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Topical Questions

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 11 October 2018

It might be helpful if I inform the House that High Speed 2 is today publishing its environmental statement for phase 2b, which is the northern leg from Crewe to Manchester and through the east midlands to Leeds. It will be available in the Library. The route will clearly have an impact on many people, and I have instructed HS2 to treat people with as much decency as possible at what is a difficult time for them. If there are examples of where that is not happening, I want to hear about it, as does the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). I would encourage Members to come and see us about that.

The northern powerhouse Minister was in my constituency last week to see the new Northern trains. During his visit, he said that passengers would be delighted that they have air-conditioned trains with wi-fi and charging points. New trains are welcome, but what my constituents need more than anything is reliable services that run on time. A recent Liverpool Echo poll showed that 52% of readers said that they would have to find another way to travel if services remain as unreliable as they have been since the timetable changes. There is still a very serious problem, so what steps will the Secretary of State take to resolve the rail disruption caused by the introduction of revised timetables since May?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, Northern rail’s performance has improved markedly since the difficult days in June and July. It is now running more services than it did prior to the timetable change. As for what we will do, we will replace every train with a newer and more reliable train, and we will get rid of all the old Pacer trains that run into and out of Liverpool which, frankly, should have gone to the scrapyard years ago. I hope that she will welcome the investment we have put into Liverpool Lime Street station. I am going there next week to see the long overdue work that has been done to upgrade that station.

T5. Chesterfield canal is part of the way through a restoration of its historical route, which is to be completed in time for its 250th anniversary a few years from now. However, the restoration of the last few miles has been stopped in recent years because confirmation cannot be obtained from HS2 that barges will still be able to get underneath it if the trains go ahead. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be possible? (906942)

I should like to give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is a tragedy, in an era when canals are being reopened for leisure purposes, that when the M6 was built, so many parts of the Kendal canal were cut off and are no longer available. I do not wish, and I do not expect, to see HS2 do the same and culvert canals when the railway is being built.

T3. Will the forthcoming aviation strategy Green Paper contain clear proposals for how the new slots to Scottish airports from Heathrow will be protected, and a guarantee on their numbers? (906939)

That will not happen as part of the aviation strategy document itself, but it will be done through separate mechanisms. I have made it very clear that—probably using the public service obligation procedure—we will introduce requirements alongside the development consent order, when it comes, to ensure that those slots are guaranteed for regional airports in the United Kingdom. That is an essential component of the expansion of Heathrow, and my Department will ensure that the protection of those slots for the regions of the UK is absolutely watertight.

T6. Since July, the Arriva Trains Wales service from Telford to Birmingham has been running with only two carriages, causing delays and overcrowding. Telford is a rapidly growing new town, but with only one direct train service per hour, we are being left behind. Will the Minister meet me, and the Telford train forum, to discuss how we can work together to ensure that Telford has the train service that it needs in order to grow and thrive? (906943)

Of course I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. Let me just add that the new West Midlands franchise serving Telford will in future introduce greater capacity on lines serving her constituency.

T4. What role do Ministers see for sub-national transport bodies such as Midlands Connect in the prioritising of investment in our major road network? (906940)

We work closely with the sub-national transport bodies, which can be rather helpful in assessing local demand and local needs across a region.

T7. I have been contacted by a number of constituents about the use by heavy goods vehicles of unsuitable rural roads as rat runs. I understand that technology now exists to track those HGVs and create geo-fences to deter them from using unsuitable roads. Will the Minister consider making that technology compulsory to improve the lives of rural communities? (906944)

We absolutely recognise the problem. At present, the unsuitable use of roads is controlled through information and traffic control mechanisms, by Highways England and local authorities. We are tracking the geo-fencing technology closely. It requires a lot of other moving parts, but we are certainly thinking about it.

T8. Tomorrow, Southeastern will introduce a temporary autumn recovery timetable, which will cause reductions in services and station-skipping throughout my constituency. Will the Minister commit himself to monitoring the situation to ensure that a normal timetable is introduced as soon as possible? (906945)

We will of course be monitoring the autumn timetables across the country. I am glad to see that Southeastern’s performance has been good in recent months: I believe that the current public performance measure is 94%.

Will the Minister update me on the work that he is doing with Devon County Council to ensure that there is a prompt start to the improvement works on the north Devon link road?

As my hon. Friend will know, the council is carrying out preparatory work on the road. We have been delighted to offer more than £80 million of funding under our large local majors scheme. We would like the work to begin in 2020, but we rely very much on the extra commitment that the council is making to ensure that the different aspects work.

T9. There have been a number of incidents involving Uber and black-cab drivers in the west midlands, and in one instance police were called to Coventry station to sort the problem out. When will the Minister legislate, as recommended by the Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing? (906946)

The Task and Finish Group was established as a result of the ingenious foresight of a previous Transport Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). Its report was made public only in the summer, but I am evaluating all its recommendations and will make a statement shortly.

HS2 will bring significant extra capacity and resilience to our railways. What more will it do to help and support places such as Nuneaton on the existing west coast main line?

There is a lot of discussion about HS2 and I simply wish to state again today the Government’s commitment to the project; it is, I think, supported across the House and I welcome that support. The point about HS2 is that we have a rail system that is bursting at the seams and we have to create extra capacity on it. By creating the extra capacity on HS2 and taking the express trains off the conventional lines and putting them on to HS2, we will free space for more commuter services into the cities affected and to places such as Nuneaton.

The rail service offered by TransPennine Express to my constituents is frankly abysmal. If trains turn up at all, they are usually late, overcrowded and far too short. No more warm words, Secretary of State: what are you doing about it here and now?

What we are doing is making up for the fact that the last Labour Government in power established a zero-investment set of franchises in the north, with no new trains and no new investment. We are replacing, with either a brand new train or a refurbished-as-new train, every single train on the Northern and TransPennine franchises, with more seats, more carriages and a better deal for commuters. It has taken longer than I would have wished, but it is going to make a difference.

I acknowledge the Secretary of State’s work to reduce congestion in the south-west, but may I urge him to look specifically at increasing capacity and reducing congestion on the A31 in Dorset?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have invested heavily in the A303. We have been looking closely at the A358 corridor and upgrading the A30, so I will absolutely discuss further with him the particular road he has in mind.

The M56 is even more congested now than when I last raised the problem just a few months ago. When can we expect confirmation that it will be included for upgrade in the next road investment strategy?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are already investing quite heavily in junctions 6 to 8 on the M56. Decisions about the second stage of the road investment strategy will be announced next year.

On behalf of the huge number of passengers who were delayed getting into London today, may I invite the rail Minister to give an enormous, if perhaps metaphorical, kick up the backside to the train operators, which should tell us not to get off trains when the tube station there is closed, to Network Rail, which should tell us the same thing as we walk through the station, and to Transport for London for perhaps not letting those organisations know in the first place? It is not good enough when disabled people have to walk to one part of a station only to find it is closed, and then to get back on their train and have to be told by other passengers not to do so. We pay for the service; we should not have to run it.

There is clearly an important lesson to be learned regarding communication between the operating companies and passengers, and I will ensure that the Department gives it careful attention.

Now that the Secretary of State has admitted that HS2, with its £56 billion bill—and still rising—has got enough money to avoid the Chesterfield canal, will he take a decision to avoid the 30 houses due to be knocked down by HS2 in the village of Newton? Say it now, and let’s get the matter sorted out.

It will surprise you, Mr Speaker, to know that I had a very productive meeting with the hon. Gentleman, and his councillors and activists, to understand the pressures he is under as he represents his constituency. There is no denying that HS2 is a large infrastructure project, and we will do everything we can to mitigate the impacts on communities and the environment.

As a regular user of the A44 cycle path, I have seen many of the benefits that cycling can bring. As we look for improvements to the A40 and the Cotswold line to address congestion, does the Minister agree that cycling plays an essential part in an integrated transport network for West Oxfordshire?

Yes, we feel very strongly that for both the strategic network and local roads there is more scope for integration, and much of the investment we are making through both Highways England designated funds and local road investment is designed to support that integration.

Has the Minister followed the developments since our last meeting on the issue of ports infrastructure on the west coast of Scotland, and is she able to update us on any progress?

We are working on our Maritime 2050 strategy, which will look at ports, infrastructure, the environment, accessibility and employment opportunities. I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to update him since our last meeting.

Does the Speaker agree that it has come to a pretty pass when a Member finds out that works have begun on a motorway to turn it into a parking lot without consultation either with the local community or with surrounding Members? The M26 works started last night. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in April to ask whether this was going to happen, and I was assured that works were not planned. Only yesterday was it confirmed to me that Highways England had said that that was exactly what was planned, despite having told me the reverse only a week earlier. Does the Speaker agree with me, and will he urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to explain to the House how this planning permission has been granted with no consultation?

I admire the breathing capacity of the hon. Gentleman. I get the impression that he is at least moderately discontented.

I am not sure that my view is of any great interest to the House, but I am sure that it will want to know what the Secretary of State has to say to my somewhat irritated colleague.

I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this. I do not expect any of the contingencies that we have in place for a no-deal Brexit to be needed, because I am confident that we will reach a sensible agreement, but I would be happy to discuss this with him.

Peak-time trains were cancelled yesterday and today, and there are regular delays at peak time. Is the railways Minister satisfied with the performance of the network and of the Southeastern train operator?

Of course there is always room for improvement, and the next franchise has set demanding specifications for the south-eastern section of the network. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the performance of Southeastern has been strong in recent months. Today, the public performance measure that tests arrivals within five minutes of the scheduled arrival time for Eltham to London Bridge has been excellent, at above 90%.

I am sorry that I was late this morning, Mr Speaker—the train was delayed again. When are we going to get 15-minute Delay Repay compensation for passengers on the Great Eastern main line?

Under this Government, we have been rolling out Delay Repay 15 in a number of franchises. We are seeking to do that as and when franchises come up for letting so that more passengers get compensation when their trains are delayed by more than 15 minutes.

Last week, the chief executive of Go-Ahead, one of our major private bus operators, called for a national bus strategy. We have strategies for everything else, so why not for buses?

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a passionate advocate for buses, and we have met to discuss this issue many times. I am keen to ensure that we are putting the right resources into this and that the people making decisions on bus services are given the right support. This is something that I am exploring and keen to do.

Will the Minister undertake to give Highways England a nudge to carry out the environmental study required for the A45 dualling works between Stanwick and Thrapston so that they can go ahead in the next road period?

Given that the introduction of E10 fuel would improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, why do we not introduce it? When are the Government going to do this?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is the subject of a consultation that has only just closed. We will need to review that, but we are looking closely at the issue and we have been making tremendous progress on it. He will also be aware that some of the business concerns that have been expressed had much more to do with the low bioethanol price and higher wheat prices than with the Government’s position.