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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020


The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Safety

The Government are committed to improving safety on all our roads, and to reducing the numbers of those who are needlessly killed and injured. Last July, we published “The road safety statement 2019: a lifetime of road safety”.

The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) has this week accused Highways England of

“a shocking degree of carelessness”

in rolling out all-lane-running motorways, and the chairman of the Police Federation has described smart motorways as “inherently dangerous” and “a death trap”. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement of a rapid evidence stocktake, and he promised to bring forward recommendations in a matter of weeks, but it has now been three months. What is he going to do, and when, to prevent further avoidable deaths?

I should like to start by thanking the hon. Lady for her sterling work as Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, which I am sure is recognised by all Members of the House. She is absolutely right about that stocktake. Two things have happened. First, the general election intervened and took up some weeks. The other thing that has happened—I say this in all sincerity—is that I have uncovered a range of issues that I am not content simply to brush over. I have therefore requested further information, and we are nearly there. In this process, I have specifically included going back to, speaking to and in one case meeting the families of those who have been affected by these issues. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead that there is far too much complication in having all-lane-running dynamic motorways—smart motorways. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, this is taking a little longer, but I think we will get to a much better outcome.

It has been clear for some time that all-lane-running motorways are death traps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has pointed out, five people have been killed in just 10 months on a 16-mile stretch of the M1. The Secretary of State has the power to scrap these dangerous motorways now, so will he stop this dither and delay and act now to avoid further tragic deaths and serious injuries? Will he also assure the House that there will be no restoration of these motorways without full radar coverage?

As I pointed out a moment ago—perhaps after the hon. Gentleman’s question was written—it is important that we gather all the facts. Sadly, 1,700-plus people died on all our roads in 2018. Motorways are the safest of those roads, but the question is: are smart motorways less safe than the rest of the motorway network? For me, we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue. But we have to do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of the victims as well as to organisations such as the AA and the RAC and to Members of this House. Forgive me, it does take time to do this correctly, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed with the results.

I should like to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she has chaired the Transport Committee over the past two years. She has done so with great fairness, and she probed with great diligence as well. I want to give her my thanks for that, and she is also a wonderful friend.

When it comes to road safety, there is great concern that school safety is at risk. Would it be possible to set up a programme of investment so that the most dangerous schools can get the necessary technology and 20 mph speed limits put in place? That would also encourage the use of walking buses.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chair of the Select Committee. Yes, I agree with him about working with schools. One point that is often forgotten is that local authorities already have the power to reduce speed limits, for example to 20 mph. I look forward to working with him as Chair of the Committee.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the stretch of the M20 that runs through my constituency is due to open as an all-lane-running motorway in March, but it does not have stopped vehicle detection systems or appropriately spaced emergency refuges. I appreciate that it will be frustrating for those using it to continue to have cones and low speed limits, but does he agree that, given the concerns about safety on all-lane-running motorways, it should not open until all those measures have been put in place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned on this issue for a long time. That stretch of the M20, and all other stretches that are currently being worked on, will not be opened until we have the outcome of the stocktake.

Transport Investment: Regional Disparities

We have made clear our ambition to level up opportunity across the country, including through more investment in transport infrastructure.

The removal of Northern’s rail franchise is long overdue, but that alone will not fix the systematic problems of poor infrastructure and lacklustre investment that cripple our rail network. Northerners are frequently promised investment for new infrastructure projects, but it is rarely delivered. We were promised new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly way back in 2014 as part of George Osborne’s northern hub, but the money has never materialised. When can we expect the platforms to be built, so that passengers are no longer left waiting hours for trains that never turn up?

We are spending £48 billion on rail over the next five years, not including Northern Powerhouse Rail. We are spending £13 billion just in the north and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, I made a significant intervention on the Northern franchise yesterday. That level of investment will continue, and a figure that has not been exposed enough is that £333 per person is spent in the north-west, which compares with £183 per person in London. This Government are more committed to the northern powerhouse, the rail network and the transport network than any before.

The news about Northern proves that the current system is simply not fit for purpose and highlights yet again the chronic lack of investment in the transport infrastructure of the regions of England. Transport for the North has said that £70 billion is needed for the required improvements, yet regions outside London have averaged a third of London’s public transport spend per capita over the past five years. Does the Secretary of State not see the sheer scale of investment required and therefore accept that gimmicks such as the £500 million announced this week will simply not cut it?

We have heard several Opposition Members claim that the half a billion pounds on Beeching announced the day before yesterday is somehow just a drop in the ocean and does not matter. Only the Opposition could think that half a billion pounds is not very much money these days. We are absolutely investing in all the other areas. An IPPR North report claimed that there was much less investment in them, but I have figures that challenge that.

I would love to hear those figures, because the maths simply does not add up. The RMT described the money as a drop in the ocean, and it is right. The Scottish Government have invested in modernisation and electrification schemes, completing them without cancellation, on the Aberdeen-Inverness and Edinburgh-Glasgow lines, the Paisley corridor and many other routes, and we reopened the hugely successful Borders railway. Does the Secretary of State not see that that level of ambition is needed to modernise the rail network? If the Government match that ambition, then through consequential funding Scotland could build the rail network of the future and decarbonise even quicker than our 15-year target.

We share the same ambition, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will join us in welcoming the Williams rail review which, among other things, will do so much to devolve more power to local communities.

18.   Historically, one of the greatest areas of disparity is between our cities and our regional seaside towns, such as Southport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reopening of the Burscough curves line would not only give Southport rail users greater access to the network, but contribute significantly to our tourist and retail economies? (900519)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his doughty campaigning for the reopening of that line. Members across the House should have received a letter inviting them to a Beeching event here in the House on 4 February at which they can find out how to apply for schemes in their constituencies.

My constituency has no rail line or dual carriageway. Does my right hon. Friend recognise the challenges facing communities such as mine, and will he support my campaign for better local bus services and a feasibility study into reopening the rail line from Consett to Newcastle?

I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency to see that railway line. I absolutely support his ambition and look forward to seeing him at the Beeching meeting on 4 February.

One way of addressing regional disparity in transport investment might be to continue with High Speed 2, so will the Secretary of State join the Chancellor in supporting the continuation of that project when he meets the Prime Minister later today?

It has taken seven minutes for the subject to be raised. I do not wish to disappoint my hon. Friend, but he will not have to wait very long. We will make an announcement next month.

I welcome the pre-announcement of the HS2 commitment, but our local services are important. Funds are being developed for a tram link from Bury to Middleton, and hopefully through to Oldham, but we need to connect the whole north-east of Greater Manchester. Will the Secretary of State commit to a meeting, at least, to discuss a link from Oldham to Ashton?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. He may recall that I came up to his neck of the words during the election campaign and pledged that, through the local funding approach to transport, we will help to empower local communities in such decisions.

Road Network: England

The Government have invested £17.6 billion in England’s strategic road network since 2015, and we intend to invest a further £25.3 billion over the next five years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his promises on road investment across England. In my constituency of Workington, we are waiting for a start date for the planned roundabout on the notoriously dangerous staggered junction on the A66 at Brigham and Broughton. Does he have an update on the proposed start date for those improvements?

I will never forget my recent visit to the site of that roundabout with my hon. Friend, and I look forward to it being taken forward as part of road investment strategy 2, which is to be announced shortly.

The Conservative manifesto made strong statements about improving cycling and walking on our road network, but it committed only £350 million. That is not new money; it is money that the Conservatives promised given that other cycling infrastructure funds have now come to an end. What will the Secretary of State do seriously to improve safety and to encourage more people to cycle and walk?

Like the hon. Lady, I support the ambition for more cycling. That £350 million is in addition to the existing funding, and I think she will be pleased to back our manifesto commitment to make cycling proficiency, or Bikeability, available to every child in England.

Can the Secretary of State advise me of when the development consent order decision on the Lowestoft third crossing will be announced? This was due on 6 December, and it was understandably postponed due to the general election campaign, but we are now eight weeks further on and a statement from him would be appreciated.

I need to be cautious—it is going through due process, and I will contact my hon. Friend to give him a bit more detail.

After a campaign of over 50 years and quite a lot of lobbying from me and my predecessors as MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, and indeed from successive Members for High Peak, the development consent order for the Mottram bypass is due this year. The Department has confirmed to me in writing that it will still do this bypass as part of the trans-Pennine upgrade programme. Anyone who has ever driven from Manchester to Sheffield has been stuck in my constituency, and this is a big chance to get it right, but the project has slipped so often that people are understandably sceptical. Will the Secretary of State recommit to the programme at the Dispatch Box and perhaps meet me to talk about how we can make sure the project happens this year?

I am delighted to help everybody travel through and beyond the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as quickly as possible. I would be happy to meet him or, probably more helpfully, to ask the Roads Minister to do so.

Bus Services: Staffordshire

4. What steps his Department is taking to improve bus services in (a) Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency and (b) north Staffordshire. (900504)

Buses are at the heart of the Government’s transformative agenda and, with that, we have a new £220 million fund to make sure buses are working across our urban and rural areas. We are putting together the UK’s first long-term bus strategy.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is one of the largest towns in England without a train station. We also suffer from very heavy congestion on the roads into Stoke-on-Trent. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that Newcastle-under-Lyme, and north Staffordshire more widely, should be at the front of the queue for a new Superbus funding settlement?

My hon. Friend has made a stellar pitch for the new Superbus fund both today and previously in a Westminster Hall debate. It would be remiss of me to say anything at the moment. All the proposals are being assessed, and I assure him that the announcement will be made very soon.

The Government have quite clearly failed on buses. They have cut funding by 45% since 2010, and passenger numbers have plummeted. In contrast, the few remaining municipal bus companies run by Labour councils have both low fares and rising passenger numbers. When will the Minister allow councils to bring buses back into public ownership to provide the quality of service to passengers that local people desperately need?

It is a shame that the hon. Member is always running down buses and does not even speak about the network in his constituency, where bus patronage is going up. We have just committed a further £220 million. Furthermore, on the request of the Transport Committee and a number of people lobbying for the very same thing that we have wanted for so long, we have committed to a long-term bus strategy.

Rail Connectivity: Burnley

Work is nearing completion to assess the potential role of a reopened Skipton to Colne rail line to deliver real benefits for passengers in east Lancashire, freight users and the local economy. That is to name but one scheme.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for yesterday’s announcement on Northern rail. The reopening of the Todmorden curve in 2015 had a hugely positive impact on my constituency, providing a direct train service to Manchester once an hour. What support can his Department give me as I look at a business case to increase the frequency of that service?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is already proving that he is going to be a strong voice for Burnley in this place, making sure that Burnley will always be heard. The best thing is probably for he and I to meet in the short-term, because there are plenty of ways in which we can help develop transport for Burnley.

Railway Stations: Accessibility

I thank the Minister for that answer. She and I have met before and she has been incredibly helpful, but I am getting frustrated now. I know she will not be surprised to hear that I am referring to Lawrence Hill station in my constituency, which has been waiting such a long time; I know there are funds and application processes, but is it not time the Government admitted that all stations, which people need to use, should be accessible and just got on with making them all accessible?

The hon. Lady will know that most of our railway stations were built in an era when no thought was given to accessibility, let alone to parents and people with wheelchairs. That is why we have a £300 million fund, which is supporting over 73 stations, and another tier of £20 million for smaller upgrades. I know that there are two stations in her constituency in the review, and she will not have to be patient for much longer.

Will the Minister urge Network Rail to get on with the level access improvements at Alfreton station and urge East Midlands Railway to scrap its plans to end the direct train services to London from my constituency, which would make it harder for disabled passengers to get to stations south of Nottingham?

I am a little cautious about the second point, but I will most definitely do what my hon. Friend asks on the first. Network Rail has a duty to make sure its stations have decent accessibility, and where there is no accessibility, the rail operating companies have a duty to make sure passengers can carry on with their journey.


19. What recent assessment he has made of the future of the Southeastern rail franchise; and if he will make a statement. (900521)

Southeastern’s performance has been strong—much improved—and remained relatively stable over the last year. Southeastern is subject to several contractual performance benchmarks as part of its franchise agreement, and the Department monitors those closely.

I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that reliability is still a problem on the line and that for many years I have pressed his Department to hand responsibility for Southeastern services to Transport for London to ensure that passengers in my constituency get the high standard of service that those who use London Overground receive. I know that his immediate priority will be dealing with the franchise expiring on 1 April, but may I ask him and his officials, particularly in the light of positive developments in relation to Great Northern services, to step up conversations with the Mayor of London and TfL about the possibility of rail devolution in south-east London?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question. We have met and spoken about this issue in the past. He will know that I am completely focused on making sure that that franchise works and on whatever might happen on 1 April, but I am interested to hear the proposals going forward for the devolution of certain areas of Southeastern’s franchise.

I thank the Minister for that answer, because it opens the door to some hope and to getting some resolution on the future of this franchise. Our constituents have long suffered delays, and despite what he says about performance having improved, over a long period it has not been adequate. We had a constructive meeting, but will there be another meeting with the local MPs to discuss the future of this franchise?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet again to press ahead on this agenda. Obviously business cases and a host of other details need to be worked up with TfL, but I met Heidi Alexander, its deputy chairman, earlier this week and we had a conversation on the matter then.

Angry and frustrated passengers in the south-east and elsewhere will have been delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that rail franchising is not working anymore, but will the Minister confirm that swapping the uncaring private sector monopolies of franchising for the equally uncaring state monopoly of renationalisation will not help overcrowded or stranded passengers one bit? Will he accept that we need a new and third option in which passengers can choose between lots of different provider services on their line each day and switch to whichever one they like best, in the same way as they choose different brands of coffee or cornflakes instead of taking whatever they are given?

I hear what my hon. Friend says. There is an argument for open access on our railways. The Williams review, which will report in the near future, will provide an opportunity to debate the issue at quite some length. I very much look forward to having that debate with my hon. Friend because he has some positive ideas.

15. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should extend contactless payment throughout the south-east, and perhaps even out to the coastline of Clacton? (900515)

If the Minister is prepared genuinely to think about rail devolution, will he think not just about Southeastern but about West Midlands trains as well? Some 40% of trains were not on time last month and 2,000 services were cancelled. The police and crime commissioner has had to convene hearings because the Mayor has failed to get a grip. It is not an acceptable standard of service. We want local rail devolution and we want it now.

Order. Unfortunately, the question is on Southeastern railways and is not really connected to Birmingham. If the Minister could pick something out that would address that, I would be grateful.

Rail Infrastructure

8. What steps he is taking to improve rail infrastructure in (a) the Castlefield corridor and (b) West Yorkshire. (900508)

My Department is working closely with Network Rail, train operators and stakeholders to develop options for improving rail capacity and performance on the Castlefield corridor in Manchester. We completely understand that sorting out the capacity there is so important.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The national railway network barely grazes my constituency, and Metrolink avoids it altogether. Does he agree that an extension of Metrolink and the welcome reversals of the Beeching cuts will be an important part of levelling-up the forgotten towns in the north-west such as Heywood and Middleton?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his seat. As a strong representative of Heywood and Middleton, he will be pleased to hear that we are very supportive of measures to improve public transport in large urban areas such as Greater Manchester, which is why we have provided £312.5 million to the Mayor through the transforming cities fund and agreed, through the mayoral devolution deal, an earn-back mechanism that supported the construction of the latest Metrolink extension to Trafford. We will continue to do further work in that field and hopefully extend Metrolink towards my hon. Friend’s constituency.

From Castlefield to Castleford. In West Yorkshire we are grateful that the Government have finally sacked Northern Rail, but we do need investment in our northern infrastructure as well. Will the Minister push for the Department’s plans to include definitive plans for tackling disabled access? I have been raising for a long time the serious lack of disabled access at Pontefract Monkhill and Knottingley. It causes huge problems for parents with buggies, as well as for those in wheelchairs, and they cannot even get on the delayed or cancelled trains.

There is a fund for improving these things, but the right hon. Lady is absolutely right that accessibility on our railways is nowhere near as good as it should be in this day and age. We are trying to do much more with the train operating companies and Network Rail. I think she will be pleased to see what is said about accessibility in the Williams review White Paper when it comes forward.

If the Government were to scrap HS2, which everybody knows is a catastrophic waste of money, we would have a huge amount available for more rail infrastructure in West Yorkshire and across the north—we need better infrastructure in the north and across the north. Northern Powerhouse Rail, or HS3, is much more important to us than HS2. What is the Government’s intended timetable for the completion of Northern Powerhouse Rail? Can the Minister guarantee that Bradford will have a city-centre stop on that route?

The Government are spending a huge amount of money on improving the infrastructure in the north. My hon. Friend will see lots of improvements in the Bradford area and the area he represents. On HS2 and the various other bits of infrastructure, it is not an either/or: they are additional investments that we are making in infrastructure.

Crossrail Delays

9. What recent assessment he has made of the financial effect on people living in London of delays in Crossrail. [R] (900509)

I thank the Minister for his answer. I wish quickly to bring the House’s attention to my declaration of interests. With four Crossrail stations in Ilford South and the huge economic growth potential not just across Ilford but across the whole of London, does the Minister agree that it was utterly mad to get rid of the operating grant of £900 million year on year that has crippled Transport for London? In fact, this is an example not just of another failed project by the Department for Transport, but of a Government in crisis over the delivery of any infrastructure project. Will he commit to restoring that grant and restoring London—

We should be a little cautious as the Department co-sponsors projects with TfL and works very closely with the Mayor of London, with TfL and with Heidi Alexander, who are very keen to see this project brought to a speedy conclusion for the benefit of all Londoners.

We also need to examine the role of the Mayor and chairman of TfL, Sadiq Khan, in this. In his just four years in the role, Crossrail has been delayed by three years. Does the Minister agree that the Mayor’s incompetent handling of TfL’s finances has exacerbated this terrible delay, and that it is time for new leadership in London under Shaun Bailey as London Mayor?

I rather think that we will be having a lot of back and forth across this Chamber in the months to come with various mayoral contests. It is safe to say that on these Benches we are very keen to see Shaun Bailey as Mayor.

Oxford-Cambridge Expressway

10. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of proposals for an Oxford-Cambridge expressway. (900510)

The Government are completely committed to the east-west innovation corridor, the arc, and the Varsity line—one of the most exciting pieces of corridor infrastructure in the country. We are committed to the rail link, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, we are looking closely at the business and sustainability case of the expressway.

I was pleased to hear the Minister reconfirm that a review will take place. Of course, that was finally agreed to in the heat of the election campaign, perhaps because of concerns that were heard about the expressway. It would be very helpful to understand the parameters of that review: when will it be taking place; who will be involved; and will local authorities and groups such as the No Expressway Group be invited? We really need to know about this if that promise of a review is to be a reality.

I am delighted to say that we are listening to all the representations that we have received. There will be an announcement coming very shortly. Let me reiterate that this is about our commitment to sustainable and integrated public transport with housing. That corridor is a vital housing and growth corridor and we want to make sure that it is sustainable transport that works for the benefit of the people who live there.

On infrastructure and paying in, we in Iver in Beaconsfield receive very little money for transport infrastructure. We would love to see our footpaths and our roads used, but we simply do not have the money coming in from bodies such as TfL. Will the Minister look into expanding investment in places like Iver, so that we can have an Iver relief road and actually get the south of Bucks moving again?

May I advise Members that their questions should be linked to the main question? If a certain area is specified, your questions are meant to be about that area. You cannot just have a free for all. Minister, if you can pick something out of that, please do so.

At a stretch, Mr Speaker, I think that Buckinghamshire touches the east-west corridor. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to look at a place-based solution for sustainable housing and transport.

Martin Tugwell of England’s Economic Heartland sub-national transport body described the expressway as a 20th century solution to a 21st century challenge. Is it not absolutely clear that the real answer is a public railway, an electrified railway, with an interchange with HS2?

The hon. Gentleman is bowling outside my off stump, but he knows that we are deeply committed to rail, to connectivity, and to sustainable transport. I cannot pre-empt the Secretary of State’s announcement on the expressway, but let me be very clear: we are committed to sustainable integration of housing with public transport, and that rail link is an absolute priority.

My constituents were very relieved when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Verney Junction during the general election and said that there would be a priority review of the expressway. He gave a commitment that were the expressway to be cancelled, funds would be made available for improvements to existing roads. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that, should it be cancelled, those funds will be available?

I am delighted to give an assurance that, were the expressway to be cancelled, we would absolutely recognise that significant investment in other and even more important road links in that corridor would be needed.

Foot and Bicycle Journeys

11. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of journeys taken by (a) foot and (b) bicycle. (900511)

As the Minister for the future of transport, I am committed both to creating a framework for UK leadership in transport technology and innovation and to bolder measures for place-based cleaner, greener and healthier transport and decarbonisation. I am delighted that, as a result of the £2 billion that we invested during the previous Parliament, we have seen a 13% increase in cycling and walking, and we are committed to a 100% increase over this Parliament.[Official Report, 10 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 8MC.]

The Minister will be aware that transport accounts for a higher share of overall emissions than any other sector, so helping people to drive less and cycle more is crucial to tackling the climate crisis. We currently spent £7 per head on cycling infrastructure, but the Walking and Cycling Alliance recommends that we should be spending £17 per head on cycling infrastructure if we are serious about improving cycling. He will be aware that the Conservatives’ pledge to spend £350 million on cycling infrastructure actually reduced that spend to £1.18—[Interruption.]

As the new Minister for the decarbonisation of transport, I can say that the Government are absolutely committed to this, and we have a cycling Prime Minister who is committed to it. We have announced £350 million for cycling infrastructure. As I have said, we are completely committed over this Parliament to doubling the number of people cycling and walking.[Official Report, 10 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 8MC.]

Walking and cycling have a vital role to play in easing congestion, cutting carbon emissions and helping people lead healthier lives, yet cycling and walking rates are flatlining in this country, and we are a very long way from Dutch or Danish rates. Interestingly, a report from University College London has criticised the Government for approving new housing developments that are dominated by roads and do not take account of pedestrians or cyclists. It found, quite simply, that three quarters of developments should not have been given planning permission because of the lack of safe cycling and walking routes. When will the Government address this important issue?

Right now—we already are addressing it. We are quite a long way from Denmark in all respects, but we are completely committed to this. It is true that for decades this country has not put cycling and walking at the heart of housing development—that was as true under the Labour Government as it has been over the past 40 years. We are committed to it, through the work we are doing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with the housing infrastructure fund and our new single housing infrastructure fund. I am talking to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about how we can ensure that every housing development has proper cycling, walking and public transport integration. If we are to achieve our decarbonisation targets, we have to do this.

Cycling is extremely popular in my constituency of Ynys Môn, with its 125 miles of stunning coastline and unspoilt countryside. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are committed to doubling cycling by 2025, and what difference does he think the £350 million cycling infrastructure fund will make in achieving that?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Ynys Môn. I can confirm that commitment, and she is right that it will have a big impact on cycling and walking.

Very complementary to cycling and walking are electric scooters, which are increasingly popular and commonplace in cities across the continent—they have just been legalised in Germany—yet they remain illegal in this country. Can we at last have a review to regularise the situation, because they are environmentally friendly and could make a huge contribution to reducing congestion, and it is a hip and cool thing to do?

Again, I seem to be a purveyor of good news. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that as part of our innovation strategy we will shortly be announcing that we want to test scooters as part of a mixed economy for sustainable transport.

Train Fares

12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the regulation of fares to encourage more people to travel by train. (900512)

The Government have frozen regulated rail fares in line with inflation for the seventh year in a row. In addition, we have already cut costs for thousands of young people with the 16-to-17 saver railcard and announced a new railcard for veterans, which is to be launched later this year. All those measures help encourage people to travel more by train.

It has been two and a half years since the Gibb review of the main line between London and Brighton, which stated that there are three rail fare structures for one line. It is really simple: get rid of two of them and stick to the Thameslink fare, which is the cheapest. The Minister does not need another review, because there have been many already. Can he just get to his feet and give a commitment that that is exactly what he will do?

May I take this opportunity to wish the entire House a belated happy rail nationalisation day for yesterday?

Earlier this month, UK rail passengers were hit with yet another above-inflation fare rise. Fares are now up by 40% since 2010, having risen at twice the rate of wages. In contrast, fares in Germany were cut by 10% at the start of this year to encourage more people to travel by train in order to cut emissions. Of course, Labour pledged to reduce fares by 33%. Should the British Government not follow the example of our European friends and consider a fare cut to boost rail travel, rather than imposing yet another fare hike?

The Government cap around 45% of all rail fares, including most season tickets, to protect passengers who rely on the railway from high fares. Of every £1 spent on fares, 98p goes back into our railways. That is an investment in the railways; they are actually not bad value for money.

That is a curious interpretation of the experience of British rail passengers. The Transport Secretary will know that fuel duty has been frozen since 2010 at the cost of more than £50 billion, and he will be aware that air passenger duty has been broadly frozen over a similar period, with the cut likely to come in the Budget. He may also appreciate that rail and bus fares have increased by more than a third in a decade. Does the Minister agree that tax breaks for cars and aviation over public transport is the right approach to meet the climate crisis challenge?

We have a very ambitious transport decarbonisation plan and we want to do better, as the Minister for the future of transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), has outlined already—so yes, we do think we have the right approach to decarbonise transport by 2050.

Many of my constituents in Hinckley and Bosworth are often confused and frustrated by the rail ticketing system, and no doubt many people in the rest of the country are too. I wonder if the Minister would agree that simplifying rail tickets by moving away from splitting fares, or super off-peak and off-peak tickets, may well make things better and make people more likely to consider travelling by rail?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a near neighbour of mine, for his excellent question. We are currently trialling a new, simpler fares structure with London North Eastern Railway, and will use the findings to inform the development of wider plans to improve fares. This will be a big part of the Williams review White Paper that will be published shortly.

One aspect of fare regulation that I invite the Minister to consider is compensation arrangements for cancellations and delays, particularly on commuter services, where the sums involved for the individual journey are small, but the cumulative effect of poor services is significant for those passengers. Will the Minister suggest some ways in which commuters can not only hope to see their trains arrive on time, but easily claim compensation when they do not?

The obvious way to get around this problem is to ensure that trains actually arrive on time. That is the ultimate aim of all that we do in this area at the Department for Transport. We have rolled out the Delay Repay scheme across the vast majority of the network, and it is working. However, we are going to spend £48 billion over the course of the next five years to try to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to make the trains run on time. That has to be the ultimate goal.

Decarbonising Transport

Now that so much energy—over half of it, last year—is being produced on a renewable basis, it is essential that transport reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, as it accounts for about a third of total emissions.

We have seen great progress in battery technology for light vehicles, but decarbonising road freight is going to be a much more difficult nut to crack. Does the Secretary of State think that we need to look at options such as hydrogen technology for trucks, or even freeing up space on our rail network by building HS2?

Let me be drawn on the first part of that question, if I may. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hydrogen technology is very important for heavier vehicles and potentially for trains, whereas it is battery technology for cars. We are working on and funding both.

21. I thank the Secretary of State for listening to my call last July and bringing Northern Rail back into public ownership from 1 March. When the trains do arrive on the Harrogate line through my constituency, they are dirty diesel trains. Will he commit to electrifying the Harrogate line so that we can have carbon-neutral travel? (900523)

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I have asked the operator of last resort to do a deep clean of all the trains from 1 March, and that there should be a proper schedule in place and they are cleaned. It is disgraceful that they should ever be turning up dirty in the first place. There are also new trains coming on to the network. As part of yesterday’s announcement, next year trains will be brought up from elsewhere on to the network as well.

Topical Questions

I am pleased to confirm that today the Government will announce the preferred route for the Bedford to Cambridge section of East West Rail. Following public consultation, we have accepted the East West Rail Company’s recommendation that route E, which runs from Bedford Midland—a new station between Sandy and St Neots—to a new station at Cambourne and through to Cambridge, will be taken forward to the next stage of development.

All five proposed routes for East West Rail pass through my constituency. South Cambridgeshire has a town, Cambourne, that is so gridlocked that in rush hour, although it is only 10 miles from Cambridge, it can take people an hour to get to work. Will the Secretary of State support the East West Rail route going through Cambourne so that we can get South Cambs moving again?

We have a real problem with predatory capitalist shipping companies using flags of convenience to get round British maritime rules. This encourages dangerous work patterns and it is costing British seafarer jobs. Some of the worst offenders are P&O Ferries, paying £1.83 an hour on Bahamas-flagged vessels between Hull and the continent; P&O’s Norbay, a Bermuda-flagged vessel between Liverpool and Dublin, paying less than four quid an hour; and Irish Ferries’ Cyprus-flagged vessels between Holyhead and Dublin, paying £4.66 an hour. When will the Minister make sure that Britain has the maritime workforce it needs and deserves? Will she meet me and the general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, to discuss what we do to sort this mess out?

I am aware of this case; it was brought to my attention. The hon. Gentleman will know that I regularly meet up with Mick Cash. I am due to meet him quite shortly. I have raised the case with the UK Chamber of Shipping. The hon. Gentleman will know, as he represents a port constituency, that last year we signed ILO 188, a convention that ensures the rights of seafarers—everything about their basic needs, whether it is the time they should be sleeping, where their sleeping spaces should be, mealtimes, or decent pay. There are some contradictions between the cases that he presented and what the UK Chamber of Shipping is putting forward, so I suggest, if he finds it appropriate, that we sit down with the chamber and P&O to thrash this out.

T5.   When the Secretary of State meets the Prime Minister and the Chancellor later to discuss HS2, will he stress that it is of course all about capacity, but also that it is not either/or, because as well as HS2, we need the TransPennine upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail, a direct Huddersfield to London service, and an upgrade to the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield line? This would show this Government’s real, true commitment to levelling up our country and our economy. (900530)

Like any good northerner, I read my newspapers from the sports pages backwards, so I have not got to the HS2 stories yet and cannot really comment on what they might include. We need a drumbeat of improvement across the north in our rail investment, starting with the TransPennine rail upgrade, moving on to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and then who knows what next?

T2. I would also like to wish the Minister a happy rail nationalisation day. I was rather anticipating a statement on it today, but I thank him for the letter that was sent giving some details. In preparation for the handover in March, will he look at capacity issues? All too often, the line is overcrowded, and trains have only two carriages, particularly on the Durham Coast line through my constituency. When I contact Northern Rail, it says that it simply does not have the carriages. Can we please ensure that we invest in the necessary rolling stock to provide people with the service they need? (900527)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There is a huge amount of new rolling stock coming on to the Northern network, which will take off all the Pacers by the end of May. However, I would be delighted to meet him to talk about those issues, because there is a job of work to be done.

T8. A number of my constituents in rural areas of Rushcliffe have difficulty getting buses to towns such as Melton and Loughborough. I am pleased that the Government announced a £20 million fund to trial on-demand bus services in rural areas last year. Can my hon. Friend update me on the timetable for making that funding available and how communities can apply? (900534)

Absolutely. We are investing £220 million to ensure that we have much better bus services in our urban and rural areas. Like my hon. Friend, I represent a rural constituency. We have set aside £20 million for demand-responsive buses. I believe that an announcement will be made next month, which is just a few days away. In the meantime, I suggest that she look at organisations such as Arriva, which is providing fantastic demand-responsive buses, so that her community knows what sort of pitch to put in.

T3. The recently leaked Network Rail paper, which showed that the alternative to HS2 was 29 years of weekend closures and interminable delays, should be all that we need to know why we must get on with HS2. Will the Government not only commit to it but get control of the MPs who are constantly undermining this country’s most important infrastructure project? (900528)

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that MPs who represent their constituents, whichever side of the debate they are on, are somehow undermining democracy—quite the opposite, in fact. This is the biggest infrastructure decision that this country has ever made and the biggest in Europe. It is quite right that it is properly and carefully considered, using not only that Network Rail evidence but everything else. The good news is that he will not have to wait too long.

I welcome the fresh new approach of this Front-Bench team. Given the importance of sustainable transport and sustainable housing, do Ministers agree that building low-density housing on greenfield sites is bad for sustainable transport, bad for sustainable housing and bad for our environment, because it is so car-dependent, which is why so many of our constituents object?

I commend my hon. Friend on that point and his “Island Manifesto”, in which he makes that point. We are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we move the dial on much better integration of cycling, walking and public transport in new housing.

T6. Many of my constituents have been affected by the redesign of airspace, as many live below the flightpaths in and out of London Luton airport. The Civil Aviation Authority promised a post-implementation review of the changes, and the review of one such route is now overdue by more than two years. What assessment has the Minister made of whether the Civil Aviation Authority is fit for purpose and adequately resourced, and will he meet me and St Albans campaigners to discuss residents’ concerns? (900531)

I met the hon. Lady’s predecessor, Anne Main, and local constituents just before the election. I am well aware that the PIR is overdue and I am very keen for the CAA to get on with it. I am happy to meet her.

Yesterday, Highways England published the latest plans for the proposed lower Thames crossing. In that set of plans, the proposal for a Tilbury junction, which would divert HGVs from my constituency road network, has been removed. Does the Minister agree that, if we are going to get a road that the community does not want, it is incumbent on Highways England to ensure that it works for us?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would be delighted to meet her and the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, who is in the Gallery.

T7. Given that nearly three years have passed since the all-party parliamentary group on taxis laid out the case for reform of legislation governing the taxi and private hire industry, and a year has passed since the Government accepted that case, when can we finally expect them to legislate for the reform we need? (900533)

I know that the hon. Member has been working incredibly hard, along with members of the Transport Committee. We put together a task and finish group to ensure that taxi services up and down the country are far more equal in their service, while providing security and safety for passengers. We will be issuing statutory taxi and private hire standards shortly. Having had many conversations with the hon. Member, I think he can be quite confident that most of the issues raised will be addressed.

Owing to the hard work of Andy Street and this Government, work is well under way to bring the west midlands metro line to the black country. How can the Government further help to extend that line to the jewel in the crown of the urban west midlands, which so happens to be my constituency?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is obviously going to be a doughty campaigner for Stourbridge. This Government have worked to make sure that progress continues. We have devolved £321.5 million to the excellent Mayor, Andy Street, in the West Midlands Combined Authority, as part of the £2.5 billion transforming cities fund, of which £207 million has been allocated to fund this extension.

I of course welcome any review of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, but my constituents are worried that it is going to lead to more delays to improvements on the A34, in particular safety improvements and work on the Lodge Hill junction, which I understand is further delayed. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that there is no way any dither and delay on the Oxford to Cambridge expressway will affect improvements to the A34?

Many of my constituents have been waiting for decades to be reconnected to the Liverpool-Manchester line. Will the Minister meet me to discuss restoring Leigh to the national rail network?

My residents in Erith and Thamesmead deserve decent transport. I share the concerns raised by neighbouring colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), about the adequacy of Southeastern services, and I also welcome the earlier answer from the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). However, what my constituents want to know is when TfL will take over the franchise to start delivering decent services. When is that date, Mr Minister?

I hate to disappoint the hon. Lady in her first Transport questions, but a whole bunch of conversations need to take place first, including the working up of a detailed business plan. We are working with TfL on these matters—there is no blockage in the system—but these things do take time. I am afraid that I have to disappoint the hon. Lady and not give her a date at this point.

I have been working with Hertfordshire County Council on plans to improve accessibility to Hitchin station in my constituency. Will the Minister advise me on how best to work with Network Rail and the Department to progress this? We think it will cost £3 million to £4 million.

My hon. Friend is probably one of the busiest correspondents with my Department. I will happily meet him—again—to talk about this matter, because it is of vital importance.

Our ancient woodlands and veteran trees, such as in Prior park in my constituency of Bath, are irreplaceable habitats and areas of beauty. What efforts are being made to avoid the destruction of ancient woodlands and chalk streams in the construction of HS2?

As the hon. Member will know, we paused any clearance of ancient woodlands during the course of the Oakervee review, and that remains the case. I regularly meet the Woodland Trust—its arboricultural expertise will always far exceed mine—and I listen to it very carefully.

Commuters from my constituency too often experience delays, so I welcome the Williams review, but evidence shows that the vast bulk of the problems are caused by Network Rail. Will my right hon. Friend commit to a complete review of Network Rail’s performance and of solutions, including its possible break-up into regional companies?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the railways are too fragmented. They are not, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) suggested, being renationalised, but we do want to simplify the operation of our railways. Network Rail is just one of the dozens and dozens of companies involved, and it leads to an impossible fragmentation that means solving problems is just too difficult. So, yes, that is absolutely what we will commit to with Network Rail.

As a long-time campaigner for the line to Fleetwood to be reopened, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State was in Poulton-le-Fylde this week, announcing £100,000 for a feasibility study into the line. However, I was concerned that he said in his speech that one of the reasons why we are at the front of the queue is that we have all the stations on the line already. Of course, we do not; we do not have a station in Fleetwood. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the line will be reopened all the way to Fleetwood?

As the hon. Member will know, the feasibility study will look at all options for Fleetwood to Poulton. I recognise the point she makes about Fleetwood, but I am sure she will join me in praising the work of the Poulton & Wyre Railway Society, which has been campaigning for this since long before either she or I were anywhere near the political scene.

Is it not true that the Government can remain committed to the delivery of high-speed rail, but deliver it better than with a project that, at the moment at least, will cost roughly double what its perpetrators say it would cost, and the route of which is designed only for speed although its justification is about capacity? Do not the substantial delays in the delivery of HS2 weaken fatally the arguments against taking the time to find a better way to deliver high-speed rail?

My right hon. and learned Friend always makes interesting comments about HS2, but I listen to Radio 2 in the morning, and that was not covered in its news bulletin.

Does the Secretary of State believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland taking an RAF flight from Cardiff to London is helpful in decarbonising the transport sector?

This is cheap political point scoring. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland is one of the best Secretaries of State that Scotland has ever seen, and he strengthens the Union with every action he takes.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the implications of his announcement a few minutes ago about the preferred route of East West Rail for housing growth in the east of my constituency. Will his Department commit to looking once again at realignment of the A1?

My hon. Friend has been active in making representations on this issue, which we hear loud and clear. Following the announcement, I look forward to talking to him, to councils, and to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the proper integration of housing, rail, and the A1 junction.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), I am a little surprised that the Secretary of State did not make a statement about taking back Northern rail into public ownership. It only affects in excess of 15 million people, so it cannot be that important and need a statement from the Secretary of State! The new publicly owned railway will have the same problems of poor infrastructure across the north. We need significant new investment—when will it come?

I was trying to get an agreement from those who manage the business on the Opposition Benches for me to make an oral statement during yesterday’s Opposition day debate. That is why there was no oral statement—I wanted to make one, but I did not get a response, and that is why I was unable to. Investment will now flow through from the decision made yesterday, and through the operator of last resort.

Armed forces veterans deserve to be treated equally wherever they are in the UK. Will the Minister promise that when we roll out the veterans rail card later this year in England, it will also apply in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere?

I am writing to the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that that card is rolled out across the whole of our country.

My constituent, Marjorie Johnson, was badly injured when, as she crossed the road, a mobility scooter hit her full force. Seven months on, injuries to her legs still restrict her mobility. Because the scooter driver was not insured, no action has been taken against him. What will the Secretary of State do about that?

As part of the regulatory review of future mobility and mobility scooters, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to ensure that the issues involved in that case are properly addressed.