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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
10 January 2019
Volume 652

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rail Fares

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1. What recent progress his Department has made on simplifying the fare structure for rail services. [908471]

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It is vital that passengers feel confident that they are buying the most appropriate ticket for their journey, which was why we committed in our manifesto to review rail ticketing, removing complexity and perverse pricing. The rail review will take a longer-term look at how the railway can support a fares system that delivers value for money for both passengers and taxpayers.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Last April, the then rail Minister wrote to me to say that he was conducting a review of fare simplification on the Brighton main line. In oral questions that month, he said that the review would be completed “rapidly”. Only the context of this Government’s handling of rail fares could the best part of a year be called rapid. When will that review be completed and when will fares be simplified on the Brighton main line?

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My predecessor undertook to review the matter and remove some of the anomalies, and that work has already started, including in the fare review we saw earlier this year and the big piece of work reviewing how pay-as-you-go can be extended across the south-east. There has been a piecemeal approach where it has gone into Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and parts of Surrey, and we are taking a strategic approach to it and that will be happening in the first half of this year.

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Devolution to Greater Manchester offers enormous opportunities to simplify rail fares across the area. What has so far been achieved in that regard, and what opportunities have been taken to broaden out the ease of using different modes of public transport across Greater Manchester on a single ticket?

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That is very much a question for the Williams review of devolution structures in our transport sector. The principle of my hon. Friend’s question, which is about making things more convenient for passengers through smart ticketing, is absolutely right. If we make things easier for passengers, they will be more likely to use the services. That is a key question for the Williams review, and I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s question is fed through to Mr Williams.

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Fares have gone up everywhere, including for Hull Trains, which has been particularly difficult for residents of Hull to swallow because the reliability of the trains has been so poor. I will offer the Minister a gift this morning—an opportunity to be a hero cost-free. I would like him to contact First Group and put extreme pressure on it to give Hull Trains a new train six months earlier than promised. If he can do that, it will improve reliability—and I am not even asking him for any more money.

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That is quite unusual, to be honest, as we have a lot of requests for money. I will look into what the hon. Lady says and get back to her.

Leaving the EU: Aviation

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2. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the viability of the aviation sector. [908472]

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The UK Government and European Commission have agreed in principle that the two sides should negotiate a comprehensive air transport agreement. The Department is working closely with the aviation sector to ensure its requirements are factored into negotiations. The Department’s aviation technical notices and the European Commission’s published plans for aviation contingency preparations, alongside proposed EU regulations published on 19 December, clearly demonstrate that, in a no-deal scenario, both sides are committed to maintaining aviation connectivity.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his response to my question. What is the Department’s estimate of the effect of leaving the EU on the opportunities for the thousands currently employed in the aviation sector as apprentices?

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I think that the aviation sector will continue to grow and develop as it has in recent years. We will continue to have connections across Europe, as we do at the moment, and, of course, with the plans for the expansion of Heathrow airport, there will be a real opportunity for apprenticeships in the sector and to open up new routes around the world, for example to emerging markets in Asia. I see the next 10 years as ones of great opportunity for the aviation sector.

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The EU’s contingency arrangements are welcome, but what estimate has the Secretary of State made of the prospects for airports such as Bournemouth that want to increase their routes to Europe over the next year?

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The European Union has said that it wants to keep flights at the current levels, and I suspect that they will find that that is not a universally held view among member states.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State can chew gum and walk at the same time, so while he is dealing with future viability with our leaving the EU, will he also deal with the current crisis over drones affecting airports? May I give him the opportunity to answer the questions that he did not answer earlier in the week? Were contingency plans agreed with the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to protect our airports from drone incidents and others, and if not, why not? Were such plans not activated in time because of dithering? Why did they not work? Was that the fault of the Secretary of State’s Department, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office or, indeed, the Cabinet Office?

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Order. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s question with great interest. It was tangential to the substantive question, and I just say gently to him that I had been thinking of offering him an Adjournment debate on the matter, until I realised that he had, in fact, just conducted one.

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Indeed he has, Mr Speaker.

I would simply remind the right hon. Gentleman of two factors. First, the disruptive attack at Gatwick was unprecedented anywhere in the world, and as a result we have been approached by airports around the world to learn more about how we tackled that. Secondly, as I have said, I am not able to discuss in the House the nature of the technology used for security reasons, but when a similar issue arose at Heathrow earlier this week, the response was very rapid indeed.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that regional air connectivity within the UK is a priority as we leave the EU? Can he remind operators such as British Airways that reducing routes from Aberdeen International airport in my constituency disrupts business and leisure travel?

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I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why we have put down a clear requirement that as Heathrow expands a proportion of its capacity is set aside for regional connectivity within the United Kingdom. It is really important that an expanded Heathrow is a gateway for the whole United Kingdom to opportunities around the world, as well as within the country.

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I chair the parliamentary air safety group, and I know a little about the aviation sector. During consideration of a statutory instrument upstairs recently, I challenged a Minister to tell me which chief executive or chair of any airline he had talked to about this subject. I have talked to them, and they are terrified of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. He could not name one.

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I have talked to the chief executives of every major UK airline. I have also talked to representatives of a significant number of international airlines.

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As the Secretary of State has spoken to the chief executives, he will of course be aware of their concerns about the contingency agreement only allowing for a freeze in the services of British airlines as they stand at the moment . What reassurances can he give airports such as Edinburgh that this will not in fact be the case, and that expansion will happen should we have to leave the EU?

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The hon. Lady says, “should we have to leave the EU”. The country has already voted to leave the EU and we will next week vote on an agreement that would continue current aviation arrangements. If she is concerned about the contingency plans put in place by the European Union, will she join the Government in the Division Lobby next week to support the agreement?

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Can the Secretary of State further outline discussions held with Belfast City and Belfast International airports to secure enhanced trading routes post March, and to evaluate what changes the airports may have to make?

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I have had regular conversations with the leadership of the Belfast airports. Working with them in several areas, I want to see them expand their international flights. More flights are, of course, being planned for next summer, and I hope and believe that they have a strong and prosperous future with better links around the world.

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The Prime Minister’s deal looks dead and we could well be heading into the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. If that is the case, we will no longer be a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Given that we do not currently have a bilateral air safety agreement with the US, can the Secretary of State give a guarantee that in the event of no deal there will be no disruption to flights?

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Yes. The Civil Aviation Authority has been working for well over a year to ensure that in the event that we do not continue as a member of EASA we have a properly functional British alternative.

Community Transport

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3. What steps his Department is taking to support community transport operators. [908474]

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The services run by community transport operators are of vital importance to our transport sector and communities. During the most recent financial year, the Government supported community transport operators with almost £3.1 million through the bus service operators grant. A number of projects from the £11.5 million building connections fund will also provide new community transport links to support those most at risk of isolation.

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That is a tiny amount to invest in community transport. My constituency is largely rural, and people in our villages—particularly older people—are left isolated because profit-making bus companies are not interested in serving them. There is some community provision, but very little funding. Will the Minister offer my isolated communities some comfort and commit more money to that sector, either directly or through the combined authority?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that community transport operators, even within his own community, opened a new service as recently as a few months ago, with extra support from the Department and the bus service operators grant fund. I looked on his local council website to check what was happening with community transport, and there was a reference to the funding that the Department for Transport had provided. The council said that the excellent public community transport in the borough was being provided by funding provided by the Department for Transport.

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Until recently, the No. 5 bus service that passes through South Killingholme in my constituency was supported by a Government grant. The local authority is making provision for community transport to provide an alternative, but it will not replace the existing service. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss whether other funding streams can be found to support the service?

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My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for his constituency. I am not exactly sure which funding stream he is talking about, but let us sit down and talk about it, and see what we can do.

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Meadowgreen health centre in Sheffield is moving, leaving the entire Lowedges estate completely unconnected to its GP surgery. Does the Minister agree that, under such circumstances, passenger authorities should be required to consult on bus routes to ensure that they are connected to GP surgeries? Will she write to South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive to ensure that it does just that?

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The hon. Lady raises two very important issues. I will meet her to see what I can do to help out. She is right that if bus services are being changed, there needs to be communication with not only the traffic commissioner, but the local community. I am more than happy to sit down with her to see what is happening.

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When can we expect a full Government response on the sections 19 and 22 permits?

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Those are two very important permits, and I know that they have previously caused some anxiety in the sector. Of course, we carried out a consultation. I want to make sure that we respond appropriately, which is why we will take our time to make sure we get it absolutely right. It is important to note that we are working with community transport operators and the Community Transport Association, which receives a substantial amount of funding from us. It is important to note that the status quo as it is today for community transport operators continues.

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What steps is he taking to ensure that community transport groups will not require a licence when the Government align sections 19 and 22 permits with EU regulations? The proposals that went out for consultation still carry a risk that small and medium-sized groups will need to pay in the range of £80,000 to £100,000, which would lead to the widespread disruption of those services. Does the Minister understand those risks?

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I no doubt do not need to point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am a she, not a he, but no matter.

We are very supportive of community transport operators, which was why the consultation was so important. We will make sure that our response actually fits the fantastic voluntary work that takes place within our community transport network.

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Community transport is a lifeline for many older or disabled people who would otherwise be trapped in their own homes, yet the Government propose to introduce a significant and unwanted extra burden on the charities that run those vital services. Age UK has reported that the majority of its community transport services would be forced to close because of the Government’s mistaken proposals. Will the Minister commit to reconsidering her approach and to working with, rather than against, the charities that run those vital services?

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I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s statement, because the Government are yet to put out our response. We are working with the charities sector, including with the Community Transport Association and community transport operators. There is an EU regulation that we are trying to make this fit into, but we are committed to ensuring that our community transport operators continue to operate. That is why we have the £3 million fund and the £11.5 million building connections fund.

Leaving the EU: Ports

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4. What steps he is taking to reduce potential disruption to travel at UK ports in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. [908475]

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9. What steps he is taking to reduce potential disruption to travel at UK ports in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. [908480]

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16. What recent steps he has taken to prepare UK ports for when the UK leaves the EU. [908487]

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The Department has been working for some time to ensure that traffic can continue to flow through UK ports as frictionlessly as possible in all scenarios when we leave the European Union. This has included engaging closely with others across Government, and with ports and their representative bodies. As regards ferry capacity, I refer the House to the two statements I made earlier this week.

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The Government will forgive the House some scepticism about their efficacy and intention in this regard. Surely the Seaborne fiasco shows that only one of two things can be happening: either there is abject incompetence in the preparations for no deal; or the Secretary of State and his Department are not really taking them seriously. Which is it?

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What is disappointing is that I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman, as a Scottish Member, would welcome the additional opportunities for Scottish business as a result of expanded services from east coast ports to northern Europe provided by DFDS, which is a very substantial part of the contracts that we have let.

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Seaborne Freight has negative equity of just over £374,000, with one director being investigated by the Government for a trail of debt related to previous companies, yet due diligence did not flag this up. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether that is because due diligence guidance was to look not at individuals’ trading history, but only at Seaborne’s proposals? Why was such guidance provided?

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As I said in the House earlier this week, we will not be paying Seaborne until ferries operate. From the point of view of business in Scotland, we have made sure that there are additional routes available from the east coast ports to northern Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, which I hope will not happen, that should be a really valuable alternative for Scottish business, and the hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

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How long has the Minister’s Department estimated it will take to recruit and train the thousands of additional customs officers who will be required if we leave without a deal, and what conversations has he had with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about this?

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I am very confident, as I have said, that HMRC will be ready. Of course, the point is that, at the moment, we do not collect customs tariffs or carry out checks. The Government have said very clearly that our prime priority in a post-Brexit world will be the fluidity of trade; other things can follow. Security, of course, remains of paramount importance, but beyond that, other things can follow. That is the approach the Government have taken.

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I have two ports in my constituency, with ferry connections running from Milford Haven and Fishguard to Ireland. Those ports assure me that they have the skills and the capacity to handle a variety of Brexit scenarios, but all they see at the moment is the promise of further argument and gridlock in this place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have a duty in this House to provide a way forward for this industry? Those who take comfort in just opposing everything are failing in their responsibilities.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend. The reality is that it is all well and good Labour Members saying, “We don’t want no deal,” but then they are going to vote against the deal. They have not come up with any credible alternative plan, so I am afraid I take with a very large pinch of salt most of what the Labour party says at the moment.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the Government have signed the common transit convention, which means that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, customs declarations and import duties, as now, will be required to be paid only when the goods arrive at their final destination?

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That is absolutely correct. In very many international trading scenarios using the common transit convention, customs processes can be at the start and the end of the journey. That is one reason why I felt able to say to the House earlier this week that I was confident that, in all circumstances, trade would continue to move relatively freely.

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It has been reported that the Secretary of State’s Department is in talks with two rail freight companies about options to provide additional services via the channel tunnel and High Speed 1 to ensure supplies of food and medicines in the event of blockages at Kent ports. It is also claimed that the Department has written to Southeastern trains warning of possible disruption to its services if additional daytime freight movements are required. Is his Department really contemplating emergency rail timetables in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Has he written to Southeastern regarding such contingency plans? Should the many thousands of rail commuters in Kent be bracing themselves for possible disruption?

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No. The story is untrue.

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The Secretary of State’s responses in Tuesday’s urgent question on the Seaborne fiasco were disgraceful. He has awarded an emergency ferry contract to a company with no boats, no ports agreement, no personnel, debts and key personnel with dubious trading pasts. Parliament needs answers. How was Seaborne identified as a company that merited direct negotiations for an emergency contract?

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It is a bit like the proverbial stuck gramophone record. I said very clearly, earlier this week, that we have let contracts with a number of operators, of which Seaborne represents about 10%, and we pay no money unless the service is delivered. To clarify further what the Chair of the Transport Committee said a moment ago, we are talking to a number of other potential outlets, in case extra capacity were to be needed—rail, ports, maritime—but nothing else has been decided. We have not issued instructions to any rail company about disruptive timetables and we have not taken any further steps to put additional measures in place. We are simply checking the lie of the land so that we can respond to all eventualities.

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This is an emergency contract that the Secretary of State thought was so critical it could circumvent EU procurement rules for direct negotiation, yet he says, “It’s only 10%” and “Don’t worry, if they don’t deliver, they don’t get paid.” That means they don’t deliver that emergency service. We know how sensitive Dover is; there are predictions of delays that could lead to 30-mile queues. If that 10% is not delivered, what is the impact on Dover?

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This is why 90% of the new contracts are with DFDS and Brittany Ferries. As I said, I am disappointed that the Scottish National party does not welcome the DFDS contract that will provide additional routes from east coast ports to northern Europe, which will be beneficial to Scottish business.

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Putting to one side the ridiculous and desperate allegations of the Secretary of State that Labour is anti-business and his banal allegations over Brexit, I point out that the Seaborne fiasco lays bare his total incompetence and the complete failure of due diligence. Before granting the ferry contract, was he aware of the debt or the promissory note between Ben Sharp, now Seaborne’s CEO, and Mid-Gulf Offshore, acknowledging Sharp’s indebtedness to that company of over $1 million, which remains unpaid?

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That clearly got under the hon. Gentleman’s skin because he really does not like Government supporting new start-up businesses. The reality is, as I said earlier this week, that due diligence on this contract was done by Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald, as he would expect, and off the back of that we formed a contract which we pay nothing for until the service is delivered.

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Here’s another one the Secretary of State might not answer. As a result of this debacle, a variety of legal challenges to the Secretary of State may well flow from, among others, existing freight service providers with capacity. On Tuesday, he said that Seaborne will be able to run ferry services immediately, but on Wednesday the Government said that Seaborne will not be able to open the route between Ramsgate and Ostend until late April at the very earliest. Surely that puts Seaborne in default of its contract to deliver services from 29 March and the contract is therefore void. In those circumstances, should not he reverse his appalling judgment and cancel the contract without delay?

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We will hold all the companies that have presented us with proposals to the terms of their contracts.

CrossCountry Rail Franchise

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5. Whether the next CrossCountry rail franchise will include a requirement to purchase new rolling stock. [908476]

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The current CrossCountry franchise runs until October this year, with a possible extension to October next year. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are working to look at all options for the new CrossCountry franchise, including rolling stock. We will look at adding much needed capacity to the CrossCountry services as soon as trains become available.

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In November, an unbelievable 30% of CrossCountry trains to Plymouth terminated early at Exeter because the Voyager trains could not get through Dawlish in bad weather. As well as placing orders for new rolling stock for the long term, will the Minister look at requiring CrossCountry to use the GWR HST trains that are currently being replaced with newer trains, to give Cross Country extra, interim, Dawlish-proof capacity?

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I had a very positive meeting with the hon. Gentleman and his local council leader yesterday. We agree on the importance of the south-west economy, in particular its connectivity, and we recognise entirely the issue with the Voyager trains and how they are affected by the salt water to which they are exposed. CrossCountry is working on an engineering solution to that and we are working on adding capacity to the franchise. Passenger numbers have grown by 25%, so we need to put more rolling stock into it. We will look at where we can get the trains from to expand that capacity.

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15. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) outlined, there are constant issues with CrossCountry services west of Exeter due to their lack of resilience on the Dawlish coastal stretch. Can the Minister outline to me, and reassure me, that both the future rolling stock requirements and the work that we are doing to improve the resilience of this iconic coastal line will make a difference? [908486]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Protecting the line at Dawlish is crucial and sends a broader signal that the south-west is open for business, with all the connectivity that implies. So this is a national priority. Essential work is under way now to repair four existing breakwaters in the area. We have committed £15 million for further development work. Ensuring that the line is resilient, and that the south-west is open for business, is a priority.

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Before Christmas, I travelled between Leeds and Sheffield on a CrossCountry train and experienced what my constituents regularly experience—as many passengers standing as sitting. The simple fact is that the four-car trains on the busiest part of the route between Leeds and Birmingham are simply inadequate. When we get a new franchise, will the Minister ensure that those four-car trains are extended, so that there is the capacity for people to actually get a seat on them?

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I recognise entirely the crowding issues that the hon. Gentleman describes and has experienced personally, and which I have also experienced personally, so we are certainly looking to add capacity in the next franchise. We are also looking to add capacity before that franchise comes into force, if we can find it.

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Like Sheffield, we do not get much salt water in the west midlands, but West Midlands Railway is now purchasing over £1 billion- worth of new rolling stock. Could not the Minister use that model with the CrossCountry franchise?

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I am aware of the new rolling stock that is coming in to the west midlands; indeed, it is coming in across many parts of our network. We have a fantastic story on rolling stock coming in over the next two years. I will look at what my hon. Friend says and get back to him with an answer.

Manchester Oxford Road Station

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6. What steps he is taking to reduce delays at Manchester Oxford Road station. [908477]

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Richard George was appointed by the Secretary of State to review the operational performance challenges on the railway in the north of England, following the introduction of the May 2018 timetable. That includes the performance of services operating through the Castlefield corridor, which includes Oxford Road. The Department continues to work with Transport for the North, Richard George and the industry to find solutions to improve performance.

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A review simply is not good enough. More than three quarters of trains at Oxford Road do not comply with the timetable. We have had delays, cancellations, reviews. We need an immediate implementation of the Northern Hub investment programme —extra platforms at Salford, and extensions of platforms at Oxford Road, moving to new platforms 15 and 16. Will the Minister do that, and reject the ridiculous idea that this problem can be solved by digitalising the signalling system, when there is such mixed rolling stock on these rails?

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The problem, which is clearly there because the Castlefield corridor is a bottleneck on our network, will be solved using a variety of solutions, some of which will be technical. Funding has been set aside in CP6 and we are working on what that will be spent on.

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My constituents, who use the line from Oxford Road through my constituency to Liverpool Lime Street, continue to experience repeated delays and overcrowding, and they are told to expect that situation to continue at least until April. What penalties will Northern face, as much of this seems to be due to lack of rolling stock or of train crew?

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If any of the train operating companies is in breach of its franchise, there are mechanisms to hold it to account. Northern is run through the Rail North partnership, which is a combination of the Department for Transport and Transport for the North.

Rail Travel: Affordability

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7. What recent assessment he has made of the affordability of rail travel. [908478]

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The Department is very mindful of the affordability of rail services and we have capped regulated fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. Last week we announced our intention to extend the 16-17 railcard, offering 50% off all rail journeys. Together with the recently launched 26-30 railcard, this means that everybody up to the age of 30 will have access to discounted rail fares.

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I thank the Minister for that reply, but 2018 was an abysmal year for rail travel, with tens of thousands of services cancelled in Yorkshire and across the country. Services in Yorkshire are among the least reliable anywhere in the UK and it is having a huge impact on Wakefield city centre. Will the Minister look again at the Transport Committee’s excellent recommendation to enable season ticket holders to have a discount on their season tickets on the worst-performing lines, which at the moment are TransPennine Express and Northern? Both are heavily used by my constituents, who do not have time to claim for every train service that does not turn up on a daily basis.

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I am acutely aware that passengers across the north—and, indeed, other parts of our network—did see an unacceptable service in 2018. Those Northern passengers most directly affected received targeted compensation worth about 8%—obviously, far more than the increase that we have just seen. Further compensation funds are available. We are agreeing with Transport for the North about how that money should be spent.

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I warmly welcome the decision to extend discounted fares for 16 and 17-year-olds. Four of the five secondary schools in my constituency have no sixth form. We require our students to stay in education until they are 18, and they have to travel by train either north to Kent or to the south coast.

I have always been a big believer in giving it 100%. May I encourage Front Benchers to have that as their long-term aspiration, so that we give a 100% discount on rail fares for 16 and 17-year-olds?

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That would indeed be a very bold aspiration. Obviously, we want to make sure that we have a viable rail service. If we can offer greater value, we certainly will—that is why we have capped rail fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. We are keen to offer value across the rail network wherever we can.

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Ministers will be aware of how long it takes to get right down to Penzance in my constituency.

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Too long!

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Too long. They will also be aware that people very much depend on that form of transport. The truth is that average wages across my constituency are about a third of those in the rest of the country. Will the Minister give consideration to whether there can be some fairness for my constituents so that they pay less for travel, given their dependency on the network and the distances they travel?

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If it is possible to deliver greater value, we will of course look at those opportunities. Part of the Williams review is about rail fares. I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s comments are fed over to Mr Williams for his consideration.

Heathrow Third Runway: Highway Vehicles

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8. What steps he plans to take to reduce a potential increase in highway vehicle trips resulting from a third runway at Heathrow airport. [908479]

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As the hon. Lady will be aware, the airports national policy statement requires 50% of passengers to use public transport by 2030, rising to 55% by 2040. It also requires 25% fewer staff car trips to work by 2030, and 50% fewer by 2040. In addition, I expect Heathrow to meet its public pledge of no greater airport-related road traffic.

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The terminal 5 inspector recommended that that expansion should be dependent on additional rail access, and we have seen the consequences locally of that not having happened. The Department for Transport’s own figures say that a third runway will put an additional 54,000 vehicles a day on our local road system. Will the Secretary of State make any further expansion at Heathrow conditional on western and southern rail access?

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I want to go further than that. Western rail access is currently in development and we are in the early stages of preparation for southern rail access. We are also making provision at Old Oak Common for a Chiltern connection into that station that will provide a link into Heathrow. High Speed 2, of course, will arrive at Old Oak Common and deliver an opportunity to connect into Heathrow from a different route. Finally, it is my hope that the Mayor of London will, notwithstanding the financial challenges at Transport for London, deliver the Piccadilly line upgrade, which is so important.

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The terminal 5 planning conditions, set as part of its go-ahead, were that there would be no third runway and that there would be a legal limit of 480,000 flights a year. Now, of course, we are getting a third runway, and last week Heathrow asked—and, I presume, will be granted—permission to go beyond its 480,000-flight cap. Is not the reality that any assurances—legal, ministerial or public pledges from Heathrow—are utterly meaningless?

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My right hon. Friend has made her point succinctly. She will understand, though, that if an application comes forward from Heathrow to change the current rules, it would be wrong of me as Secretary of State to pass comment one way or the other at the moment.

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The Secretary of State has mentioned the Piccadilly line upgrade, but he knows that that—and, indeed, Crossrail—is there to cope with existing and future passenger demand, and not Heathrow expansion. Given that we know that Heathrow, as always, will do nothing to cope with the problems that it causes, what will the Government do when there is this massive increase in passengers, a 50% increase in flights and no capacity on those lines to deal with those?

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Even an expanded Heathrow is forecast to need only 6% of capacity on the Piccadilly line and, as I said a moment ago, we are already moving ahead with western access and starting the process of southern access. I am making provision for a Chiltern route into Old Oak Common, connecting to Heathrow by Crossrail, and HS2 will come to Old Oak Common as part of the first phase of that project. I think we are doing rather a lot to prepare for surface access to Heathrow.

Access for All

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10. What recent progress his Department has made on implementing the Access for All programme. [908481]

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Access for All has delivered step-free, accessible routes at more than 200 stations since it was launched in 2006, and a further 19 stations are currently under construction. To build on that success we have made a further £300 million available to extend the programme, and 300 stations have been nominated for that funding. I expect to announce the successful stations in April.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and one station to be nominated is Hillside station in my constituency. My hon. Friend highlighted the criteria that will be used, but does she agree that stations such as Hillside, which play host to less frequent sporting events such as the Open at Royal Birkdale, which hosted 235,000 spectators, should be taken into account when these applications are decided upon?

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that Hillside station has indeed been nominated. When preparing for nominations, the industry was asked to include any relevant factors, and Hillside’s nomination included details of the Open. Every factor will be given due weight during the ongoing selection process, and all I can say for now is that I hope there will be good news for my hon. Friend and his constituents in April.

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To get from the car park to the south side of Flint station in my constituency involves two footbridges, and that is one of the projects that was nominated in November last year. Will the Minister assure me that access to funds for those projects will be maintained in the current spending review?

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We have £300 million available at the moment and we have received 300 nominations. All the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised will be taken into account. It is important to note that journeys with step-free access have increased from 50% in 2015 to 75% today.

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As the Minister knows, if someone wants to get from one platform at Beeston station to the other, the advice is to take a taxi all the way round, which is wholly unacceptable. I am grateful for her acceptance of that fact, and we also bid for funding. Last year she agreed to come to Beeston station to see it for herself. Can she now assure me that she will certainly come before Easter?

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My right hon. Friend knows that we have spoken about Beeston on a number of occasions, and I apologise for having failed to visit the station already. I will do my very best to accompany her to Beeston station in the near future.

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Will the Minister ensure that the Access for All project is delivered in Northwich station in my constituency, to allow people with mobility problems and disabilities to use it?

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I cannot provide that assurance right here and now. We had 300 nominations and the decisions will be made in April. If the station was nominated—I do not have the list in front of me—I will ensure that it is considered as efficiently as possible.

Rail Electrification

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11. What recent discussions he has had with Network Rail and train operating companies on plans to extend the electrified rail network. [908482]

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This Government are investing at record levels in our rail network as part of the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to provide reliability and capacity. Passengers expect high-quality rail services, and we are committed to electrification where it delivers passenger benefits and value for money. We will also take advantage of state-of-the-art technology to improve services.

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It strikes me that a lot of official capacity is currently being sucked out of the Department by preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and that is slowing up projects that should be pushing ahead. What progress is being made on plans for electrification of the Chester to Crewe and north Wales line or, if not electrification, on the procurement of the electro-diesel trains that are the next best option?

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The work on Brexit is not in any way changing the delivery of service improvements across our rail network, and one has only to consider how much is happening across the network to prove that point. We are delivering a £50 million project to upgrade the north Wales railway, including a new signalling system, and rolling stock will be picked up as the franchise is renewed.

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17. Passenger numbers on the transpennine route are set to double over the next 20 years, but still it appears that the upgrade is being downgraded. Given that one third of transport spending in England is in London, will the Transport Secretary help to redress the imbalance by matching Labour’s commitment to Crossrail for the north? [908488]

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I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The transpennine route upgrade is a significant project and we are modernising the entire route. We will be investing £2.9 billion in the first phase of this ambitious upgrade, between Manchester, Leeds and York. The work will commence in the spring. It is the biggest single project of rail enhancement in this country during control period 6. It is complementary to the work on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is also being developed.

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Would it not make a lot more sense to electrify the whole of the midland line, rather than stopping at Kettering in Northamptonshire? If that happened, we could save some of the £56 billion that HS2 will cost us, and save about 30 to 40 houses in Derbyshire that are due to be knocked down. All those things could happen if the Minister electrified the midland line, and passengers would get to London 30 minutes quicker—not that I want that—which is one of the promises the Government have made. For God’s sake, make a big hole in that £56 billion and electrify the midland line.

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Well, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will not be cancelling HS2, which is a positive project that will generate significant extra capacity right across our network. It is part of a modern, 21st-century rail network. With regard to the midland main line, we do not need to electrify the whole line in order to deliver the journey improvements, and we will see passenger benefits from a brand new fleet of trains from 2022.

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Labour’s commitment to electrification has been unwavering, yet the Government have pulled electrification projects across the country. Last month we learned that the transpennine route will no longer support future freight, meet journey time ambitions or, without electrification, deliver on reliability either, depending instead on heavy and polluting diesel bi-mode trains—[Interruption.]

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Order. The former Secretary of State is chuntering animatedly from a sedentary position about a period of time and a mileage—that is to say, about a length of track—but I can assume only that at this stage, albeit in a very amiable and jocular fashion, the right hon. Gentleman is talking to himself. There are some dangers in that.

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What are they, Mr Speaker?

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Only time will tell.

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As I was saying, it is a downgrade of a downgrade, so why will the Minister not listen to the advice of rail experts, which I know the Secretary of State has had, and fully electrify the route in control period 6?

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That was absolute nonsense. Labour electrified 10 miles of existing network in all the 13 years it was in government. There has been more electrification in the north-west alone under this Government than in all those 13 years, so we will take no lessons from the Labour party on this. With regard to the transpennine upgrade, we are spending £2.9 billion. It is the biggest single project in control period 6, as I explained to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) only a moment ago. Rather than criticising, Labour Members should be supporting this project, and perhaps asking why they did not do it. We will take no lessons whatsoever from the Labour party, which did nothing at all for our rail network.

Crossrail

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12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the delay to Crossrail on the London economy. [908483]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the important question of Crossrail. He will know that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, and it is for TfL in the first instance to evaluate the future. Notwithstanding recent hiccups, we feel excited about the potential for the project.

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I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will understand the huge disappointment in Romford, where we were hoping that Crossrail would be coming into action much sooner. At least partly because of the Mayor’s poor financial management of TfL, we have to wait a lot longer, so will the Minister assure the House that the new funding package will bring Crossrail to fruition much sooner?

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As I said, Crossrail is a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL. It would be wrong for me to comment on the way the Mayor has handled TfL’s finances—that is a matter for him—but I will say that it is a very important project. As my hon. Friend will be aware, there is a new chief executive, Mr Wild, and he is understandably taking time to review the project fully before he publishes his own views.

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Last night, the Evening Standard reported that officials from the Department for Transport and TfL were first notified about the Crossrail delays in June 2016. Will the Minister confirm that that is correct?

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I have not seen the report that the hon. Gentleman describes, but he will know that in July we published a written ministerial statement touching on the question of whether there might be delays. It is striking that the Secretary of State was not notified until the end of August, and there has been some suggestion that TfL was notified before that.

EU Motor Insurance Directive

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13. What assessment he has made of the effect of the revised EU motor insurance directive on innovation in the UK motorsport industry. [908484]

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The issue of Vnuk and insurance is very important and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise it. Our assessment is perfectly clear: if it is not amended, the proposal has the potential to shut down UK and European motorsport industries. We take it very seriously. Of course, there would be further impacts on innovation throughout the UK automotive industry, and potentially more widely.

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I am grateful for the Minister’s response. From my conversations with the Motorsport Industry Association, I know that it cannot sing the praises of the Department and officials more highly in respect of this incredibly important point. If the motor insurance directive comes into force, not only will it completely destroy the market for the most innovative part of our automotive sector, but during the transition period it may also destroy the UK domestic market. I know that the Minister is doing everything he can to try to sort this situation out, but I ask him to redouble his efforts and work as hard as he can to make sure that we do not lose the crown jewels of our motor industry.

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I thank my hon. Friend very much for the recognition of the work that my officials and I have been doing on this issue, which we take extremely seriously. Lotus, Williams, McLaren—this country has a £10 billion motorsport industry. These ill-judged arrangements might put it at risk, and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent that.

Public Transport: Sporting Events

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14. If he will hold discussions with the Rail Delivery Group and the Premier League on public transport for people travelling to sporting events. [908485]

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Officials from my Department have met the Premier League, most recently in November, to discuss collaboration between the railway industry and football bodies to improve travel to and from football matches. The Rail Delivery Group is a key partner in that ongoing collaboration.

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Football fans in this country are often stung when fixtures are rescheduled for TV, meaning that they regularly miss out on the cheapest train tickets. The Premier League, the English Football League and the Rail Delivery Group are all in favour of a fans’ fare scheme, but the Department for Transport is dragging its feet. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss how we can address this important issue, which affects so many football fans in this country?

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The joint project involving the Rail Delivery Group, train operators, football bodies, supporters’ groups, British Transport police and the DFT has been set up to look into a range of issues around football-related train travel. That work includes the exploration of a flexible ticketing offer for supporters, including for when matches are rescheduled. I am happy to have a conversation with the hon. Lady. I would be interested to hear whether she will condemn the strikes throughout the north on Saturdays, which are affecting football fans’ capacity to get to their matches. Let us hear Labour say something on behalf of football fans throughout the north, and not in support of strikers.

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Having heard the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) from his seat, we can now have the considerable joy of hearing him on his feet.

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Will the Minister look at the responsibilities across his whole Department and other sectors covered by his Department as far as such situations are concerned? Last night, the M1 was closed for four hours, thus preventing all the supporters of Burton Albion from getting to the Etihad stadium. Will there be an inquiry into why it was necessary to close the M1 for four hours on both sides?

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They missed a lot of goals.

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My right hon. Friend makes a very valuable point with which I entirely agree. We will look at this matter across the Department.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908496]

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May I begin by extending the condolences of the whole House to the family of Lee Pomeroy, who was tragically murdered on a train in Surrey last week? I pay tribute to the three members of staff who dealt with the tragic situation and all the British Transport police who responded to it; they all acted with great bravery. While I am talking about bravery, let me also pay tribute to the British Transport police officer who was stabbed in Manchester during the terrorist incident a few days ago.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and share his sentiments about the terrible attacks on our trains recently.

On 2 January I was at Castleton station in my constituency, watching train cancellation after train cancellation as my constituents were trying to get back to work after the new year break. Does the Secretary of State think that it is fair to hit rail passengers with an above-inflation rise in fares, given the clear decline in punctuality and reliability, and worsening overcrowding on our trains?

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We have set a limit in line with inflation for the increase in regulated fares. Transport for the North and the Rail North Partnership have additional financial resources from the compensation package provided last summer that they can use on lines that continue to be affected by underperformance if they choose to do so. I would be very happy to see them do that.

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T3. The Minister will be aware that it is illegal for a taxi not to collect someone with a guide dog, yet 42% of taxis still refuse to do this. Will the Government please bring in strict new guidelines to raise awareness throughout the taxi and minicab industry? [908500]

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My hon. Friend raises an important issue. For over a decade it has been illegal for taxi and private hire drivers to refuse assistance dogs, and I am clear that they must comply with the law. We cannot risk lowering people’s confidence and ability to travel independently. Licensing authorities have the power to stop this happening by training drivers to understand their duties and by prosecuting them when they fail to comply. We are considering the recommendations mentioned by my hon. Friend and will publish a response in due course.

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Owing to undercutting caused by the exclusion of seafarers from equality and minimum wage legislation, UK seafarers only account for about 15% of all seafarer ratings in the UK shipping industry. That is shocking. But now that the Secretary of State has spent £103 million of UK taxpayers’ money on these UK ferry contracts, will the Minister tell us whether any UK seafarers will be employed, and will the crews be protected by UK employment legislation? Yes or no?

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I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken and has not heard what the Secretary of State mentioned earlier. No money has yet exchanged hands and it is up to the company how it crews its ships. It is important to note that we are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that we can deliver the national minimum wage for our seafarers.

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T8. I was alarmed to see the traffic chaos as a result of yet another incident on the A5 at Mancetter island this week caused by an overturned lorry. I have raised this issue before, so it is not an isolated incident. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss this precarious junction and look at what more can be done to protect local residents who live alongside it, as well as motorists using it? [908505]

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My hon. Friend has been a very tireless campaigner for transport issues in his constituency and I would be delighted to meet him.

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T2. In my constit- uency, it has been suggested that our regional Mayor—the West of England Combined Authority Mayor—has the power to adopt an underused bit of highway from Highways England to construct an east of Bath park-and-ride, and the council has failed for a long time to find a suitable site. Is it the Minister’s understanding that the regional Mayor has these powers, and does he agree that such a use of existing land is an elegant solution? [908499]

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I will resist the temptation to comment in advance on the elegance of the solution, but I think it is a very interesting idea in principle. As the hon. Lady may be aware, it would require the transfer of the road from Highways England and the agreement of the Secretary of State. We would also want to be sure that any changes were consistent with the combined authority’s long-term transport plans. Subject to those constraints, we would be very interested to see it.

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Neither the police nor the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has records of foreign-registered vehicles that have been in the UK for more than six months, which means that our roads are more dangerous and there is not equality under the law for British nationals. What are the Government going to do about this issue?

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As my hon. Friend will be aware, the problem concerns foreign-registered vehicles. For British nationals, there is an equality under the law. I recognise that there is concern about this issue. He knows that we seek vigorously to apply road traffic legislation where we can. This is for the police, in the first instance. In some cases, local authorities use international debt recovery agents. However, I recognise the problem that he describes.

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T4. What was the total cost of Operation Brock, and will the Minister relay the lessons learned? [908501]

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I do not have the costs immediately to hand. However, the point about Operation Brock is that it is designed to replace Operation Stack and provide a solution well into the early 2020s in the case of disruption at the channel ports, which I do not want to see. To do the work on the M20 and the work that has happened on the M26, the cost is in the low tens of millions of pounds, but I will be able to give the hon. Gentleman an exact number. It is really important that we do not see a repeat of the disruption of 2015 in Kent.

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Knutsford commuters have been repeatedly promised an upgrade to the Knutsford to Manchester line to two trains an hour. However, after excuses and procrastination, that is now not happening at the time it was meant to happen. It is unacceptable to have such an unreliable and irregular service for such a busy part of the country. Will the Secretary of State intervene, speak to Northern, speak to Network Rail, and get this promise fulfilled?

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I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that we want to see reliable services offering high capacity. She speaks well on behalf of her constituency. I will of course look into the matter and get back to her.

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T5. The Financial Times reports that the EU has warned the owner of British Airways, IAG, that its plans to allow flights to continue in and around Europe in the event of no deal are not acceptable. When asked how BA plans to ensure that its plans are acceptable, its chief executive replied, “Magic”. Given the Cabinet Secretary’s repeated assurances that these negotiations are in hand, what more serious assessment can the Secretary of State give us that this will be resolved? [908502]

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This is really an issue for the Spanish and Irish Governments; it does not affect British Airways at all, as it will be covered by the transitional arrangements as well as by the international agreements we have in place. It is an issue for Iberia and for Aer Lingus, which will clearly want to carry on flying within the European Union.

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I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. What further progress is being made by the roads Minister and his team towards tabling the statutory instrument to facilitate the decriminalisation of parking in Kettering?

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As my hon. Friend will know, we have discussed this at some considerable length over a long period. The matter currently rests with discussions with Northamptonshire County Council, but we are pushing ahead as fast as we can on it.

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T6. Following December’s fiasco at Gatwick airport, the Secretary of State displayed his characteristic Midas touch when he said on Monday: “The Government are taking action to ensure that passengers can have confidence that their journeys will not be disrupted in future”.—[Official Report, 7 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 101.]Twenty-four hours later, Heathrow passengers found themselves having their flights suspended following another drone sighting. When can passengers expect this promised action to have the desired effect? [908503]

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First, let us be clear: there is no perfect, off-the-shelf system available to airports that will simply deal with this problem overnight. I pay tribute to those in the police and the military, and across government, who responded so quickly to the Heathrow problem, ensuring that the runway was closed for a very short length of time, and to the team at Heathrow who did the same.

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Now that the consultation on the High Speed 2 working draft environmental statement has closed, has the Minister had any indication of when HS2 Ltd will publish its response? Can she ensure that every submission will be given careful consideration?

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I can indeed assure my hon. Friend that all submissions will be given appropriate consideration, and the report will be published in due course.

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Currently just one out of 10 tube stations in Kensington is step-free. That is unacceptable. The council and London’s deputy mayor for transport tell us we must rely on developer funding to pay for it, which will never be enough, and in some instances they suggest funding just one platform in one direction, which is insulting. Just 50 stations out of 270 are step-free in the capital— the worst record in Europe. Will the Minister review Government funding to address the severe lack of inclusivity across our capital’s transport system, which is a national disgrace?

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I believe that the hon. Lady is talking about the underground, which is the responsibility of the Mayor. Transport in London is devolved to the Mayor and delivered by Transport for London. It is for the Mayor to determine how to increase step-free access at underground stations. If the hon. Lady is embarrassed about the situation, I suggest she takes this case straight back to the Labour Mayor of London.

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Heathrow flight paths go over the most densely populated part of our country—London communities. Drones are a clear public safety risk, as things stand. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should review the decision to further expand Heathrow and have more flights over more communities, on public safety grounds?

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I am afraid I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. Airports in this country and around the world are now working intensively to ensure they can deliver technology that will deal with this issue. That needs to be done long before we ever get to the point of expanding Heathrow airport.

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How much additional funding will the Department require in the 2019-20 financial year in the event of no deal, and has the Treasury approved that?

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We have an allocation of funding for next year, but almost all our expenditure has taken place within the current year—it is in the region of £70 million. That is the prime amount we are spending. In the next financial year, if we require some of the contingency capacity to which I have committed, there will be a cost. As the House is aware, the maximum that we have contracted for is £103 million.

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Can the Secretary of State give us an update on the midland main line delayed franchise? As he knows, I am very grateful for the conversation we have had. Stagecoach has taken out £35 million of profit, and it appears to be running down an otherwise excellent system. Can he tell us when the franchise will be awarded?

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The slight delay to the issuing of the new franchise is for complex reasons related to rail pensions. I have noted the issues that my right hon. Friend has raised. I am concerned about it. It would be unacceptable for any current franchisee to run down the franchise in the run-up to renewal, and a strong message is being sent to the company that, if that is happening, it has to stop right now.

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It is not clear to me what the unforeseeable emergency was that allowed the Secretary of State to award the contract to Seaborne Freight outside the rules. Did he receive explicit legal advice about that, and if so, will he consider publishing it?

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We are confident that this was a proper procurement process, handled by the procurement team in my Department in the normal way.

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Finally—what a difficult choice. I call Huw Merriman.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I’ll buy my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) a cup of tea in a minute.

Will the roads Minister meet me to discuss how we can transfer a section of the A21 through Hurst Green from the hopeless Highways England to East Sussex County Council, before more of my constituents end up in hospital?

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I do wish the hon. Gentleman would wear his Arsenal tie a bit more often.

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I will not comment on that sartorial choice. Of course I completely disagree with my hon. Friend’s description of Highways England, but I would be delighted to meet him.

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rose—

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Yes, I will take a point of order, which I think is of some salience.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to the debate we are about to have, the Government have said that they have already accepted some amendments. That is a concern, because they seem to directly contradict the withdrawal agreement that this House is debating whether to approve. In itself, it is a legal document that has been negotiated and agreed with the European Union and 27 member states, but, again, the Government seem to have accepted amendments I am not sure you have yet selected for debate. Can you tell me whether that is in order?

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I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order. It is important that people, within this Chamber and outside, know the procedure and know the facts. No amendments have been accepted by anyone to date for one very simple and compelling reason: no amendments have yet been selected by the occupant of the Chair. Moreover, no amendments can be selected by the Speaker until the last day of the debate, which is to say next Tuesday, as required by the Order of the House of 4 December. Some people it seems—certainly not the right hon. Lady—really do need to keep up.