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Rural Transport

Volume 743: debated on Monday 8 January 2024

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Suzanne Webb.)

How nice it is to see you come back to the Chair, Mr Speaker, when your instincts must have suggested that you go elsewhere. I want to raise with the House a bizarre issue. For some reason, the Order Paper seems to have been misprinted. For example, it has given me an “s” on the end of my name. Also bizarrely, the presentation of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill seems to have disappeared. I cannot understand what happened to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), and why he would not want to be here—

Order. Just to help, that might be the case, but it is not a matter for the Adjournment, as you well know, so get on with your Adjournment debate instead.

I was clearly far too nice to you, Mr Speaker.

Let us start with the fact that 21.3% of the English population live in a predominately rural area. That is 12 million people who can contribute even more towards economic growth. Yet without greater thought about investment in infrastructure and innovation for transport in rural regions, that untapped potential is not being maximised. The Government have done much to support transport links with the north and in the devolved nations, despite the vibrant though poorly connected local economies in areas such as North Herefordshire. To maximise our growth and ensure that we meet our climate ambitions, as a nation we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

Rural residents are distinctive because they are absolutely reliant on roads. Some 96% of journeys are made on local highways in the UK, and local roads make up 98% of the highway network in England. Road improvements can, unsurprisingly, have a significant impact on rural areas. In Herefordshire, the town of Leominster would benefit immensely from a northern link road—a brilliant £12 million investment that I raised some time ago. Of course, nobody should ever forget the tragedy and vandalism of the famous and now much-missed Hereford bypass. It would have made a phenomenal improvement to the city’s air quality and congestion. Everybody should remember that the opportunity for funding our bypass was idiotically thrown away by Herefordshire’s previous Green and independent council—a phenomenal failure for which they must never be forgiven.

Today, in trying to rectify that, we are limited by the cyclical nature of Government funding cycles. I live in hope that a funding window for the future Hereford bypass will open before 2030. The long cycles benefit civil servants, but leave vital short-term developments at the mercy of local authorities, which may themselves face funding constraints. Local projects are of course dependent on local planning rules; however, central Government can do much more to facilitate those projects by providing capital for roads to local authorities at shorter notice periods. I was delighted to learn that Herefordshire Council will receive an additional £1.8 million to help to repair the county’s roads. I praise the Government for redirecting funds from HS2 in that way. The importance of such funding cannot be overestimated in rural regions where car dependence is so high.

The hon. Gentleman is right about rural roads and transport. At my advice centre, just this Saturday past, one issue that local people brought to my attention was the contact between villages and local towns, and the rural transport reduction there has been. As the hon. Gentleman and I know, it is so important for people who live out in the rural community to have connectivity with villages and towns such as Newtownards in my constituency. Does he agree that there needs to be more rural transport on the roads to help people get to big towns and have a normal life?

I believe the hon. Gentleman was named as one of the busiest parliamentarians, so I am very pleased that my Adjournment debate has not missed his attention. Of course, I agree with him.

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing this Adjournment debate on such an important topic. Like his Herefordshire constituency, my East Devon constituency has running through it an A-road that is potted with dangerous potholes. I was pleased to hear that we might soon receive additional money for dealing with those potholes, but does he agree that levelling up is not just for villages in rural areas such as ours but also a concept that needs to be applied to the road surface?

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman kept looking at notes. That is how it is in the countryside: we have to keep looking for the potholes all around us. I absolutely agree.

It strikes me, as my hon. Friend describes the situation in Herefordshire, that he could be talking about Wales. I know that some three quarters of the population there lives within 90 minutes of Cardiff, but the reality of life for many across Wales is that it is a rural country. Does he agree that the policies being pursued by the Labour Government in Wales—the curtailing of road development, the constant attacks on drivers, and now the 20 mph speed limit imposed across pretty much most parts of the country—are hindering economic growth and hurting rural economies and communities that depend on road transport?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the roads in Wales are worse—in fact, I will talk about that in a moment—but I do agree about the 20 mph speed limit. The people of north Wales are lucky to have Members such as him looking out for their interests when their efforts to get to work, see their families and go shopping are completely sabotaged by the lunacy of the Welsh Government, who seem to think that people should be going even slower than they already are. There is an image of a wonderful scene in “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts is leaning into the car, and the caption says: “No, I’m not looking for a good time. I’m just following the 20 mph speed limit.” I think that says it all about the madness of the Welsh Government. Members will remember that image later.

Safer roads mean less congestion and therefore fewer emissions. That is really important. Drivers can save up to an estimated £440 on their vehicle repair bills when roads are properly maintained. I hope to see continuous Government support for road maintenance in rural communities. I am not usually keen to ask Ministers to spend a single penny of taxpayers’ money, but as a road tax payer I believe that car drivers have every right to expect that their hard-earned money will be used to maintain the infrastructure for which it was levied. The misspending of that funding means that hypothecation is justified for road tax.

The Treasury takes money from car drivers to fund overpaid train drivers and an inefficient Network Rail that could have been privatised years ago. More money is wasted on bus lanes, cycle paths and not-very-smart motorways, yet the wretched potholes escape unrepaired. In Herefordshire, we have more roads per capita than any other county. Our rural roads are so neglected that the need to fill potholes has been superseded by the need to resurface the entire road as the damage is beyond patching. Drivers can tell when driving over the border into Wales, because the noise they hear while bouncing and lurching disappears as the Barnett-funded highways allow them to glide along the Heads of the Valleys road. Of course, we do not want Wales’s 20 mph speed limits or NHS waiting lists, but its roads are a source of great envy. There is room for much more innovation in rural communities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing such an important debate on such an important issue. He is talking about the roads as vital capillaries that keep people connected. I am sure he will be well aware of the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last year on rural mental health. One of the key findings was that connectivity is pivotal to people’s health and wellbeing in rural communities, and part of that is our rural bus network. Often, that is run by volunteers, such as the Fellrunner and Border Rambler services in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that our rural bus network must be supported to keep people connected and well in our rural communities?

I will come to buses in a moment. I am not convinced that the very fat buses that we have nowadays that hardly fit down rural lanes and are usually empty are necessarily the best way to transport people around our rural communities. However, my hon. Friend’s point about mental health is fundamental to the wellbeing of our constituents, so more innovation, better delivery and better transport will be at the heart of that issue.

Just to expand on the importance of the bus solution, I have villagers in Trimdon, Fishburn and Sedgefield who want to get to employment. It is not just about mental health; it is about employment and the whole gamut for people living in those places. The roads need to be flat so that the buses can run on them, and we must find solutions, whether it is little buses, thin buses, big buses or whatever. They need to be in place and use the funding that is available from the Government.

I will get on to the subject of buses, but my hon. Friend is right and his constituents are truly blessed to have such a diligent Member of Parliament.

Let me come on to the Government’s “Future of Transport: rural strategy”, which I hope will contain some of the answers for my hon. Friends. In this instance, it highlights the opportunity for rural residents to move to electric and self-driving vehicles. The latter might be one of the solutions for people. I am always astonished whenever I see a picture of a self-driving vehicle—why do they have wing mirrors? It is extraordinary. A constituent once asked what happens if a self-driving vehicle is stolen, and I said that it would probably come back by itself.

The transition requires reliable charging point infrastructure. To match demand, 300,000 charging points will be required by 2030. Currently, rural areas have only one sixth of the public charging points for electric vehicles that are available. In Herefordshire, there are only 12 public charging points, despite the fact that rural areas constitute 90% of England. The limited range of electric vehicles is also problematic for rural residents who may need to travel longer distances. That is not to mention the need for four-wheel drive, which is essential when the roads are covered in snow and are not cleared, as they are in London.

The real solution for rural communities for the future is hydrogen. We have plenty of water, and we need and use heavy machinery. There will never be an electric digger that is even half as good as the hydrogen-powered JCB backhoe. Brilliantly, JCB has developed its direct-burn hydrogen fleet, which substitutes hydrogen for diesel and means that already heavy plant does not need giant batteries. With machines such as the JCB Loadall telehandler, we can continue to fight climate change from the farmyard—something we do best.

But help is needed so that farmers can move to hydrogen-powered JCB-manufactured machinery. At the moment, hydrogen is not a recognised road fuel. We need to license it for road use, and that means that regulation 94 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 needs to be amended so that that barrier to hydrogen is removed. I hope the Minister will tell us that he will make that happen immediately, in conjunction of course with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

We also need to recognise that farm machinery is getting larger as we have more people to feed. Some common sense is required by the Department for Transport, which should allow the police to fight rural crime rather than escorting combine harvesters over 3.5 metres wide. And that is if the police have been given five days’ notice, which is especially difficult during harvest time when rain is beckoning. We need uniform rules so that combines can cross police force borders without needing to go through these applications again and again. The current system of dispensation orders is a good first step, but we really should catch up with the times and deliver a better way to cut corn.

Meanwhile, heavy goods vehicles pose a challenge for the winding roads in rural regions. Although the use of drones is a possible solution in some cities, that is unlikely to be true in the countryside. Such problems mean that it is important that the Government provide some sort of oversight and policing so that green activists do not try to disrupt or destroy national infrastructure in the way they did in Hereford.

To increase productivity, we should ensure that people get to work around the country more quickly. Increasing speed limits on motorways would help to do that but, as Lord McLoughlin told me many years ago, there is no evidence available about the safety implications. That means that we need to test and trial increased speed limits along with safer cars and better brakes. An excellent place to test these things would be the M50, which is the perfect motorway on which to try to increase the speed limit. It is short and safe, and is a truly excellent motorway, where we could easily monitor the safety of a higher speed limit.

Road maintenance is also vital from a safety perspective, particularly for cyclists and motorcyclists. That is often forgotten by those who advocate cycling, but it is especially important that this safety angle is not forgotten as people consider the potential uptake of electric bikes and micromobility solutions such as e-scooters in rural areas, although I would not recommend that particular form of transport, because a small-wheeled scooter is ill-equipped to cope with the muddy and mucky roads.

Rural roads pose significant dangers for all motorists. There are overhanging trees, and there is green plant growth on the road signs. Worst of all is the gravel that is washed into the road by rainstorms, which is an absolute nightmare for motorcycles, and the hazards can of course be fatal. Rural roads were the site of over half the cyclist deaths that occurred between 2016 and 2021, and between 2018 and 2022 rural roads were the site of an average of 66% of motorcyclist deaths. Cycling is also not a solution for the 25.5% of the rural population who are over 65.

The Government could also look at the advice from IAM RoadSmart, which is campaigning for VAT-free status for air vests. Motorcycling airbag vests and jackets can prevent certain types of injury in the event of a collision. Although there is a stated maximum intervention time of 200 milliseconds to achieve British standard EN 1621-4:2013, there is currently no requirement to comply with that standard. Helite, a manufacturer, confirms that air vests provide injury mitigation, saying that they maintain

“the cervical vertebrae and the head”

and the

“Rigidification of the trunk to stabilise the vital organs: thorax, lungs, pancreas, abdomen, stomach, liver.”

They also offer

“Complete protection of the spinal column”


“Kidney and hip protection. The trunk is maintained to…resist hyper-flexing.”

Separate research by IAM RoadSmart discovered that nearly two thirds of motorcyclists believe that the cost of safety wear has prevented them from purchasing items that would enhance their safety while on a motorcycle.

Turning to public transport, rural residents are heavily dependent on their cars because public transport is not widely available to them. Limited travel options may restrict residents’ ability to find a job. Businesses also rely on transport infrastructure for access to rural talent pools and customers. When I spoke to the Minister—then the employment Minister—and branch managers at Leominster Jobcentre Plus last March, the need for improved transport links to the largest employers in Herefordshire was a particularly useful point that was raised.

I must commend the Government for the progress they are making with the pilot schemes for demand-responsive transport, which has seen 17 local authorities being granted £20 million to pilot schemes in rural and suburban regions for on-demand buses. An interim report found that the use of the schemes in the areas analysed was increasing, and that in respect of those that began before October 2022, the average number of monthly passengers had been between 282 and 1,725. It is important for public transport to be affordable as well as convenient, and the Government’s capping of bus fares was generous, but traditional buses are themselves facing decline. Between 2022 and 2023 nearly 20% of bus routes were reduced, and, according to the County Councils Network, bus services are now at a “historic low” in rural regions.

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing this important debate. In my constituency, I have been campaigning to keep vital rural bus routes in service for those who cannot or do not wish to drive. Somerset Council is awaiting the outcome of its bid for the Department for Transport’s zero emission bus regional areas scheme, which, if successful, would bring crucial and environmentally friendly transport to our communities. Does the hon. Member agree that these funds must be released as a matter of urgency to improve the lives of our constituents, so that they can have access to services, jobs and education?

The Government are being very generous—the hon. Lady may have forgotten to mention that—but the important point is that buses are not the success story that I wish they were. I am very lucky in that Bromyard has Dave Morris’s fantastic DRM transport business, but I think we need to think carefully about how we can make public transport affordable, reliable and efficient. Simply throwing money at the challenges has failed so far to deliver a sustainable long-term solution, although “buses on demand” is certainly a good idea. I therefore hope that the national bus strategy will help bus companies to compete with trains and continue to deliver better public transport.

And now for trains: oh, dear!

I just wanted to make a final point about the bus agenda, and the importance of those buses. When people are evaluating a bus service, if the service is poor and becomes worse and worse, they will abandon it. Durham has seen the biggest drop in bus use in the country. We need not only a good road but a good service, whether it is demand-responsive or not. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to take a long-term view and ensure that there is a service offer that encourages people to use buses until we get the best service out of our bus routes?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: he is quite right. People do “wise up” to inefficient public services—and there is no better example than the train service.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for arriving having missed his opening remarks. Does he agree that community bus services, which are demand-responsive and help to supply services to remote rural communities that are not served by regular buses, may well be the solution that he seeks, as they provide access for people who cannot travel on their own account?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend—a friend, neighbour, and brilliant Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee. Not only is he right, but that is particularly true in Herefordshire and Shropshire, where the most vulnerable people, the children and the elderly, need public services more than anyone. They are the ones who are missing out. So bus by demand is definitely where the future lies because, turning to the railways, the train service has a lemming-like determination to kill itself off. The number of trains in service is reducing and that is particularly problematic for rural residents who rely on train lines to access their workplaces.

Many of my constituents have highlighted issues concerning the train line between London and Ledbury. It is difficult to leave Ledbury at a time when normal people would hope to travel to work. Returning to Ledbury is also a random experience as the last train leaves at about teatime from London, and then it is fingers-crossed that the driver does not give up in Worcester.

So while the Government are aiming to increase rail freight by 75%, for residents to utilise such a boost to service frequency the road network needs to be in place to facilitate access to the stations. That is important because the midlands offers a unique opportunity to enhance connectivity through the heart of the country. Midlands Connect has called for the midlands rail hub to improve connectivity in the region. This hub would mean that the largest urban centres in the midlands would no longer be more than an hour’s reach through public transport to an extra 1.6 million people.

On that point, in Northumberland we have the Northumberland line which is going to connect Ashington through Blyth and Seaton Valley into Newcastle, and that will go two ways: it will take people into Newcastle and it will also bring people into the area so that they can use the beach and the park. It is a fantastic way to use those train services and that has been delivered by this Conservative Government.

I am delighted, and all I can say is that the people of Blyth Valley are lucky to have such a marvellous MP, such a marvellous rail service and such a positive step forward, and, as potentially I suppose that is funded by the HS2 decision, a marvellous Prime Minister as well. So all good, but let us hope that they are not getting the same train service that my poor constituents get between Paddington and Hereford, which is woeful.

I have campaigned for many years on the issue of accessibility to the train stations in my constituency and was pleased when improvements for people with disabilities were made to the station in Leominster, but accessibility continues to be problematic at Ledbury. The station has a B3 accessibility rating and an eastbound platform that is not accessible to those with limited mobility. The station is also difficult to navigate for those carrying luggage and those with prams. All of these issues contribute to an unpleasant travelling experience, which discourages rural residents from making use of public transport.

As I said, the railway seems determined to put off the travellers who most need trains to get about. I hoped that common sense had finally trickled through when my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) told me at Prime Minister’s questions that Ledbury was in line for disabled access, but, alas, that dream was shattered shortly afterwards by a junior Minister in the Department for Transport.

In October I brought this problem to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, who informed me that Ledbury station has been nominated for the Access for All scheme. While that is welcome news, we have been there before. I am concerned that I had to raise this issue at all given that disabled users of public transport should be protected by the Equality Act 2010. Unfortunately, it appears there are many stations like Ledbury in the UK; I was appalled to learn that step-free access is in fact not available in three quarters of the UK’s train stations. A 2019 study found that the only disability measure in approximately 190 stations was a hearing induction loop.

Accessibility is also relevant to the building of new rural homes. In November the Government announced that £2.5 million will be made available to support affordable housing developments in rural areas, yet without efficient transport connections the successful uptake of these new properties is also likely to be limited. I therefore ask the Government to do all they can to insist that local authorities ensure that public transport is accessible for all rural residents.

In conclusion, I want to praise the Government for doing something I would not normally approve of. The Air Balloon pub has been completely destroyed. There is nothing left of it. Normally that would be a tragedy, but not when the A417 is being improved. It is so long overdue and so welcome that the loss of the pub is a small sacrifice to pay, and I must thank and encourage the Government for that vital progress.

The advantages of better rural transport are not limited to rural communities. By unlocking the productivity and connectivity of rural residents, we can enhance our efforts towards prolonged sustainable growth as a country. For far too long there has been an unfair divide between our rural and urban communities. It is time we closed that gap, and the way to do that is by delivering rural transport, just as we would expect to see in urban areas.

That was a tour de force, by any interpretation, from my gallant and hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Sir Bill Wiggin). It is a pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government on the vital issue of rural transport and to his thought-provoking speech this evening. I know his constituency well; I rode my first winner as a jockey there at Garnons point-to-point, back in the 1840s, and he understands that, as a Member for a rural constituency myself, I share his concerns and his desire to have better transport in rural areas.

It is a measure of the importance of this debate not only that my hon. Friend took a very considerable time to make his case, but that many parliamentary colleagues came in for an Adjournment debate in circumstances where there is much to answer. Rural transport is an issue that has been transformed by the Prime Minister’s decision to cancel the second leg of HS2 and attribute significantly larger amounts of funding, which I will go through, to transport infrastructure across the country, and in particular to support rural communities.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the points made by several hon. Friends are utterly right. As part of Network North, we have announced £8.3 billion of funding to fix potholes and maintain our roads. We have already commenced paying that money, and I will go through the Herefordshire funding, because it matters to see the transformation in funding that has taken place.

We should bear in mind that in 2008-09 and 2009-10 less than £10 million in funding was allocated to Herefordshire Council. That, in reality, has now doubled to £18.76 million this year, up 31%, by reason of the announcements that I will go through. There is the baseline funding of £14 million, on top of which there was an increase of £2.56 million as part of the 2023 budget. On top of that there was a further £106 million in additional funding as part of the Network North 11-year period of funding up to 2033-34. Finally, Herefordshire has already received the first instalment of £1.8 million, in December 2023.

I think I am achieving a parliamentary hat-trick by responding to the Adjournment debates on the second-to-last day of the winter term, on the last day of the winter term and on the first day of this term. I commenced with a robust No. 10 in my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) on 18 December, an interesting but genuine No. 11 on 19 December, and then an opening bat in the Graveney mould on the first day of this term.

The particular relevance of this is that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) stated in this and previous debates that Devon was not getting any funding. He will be aware that it received in excess of £6.6 million over the next two years to combat potholes in his constituency, over and above the baseline funding and the 2023 budget. For context, in this year alone that equates to a 16.6% uplift in his county council’s pothole budget.

Order. One of us is going to sit down, and it will certainly not be me. Minister, it is a bit naughty to mention the Member while he is here but then not allow him to come back. You take him personally to task, which is not a problem, but then when he stands up you want to move on, which I think is a bit unfair. Minister, it is up to you.

Mr Speaker, with respect, I was going to allow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton to intervene. I have a lot of Members to deal with and I was going to address pothole funding first, but I will of course allow him to respond.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I appreciate his point about the money being released to places such as Devon, but I speak to constituents who think that one reason why speed restrictions are being imposed on rural roads is because of potholes. That is clearly not the Government’s intention, so is this a form of speed restriction?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the copious answer I made on those points on 19 December.

The reality of the situation is that, in addition to the Herefordshire funding, there is a further £4.7 billion for local authorities in the north and midlands through the new local integrated transport settlement, which will allow authorities to deliver a range of new transport schemes to help reduce congestion and upgrade junctions, as well as to invest in active travel and zero-emission buses.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire specifically raised the Hereford bypass, which did not proceed under a previous local authority. I am happy to meet him and the present local authority, because clearly there are opportunities through the local integrated transport settlement, and other forms of funding, for local authorities to bring forward proposals in relation to potential bypasses. It is for the county council to make that case, and I look forward to hearing from it.

As the House has debated in detail tonight, buses have a key role to play in improving connectivity and supporting rural areas to develop and grow the economy. That is why the Government have invested so heavily in buses over the past few years. Following the introduction of the national bus strategy, the Government are providing over £1 billion of support to help local authorities to deliver their bus service improvement plans, and this support will remain in place until at least April 2025. It is up to local authorities to determine how this bus funding should be spent, including by assessing the needs of local communities.

In addition, Herefordshire, like many rural areas of the north and midlands, will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government have allocated from the HS2 moneys, through Network North, to help level up bus services. That includes £1.9 million of bus service improvement plan funding, and it will receive further money through Network North funding.

As part of our regular funding, we also support buses through the bus service operators grant, which is worth over £259 million a year to bus and community transport operators. My hon. Friend spoke about particular bus services, and the demand-responsive services mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) are a good example. I totally agree, and I strongly believe that it is up to local authorities to drive forward successful operators.

I am aware of the Border Rambler and Fellrunner bus services mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). And my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) rightly made the case that it is up to his local authority to ensure that bus services, particularly in the southern part of his constituency, are made available to his constituents.

I deprecate those individual providers that have not taken up the £2 bus fare, which is a key change we have made. With great respect, the introduction of the £2 bus fare has been transformational in my Northumberland community and across the country. I am delighted that, following the launch of Network North, the £2 bus fare will continue to run for a considerable time.

We know that rural bus fares can be expensive, for obvious reasons. Before the introduction of the £2 cap, many users of rural bus services found themselves having to pay more than £5 a trip. I am particularly pleased that we have extended the cap, which clearly supports local communities and local economies by making travel to employment, health and leisure services in our beautiful rural regions more affordable and more accessible. On a local level, it has been utterly transformational in places such as Haltwhistle in Northumberland.

I share the disappointment that some bus operators, including some in Herefordshire, have not signed up to the £2 bus fare, and I would urge them to do so. Over £600 million has been made available for the scheme to reduce the cost of bus travel. Although participation is voluntary, the Department for Transport has encouraged as many operators as possible across the whole region to continue to participate.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a similar point in respect of his rural community, which I know very well, having been to Newtownards and around his parts and having lived in Northern Ireland, just outside Moy, for the best part of a year. I accept his point, which he makes as eloquently as ever—it would not be a proper Adjournment debate without his outstanding contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) rightly made the point that the Welsh Government have got themselves into a bizarre situation. The petition against the 20 mph limit, which is clearly an attack on drivers, is probably the most successful petition in the history of this country on any particular issue. I fear that the Welsh Government will rue the day that they went down that particular route on something so extremely unpopular.

On speed limits, my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire raised the issue of the M50 and whether there is the potential to introduce a change of speed limit. I accept that he makes the point for an increase. The point I would make to him is that it is a matter for him, and more particularly his local authority, to sit down and discuss that with National Highways, which governs the strategic network, and then set speed limits on individual roads. They have the local knowledge and are best placed to do so, but it is for the local authority to drive that forward with National Highways in the first instance.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s excellent speech, but the motorway does not seem to be a local authority issue because it will travel through a great number of local authority areas. Is there anything the Government can do to assist that discussion, because he knows very well that most public servants, of all sorts, are risk averse?

I do not think it is for me to comment on the nature of public servants and their willingness to embrace risk or otherwise, whether on a motorway or off a motorway, at speed or not at speed. What I would say is this: all major roads are part of the strategic road network run by National Highways. However, local authorities—there are not many that cover the M50; I think it is just Herefordshire and Worcestershire—

And Gloucestershire. Local authorities can come together and sit down with National Highways and potentially drive forward change if that is what they wish to do, but it starts, fundamentally, with the local authorities.

My hon. Friend rightly raised, and has been an ardent campaigner for, rail station accessibility. I know, because I have discussed it with him, that he has made a considerable effort over many years to make Ledbury station much more accessible. That point has been heard very loudly and very clearly. He met my boss, the Secretary of State for Transport, and made that point to him in October. He will be aware—I am not the Minister in charge of disabled access to trains, but I will go away and try to get detail on this point—that the Access for All budget is presently being considered. The bids are in and considerations are being made. Ledbury is one. He is right to make the point that, slowly but surely across the country, we are upgrading and improving railway stations. We are going as fast as we possibly can. We would like to go faster and we would like to include Ledbury. I promise him that it is on the list to be addressed and I totally accept his point.

Having worked with me on an area shared by both of us, the Minister will know Gilsland station. I urge him to really make the case from within, as part of his ministerial portfolio, for the reopening of Gilsland station.

I wondered when the issue of restoring a railway would feature in tonight’s debate, and I was not disappointed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) made clear, we have the amazing example of the best line in the country: the Northumberland line. It is seeing multiple stations being restored as we take a massive step forward in restoring transport connectivity in Northumberland.

I have campaigned on Gilsland for only 14 years; in Herefordshire, there is Pontrilas and there are other stations—whether they were killed by Dr Beeching or others down the years—that are sought as an opportunity for a reopening of our railway infrastructure. As we have seen with the Waverley line in Scotland, there is a definite desire for such railways to be reinvigorated and for new stations to return. Without a shadow of a doubt, I will personally take the issue up with the trains Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.