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Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

I remind colleagues that questions should be short and should preferably consist of a single sentence.

A moment ago, I talked about the importance of the Union—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—and we also talked about regional air links. I am pleased to announce that I have agreed to extend the current public service obligation on flights from Londonderry to Stansted for a further two years from May. I believe that that will provide a boost for business in Northern Ireland and, rather importantly, allow spectators to attend the 148th open championship at Royal Portrush this summer.

The fantastic pupils at Outwood Primary Academy Ledger Lane in my constituency have organised a petition calling for Wakefield Metropolitan District Council to improve road safety and have persuaded 430 parents and teachers to sign it. The signatories want to see a speed indication device, or other speed restrictions, outside the school. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve road safety outside schools?

The Government are combining a range of measures including our cycling and walking safety two-year action plan, which addresses that issue specifically. However, I hope that Wakefield Council, which holds the power to install speed indication devices, will look carefully at the petition, and will respond positively to my hon. Friend’s young constituents.

T2. Scotland’s premier food and drink exports could deteriorate while stuck in traffic jams in the south-east of England. If the Secretary of State is so keen on new routes to Europe, would it not make sense for him to support ferry links in areas much farther north, such as Rosyth? (909240)

We have, of course, supported ferry links farther north, but I think that the additional capacity from east coast ports may, in many circumstances, provide a realistic alternative—indeed, a real alternative—for manufacturers and producers in Scotland.

T3.   Cornwall Council has made the Camelford bypass its No. 1 priority in the context of the major road network. Will the Minister update us on the progress of the network? (909241)

I can confirm that the A39 meets the necessary criteria for the scheme. As far as I am aware, it has not yet been approved and prioritised by the sub-national transport body, but we expect that to happen by the middle of the year, and once it has happened, we will be happy to look at it.

T4. May I invite the Secretary of State to visit Croydon? More trains pass through Croydon than pass through King’s Cross, Euston and Paddington combined. The Secretary of State is aware that just outside east Croydon there is a bottleneck that threatens to bring the whole thing to a grinding halt as passenger numbers increase. I wonder whether he would like to come and have a look. (909242)

I do not need to come and have a look, because I travel through Croydon, via the west Croydon route, quite regularly. I know that there is a need for significant improvement in the area of the Windmill Bridge junction. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) has been vociferous in telling me that that needs to happen, and the Department and Network Rail have already started work on what we believe will be an important project for the future.

T6.   The expansion of the Metrolink network is a key part of Greater Manchester’s transport strategy. In the light of proposals to increase the amount of housing stock in Gatley, Cheadle Hulme and Heald Green as part of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, improvements in our local transport capacity are a priority for my constituents. What steps has the Department taken to support tram-train technology, with a view to expanding the tram-train Metrolink to my constituency? (909244)

As my hon. Friend will know, the Mayor of Manchester and I recently agreed to work together on the potential expansion of the Metrolink network with the use of tram-train technology. The Government have already funded a tram-train system in Sheffield, which is making a difference there, and I am keen to see how we can extend that to Greater Manchester.

T5. Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to improve air quality in urban areas is through the use of tram schemes? May I commend to him the Sutton tram scheme and encourage him to work closely with the Mayor of London to try to ensure that such schemes are viable and are rolled out? (909243)

Not only do I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but we published a light rail call for evidence only last week, specifically highlighting all the concerns he mentions of air quality, congestion relief and so on.

T7. Motorists in Harlow driving down Edinburgh Way have faced shocking congestion since 2017, because of delays from the utility companies, costing Essex County Council about £2 million. Will my hon. Friend urge these utility companies to get their acts together and free traffic in Harlow for motorists? (909245)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising the issue. He will be aware that the local authority has the capacity to charge up to £10,000 a day for works overruns. We are working on a new programme called Street Manager to enable local authorities to track these works more effectively.

Leigh has recently been ranked one of the worst constituencies for social mobility. We are also the fifth largest town in the country without a rail station. Connectivity matters: to connect constituencies and constituents with more opportunities to succeed, will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can help to bring rail connectivity back to the people of Leigh?

The hon. Lady raises the important point that transport is not just about a single journey but is also about social mobility. I am proud that this Department supports our economy and communities and society in a way that enhances mobility. We have invested over £61 billion in transport infrastructure in the five years to 2020-21, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady.

T8.   When will we see the end of short formation trains on the Southern rail network? On the Lewes to Eastbourne stretch, we are on four-carriage trains every day. When will this misery end? (909246)

Officials in my Department monitor the number of short formations on Govia Thameslink Railway services as one of its performance benchmarks. There are a number of actions we can take when performance falls below agreed levels, and I am pleased that we are now seeing the lowest number of short formations on GTR since the start of the franchise. I hope that this positive trajectory continues, and I will continue to monitor it.

People in Stockton cannot get a bus back home after an afternoon doctor appointment, while the Tees Valley Mayor has spent £15,000 on Facebook advertising after almost two years but still has not come up with a plan to improve buses. When will my constituents get better bus services?

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council receives almost £89,000 of bus service operators grant to support local bus services, and £75.5 million from the Government’s transforming cities fund has also been secured to improve local connectivity to Tees valley. We have not heard from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council or the Tees Valley Combined Authority about using the extra powers available to them under the Bus Services Act 2017 to improve services and work more closely with local bus companies. If they were to get in touch, we could also let them know about the world of improvements they could deliver for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

T9.   Who is controlling the money in the Department for Transport? In a written answer this week, the Minister tells me that in the last six months of 2018, HS2 spent £5,663,422 on 89 agency staff per month. That equates to just in excess of £120,000 in an annual salary. What on earth is going on in HS2? Who is making the taxpayer pay these amazingly overpaid prices for personnel on HS2? It is a waste of money; cancel it. (909247)

I am well aware that my right hon. Friend has been a doughty and particularly inquisitive Member of Parliament on behalf of her constituents on HS2. She knows that there is a set budget to deliver HS2, and we must not forget the benefits it will bring across our country, demolishing the north-south divide and building a fairer country. This is more than a transport project; it is a transformative project linking eight of our 10 cities and investing in the midlands and the north of our country.

Does the Minister recognise that while all that she has just said gives some reassurance, these continued rumours about HS2 raise concerns for companies like Bombardier in my constituency, which has a joint bid with Hitachi for the rolling stock? Can she say anything further to reassure such companies?

The right hon. Lady makes a valid point. So often, we lament that parliamentarians do not deliver long-term projects and that we do not invest in our country or our skills base, but that is what HS2 is doing. I ask Members to desist from undermining one of the largest European infrastructure projects, which will transform our country, and to think about the extra benefits this will bring to the midlands and the north. We are continuing to work with the HS2 programme. That was in our manifesto and that of the Labour party, and it is important to note that every time the Bill has come to the Floor of the House it has gone through.

T10. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for our meeting this week allowing me to reiterate the case for much-needed improvements to the A5 in my constituency that would significantly improve the commute for thousands of my constituents every day. Does he agree that effective partnerships between stakeholders such as Highways England, local authorities and the Government are key to delivering these transformative projects? (909248)

At the last Transport questions, I asked the Minister for help in persuading First Group to lend Hull Trains a new train six months early. Does he agree that the fact that I have not had a direct response is disrespectful and indicates First Group’s dismissive attitude to Hull? Instead, I had to read the response in the Hull Daily Mail. Will he press on First Group the need to meet urgently to secure the continuing success of Hull Trains?

Following the last Transport questions, I asked First Group to take the issue forward. I am sorry if it has not actually contacted the hon. Lady, and I will pick this up with it, but I have already taken action as we discussed at the last Transport questions.

May we have consideration of the Oyster ticketing system being extended south to Crawley stations such as Three Bridges?

We have launched a consultation on extending the very popular pay-as-you-go Oyster system to other parts of the south-east, and we are looking at the underlying principles for the rest of the country, too. As the public consultation document sets out, we are considering different options, and I would encourage anyone who believes their local station should be included in a pay-as-you-go zone to respond to the consultation, saying what they want and why. I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s views are part of that consultation.

I do not mind taking a few more questions if people will guarantee that it will be a short sentence each.

The Heathrow logistics hub process is coming to a conclusion, and there are a number of bids from Northern Ireland, including one from my constituency. Without prejudicing the outcome, will the Minister ensure that he co-operates closely to ensure that there are regional variations to benefit thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland?

I have already told Heathrow airport that, while the detail of the decisions is a matter for them, I would certainly want to see a proper spread across all parts of the United Kingdom.

While we are thinking about unfortunate absences, will you join me, Mr Speaker, in thanking the Tonbridge line’s commuters for highlighting the problem of ghost trains on the Tonbridge to Redhill line? On 30 December, 36 trains were advertised but only 12 ran. Could the Minister possibly do something to ensure that the train operating companies actually run the trains that they advertise?

The Department monitors performance on a daily basis, and there is a range of actions that we can take when performance falls below agreed levels. I understand that performance on the Redhill to Tonbridge line has been impacted by various things, including speed restrictions, but I am able to tell my hon. Friend that performance on the line has been much improved since the start of the year, with 90% of services now arriving within five minutes of schedule.

After awarding the contract to Seaborne Freight, the Secretary of State boasted to the House that he was backing a British start-up. I tabled a written question to his Department asking whether it was his working assumption that any ships operated by Seaborne would operate under the British flag. Why were his Ministers, in the answer I received on 14 January, unable to give a straight yes or no answer?

Because these are matters for a commercial company. I think that it is still the right thing for a British Government to do to support British start-up businesses, but these are commercial matters for those businesses.

Speakerdate—hashtag! I should like to thank the Minister for her excellent visit to my constituency last week and for the HS2 meeting that she convened. On Sunday, I attended the AGM of the Toton, Chilwell Meadows and Chetwynd neighbourhood forum and saw its bold, realistic and exciting plans for the area, based in part on HS2 coming to Toton sidings. Do she and the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that, when the development body is formed for HS2 at Toton, the neighbourhood forum is fully involved in all its workings?

Absolutely. I was delighted to visit Nottingham and to have a meeting with all the east midlands business and council representatives. It is absolutely right to say that HS2 is a local and national project, and community groups such as the one my right hon. Friend has mentioned are indeed involved. I am also delighted to have visited her station.

As well as announcing funding for the resilience work at Dawlish, will the Government also secure Dawlish-proof trains by moving the HSTs on to the CrossCountry franchise?

We are currently working to add more capacity into the CrossCountry franchise, and Network Rail is looking at how to tackle some of the engineering challenges posed by the impact of salt water on trains. That is work in progress.

My constituents and I have been campaigning for many years to secure a flyover on the A1 by Wittering. Will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituents with a view to progressing matters?

That sounds like a local transport matter, but I am of course happy to meet my hon. Friend and any local councillors whom he may wish to bring.

On Monday, the Secretary of State justified the non-competitive tendering process for Seaborne Freight by referring to a “change in the assumptions”. Would he care to elaborate on exactly what he meant by that? Does he think that that defence will stand up in court?

I recall explaining on Monday precisely what the circumstances were, and I do not want to detain the House any longer by repeating an answer that I gave to the hon. and learned Lady three days ago.