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Topical Questions

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019

Although we have one of the safest railways in the world, we must never be complacent, and I hope that the thoughts of the whole House are with the family, friends and colleagues of the two Network Rail staff who lost their lives in the tragic accident in south Wales two weeks ago. There is an ongoing investigation into what happened. I have asked both the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and Network Rail to ensure that lessons are properly learned from that tragedy.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments.

The £1.5 billion A14 improvement scheme is, I am told, the biggest civil engineering project in Europe. Highways England is brilliant at moving bridges and flyovers but hopeless at enforcing the diversions that should protect local people when the road is closed at night. Incredibly, it cannot even put traffic counters on the roads affected. Will the Secretary of State therefore join me at 3 o’clock in the morning on King’s Hedges Road to count the HGVs? Failing that—if that offer is not attractive enough—will he talk with me about how we can end the misery for my constituents?

I am afraid that I am not going to accept the hon. Gentleman’s offer to spend part of the night with him, but I will have a word with Highways England on his behalf and ask it to ensure that the impact on the surrounding area is lessened. No major project can be delivered without some disruption, but we do not want the disruption to be excessive or inappropriate.

T2. Towns such as Evesham and Droitwich Spa in my constituency continue to grow, which puts considerable pressure on local roads. What is the Department for Transport doing to support small towns with their traffic management and traffic lights systems to ease congestion? (912050)

The Department has funded a significant number of local authorities to trial innovative technologies and share good practice. Some of the connected traffic management measures, including the use of sensors to provide real-time parking space availability, for example, are already being adopted more widely. We are encouraging local authorities to install more of these systems.

Gareth Delbridge; Michael Lewis: today we pay homage to two rail workers who tragically lost their lives at work near Port Talbot. It is all the more shocking in the light of the report into the fatality of a track worker at Stoats Nest junction, which described Victorian methods of protection, brought about by casual labour, a zero-hours culture and the worker probably being fatigued, having had to work because his colleague had failed to turn up to work. It was clearly unsafe. Will the Secretary of State bring an immediate end to zero-hours contracts, as advised by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Rail, bring this work back in-house and end these exploitative and unsafe work practices?

I defend no unsafe work practices on the railways. I agree with the hon. Lady that the railways should always aspire to the highest safety standards. She should remember that we have the safest railways in Europe, but I am very clear, as I said in earlier remarks, that lessons need to be learnt when things go tragically wrong, as they have done on a small number of occasions in recent years, and I expect changes to be made as a result of the lessons that are learnt from those tragic incidents.

T3. The residents of Herriard in my constituency have campaigned for many years against the disruptive, antisocial behaviour of some motorcyclists on the A339. I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister about Herriard being included in the acoustic noise camera trial, and I hope that he might use his good offices to direct the consultants who have been commissioned by the Department for Transport. Will he also separately commit to rolling them out to Herriard as early as possible if they are not part of the trial? (912051)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point. That experimental equipment is very interesting. The number of locations for the noise camera trials will be limited, because at the moment it is only experimental. We need to factor in such things as speed limits, road type, road gradient, accessibility and safety considerations. I cannot absolutely commit to Herriard having that experimental equipment at the moment, but my officials and I are well aware of Herriard’s willingness to contribute to the trials and we will definitely bear it in mind.

The Secretary of State has stated that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU regulation 2019/501 will allow UK drivers to continue to drive HGVs in the EU. That regulation has an end date of 31 December this year, so will he confirm that the 2020 vision under a no-deal Brexit for UK drivers, importers and exporters is one of chaos and uncertainty?

No, I will not confirm that. First, the Government’s policy is not to pursue a no-deal Brexit. We will continue under both our current and future leadership to pursue a deal with the European Union—that has been abundantly clear. However, both sides have equally been abundantly clear that we want trade to continue, and the European Union and we have both been very ready to say that we will allow the flow of hauliers to continue so that trade carries on.

T4. East Midlands Trains, my local rail users group and I are bidding for funds for a cycle hub at Market Harborough railway station. The Minister, who has recently visited, knows that many more people are taking that healthy way to the station in the morning. Will he look favourably on our bid? (912052)

I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to Market Harborough to see the work taking place there: the significant upgrade to services, the straightening of the line and a new station. The new east midlands franchise will deliver over £17 million of investment in station facilities across the route, including extra cycle spaces, 100 of which will be delivered at Market Harborough. I am very happy to champion that and to encourage smooth and early delivery.

T5. Is it true that the Secretary of State called the Road Haulage Association and advised it not to criticise his botched Brexit preparations in public? Is this the Government’s new policy for stakeholders: “Don’t criticise us or you’ll be left in the dark.”? (912053)

T6. Luton Borough Council is the 100% shareholder of Luton airport, which yields about £26 million a year for the council. What action are the Government taking to address the conflict of interest, where the Labour-run Luton Borough Council frequently gives the airport permission to flout planning permissions that it has itself imposed? (912054)

I understand the sensitivity, particularly for local Members of Parliament and local communities who see that joint role. I reassure my hon. Friend that there are very clear statutory rules on how a local authority can and cannot act when it owns a piece of land that is subject to a planning application. I give him that reassurance that clear rules are in place.

T8. The Government are investing £56 billion in HS2, £18 billion in Crossrail and £9 billion on the west coast. When will the Minister have some consideration for the people of the north-east, who do not get anything? (912056)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current £700 million upgrade to the east coast main line, the brand new trains arriving on the east coast main line, the new trains the Government are providing for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne metro, our plans to reopen the Blythe to Ashington rail line with financial support from Nexus, the opening of the last leg of motorway-grade road between Newcastle and London, and of course the mayor of Teesside’s exciting plans for his airport. One of the most extraordinary things I have come across recently is that the shadow Secretary of State proposes nationalisation in every field of transport except for his local airport, on which he is opposed to nationalisation. [Interruption.]

T9. Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is very welcome news that the Leyland bridge is to be rebuilt, but will the Minister put pressure on Network Rail to give a concrete finish date and to get the works on site started as quickly as possible? (912058)

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for their campaigning on this issue. This is an important issue locally. Network Rail has made progress in finalising the design for the bridge and will start work as soon as possible. I will contact Network Rail to find the most up-to-date information, put pressure on it for the earliest possible completion of this project and keep my hon. Friend informed.

Three weeks ago, I went on a parliamentary visit to the Netherlands and had a tour of the port of Rotterdam. That one port alone is recruiting over 100 new vets to carry out the necessary regulatory checks in the light of a no-deal Brexit. Does that not demonstrate the scale of the cost of a no-deal Brexit and the likely delays from the checks that will be necessary?

It is not the Government’s policy to pursue a no-deal Brexit. It is the Government’s policy, under current and future leadership, to pursue an agreement with the European Union. That is what we want. We would all prefer to leave with a deal with the European Union, but that has got to be the right deal.

I am, of course, delighted to welcome the new trains on the east coast main line, but when will they get to Stirling?

The new Azuma trains entered service on the Hull and Leeds routes in May this year. We will launch Edinburgh services on 1 August and they will be reaching destinations north of Edinburgh by the end of this year.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern that in response to a survey by the Guide Dogs charity, 42% of assistance dog owners reported being refused access to taxis and minicabs because of their dogs. What is he going to do in practice to ensure that all drivers of taxis and minicabs receive disability equality training?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but that is actually already illegal. I am working with a number of charities, including Guide Dogs, to ensure they can complain effectively and that the local authorities handing out licences are far more diligent about who those licences go to. As I mentioned earlier, once we are able to put together a national database, it will be a lot easier to stop people who have already broken the law from getting licences.

It appears that the introduction of the hybrid Bill for HS2 phase 2b has been delayed yet again, causing further uncertainty and stress to my residents and businesses. Will the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that my constituents will receive a bespoke financial package, given that Long Eaton is grossly affected because the line goes straight through it and put that into the Bill?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s passionate and persistent campaigning on behalf of her constituents and the businesses in Erewash. I also recognise the disruption that HS2 causes for people’s lives and for properties. Support is provided through the statutory and non-statutory property compensation schemes, which aim to strike a good balance between ensuring fair compensation and protecting the public purse. A consultation on design refinement is running up until 6 September, and I urge my hon. Friend to make sure she puts forward her evidence.

The decision by Network Rail to shut the east coast main line on the bank holiday weekend is as baffling as it is nonsensical. Tens of thousands of people will be travelling to the north for our great sporting and cultural events, while rugby league fans will be heading to Wembley for the Challenge cup final. The economic impact on the north is likely to be significant. When was the Department first told about this decision, and will the Minister step in now to reverse it and prevent this misery for passengers?

I absolutely understand the hon. Lady’s concern—it is a very busy weekend. These things are always difficult to judge and to get right. I share some of her anxieties, and I have asked the Rail Minister to look, with Network Rail, at whether further ameliorations can be made that weekend to ease the pressure. Going forward, I will ask the train companies and Network Rail to try to be careful to avoid some of the busiest peak weekends. We have to use periods such as Christmas and Easter, but I do understand the hon. Lady’s issue about the August bank holiday.

For six years, I have tried to work proactively with HS2 on the route going through my constituency, and had great success, only for HS2 now to produce a Bill that sees a viaduct tear through Rothwell Country Park. HS2 has now had the audacity to send me a letter saying, “We don’t think it affects your area”—that is to the MP for Elmet and Rothwell. What can the Minister do to make Labour-led Leeds City Council, which does not care about my constituents or about us having an inappropriate station location, make this route change? Quite frankly, I can no longer support the HS2 project as it stands.

I am disappointed that my hon. Friend can no longer support the project, because I know he understands the power of investing in infrastructure and how important this line is to ensure that communities and regions beyond London thrive going forward. I am disappointed that his local Labour-led council is not working proactively with him. I would hope that it is able to petition, when the opportunity arises, and also to put its comments into the design refinement consultation, which is open until 6 September.

Yesterday, Highways England wrote to me to confirm that it is going ahead with the road through Rimrose valley, an area with some of the worst roadside emissions in the country. Why are the Government not proceeding with the option of rail? Putting more freight on rail addresses the urgent need to address the climate emergency. Why are they so complacent about this existential threat to the world?

It is precisely because we want to see more freight on rail that we are spending £48 billion on our railways over the next five years, looking to expand capacity. Of course, one of the things HS2 will do—I absolutely understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), and the HS2 Minister and I will look carefully at the issues in his constituency for him—is create extra space for freight on rail. None the less, better road links to our ports, and to the port of Liverpool in particular, are also an essential part of economic development for an area such as Merseyside.