the movement of construction materials for HS2, but it is not possible at this stage to determine where the freight services will operate. The maximum permissible speed that freight trains can travel at over sections of the network is a matter for Network Rail as the infrastructure manager.

It is very good indeed to see the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) back in his place.

Midland Main Line: Rolling Stock

10. What the timetable is for new rolling stock for midland main line to (a) be delivered and (b) enter service. (904819)

The Secretary of State’s ambition is for bi-modes to begin operating on the midland main line from 2021. No firm decision has yet been taken on rail services in the next east midlands franchise, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, starts in August 2019.

In the written statement that the Secretary of State made on 20 July, he promised, when cancelling electrification of the midland main line,

“a brand new fleet of bi-mode…trains from 2022”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 72WS.]

We seem to have gained a year somehow. The National Audit Office then said in a report from 29 March:

“In the case of Midland Main Line, bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration did not exist when the Secretary of State made his decision”,

and that the Department had informed him of that. I ask the Secretary of State or the Minister why the Secretary of State promised in his written statement to deliver bi-modal trains, which he knew not merely did not exist but had not even been developed. That is the situation. Why, at the time, did he not give the House the full facts instead of leading us to believe something that possibly was not true and was corrected only when the NAO produced its report?

Bi-mode trains capable of running at more than 120 mph in diesel mode are now in use on the Great Western main line. Bi-modes will soon be delivering better journeys on the east coast main line and transpennine routes as well.

I am sorry, but that answer simply will not do. In relation to the midland main line, the NAO report reveals that at the time when the decision was made, the Secretary of State knew that bi-mode trains had “a poorer investment case” than electrification and would be worse polluters—actually, 25 times worse for carbon emissions. He also knew that the rolling stock required for that line—this is the crucial point in relation to the Minister’s response—would not exist, yet none of that information was in his statement to the House cancelling electrification. Does the Minister not accept that those were serious omissions?

On the contrary, equivalent trains to the ones that will be in service were already operational. As I have just said, bi-mode trains that are capable of running at more than 120 mph in diesel mode are already now in use on the Great Western main line.

Great Western Main Line: Electrification

12. What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the cancellation of the electrification of the Great Western main line between Cardiff and Swansea. (904821)

The Prime Minister and I discussed Cardiff to Swansea at the time, and reached the view that spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and causing massive disruption to passengers to enable the same trains to travel on the same route at the same speed to the same timetable as they do today was not actually a sensible thing to do.

We know from press reports issued during the Easter break that the Prime Minister personally made the decision to renege on an election promise to electrify the main line to Swansea on the basis of cost. Is not the reality that the British Government do not consider the west of my country worthy of investment?

We made the decisions about electrification on the midland main line and the line between Cardiff and Swansea on the simple basis that spending hundreds of millions or billions of pounds to achieve the same journey times in the same trains was not sensible. The trains on the Great Western route are already in operation, delivering services to people in Swansea, for whom it is a great and important investment. Trains on the midland main line require the addition of one engine to provide a little bit of extra acceleration, but they already exist, and will be great for that line as well. So let us hear none of this nonsense from Opposition Members. In fact, during the years when they were in government, this was their policy: they believed that what was important was capacity and delivery, not electrification, and I agreed with them.

Facts matter. In a written statement on 20 July last year, the Secretary of State said that with bi-mode trains it would be possible to

“achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 72WS.]

However, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), it is clear from National Audit Office reports that that statement cannot be correct.

No, this was about the Cardiff to Swansea route as well.

Why did the Secretary of State give those assurances? Now that he has come to the Dispatch Box, will he apologise?

Let us be clear. I stand by every word that I said then. We will deliver smart new trains and improved journey times for passengers on the midland main line, as we are currently doing and will continue to do on the Great Western main line, and as we will do on the east coast main line and the transpennine route. [Interruption.] As I have said, we will also deliver new trains providing better services for passengers on the midland main line. The only difference made by £1 billion of spending would be a one-minute saving in the journey time, and that is not good value for taxpayers’ money.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that this is such an important matter, surely we should have a point of order on it.

As the hon. Gentleman will know on the strength of his nearly 39 years of experience in the House, the effect of a point of order during exchanges on a question is to cause all further exchanges on it immediately to cease. Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he does not risk becoming hugely unpopular as a result of his attempted point of order, for the simple reason that no one else was standing and seeking to catch my eye—other than the hon. Gentleman with his rather bogus, albeit enjoyable, point of order.

Rail Reform

The Secretary of State’s strategic vision for rail was published in November 2017, and sets out our key reforms. Better teamwork between franchise operators and Network Rail will make the railway more responsive to customers’ needs and move power closer to local areas.

South Gloucestershire Council is pushing ahead with its plans to deliver a vital half-hourly train link from Yate to Bristol. Will my hon. Friend explain how his rail policies will help to achieve that, and will he consider visiting Yate so that he can see at first hand how important the upgrade is to our local community?

Improving connectivity around our great cities, including Bristol, is exactly the kind of scheme that our reforms are designed to deliver. The Government will continue to work closely with local partners to deliver the MetroWest scheme in the Bristol area. We are also examining the potential for the new MetroWest services to be extended beyond their currently planned termini.

Tarmac’s Dunbar cement plant in East Lothian transports substantial amounts of its product down the east coast main line to London to fuel the construction industry here. What steps is the Minister taking, as part of his plan, to facilitate better engagement between passengers, rail freight users and Network Rail commuters?

That is an important subject, which we hope the new east coast partnership will help to address.

Order. I know the whole House will want to join me in congratulating the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on his engagement to Ann-Louise Whittaker, and may I say to the hon. Gentleman that, notwithstanding the fact that he is a very young man to be planning to rush into matrimony, we all wish him and Ann-Louise a very happy wedding on Friday 27 July?

South-east London Metro Routes

14. What assessment he has made of the reliability of rail services on metro routes in south-east London. (904823)

I echo your good wishes to my hon. Friend, Mr Speaker.

All train operators must deliver the performance benchmarks set out in the franchise agreements that cover all their passenger services. In respect of Southeastern’s metro service, its public performance measure has improved from 87% to nearly 89% over the past year.

Is the Minister not concerned, first, that many of the regular commuters on our line do not regard the performance measures as reflecting reality, particularly in the rush hour, and, secondly, that Network Rail only a couple of days ago published a suggestion that performance will actually deteriorate over the next coming years and will not pick up again until 2024? I would like our wedding guests to come on the train, but I do not think I can advise them to do so at the moment; does the Minister agree that the situation is wholly unacceptable, and what will he do about it?

We are working closely with Network Rail to ensure punctual and reliable services on the network. We are ensuring it is doing everything it possibly can to maintain and build upon the current improving levels of performance. My hon. Friend mentioned the performance targets: the operator will be required as part of the next franchise arrangements to publish on its website in relation to each reporting period its performance against the following metrics: cancellation figures, short formation figures, and now, critically, timing to three minutes, rather than the previous performance targets.

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself and my hon. Friends with your kind words to my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and wish him all the best?

When I arrived at my station this morning, they were handing out free copies of fiction: the Southeastern rail timetable. It is fiction because of not just the performance of Southeastern, but the poor infrastructure that we have to endure. We have spent £1 billion upgrading London Bridge, and it is a magnificent project, but unfortunately we have seen broken rails and the breakdown of signals last week and the week before, and there was another stranded train outside St Johns station on 5 April. This is not good enough: we need to upgrade the infrastructure around London Bridge, otherwise all the money will have been wasted.

In the next franchise period we will ensure that performance in quality is an absolute focus for the new operator. When that is in place moving towards next year, the new franchisee will adopt the new measures we have proposed as part of the move towards control period 6. The use of a public performance measure that allows services to arrive up to five minutes late at end destination will be replaced by timed to three, or T3, and that measure will be used for the services along this route.

Like my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I wish the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) all the best.

After years of disruption due to the London Bridge rebuild, passengers discovered last week that Greenwich line evening services will not be of the frequency previously advertised after May because, according to Southeastern, it does not have enough drivers. Can Ministers do anything about this frankly risible situation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that concern to my attention, and I will discuss it with Southeastern.

Fitness to Drive

15. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of medical requirements for holding a driving licence in ensuring that drivers are fit to drive. (904824)

The current driver licensing arrangements take into account the risks that an individual poses to road safety and are designed to be fair and proportionate to all drivers who remain fit and competent to drive, regardless of age. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency keeps all its medical driver licensing policy and processes under review.

The Minister will be aware that the current system of car driving licence renewal includes no requirement at all for independent medical evidence to ensure that a driver’s health or eyesight meet the legal requirements. Does he agree that this self-certification process is inadequate and open to abuse, and will he agree to review it?

There is no evidence—certainly none that we are aware of or that has been brought to our attention—to suggest that requiring independent medical evidence in relation to a driver’s health or eyesight would lead to an improvement in road safety. The current process is balanced and proportionate, and focuses resources on drivers who need medical investigation. Those drivers—in fact, all drivers—are legally obliged to notify the DVLA if they develop a medical condition that could affect their ability to drive safely. Where a driver has failed to do so, the DVLA will investigate notifications from concerned friends, relatives, the police or medical professionals.

Dualling of the A45: Stanwick to Thrapston

16. What steps his Department has taken to conduct an environmental study of the dualling of the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston. (904825)

The road investment strategy announced the Government’s intention to develop a scheme to upgrade the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston to a full dual carriageway. The scheme is at an early stage of development and a preliminary environmental study will be carried out as part of this development work.

This dualling is something that I have campaigned particularly hard for. It has the overwhelming support of local people and would do much to improve the strategically important link between the A14 and the M1. The environmental study is key to progress, so will the Minister join me in pushing for that work to be carried out as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless and energetic campaigner on this issue, as on so many others, and I can assure him that the environmental study will be one of the first items to be completed under the options assessment work.

HS2: Extension to Scotland

From the day phase 1 opens, HS2 trains will run directly to Scotland, with journey times of less than four hours between London and Glasgow. When the full Y network opens, HS2 will serve both Glasgow and Edinburgh in three hours 40 minutes to London. The Department for Transport is working closely with Transport Scotland and Network Rail to look at further options that might have a good business case, working towards the UK and Scottish Governments’ shared ultimate ambition of a three-hour journey time between London and Scotland.

Will the Minister guarantee that, once HS2 is fully constructed, the journey time between Glasgow and Manchester will not be any longer than it is currently?

We have no reason to expect increases in journey times between Glasgow and Manchester as a result of HS2.

Rail Sleeper Services: Scotland to England

18. What steps his Department is taking to support the provision of sleeper rail services between Scotland and England. (904827)

In his autumn statement of 2011, the Chancellor announced a commitment to contribute £50 million towards the cost of improving and upgrading the Caledonian sleeper service, including rolling stock and infrastructure improvements. We understand that new rolling stock will start to be introduced in the autumn. Under the devolved arrangements relating to the railways in Scotland, the Caledonian sleeper service is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and operates under a franchise procured by Scottish Ministers.

The northern sleeper service is good for the environment, stress-free, fun and actually rather romantic. Does the Minister agree that further development would do much to boost tourism in the highlands and in my constituency?

We do like romance, and the new trains will offer improved facilities, comfort, hospitality and security for passengers. Passengers’ experience will be enhanced, supported by improved ticketing, booking channels and information, station improvements and support for post-travel arrangements. Staying on the theme of romance, I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in disability and access, for which these trains will be suitable, as he has a close family member with disability issues.

That sounds like a very agreeable adventure to me. I must obviously add it to my bucket list.

HS2: Phase 2b

In November 2016, the Government confirmed the majority of the HS2 phase 2b route and launched a consultation on seven route refinements. The Government made a decision on the phase 2b route in July 2017. To deposit the phase 2b hybrid Bill in 2019, HS2 Ltd is developing designs for the working draft environmental statement. The Government have provided funding for growth strategies to HS2 places, enabling the plans to be HS2-ready.

Can the Minister assure the House that the hybrid Bill for HS2 phase 2b will take precedence over Crossrail 2?

Consideration of the hybrid Bill will take place when it is due to take place in Parliament. It is interesting to note that we have had a lot of support from Members across the House; it would be nice for that support to be reflected when the Bill comes to the House, with all Members voting to support it rather than abstaining.

My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner for the midlands and any opportunity I have to talk proudly about Birmingham in particular, is welcome. Over its course, HS2 will create 100,000 jobs. It is important to note that the majority of those jobs will be created outside London, so opportunities will be vast along the line.

Channel Fixed Link

21. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and with his French counterpart on constructing a fixed link across the Channel. (904831)

Well, can the Minister tell us, then, whether, as the question says, those discussions have included the concept of a new fixed link? The Foreign Secretary seems to think that it is a very good idea, but I am not clear whether anyone else in the Government or the Cabinet does.

This is certainly an idea worth exploring. I repeat that this is a view shared not just in this Government but in the French Government. The hon. Gentleman will recall that at the conclusion of the highly successful Anglo-French summit it was agreed that there would be a committee of wise people, a comité des sages, established to consider reviving the tradition of UK-French collaboration on a range of matters, including infrastructure projects.

Well, I would call the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) if he were here, but he isn’t, so I won’t.

Topical Questions

We spend a lot of time talking about planes, trains and automobiles in these sessions, but we do not spend much time talking about ships. I want to pay tribute to all those involved in the talks that took place in London last week, particularly those from my Department. They paved the way for an historic agreement in the maritime sector on cutting carbon emissions from shipping. It is a really important step forward and I commend all those involved.

Will the Secretary of State visit Long Eaton as a matter of urgency to visit those property owners directly affected by HS2, some of whom are facing the prospect of being tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket? Will he reaffirm his commitment to the House today that no one will lose out as a result of HS2?

I know that we have particular issues with some of the properties in Long Eaton, particularly the railway cottages. I have worked and will continue to work closely with my hon. Friend to ensure that HS2 does the right thing by those people.

On “Question Time”, the Secretary of State intimated that, post Brexit, trucks will not be checked and will move freely through the border, as happens in Canada and the US. I have an official document that confirms that all lorries are stopped on the US-Canada border. Will he apologise for giving out duff information, do his homework and tell the House what the concrete plans will be post Brexit?

As I have said before—I say it again today—there will not be physical checks that require every lorry to be stopped at Dover. It is not physically possible to do it, and in today’s world of trusted trader systems and electronic processing of customs information, there is no need for that to happen. I would also say that we are confident that we will deliver, as is our intention, a sensible free trade agreement with the European Union that will make all this an irrelevant discussion.

T5. Following the delays to electrification, Arriva has announced a new timetable downgrading the train service between my constituency of Southport and south Manchester, which will have significant consequences for Southport’s residents and its local economy. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend provide to my constituents and rail passengers along that line who are now having to make difficult choices about where they live and work as a result of this downgrading? (904839)

My hon. Friend knows that I have been to Southport and talked to some of those affected. As a result of those recent discussions, we have been able to put back in two extra services to Manchester Piccadilly. Of course, the original franchise plan was for the services to go to Manchester Victoria, but I have listened carefully to what has been said. Timetable changes cannot happen quickly and easily, but I will do my best to work with my hon. Friend to ensure that there is a better mix of services for the future.

With free bus travel for the under-25s estimated at £1.4 billion a year, why is the Minister opposing a scheme that could benefit up to 13 million young people, saving them up to £1,000 each a year, at a time when they face significant financial hardship due to tuition fees and the high cost of living?

This was an intriguing policy proposed by Labour at the Budget, and the figures did not seem to add up. At one point Labour was saying it would cost just over £1 billion, but it looks like it might cost closer to £13 billion. The hon. Gentleman needs to go back to school and add up his figures. We already provide £1 billion towards concessionary travel to support up to 10 million older people, and disabled people, too. I would be intrigued to know whether Labour has budgeted for this concessionary travel to be before or after 9.30 am.

Can the Minister explain how she has calculated that figure of £13 billion? Research by University College London, which is widely accepted across the sector, shows that every individual person in the UK could be given free bus travel for £5 billion.

The figures have already changed from around £1 billion to the projected figure of over £13 billion, and now to £5 billion. When the shadow Minister makes proposals, and if he wants not only the sector but young people to take them seriously, I suggest that he comes to the Dispatch Box with the most accurate figure that comes to hand. We are doing what we can to support bus patronage, including enabling local authorities to work with bus providers to make sure that people can make the most requested journeys. I must add that we already provide over £1 billion-worth of concessionary travel to older people and to those with disabilities, and perhaps we could take Labour’s proposal more seriously if the figures added up.

T6. Is the Department doing anything to monitor the effective spending of the additional money being given to councils to fix potholes, including the £262,000 that was given to Walsall Council? (904840)

That is a great question. As my hon. Friend will know, the pothole action fund is part of a £6 billion fund we are spending on local highways between 2015 and 2021, including £105 million for highways maintenance in the West Midlands combined authority, which includes Walsall. We ask that highways authorities provide a statement on their websites on how they utilise the pothole action fund money they have been allocated and, of course, we review and assess how that money is spent. We are always looking for, and seeking to incentivise, best practice.

T2. Bristol City Council is considering five different options for clean air zones. Air pollution is estimated to kill 300 people a year in the city. What is the Minister doing to help councils to deliver on tackling air pollution? (904835)

As the hon. Lady will know, we have spent more money than any Government have ever spent in this country on tackling air quality issues. We are working very closely with local authorities, including Bristol, to do that. Something like £400 million is already in prospect to support local authorities in this regard, and we look forward to seeing further action by Bristol and other local authorities to support it.

I was alarmed to learn that Govia Thameslink Railway is planning to cut Great Northern services at Oakleigh Park station in the morning peak. GTR has promised me it will restore the services when new rolling stock is introduced this year. Will the Minister work with me to hold it to that promise?

T3. Volunteer drivers in Wrexham, through wonderful charities like Dynamic and Chariotts, are very concerned about the impact of possible regulatory change, which may affect their ability to provide a vital service. Can the Minister reassure me that the position of volunteer drivers will not be affected by new changes? (904836)

As the hon. Gentleman notes, we are in the process of seeking to apply EU law as it applies to community transport. We have launched a review to explore several specific workarounds that address the concerns that community transport operators may have. We look forward to the completion of that review, and we will be publishing our own thoughts as a result, based on the substantial input we have gathered.

The bioethanol industry and the farming community that supplies it are looking for some certainty about the introduction of E10. Is the Minister able to give a clear steer as to when they can expect that certainty and whether the Government will be giving support?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have taken a very important forward position by introducing the renewable transport fuel obligation. We are looking closely at E10, and at international precedents and examples as to how enhanced ethanol fuels have been brought into play. It is important to respect market dynamics, so this is a slightly tricky issue, on which we are spending some time and consideration.

T4. There is mounting concern on the Clyde that an active programme is being undertaken by Peel Ports, which owns both the Clydeport authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, to plough billions of pounds of investment into Merseyside at the expense of the Clyde, stifling investment in the Clyde’s port facilities. Will the Minister undertake an immediate investigation into anti-competitive practices in both of the UK’s two main west coast ports, as this is unacceptable? (904837)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I am glad he has brought it to my attention and I am more than happy to have a meeting with him to discuss it further.

Yesterday, my hon. Friend—my very good friend—the Minister of State responded to an Adjournment debate on impacts of the timetable changes of the Thameslink programme. He said that Members were welcome to suggest changes where there had been negative impacts. May I suggest to him that the reduction in services from Orpington to Victoria via Bromley South is precisely such a negative change, which should be looked at urgently?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, that matter is close to my heart and I will be paying extraordinary attention to it in the coming months.

T8. Will the Minister tell us what recent research the Department has undertaken on whether shared space schemes without kerbs or controlled crossings are safe for people with vision impairments? (904842)

We have been reviewing our accessibility plan within the Department and will be reviewing how we deal with shared spaces. The hon. Gentleman knows that I used to chair the all-party group on eye health and visual impairment, which has huge concerns about shared spaces. We will be making a statement on this shortly. We want to make sure that all of our spaces, especially those around transport infrastructure, are accessible for people with all disabilities.

Reopening Middlewich railway station to passengers is a matter of crucial importance to many of my constituents. What progress is being made on developing the business case for that?

I know there is strong local support for improvements to the rail network in Cheshire. I am pleased to confirm that the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership is in the process of establishing a working group with local authority partners and Network Rail to examine the feasibility of reopening the mid-Cheshire link railway line, including Middlewich station, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and that the Department has offered to provide advice.

A few weeks ago, we had the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the free bus pass scheme for pensioners, which is a hugely popular policy. What efforts did the Department make to mark that anniversary? What assurances can the Minister give pensioners about the future of the scheme?

The bus pass scheme tends to be reviewed every five years, and what we have been able to do is ensure that that review does not take place every five years and that the concessionary bus pass remains in place for as long as is needed.

The Secretary of State has long taken a personal interest in the Boston bypass. Will he join me in commending the excellent campaign being run by my local paper, the Boston Standard, which is gathering evidence from local hauliers, in particular? Does he agree that it bolsters an already compelling case for an application to be made to his bypass fund for this road in due course?

As my hon. Friend knows, I have visited the proposed site of the Boston bypass on more than one occasion over the years. I know that a vigorous campaign has been run by his local paper, local activists and himself. You will know, Mr Speaker, that we will shortly be bringing forward the next stage of our proposals for what I have dubbed the “bypass fund”, and there will be opportunities to build bypasses in the not-too-distant future.

T9. Evidence shows that regulating bus services can improve the service and boost passenger numbers, so why are this Government siding with bus companies, rather than bus passengers, by refusing councils the powers to take back control of local buses? (904843)

I am a bit confused as to where the hon. Gentleman read that, because we have not refused any authorities. We are trying to help local authorities to manage their bus services and work with bus operators to deliver the best service that they think is needed at local level. The decision is best made locally. On top of that, we have spent £250 million to support bus services in England via the bus service operators grant, and £40 million of that goes towards supporting concessionary travel at a local level.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a renowned blue-sky thinker, so does he imagine that any time soon, or even some day in the future, people will be able to get on an HS2 train in Manchester or Glasgow and go non-stop to the European continent?

For a moment, I thought my hon. Friend was going to ask me whether people would be able to get on an HS2 train in Manchester and travel to Lichfield. Of course, it always depends on the market. When the first trains started to operate through the channel tunnel, a fleet of trains was bought to provide links from the north of England through to the continent, but the market was never there—although one never says never.

The Hussey family and I are grateful for the Minister’s support following Freddie’s tragic death in 2014, and we will welcome him to Bristol next week for a trailer safety summit. On Tuesday, the other place agreed to improve trailer safety measures; is the Minister willing to share his view of their lordships’ decision?

I have greatly enjoyed the chance to work with the hon. Lady on the issues that she describes, and I am very much looking forward to attending her trailer safety summit next week. The Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill will come to this House in due course, so we will then have a chance to look at what their lordships have said.