Transport Questions, 23rd October

Transport Questions, 23rd October

The Secretary of State was asked—

Road Congestion

1.Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): What steps he is taking to relieve congestion on roads.

6. Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): What steps he is taking to relieve congestion on roads.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): The Government have an ambitious strategy for tackling congestion and improving performance on our roads, as I think the whole House would acknowledge. This autumn we will set out our plans for a road investment strategy, with £24 billion to be spent on strategic roads up to 2021. For local roads, £7.4 billion will be spent in the next Parliament, and £1.5 billion funding from the local growth fund will bring forward vital schemes.

Sir Nicholas Soames: My right hon. Friend may well have an ambitious strategy, but it does not go as far as Mid Sussex. Is he aware that particularly in the towns of Haywards Heath and East Grinstead there have been frankly intolerable delays owing to works by the utilities? I want him to take a much, much tougher line with the utilities on how they handle traffic management so that they cease destroying the trading opportunities of towns that are trying to make much better of themselves.

Mr Hayes: As my right hon. Friend knows, I was in Sussex only last week looking at these very matters. There is no end to my strategic ambitions— geographically or in any other way. He is absolutely right that we need to take a tough line in ensuring that schemes do not have undesirable or unintended consequences. I will certainly look very closely at the circumstances he describes, and he can be absolutely certain of my toughness.

Jeremy Lefroy: The pinch point fund is an excellent and cost-effective way of assisting with schemes such as the Blackheath lane roundabout in my constituency, and I urge my right hon. Friend to continue with it. However, there are even cheaper ways of reducing congestion, such as traffic light re-phasing and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said, proper co-ordination of road works. Will the Minister also consider requiring local highway authorities to publish weekly information on delays caused by congestion in their areas in order to give them an incentive to do something about it and to give drivers the information they need to plan their journeys?

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend will know that Staffordshire has been provided with local pinch point funding of £4.8 million to support three schemes: the Beacon business park growth point in Stafford, which was completed on 20 June 2014; the A50 to Alton growth corridor, which is due to be completed in March 2016; and the Gungate north-south link road in Tamworth, which is due for completion in March 2015. His idea of weekly reports is innovative and interesting, and I am more than happy to take it back to the Department. Once again, he has shown that he brings to this House fresh thinking that is most welcome.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Last week we had an excellent debate in the House on cycling. It was so good, in fact, that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said he was going to take up cycling, which we look forward to seeing. One of the benefits of cycling is that for every driver who moves on to a cycle, less road space is taken up. How much of the £100 million that the Minister has announced for new roads will benefit cycling?

Mr Hayes: It is a hallmark of this Government that we have taken cycling as seriously as we have, and that is in no small measure due to the work of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). All new road schemes must take account of cycling provision, and, although I am never unnecessarily partisan in this Chamber, as you know, Mr Speaker, I am not sure that previous Governments could have claimed that.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to his role. Congestion is, as we have heard, all too often made worse by the poor state of local roads. The Local Government Association has warned of a road maintenance “time bomb”. The Minister may think that everything is going swimmingly well, with funding competitions, which pre-date him, that rob Peter to pay Paul, but when the Public Accounts Committee says that it is

“very frustrating that the Department for Transport still has not got a grip on how it funds road maintenance”,

one might think that he would listen, so why will he not?

Mr Hayes: I always take that kind of analysis and scrutiny seriously. This Government are going to resurface 80% of roads, because we acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s point about the effect of road condition on congestion. This Government is taking a more strategic approach, putting its money where its mouth is and listening to the kinds of arguments the hon. Gentleman has amplified.

 

Provisional Licences: Motorbikes/Scooters

2. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the merits of granting provisional licences for small motorbikes and scooters.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): No formal assessment has been made of the merits of granting provisional driving licences for small motorbikes and scooters. The minimum age at which a motorist can apply for a provisional licence to ride mopeds is 16. From the age of 17, motorists can apply for a provisional licence to ride small motorcycles with an engine size of up to 125 cc.

Mr Sheerman: I tabled that question because I nearly killed a young motorcyclist two weeks ago. He was a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy and it was obvious that he was totally inexperienced and should not have been employed delivering around London. Motorcycle and scooter users account for 20% of fatalities on our roads, yet they represent only 1% of the traffic in our country. Something significant is happening. Can we do something about it?

Claire Perry: May I commend the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing commitment to road safety? It started many years ago and he has done an amazing job. He will be as pleased as I am that, overall, road deaths this year are at their lowest level since 1926. Since the regime of testing and compulsory basic training was introduced in 1990, deaths and fatalities among users of small and medium-sized motorbikes have fallen by up to 60%, so the regime is fit for purpose and we are always looking to make our roads even safer.

 

Flight Paths

3. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with stakeholders in the aviation industry on the use of flight paths over conflict zones.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Department keeps in close contact with UK carriers about the whole range of threats to aviation, including the risks of flying over conflict zones. The Secretary of State recently met the secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and discussed this very issue.

Mr Bain: Our thoughts remain very strongly with the families and friends of those who died in the terrible disaster that affected flight MH17. Since then, conditions have become even more dangerous, particularly in relation to the middle east. What are the Government doing, through the ICAO, to ensure that information about international flights is shared between domestic countries?

Mr Goodwill: May I extend the Government’s condolences to the families of the 283 passengers and 15 crew, including 10 British citizens, who were killed? Indeed, at the European Council in Luxembourg, we had the opportunity to express condolences to my Dutch counterpart; a very large number of the casualties came from his country. The ICAO has set up a taskforce to look at the provision of over-flights in conflict zones, and the UK is participating actively in that work.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): May I associate myself with the Minister’s condolences to the families, not least our own UK citizens? After MH17 was shot down, I wrote to the Minister in August to ask how the Government would ensure that all airlines had equal access to recommendations based on authoritative intelligence about safety over specific conflict zones. I also asked him to reconsider his reserved powers so that passengers, pilots and airline staff in the UK could have confidence in the process. His reply was that he was looking into it. After eight weeks in which conflicts in Iraq and Syria have intensified those concerns, what changes has he made?

Mr Goodwill: I have already explained that work is being undertaken at an international level. Indeed, the Secretary of State has power to direct airlines not to fly over particular locations and the independent Civil Aviation Authority can issue a notice to airmen—a NOTAM—instructing pilots not to fly over those areas. Ultimately, it is up to the airline and the captain to take the decision, based on the best available information they have.

Mr Speaker: We are pleased to see the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) sprinting into the Chamber.

 

Rail Passenger Journeys

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the change in the number of rail passenger journeys in each of the last three years.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I am proud that rail in this country is doing extremely well. Privatisation has seen passenger numbers more than double to over 1.6 billion last year. Innovation in the private sector has led to more seats, faster journey times and brighter station environments, which is why there have been an extra 233 million journeys between 2011 and 2014, despite economic conditions.

Richard Graham: The growth in the number of passengers on the railways is encouraging, particularly at Gloucester station, where figures have risen considerably higher than the national average. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the train companies have to play their part in providing extra capacity and that the 2006 decision by Arriva cross-country services to halve the number of trains stopping at Gloucester station has not helped us to grow the number of railway passengers in a sustainable way? Does he agree that that should change when the renegotiations happen?

Mr McLoughlin: I am always pleased to listen to the representations made by my hon. Friend to get more and better services for his constituency and the people who live in and around Gloucester. I understand the points he makes, but we have seen a massive increase in rail use. The great difference from when I was in the Department 25 years ago is that rail was seen then as yesterday’s industry. Everywhere I go now, people are lobbying for extra services, which I think privatisation has brought about.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is good to see such expansion in the use of rail, but what action will the Secretary of State take to relieve the severe overcrowding on some routes caused by the lack of both electric and diesel trains? Is he concerned about the safety threat posed by the continuation of the Pacer trains?

Mr McLoughlin: As Secretary of State for Transport I have seen franchises being told to convert first class carriages to standard class carriages so that more people can travel. I think I am the first Secretary of State to do that. It was not done by any previous Labour Secretary of State, so I am very pleased about that. On Pacers, I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. We must look for better services for those people who are currently served by Pacers, possibly by improving and redesigning the Pacers, which some of the companies are looking at. It is certainly something that I am interested in.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the record that he set out to our hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). If he looks at the restarted franchise, which sees more passengers being put right at the heart of the process, more towns likely to come on to the network, and more seats available, does he agree that far from being yesterday’s industry, this is likely to be the industry of tomorrow and these trains are likely to accelerate?

Mr McLoughlin: I start by thanking my hon. Friend for all the work he did in improving and getting franchises back on the road after the difficulty that we inherited when we first entered the Department two years ago. He made a great contribution to that. I completely agree with him. As I said, all the meetings I have with various local authority leaders now are about increasing capacity and providing more and better services. The train operating companies and the rolling stock leasing companies all have roles to play in doing that.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): My constituents frequently play “sardines” on Northern Rail trains, often with passengers left at stations. Was the massive increase of up to 162% in fares a perverse way of reducing demand?

Mr McLoughlin: As I said, it is important that we provide that extra capacity. My only regret is that the previous Government did not order enough rolling stock for us to be able to do that. We are putting that right.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there could be a further boost to rail passengers if we had faster journeys on the west Anglia main line? Will he assure me that improvements to that line will not slip down the priority list?

Mr McLoughlin: I assure my right hon. Friend of that. Not only has he made that case to me in person on a number of occasions, but when I visited his constituency he pointed out the need for those improvements.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): As my hon. Friends have already said, the north has some of the most overcrowded trains in the country, and Ministers have hit passengers with stealth fare rises of up to 162%. The Department said that this will

“help reduce crowding on evening services.”

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is his official policy to price people off the railways?

Mr McLoughlin: I will take no lectures from Labour about pricing people off the railways. This Government last year capped fares at inflation and have done so this year. We are the first Government to do so—the previous Government never did. The hon. Lady talks about the problem of serving northern cities and we fully accept that there are a number of problems. That is why the Chancellor has led on the question of how we improve connections between northern cities. We have to catch up after 13 years of neglect.

 

Road Improvements (Nettleton Bottom and Crickley Hill)

5. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What progress he has made on improvements to the A417 and A419 at Nettleton Bottom and Crickley Hill; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): The Highways Agency is preparing a route strategy for the midlands to Wales and Gloucestershire. This includes the A417 at Nettleton Bottom and Crickley Hill, which is part of the section of the road identified as a key challenge on the route. Current options are being assessed, including major improvements, to produce an indicative business case as the basis on which to prioritise investment from 2015. I will press the Highways Agency to provide its assessments so that I can make decisions on this as soon as possible.

Mr Robertson: I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware that the Secretary of State recently visited the area called “the missing link” and saw for himself the difficulties and dangers of that road. I know that my right hon. Friend is a very caring and a very competent Minister, and he will be very saddened indeed by the news of yet another death on that road less than two weeks ago. Will he therefore do everything in his power to bring about a solution for this congested and very dangerous stretch of road?

Mr Hayes: Yes, I had indeed heard about that fatality, and I obviously offer my commiserations and condolences to all concerned. My hon. Friend has been consistent in this campaign. In July, he asked the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), a very similar question. I know that he has prioritised improvements to the road. I will look closely at the matter again, and we will do our very best for him.

Mr Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: No. I am not going to call the right hon. Gentleman because Nettleton Bottom and Crickley Hill are a very long way from Newcastle. We will hear from him later, I feel sure.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Nettleton Bottom happens to be in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and in mine. May I therefore reinforce what my hon. Friend has so adroitly put to the Minister? The recent fatality—I send my sympathy to the family—is the eighth since this time last year. This road is in desperate need of refurbishment.

Mr Hayes: I do understand that the death toll on this road is continuing to rise, and I also understand the delays that travellers are enduring as a result of congestion. I know that my hon. Friend has previously made this case, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson). The Department is conscious of that and of the need to do more across a whole range of roads, but he can be assured that the powerful case they have both made will not fall on deaf ears.

 

Inter-city East Coast Franchise

7. Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): How many of the shortlisted bidders for the inter-city east coast franchise are wholly or partly foreign-owned.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Three bidding companies are taking part in the competition for the inter-city east coast franchise, one of which is partly foreign-owned.

Sheila Gilmore: When I last asked the Transport Secretary about this issue on 8 May, he said that the reason Directly Operated Railways would be at a disadvantage and therefore could not take part in the competition was that it was funded through the taxpayer, yet both parts of Keolis-Eurostar are currently majority-owned by the French and UK Governments. What is it about that state-owned company that gives it an edge over our own state-owned company?

Mr McLoughlin: I just remember and call to mind the words of the last Transport Secretary under the previous Labour Government, who said that he did

“not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]

I agree with those words, which he used when he was last in this office and had responsibility for this issue.

 

Tram-train Project

8. Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): What recent progress has been made on the tram-train project.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): The tram-train pilot project, which introduces new services from Rotherham Parkgate to Sheffield city centre, is progressing. The seven new tram-train sets are being built, and modifications to the existing super-tram network and depot are well under way. Network Rail is developing its programme to modify the heavy rail network on which to run the tram-trains, including electrification from Meadowhall to Rotherham Parkgate and the construction of new platforms at Rotherham Central station. The service is due to start in 2016.

Mr Betts: I thank the Minister for that reply because, as she is aware, that is precisely the timetable. The trams are supposed to start running early in 2016. As I understand it, Network Rail’s timetable is now slipping substantially, and there are concerns that it might slip by as much as a year. In response to those concerns, Baroness Kramer has simply promised extra scrutiny and that officials would impress the importance of the project on Network Rail. Will the Minister now get a grip of Network Rail so that it gets a grip of this project and gives an absolute assurance that the trams will start to run early in 2016, as planned?

Claire Perry: The enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman and the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive shows how vital that project is. He will know that it is an important pilot project. If this fantastic service works, it will liberate many transport systems in other cities. It will also future-proof the lines for the long-awaited electrification process, which we want to see on other parts of the railways. The Network Rail route director, my officials and I have made personal commitments to deliver this vital project.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Next week, the new Metrolink line to Manchester airport will open. At 14.5 km, it has been one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the country. Will the Minister join me in thanking the M-Pact Thales consortium, which has delivered the project a year ahead of schedule, as well as Transport for Greater Manchester and the good people of Wythenshawe, who have endured the disruption with good grace?

Claire Perry: I certainly will. I also commend the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who came to the fabulous presentation by the Greater Manchester transport team earlier this week, where we heard about all the exciting plans for the area. It requires a large network of private and public sector innovation and effort to deliver these vital services, which are so long overdue.

 

Rail Electrification Programme

9. Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on the rail electrification programme.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The electrification programme announced in the 2012 rail investment strategy is under way. The Manchester to Scotland route transferred to full electric operation in early 2014, following the electrification between Manchester and Wigan. The plan is for the Liverpool to Manchester, St Helens, Wigan and Warrington routes to move to electric operation in early 2015.

Toby Perkins: Following cost overruns on other electrification projects, Network Rail has said that it is reconsidering all electrification projects. Commuters in Chesterfield will be very concerned that that will mean delays or reductions to the midland main line project. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that the only review the Government are undertaking is about ensuring that they are on time and on budget next time, and not about cutting or delaying that important project?

Mr McLoughlin: I do not like to be party political, but considering that the last Government managed to electrify no more than 10 miles of railway in 13 years, Labour Members should not be giving any lectures to a Government who have announced plans to electrify more than 800 miles of railway. I am very proud of what we are doing. Of course there are challenges with electrification. If the hon. Gentleman pays a little more attention when he travels by train from London to Chesterfield, he will see that the work is already being undertaken.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): When he looks at the electrification of the midland main line, will the Secretary of State consider extending electrification to the line through Langley Mill and Alfreton in my seat, which has been missed out of the plan? That would improve the services for those stations and the resilience of the line.

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I will look at that. However, I stand by what I have said. We have ambitious plans for electrification and it is right that we ensure they are delivered in a practical and timely manner.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Electrification in the rest of the north-west is adding to the worry that the Furness line might lose its direct service to Manchester and Manchester airport, which is vital. Has the Secretary of State read the report by the Railway Consultancy, which was funded by businesses in my constituency through Cumbria Better Connected, and will he pay attention to the irrefutable case to keep and improve that service?

Mr McLoughlin: I will take the hon. Gentleman’s representations seriously and ensure that I re-read that report.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for a productive and useful meeting with representatives of the Peninsula rail group and West Devon local government, who are pressing hard for the reopening of the line through Okehampton to Tavistock and Plymouth, which would preferably be electrified. On his visit next week, will he examine closely the compelling case for the reopening of the line via Okehampton on the grounds of cost and resilience and of the economic benefits that it would bring to a wide swathe of economic areas?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for leading that delegation to my office yesterday. As I informed him yesterday, I am looking forward to my visit to his constituency next week and to seeing what is behind the points that he made to me. As we all saw last winter, resilience for the south-west is incredibly important, and I am determined to look at all the available options.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): In May when I asked the Secretary of State about problems with the electrification of the Great Western main line, he said that

“there will always be problems”.—[Official Report, 8 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 264.]

Will he confirm that the Great Western £1.1 billion electrification project is now a £1.6 billion electrification project, and will he say which electrification projects will be delayed or cancelled when his Department has concluded its panic review of his flagship projects?

Mr McLoughlin: A “panic” review of a project that is more ambitious than anything the last Government ever dreamed of? I would have thought there would be a consensus across the House for the huge investment that we are putting into the railways through Network Rail. I am working with Network Rail and it is working with me to ensure that we get the electrification programme delivered, and within an overall budget.

 

Rail Services (East Midlands)

1. Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What plans he has to improve rail services in the east midlands.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): The east midlands will share in the Government’s massive investment in the railways, which is so unlike what was delivered by the Labour party. Last week we announced major service enhancements on the Nottingham to Lincoln line, which will provide 24 additional weekday trains from next May. The east midlands has already benefited from investment of approximately £70 million to improve line speeds on the midland main line up to 125 miles per hour, and it will see further investment with electrification extended to Corby in 2017 and Sheffield in 2020.

Sir Edward Leigh: Of course this wonderful Minister can do no wrong, and it must therefore have been due to an oversight of her wrongheaded advisers that in the invitation to bid for the east coast main line there was no requirement to include the through train to Cleethorpes and Grimsby via Market Rasen. Will she put pressure on the bidders to ensure that the through train that we used to have, and which is vital to our Lincolnshire economy, is included?

Claire Perry: My hon. Friend will know that I stood on Cleethorpes seafront only last week. I rode that line myself, and I was made fully aware of the strength of the feeling about it. Bids are currently being assessed, and I am looking forward to publishing further information in December. It is clear that we need investment in those areas of the north. The previous Government let those franchises on a zero-growth and zero-investment basis, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I thank the Minister for recently visiting Sherwood and looking at the case for extending the Robin Hood line to Ollerton and Edwinstowe. Will she continue to support that project and give us advice on how to further it in the near future?

Claire Perry: I enjoyed my meeting with the Ollerton economic forum. The advice and support of such bodies—as well as of local authorities—help us to pull together a business case to look further at such investment. I commend my hon. Friend and his constituents for their hard work on this line.

 

Quality Contract Board

1. Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his Department’s quality contract board.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): It is for the senior traffic commissioner to make arrangements for the constitution of a quality contract scheme board. No discussions have taken place between the Department and a quality contract scheme board, but I understand that the North East combined authority considered it on 21 October, and has decided to refer its draft quality contract scheme to the QCS board.

Bridget Phillipson: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer; as he indicates, discussions now need to take place. In Tyne and Wear this week we took a major step forward when the North East combined authority unanimously agreed to press ahead with plans for a quality contract scheme in the north-east. Will the Minister now respect the will of the people and ensure that the quality contract board has all the resources it needs to arrive at a speedy conclusion?

Mr Goodwill: The Government are committed to localism and to local people making decisions about their local services. Whether to adopt a London-style quality contract scheme is a matter for individual local authorities to determine. This is an independent process, with the scheme examined by the QCS board and chaired by a traffic commissioner. It would be inappropriate for the Government to comment or intervene, but if there are issues to do with resources for that board, we would be keen to consider them.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Large infrastructure transport projects such as HS2 and Crossrail are all very well, and quality bus contracts may help in areas such as Tyne and Wear, but when will the Government do something—anything—for rural areas that have no buses at all, or no buses at weekends and at night?

Mr Goodwill: Representing a rural area, I am well aware of the problems of pensioners with concessionary travel passes but no buses to use them on when, in some cases, evening or weekend services have been withdrawn. The Government are contributing more than 40% of the farebox through subsidies to buses in various ways, and we are committed to improving local bus services wherever we can, working in conjunction with local authorities.

 

HGV Speed Limits

2. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What research he has conducted into the effect on the number of deaths and serious injuries of increasing HGV speed limits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): The Department for Transport commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory specifically to assess the possible effects of raising the national speed limit for heavy goods vehicles and bringing them in line with those set for other large vehicles, such as coaches and cars towing caravans. In addition, the Department conducted analysis related to the national speed limit changes using its internal well established and peer-reviewed national transport model and also considered a substantial body of existing research into the various effects of speed changes on road safety.

Susan Elan Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for her response, but many of us are very concerned about this proposal. The plan is to raise HGV speed limits on single carriageways when the Minister’s own impact assessment makes it clear that that is likely to increase deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I know that the Minister sometimes comes up with very good ideas, but this is daft and dangerous. I urge her to reconsider in the light of the new evidence.

Claire Perry: No decision is taken by me—I speak as a keen cyclist and someone with young children who are out on the roads—and my Department without careful consideration of the impact on road safety. Those speed limits have been in operation since 1960, since when technology in our road traffic and HGV fleet has advanced dramatically, and deaths and injuries caused by HGVs have declined substantially. We have assessed the deaths that might occur from the change, but we have also assessed the impact of not needing to overtake platooning lorries driving far below speed limits that already apply to other large vehicles such as coaches and caravans. I suggest that the hon. Lady speaks to hauliers in her constituency, such as Williams Haulage, which deliver vital services for the country. They are investing in safe-truck technology and they really welcome the changes.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The country faces a national shortage of 40,000 qualified HGV drivers, which is acting as a brake on national economic growth. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and Knights of Old, a distinguished lorry operator in my constituency, and the Road Haulage Association, to see how the Government might fund a package of vocational driver training and recruitment?

Claire Perry: I am always reluctant to make funding commitments for the Government, but it would be a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. This is a vital industry for Britain and a core part of economic growth, so it would be a pleasure to listen to representation about how we might improve the skills of drivers.

 

Taxis/Private Hire Vehicles

3. John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve passenger safety in taxis and private hire vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Government’s principal role in relation to taxis and private hire vehicles is to ensure that the legislative framework and the guidance to licensing authorities are fit for purpose. Our best practice guidance for licensing authorities stresses the importance of adequate safety checks and enforcement to ensure that these services are safe.

John Cryer: But the Government are also planning to allow taxi operators to subcontract calls to other taxi operators without consent. What implications will that have for safety, especially for women?

Mr Goodwill: All the taxis will have been licensed, albeit by a neighbouring authority. I cannot see the difference between getting into a minicab in York to go to Scarborough, so I am being driven around Scarborough in a York minicab, and a firm in Scarborough ordering a York cab for me because it is so busy owing to the success of our resort.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I urge the Government to look one more time at the provisions in the Deregulation Bill, which is currently before the Lords. In northern towns such as Skipton, taxis have been a key part of the problem of child sexual exploitation.

Mr Goodwill: It is up to licensing authorities to carry out all the necessary checks. If people who are not the designated driver are driving vehicles, it is a matter for enforcement. The changes that the Government propose would make no difference to that.

 

Topical Questions

T1. Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Last month I was pleased to announce that from December this year Shrewsbury and Blackpool will benefit from direct rail services to and from London. More generally on franchising, our programme remains on track and most recently the Department announced its intention to negotiate a three and a half year direct award on the Great Western route. On roads, we started work over the summer on a major scheme to increase capacity on the A1 western bypass around Gateshead. I can also inform the House that after its first six months of operation the HGV levy has brought in £23.4 million in revenue from foreign hauliers, substantially above the forecast.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: North-east manufacturers in the Port of Tyne are warning that from January the EU sulphur directive will increase shipping costs by more than 15%. These effects could be mitigated by abatement technology, but that will take time to fit. In the meantime our local businesses are suffering. Will the Government live up to their commitment to support manufacturing and offer transitional support while new technology is implemented?

Mr McLoughlin: I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the problems that companies are facing as far as the sulphur directive is concerned. I would just point out to her in a friendly way that it was negotiated and passed by the previous Government.

T2. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The Secretary of State will recall a joint letter from me and nine other of his hon. Friends urging him to restore a direct Oxford to Bristol service through Chippenham in the new Great Western franchise. Our campaign is now backed by Business West and the Swindon and Wiltshire and the West of England local enterprise partnerships. Will he meet us to consider how this could be achieved in his direct award negotiations with First Great Western?

Mr McLoughlin: I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to consider the proposal. It goes to show that rail services in the south-west, and not only in the north, are being pressed on us all the time.

T8. Mr Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab): What are the Minister’s proposals for the future structures of trust ports?

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): The right hon. Gentleman will know that trust ports are an important part of our ports sector. They have no shareholders and plough their profits back into the port for the benefit of stakeholders. Since the modernisation of trust port guidance was published in 2009 a lot of work has been done, but I think it is time to re-evaluate the current effectiveness of trust ports and to update our guidance. A trust port study is therefore being undertaken to look at these matters. Officials are working closely with trust ports to that effect.

Mr Speaker: I am sure copies will be placed subsequently in the Library, preferably signed by the right hon. Gentleman.

T3. David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The local growth deal recently announced a much needed new bridge over the River Mersey in Warrington. I thank the Minister for his support on that but ask that he continue to support the need for a second bridge over both the Mersey and the ship canal, which is a strategic priority for the local enterprise partnership. This will make a much needed difference to the town.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Local growth deals across the country have been a great success in supporting local priorities. A second crossing in Warrington falls firmly into the category of a local priority, and the purpose of the local growth fund is to reflect those strongly.

T10. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Only a third of the infrastructure projects trumpeted by the Government will have actually started by 2015, and the A14 fiasco probably sums up the Government’s record on roads. When will the Government end the delays and re-announcements and start to deliver the infrastructure our country needs?

Mr McLoughlin: I would put the infrastructure record of this Government alongside the infrastructure investment of the previous Government any day. It would be shown to be far more substantial than anything ever planned by the previous Government. I have had the solid support of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in making sure we have available funds for infrastructure.

T4. Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Street lights provide safety for all, so will the Minister responsible for road safety confirm that turning off street lights at midnight results in added road safety risks for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians?

Mr Goodwill: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. This is a matter for local authorities, and of course they are keen to reduce the carbon footprint resulting from having needless lights on. The experience around the country is mixed. In fact, some local authorities have shown that turning off lights does not detract from road safety.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): A large gauge rail freight network capable of carrying lorries and lorry trailers on trains is being developed across the continent of Europe. In Britain, such traffic can only reach as far as Barking from the channel tunnel, so Britain is being left behind on these developments. Will the Secretary of State look seriously at proposals to develop such a rail freight network in Britain?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman speaks with passion on this subject and has led the campaign for some time, but I have to say he has not succeeded in persuading me, just as he did not succeed in persuading the last Government, on this matter. However, I am pleased that over the last 10 years we have seen a 60% increase in freight on our railways, and I will do everything possible to encourage the freight industry to transfer more of its freight to rail, because it is in the long-term interests of this country. HS2 will also allow us to concentrate on that.

T5. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I thank the ports Minister for visiting the trust port of Dover last week. It was great to have a people’s Minister come to see the rise of a people’s port at Dover. Does he agree that community directors should be appointed by the community to deliver for the community?

Mr Hayes: It is generous of my hon. Friend to describe me as the people’s champion. I have never sought acclamation, but it would be negligent not to step up to the mark. I was delighted to visit Dover last week, to see once again the white cliffs and to be reminded of this

“precious stone set in the silver sea”.

He is right that the link between the port and the community is vital, and community directors are critical to that. I share his view about the importance of investment in linking the port to the town, particularly in the western dock, and about the significance of community directors. He has my full support, as does the port.

Mr Speaker: I hope that Dover also enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Ministers will know that the growth in rail usage in recent years is unevenly distributed across the regions. London has seen the highest growth and the most journeys, which has a knock-on impact in the form of overcrowded trains. What percentage of national investment in rolling stock and infrastructure will go into London commuter services over the next decade?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I do not have those numbers directly to hand, but I am sure the hon. Lady will be reassured to know that under this Government the overall transport infrastructure spend outside London is higher than it was under the last Labour Government. I shall instruct my officials to see whether we can get the data on rolling stock, but I am sure that she, like me, will welcome the fact that the £40 billion we are spending across the country is benefiting all parts of the country. If I could just—

Mr Speaker: Order. I want to hear from the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies).

T6. Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): The roads Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), from whom I anticipate an excellent answer and whom it is always a pleasure to welcome to my constituency, will be aware that the M55 link road received £2 million of Government money as part of the regional growth fund announcement. Will he meet me to ensure that the work on this vital road begins in 2015, as planned?

Mr McLoughlin: As my hon. Friend knows, because I visited the site with him not very long ago, I am more than happy to arrange a meeting for him with the relevant officials and my right hon. Friend to ensure that this project gets the necessary approval.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): A few days before her appointment, the rail Minister wrote to her predecessor about proposals that direct services to London from Bedwyn and Pewsey would cease as a result of electrification proposals that she described as “mad”. Will she tell the House whether she has now received a reply from herself, whether she has had an opportunity to read it and whether she agrees with herself?

Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out that one of my important local campaigning priorities is the maintenance of those vital direct links, but as he will know, as a former Minister, owing to ministerial propriety I can no longer directly comment on or investigate those links. I am delighted to say, however, that electrification and investment on that network is an important priority for this Government.

T7. Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am grateful for the private reassurances given to me by the Minister, but he will know that Lincolnshire county council has wrongly decided to close Hawthorn road over the new eastern bypass around Lincoln. Under pressure, it is now opening a footbridge, which I am glad to say one can bring a horse across, but unfortunately not many of my constituents have stables at the back of their gardens to access Lincoln on a horse. Will he please put pressure on the county council to put a proper bridge over the bypass so that we can have access?

Mr Hayes: Few are greater champions of rural roads than my hon. Friend, and he knows that I share his passion in that respect, particularly in Lincolnshire. I will happily organise a meeting between the county council, him and myself to take up the very matters he describes.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am afraid that we must move on.

 

Information was obtained in full from the Parliamentary Website.

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