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Topical Questions

Volume 644: debated on Thursday 5 July 2018

May I take this opportunity to thank Members on both sides of the House for the support they gave last week to the vote on the expansion of Heathrow airport? I think that sent a powerful message about the future of our country. The support came from the Government side of the House, the Opposition, the parties in Northern Ireland and Scottish Conservatives, and it was a resounding vote for the country’s future.

Although Greater Anglia and the Government both say that they want 15 minutes to be the trigger period for passenger compensation, travellers from Ipswich are still unable to claim any compensation until their trains are more than 30 minutes late. Given the number of failed trains, failing overhead wires, failing rails, failing points and failing signals, when will the Secretary of State rectify this anomaly and ensure that my constituents can claim the compensation that is readily available to passengers in the rest of the country?

The move across the country to repayment after a 15-minute delay is being phased in with new franchises that will start over the coming years. I say to passengers in East Anglia that every single train there is being replaced with a brand new one. That will improve performance, stop the blight of broken down old trains, and mean a much better travelling experience.

T4. As I have said to Ministers previously, urgent repair works are required on the North bridge at Oundle to avoid a weight limit being introduced that would badly affect those who use the bus services, businesses, and the community more generally. What Government support is available to get such work done urgently, particularly in exceptional financial circumstances such as those currently faced by Northamptonshire? (906291)

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner on this issue, and I absolutely recognise his point. This is, in law, a matter for local government. We have provided them with some funding, and I would be delighted to have a further conversation with my hon. Friend about other ways in which we could consider the situation.

T3. In a deregulated bus system, local authorities have no control over routes and fares, and the amount of money for tendered services is being cut by 45%. How can the Prime Minister justify her statement that local authorities should be improving bus services? Will the Secretary of State give the Prime Minister a lesson in how the bus service system works? (906289)

What I will do is give a lesson to Labour Mayors about the reforms that we put in place in the last Parliament, which gave them franchising powers. The hon. Gentleman might like to ask the Mayor of Greater Manchester why his promise on bus franchising is years away from happening—the last estimate I heard was that it might just about be completed by 2023, which is way after his first term of office, and way after he made that commitment.

T9. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have no intention of allowing direct flights between the United Kingdom and the northern part of Cyprus? (906296)

Let me be clear: all Members of the House would like to see a long-term solution to the issues on the island of Cyprus. This country will continue to work with our friends in Cyprus to try to achieve that goal, but our policies on flights have not changed.

T5. The east coast franchise is now run with the part publicly-owned London North Eastern Railway, and it is a major transport operation in Scotland. Despite that, the UK Government have not allowed any Scottish Government representation on the board. Will the Secretary of State rethink that, and commit to ensuring that the Scottish Government are represented on that vital piece of infrastructure? (906292)

The London North Eastern Railway started operations on 24 June. We are in the process of establishing the east coast partnership board, and we will ensure independent representation on that board. We are in consultation with stakeholders across the length and breadth of the line to ensure that their views are taken into account in the management of that new operation.

In Redditch there are only two electric vehicle charging points, but nearby Coventry has 25. Redditchians are just as keen as Coventrians to take advantage of electric cars. What are the Government doing to help them?

My hon. Friend is right to focus on charging points. We have a large charging point network, and we are rapidly expanding it. As she knows, we have just announced a local charging infrastructure fund of £400 million. A lot of work is being done with local authorities, and I encourage her to work with us to develop further charging points in her area.

T6. Today’s Financial Times carries a warning from the British Retail Consortium about the fear of food rotting at ports as a result of a no-deal Brexit. What is the Secretary of State doing about that, and how will he ensure that our ports are not left in chaos? (906293)

As I keep saying clearly, we do not intend to put in place measures that would create long incoming queues at our ports. Our ports successfully support inward trade from around the world, and in the post-Brexit world we have no intention of changing that.

Thank you. May I first welcome today’s announcement of an HS2 depot in Leeds, which is welcome news for the northern powerhouse? The A59 at Kex Gill is an important trans-Pennine route, and its closure is impacting on residents and businesses in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss what support the Government can provide to North Yorkshire County Council to carry out works on that site, including its potential re-routing?

I say gently to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) that one of his most endearing qualities is his gentleness and modesty. However, he should not be quite so modest—he is, after all, a distinguished former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for buses, and that was a motivational factor in my calling him to ask a supplementary at Transport questions.

I, too, share my hon. Friend’s delight at the news about the HS2 depot. I would be delighted to meet my distinguished former colleague.

T7. Can the Secretary of State explain how the decision to award the Wales & Borders franchise is made solely by the Welsh Government? This is a main commuter route for my constituents into Manchester and Warrington, but we have no say over it. Is it not ludicrous that decisions about English rail passenger services are being made exclusively in Wales? (906294)

We have taken care—this is a genuine issue—to ensure that the Welsh Government, while they control the letting of the franchise, do not have the power to degrade services within England. That is very important. The Department holds clear responsibilities for making sure the Welsh do not take decisions that adversely affect the English.

Heathrow flights are capped at 480,000 flights a year. That was set as a condition of the 2001 terminal 5 planning consent. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are no plans to override the existing cap for existing runways?

T8. Many of my constituents have had to endure a consistently poor and wholly unacceptable train service from GTR-Great Northern since the new timetable was introduced on 20 May. Does the Minister agree that the time has come to end the franchise for GTR-Great Northern and allow the Mayor of London to take over the running of the service, so that my constituents can get into London to work, study and get on with their lives without travelling being such an ordeal? (906295)

The service on GTR’s Thameslink services has indeed been unacceptable. A hard review is under way, which will give the Secretary of State all options when it concludes. With respect to the size of that franchise, the Secretary of State has also indicated that he is open to breaking it up once the Thameslink programme is in place and when that franchise comes to an end in 2021. He has had discussions with the Mayor of London about some services moving to Transport for London.

We are approaching the summer and traffic will be driving down the M20. I am sure that you, like me, Mr Speaker, will wish to have a speedy exit towards the coast. Will the Minister explain what he is doing on the smart motorways programme on the M20 to ensure not just that it works but that communities are protected from noise?

I am very glad my hon. Friend mentions noise, because that is a topic of great interest to us. We are actively exploring whether we can bring to local concerns about noise-capturing the same kind of concerns we are bringing to the structure of the highway.

Delays, non-accessible platforms, cancelled trains, failed investment—would the Secretary of State like me to add broken promises of electrification to the list of issues with the trans-Pennine route for my constituents?

We have already modernised the line from Liverpool to Manchester and we are about to start a £3 billion modernisation of the railway line from Manchester to Leeds to York, so I make no apology to the people of the north for the fact that we are spending £3 billion on upgrading their railway line when the Labour party, when it was in office, did absolutely nothing.

As we reach the halfway point through the Year of Engineering, will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all those who have joined the campaign so far and encourage those who have yet to get on board to join up and make 2018 the success I know it can be?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, especially as he is the ambassador for the Year of Engineering. We are working with 1,400 companies up and down the country to create 1 million interactions to encourage young people to take STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and become engineers of the future.

There are some excellent new businesses housed in railway arches on the Gateshead side of the High Level bridge, such as Block and Bottle, Arch Sixteen Café and the Station East Public House, but Network Rail is about to sell off the leasehold for 5,500 arches around the country. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the representatives group, Guardians of the Arches, to discuss proposals that will not ramp up rents for these new businesses and businesses around the country?

Network Rail is in the process of managing its estate to ensure it contributes towards housing and commercial development where that is sensible. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and the campaign group he mentions.

Will the Minister update the House on what her Department is doing to investigate the use of distributed ledger technology, such as blockchain, in the maritime sector?

My hon. Friend, as you may be aware, Mr Speaker, is an intellect in blockchain, having published a report yesterday on unlocking blockchain. My officials explore new technologies such as blockchain, which may help to improve maritime trade. We have recently contributed to “Are You Decentralised Yet?”, a paper for the Transport Systems Catapult, analysing blockchain technologies and how they can benefit maritime.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Transport said that he would be meeting the people from Newton in Bolsover regarding HS2 and the alternative to knocking down 30 houses. Will he repeat that at the Dispatch Box, in view of the altercation that took place at the last Transport questions? We do not want another broken promise, do we?

I am not quite sure exactly what meeting the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Meetings take place between HS2 and the community engagement officers up and down the route. I believe that a meeting is already taking place, but this gives me an opportunity to remind Members from across the House of the importance of HS2, as well as the 100,000 jobs that it brings with it and that it connects eight of our 10 great cities.

Earlier this year, a joint feasibility study conducted by South Gloucestershire Council and Highways England into a new M4 junction 18A recommended a western option at Emersons Green be adopted rather than an ill-thought-out eastern option that would cut through green-belt land. For the sake of local residents, will the Secretary of State now rule out this eastern option, which nobody supports and which now needs to be erased entirely?

As my hon. Friend will know, this topic is under active consideration and consultation at the moment.

It certainly will be, Mr Speaker. Accessibility on bus routes is important for disabled people; in particular, what has been done to help wheelchair users to access buses?

That very important question enables me to remind the sector and bus drivers that wheelchair spaces on buses are first and foremost for the use of wheelchair users, and other passengers must respect that.

On the NHS’s 70th birthday, can I give you the present of a spare badge, Mr Speaker? It is for the NHS, to which my family have dedicated their entire working life.

On the subject of trains, will my right hon. Friend look at extending the delay-repay system to cover the circumstances when our very popular trains are so crowded that people cannot actually get on to them, just until our new trains arrive with the extra seats?

We do hold train operating companies to account for capacity in our monthly review of how they are performing under the terms of their franchise agreement, and remedial plans are put in place to address overcrowding when that is found to exist.

I have written to the Secretary of State about my constituent who had no access to a toilet on a bus replacement service or at any of the stops along the route between Salford and Preston. She is a pregnant woman, and she was forced to wet herself and then sit on the floor of the train from Preston to Glasgow because it was overcrowded and delayed. Does the Secretary of State believe that she should be compensated for that indignity?

The inclusive transport strategy, which is due to be published, will look at issues around accessibility and toilets, especially looking at changing rooms and how we can make that information more available at the appropriate time when toilets are not functioning.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. Now that Kettering Borough Council and Northamptonshire County Council have resolved their differences over how a new decriminalised parking system might operate, will the roads Minister issue the order to enable this to happen?

Oh very well, it is always good to encourage a new young Member at the start of his parliamentary career. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

The Secretary of State knows very well that millions of our people are being poisoned by the filthy emissions from buses, trucks and cars. When is he going to do something about it?

Before I respond to that question, I just say to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that I had been under the impression that the meeting was already organised. If that is not the case, I will make sure that it is.

On clean transport, this is a central part of the Government’s strategy. It is why we are spending money on supporting low-emission bus vehicles and on encouraging people to buy low-emission vehicles. When we publish our Road to Zero strategy shortly, we will be setting out more of our plans to create a greener vehicle fleet on our roads.

Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) to put his urgent question, I should remind the House—I hope it is a question of reminding the House of something of which it is already conscious—that we have very considerable pressure on the parliamentary timetable today. There is of course the business question, and there are two ministerial statements, but I have also to have regard to the level of interest in the debate on proxy voting. This urgent question will therefore not run for longer than 20 minutes. The Front Benchers must stick to time; otherwise, I am afraid they will have to be sat down. After the expiry of that 20 minutes, that’s it—we will move on to the next business.