Oral Answers to Transport Questions: 29th October 2015
The Secretary of State was asked questions on:
Vehicle Emissions Regulation
- Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab):What the implications are for his Department’s policies on vehicle emissions regulation and low-emission vehicles of Volkswagen Group’s use of defeat devices.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The current differences between laboratory testing and real-world emissions are unacceptable. The UK has been actively pressing Europe to address this problem, and the agreement we secured in Brussels yesterday to introduce real-world testing in 2017 is an important milestone. However, we will continue to press at EU level for a comprehensive approach on emissions testing that restores consumer confidence and delivers our wider air quality and climate objectives. In addition, we will continue our programme of support for ultra-low emission vehicles.
Holly Lynch: Volkswagen’s new CEO has said that all the affected vehicles will be fixed by the end of 2016, but the UK managing director has said that this might not be deliverable. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that he is working with Volkswagen to ensure that the affected vehicles will be fixed by the end of 2016?
Mr McLoughlin: I will be looking to Volkswagen—which, it has to be said, has acted disgracefully in this whole episode—to ensure that it lives up to the expectations that it promised originally, and we will be working to make sure that that does happen.
Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Volkswagen has shattered trust in motor vehicle testing and that we need to move at pace to real-world testing to restore confidence among the public?
Mr McLoughlin: I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. When I appeared before the Select Committee a few weeks ago, I made that position abundantly clear. The progress we made yesterday is progress in the right direction.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The still-unfolding scandal of Volkswagen has lifted the lid on a much more widespread problem about emissions testing that was known about for a very long time. Why did not the Department act sooner to do something about it?
Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Lady says that it was known about for a long time. In 2001, the number of diesel vehicles sold in this country was 460,000, or 17%, while in 2009 it was 815,000, or 41%. So if it was known about for some time, it is not this Government who are culpable but the previous one.
Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the quest to improve air quality in our cities will be assisted by the new zero-emission-capable TX5 London taxi that is being developed in my constituency?
Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I have had the opportunity of travelling in one of those taxis. As I said, part of the answer is that we will continue our programme of support for ultra-low emission vehicles. That is very important.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Some 1.2 million cars have been affected across the UK. It is important to be mindful of the innocent drivers, as of course they all are, who are now facing a higher road tax bill and a decreased sale value. Does the Secretary of State agree that the full financial implications of this disgraceful thing that has happened should be placed at the feet of Volkswagen and Audi?
Mr McLoughlin: Motorists will not face any increase in taxes—we have made that fairly clear—but this is one of the issues that VW will have to address in due course.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Is not the reality, though, that Ministers’ statements are leaving motorists and people concerned about air quality none the wiser? Will the Secretary of State clear the air on one point, which is what happened at the EU Technical Committee yesterday? It was not just about setting a timetable for new cars to conform with existing emissions, was it? Did it not also involve an open-ended permission to breach those limits by 50%, and is not that what the UK representative voted for?
Mr McLoughlin: What was important yesterday is that we got agreement for real-world emissions testing right across the whole of Europe. That has been objected to in the past. We pressed for it in May, and I am very pleased that we achieved it yesterday. If the hon. Gentleman says that it is not as much as he would like or as fast as he would like, I would say that we have made more progress in six months of this new Conservative Government than was ever made by the previous Government.
Great Western Main Line
- Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP): What assessment his Department has made of whether the Great Western main line electrification project represents value for money for the public purse.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government remain committed to delivering the vital benefits that the projects will provide to passengers. As part of the re-planning of the programme, I expect Sir Peter Hendy to ensure that the schemes deliver value for money for taxpayers and passengers.
Deidre Brock: Does the Secretary of State agree that the tripling of costs to more than £2.5 billion is quite breathtaking? Will he take the time to learn lessons from Scotland, where major capital projects are coming in on time and on budget, largely as a result of proper planning and good contract negotiation, so that further public money is not thrown away in this cavalier fashion?
Mr McLoughlin: I am always willing to learn lessons from wherever they are valid, be that Scotland or anywhere else, although I will not be looking to Scotland for advice on providing tram systems. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Lady was in a position to hear the evidence from both Mark Carne and the permanent secretary to the Department. Some of the costs of such electrification programmes have run over budget. That is not acceptable, but they are huge and very important schemes. I think that regenerating our railway system and making it modern for the 21st century is very important.
Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con): In regards to the value for money of the Great Western main line, does the Secretary of State agree that electrification is just one of the factors that makes reopening Corsham station a more viable project and one that needs to remain high on the agenda?
Mr McLoughlin: I am sure that that will remain high on the agenda as long as my hon. Friend continues to press for it. I know that she has met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), to press the case. I look forward to discussing it with the rail Minister to see whether we can help my hon. Friend to get what she wishes.
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): The electrifications of the Great Western and of the valley lines are two sides of the same coin: both mean a great deal to the south Wales economy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Welsh Government counterpart on the delivery date for electrification of the valley lines, including the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line?
Mr McLoughlin: We have made money—£125 million—available to the Welsh Assembly. I have met Edwina Hart to discuss this programme, and I am also in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It is, however, for the Welsh Assembly to come forward with its plans.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his confirmation that the midland main line will be electrified to Kettering by 2019. Will he assure the House that the lessons learned from the Great Western electrification will be applied to that line so that its electrification can be delivered quickly and efficiently?
Mr Speaker: That was a neat body swerve by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that his question was definitively in order—a textbook example to colleagues.
Mr McLoughlin: Was that the answer, Mr Speaker? [Laughter.] I have now forgotten what the question was.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important to re-establish the midland main line electrification programme. He will know that I use that line regularly. Lessons do need to be learned. Of course, the electrification work had already started. What is important about the Hendy work and the Hendy plan that is currently being developed is to look at the development of the whole line, because certain things can be done on the midland main line to increase speed, which is also very important.
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): One of the main reasons for escalating cost is schedule 4 compensation payments to train operators. Owing to the vast sums of public money involved, is it not in the public interest to publish the amount of schedule 4 compensation payments? That money should be spent on improving public infrastructure, not lining the pockets of shareholders.
Mr McLoughlin: It is very important to make the best we can of the huge investment that we are putting into the railways overall. I am very proud of the improvements that are taking place on the Great Western railway line, of which electrification is a part. The completion of Reading station and the flyover that it provides, meaning that the line is no longer held up by freight trains, has been a major improvement, which serves the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those in the south-west incredibly well.
Level Crossing Safety (Bassetlaw)
- John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of level crossing safety in Bassetlaw constituency.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): Network Rail assesses the risks at the 6,200 level crossings on main lines, with oversight provided by the regulator. The UK already has the best level crossing safety record in the EU, but Network Rail—supported by this Government, with dedicated funding—is working to reduce that risk still further.
John Mann: What a load of waffle. After the Beech Hill tragedy in Bassetlaw in 2012, Network Rail said it would get rid of all eight level crossings on the east coast mainline in Bassetlaw. It has had a public consultation on the schemes, but what has happened in recent months? The money has been pulled. Will the Minister and the Chancellor meet Network Rail, to ensure that the money is put back in? It is good for business, good for the economy, good for safety and good for the people of Bassetlaw.
Claire Perry: The tragic accident that resulted in the loss of life of Emma Lifsey happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Anyone who has read about it will know that it was a dreadful tragedy. After that incident, the rail accident investigation branch made four recommendations that meant that such an accident could never happen again. I have been told they have been implemented across the network, but I want to follow up on that and make sure.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the plan to close the 73 crossings on the east coast mainline. That work has been progressed, but we cannot just shut off communities that rely on some of those contacts.
John Mann indicated dissent.
Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He should do my job and listen to people campaigning to keep level crossings open. The work will happen. It is absolutely right to focus on it and we will continue to fund it. There is no shortage of money for it—£109 million will be spent on making level crossings safer.
High Speed 2
- David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): What progress the Government have made on finalising the route for phase two High Speed 2.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): We have committed to setting out the Government’s plan for the HS2 phase two route in an update to the House before the end of this year.
David Mowat: I thank the Minister for the time he and his officials have spent with me recently to discuss the Golborne link. The initial justification for the link was a proposed depot in Wigan, but that depot will now not be located in Wigan. The only justification that remains is the 10 minutes saved by train journeys north of Wigan. Will the Minister confirm that if that standalone link north of Manchester goes ahead, it will be subject to a separate business case so that we can examine its business case review?
Mr Goodwill: We are certainly considering all the recommendations made by Sir David Higgins in his report, “Rebalancing Britain”. Sir David believes that the link to the west coast mainline is needed sooner rather than later. The alternative, which would mean linking to the west coast mainline at Crewe, would mean upgrading the west coast mainline to take on the additional services. That could be costly and disruptive. Indeed, it would incur those dreadful words, “Replacement bus services,” for many weeks.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I beg the ministerial team for a moment of sanity on HS2? The latest evaluation says that, with the hidden costs, the cost will rise to £160 billion for a country that cannot even keep its National Health Service running. Is it not about time that we look at this in a ruthless manner and tell Lord Adonis, who calls himself the godfather of HS2, to get his act together? Let us stop this nonsense and invest in things that really work.
Mr Goodwill: That is not what Lord Adonis was saying when he was Secretary of State for Transport. I am very pleased that Lord Adonis is engaging with this Government in delivering massive infrastructure improvements. The question the hon. Gentleman needs to ask himself is: what is the cost of not progressing HS2? It is about the capacity and the great cities of the north, which are crying out for that additional capacity and the wealth it will bring to the north.
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Of course, HS2 should have started in the north. On phase 2, may I also appeal for sanity from the Government? Will they review the hybrid Bill process and the cruel and unfair compensation scheme? The hybrid Bill process for phase 1 has been convoluted, impenetrable, protracted and painful, not just for the MPs on the Committee, but, more importantly, for the people affected by the project. It is ironic that we are using such a snail-like process for something that is supposed to be high speed. The hybrid Bill process is not fit for purpose. We should modernise it and bring it into the 21st century.
Mr Goodwill: I pay tribute to those Members who have doggedly sat on the hybrid Bill Committee and listened to petitions in such an admirable way. Many of the petitions did not reach the Committee, because we managed to reach agreement beforehand. On the question of building HS2 from the north first, it will still end up in London, whichever end it starts at. It is between Birmingham and London that the capacity is needed as a matter of urgency.
Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): Will my hon. Friend meet me and a delegation from Erewash Borough Council to discuss its proposals to mitigate the impact of the route for phase 2 of HS2 on local residents and businesses, especially in and around Long Eaton?
Mr Goodwill: We have not finalised the route, so it might be premature to have that meeting. As I have said, we will update the House before the end of the year. At that point, it will be very appropriate to meet a number of communities up and down the line of route.
Public Transport Accessibility (Disabled Passengers)
- Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on increasing access to public transport for disabled passengers.
- Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on increasing access to public transport for disabled passengers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): We have made significant progress on increasing access. By the end of the year, we expect around 75% of rail journeys to start or end at a step-free station. That is an increase from around 50% when the Access for All programme started. That programme will deliver 151 step-free routes at stations this year. On the buses, only 57% met accessibility regulations in 2009-10. That number is now nearly 90% and rising.
Susan Elan Jones: I know that every Member of the House will want to congratulate the friends of Chirk station on their sterling work and the Labour Welsh Government for the massive investment in that station, which means that it will be totally accessible to disabled people from the end of next month. Many of us are very concerned, however, about the slashing of funding for the Access for All programme by 42%. It is a basic programme that provides ramps, lifts and the like. Will the Minister tell us why the Government are doing that and why they have not changed their mind?
Andrew Jones: I am aware of the installation of the new footbridge at Chirk station, which will vastly improve the facilities there, but I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says. The Access for All programme has been a great success. We are building on the success of the programme that was launched by the previous Government. So far, £386 million has been spent and about 1,200 stations have benefited from smaller-scale improvements. To build on the success, a further £160 million of funding has been allocated in the last year, which will extend the scheme to a further 68 stations.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the Minister will join me in congratulating Northumbria University on its new chancellor, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you. To get to Newcastle, the chancellor has to propel herself up the impossibly steep footbridge ramp at Eaglescliffe station, which is treacherous in difficult weather. Network Rail says that it cannot afford to put in a lift. Is that the result that the Government expected when slashing the Access for All grant by 42%?
Andrew Jones: Baroness Grey-Thompson is an extremely impressive figure and the university will benefit from her involvement.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Not if she can’t get there!
Andrew Jones: Of course she has to get there and I will look into the case of Eaglescliffe station.
The point remains that the Department for Transport is committed to ensuring that disabled people have the same access to transport services and opportunities as other members of society. That is why we are fully backing the Access for All programme and rolling out more disability access to buses. That is a measure of its success. The programme has generated a positive response. Research at stations that have benefited from the programme has found that passengers with mobility impairment have a better travelling experience as a result, and that goes up among those who have wheelchair issues.
Mr Speaker: We are all now better informed.
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): The Minister will know that about 60% of disabled people live in a household without a car and that disabled people use buses 20% more than others. He will also know that since 2010, 70% of local authorities have cut funding for bus services. We know that more cuts are on the way, like those that were announced in my county this week. Does he understand what impact those cuts will have on disabled people? What proper assessment has he made of the potential impact on disabled people?
Andrew Jones: First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. I am acutely aware of how important buses are for disabled people, as well as for other communities. That is why I have been a great champion of the bus industry. Of course, the implications for all bus users are considered when budgets are planned.
- Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme.
- Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme.
- Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its rail electrification programme.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Since 2010 my Department has overseen the successful delivery of 50 miles of electrified track. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) construction is under way between Ealing Broadway and Acton mainline stations, to remove slow-moving freight trains off the line and enable high-frequency electric Crossrail trains to service her constituents from 2018. From Paddington and through her constituency to Bristol and on to Cardiff, Network Rail has installed around a quarter of the 14,000 piles needed to turn the centuries-old Great Western line into an electric railway fit for the 21st century.
Dr Huq: Will the Secretary of State ensure that electrification of the Great Western main line goes ahead on time, along with other improvements on the route, to deliver quickly the benefits for passengers into Paddington? My constituents cannot wait until 2019 and the start of Crossrail for the extra services that are so badly needed.
Mr McLoughlin: I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s constituents cannot wait until 2019—they waited for 13 years between 1997 and 2010 with nothing happening.
Andy McDonald: Teesside has had a hammering in this place over the past weeks, but we are a resilient bunch and nothing demonstrates that better than the magnificent victory at Old Trafford last night. We are top of the league on the electrification taskforce list for the connection between Northallerton and Middlesbrough. Can the Secretary of State indicate when we might expect progress on that important economic development?
Mr McLoughlin: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman because I, too, am a football supporter—I support Derby County and any team that plays Manchester United—and his team has done incredibly well. He makes a fair point, and Network Rail uses a huge amount of steel, which helps his constituency. I will look into his point and write to him once I get the results of Peter Hendy’s re-plan.
Mr Hanson: The Chancellor of the Exchequer visited north Wales in July and said that he will “look at” the case for electrification of the line from Crewe to north Wales. Will the Secretary of State define what “look at” means, and say whether it will mean look at and deliver, or just look at?
Mr McLoughlin: It means that I will take no lessons from someone who, between 1997 and 2010, supported a Labour Government who managed to achieve the great amount of electrification of 10 miles—13 years, 10 miles. We will certainly look at electrification as that is the way forward for the railways, and I will consider that along with other plans for control period 6.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): As I witnessed again last Monday, passengers travelling between Bolton and Manchester are frequently squashed like sardines on that line. Will the Secretary of State update the House on how engineering works on the line are coming on, and particularly the reboring of the tunnel at Farnworth?
Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is right about what we need to do. Farnworth tunnel has had problems but it has now been completed, and that will help to increase capacity on the line. The changes and increased capacity that my hon. Friend rightly wants for his area will take place, and I pay tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly on the Farnworth tunnel, which is now running on time.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I welcome the unpausing of work on electrifying the Midland mainline. As most of that work will slip into the next control period, will the Secretary of State ensure that the line through Langley Mill and Atherton is also electrified? That project has a robust business case and will improve the resilience of the whole line and services to my constituency.
Mr McLoughlin: As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend heard evidence a few weeks ago from the chief executive of Network Rail. His point about looking at all the lines as a total is important, and I will bear his comments in mind.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I very much welcome the news that the electrification of the trans-Pennine route is now fully back on track. Will the Secretary of State say what new improved benefits the new scheme will bring to commuters in west Yorkshire?
Mr McLoughlin: We are looking at substantial improvements in linking up the main cities in the north—between Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. What we are planning will bring more seats and capacity. It is absolutely essential that that is got on with.
- Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): In response to an earlier question, the Transport Secretary rightly pointed out that other line improvements are required in addition to electrification on the midland main line. Will he therefore update the House on progress in finalising the funding for all those improvements, including those at Market Harborough, to which the Government are committed?
Mr McLoughlin: We have covered £38.5 billion of investment in Network Rail over this control period. We are looking at ways in which other funding can be made available.
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): It was reported this week that due to the delay to the Great Western electrification programme taxpayers could be paying £3 million a week for trains that cannot move anywhere, or that they might have to foot the bill for fitting diesel engines to electric trains. Will the Secretary of State tell us who is to blame for this fiasco? Is it Network Rail for the delay to the work, is it the Department for Transport for signing the contract in the first place, or is it simply a symptom of the privatised structure of our railway that causes the kind of fragmentation that makes disasters like this frankly inevitable?
Mr McLoughlin: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. He talks about privatised railways leading to this kind of disaster. This is a great example of somebody who has not held ministerial office, or who has just been in opposition, being able to forget everything that happened in the past. I remember, however, what the Labour candidate for Mayor of London, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), said:
“One reason we are able to invest record sums in our railway service is the revenues that the franchises bring in and the premiums that they pay”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 430.]
We are seeing record investment in our railway because of how we are running it. At the time it was fully nationalised we saw a declining railway, a useless railway, a railway that was not fit for purpose—something the Labour party wants to go back to.
- Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Network Rail.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I meet regularly with senior officials of Network Rail to discuss a wide range of key issues facing the company. Recent meetings have majored on Sir Peter Hendy’s review of the control period 5 enhancement programme.
Chloe Smith: Will the Secretary of State reiterate the Government’s commitment to the recommendations of the Great Eastern main line taskforce, which brings benefits to all counties on its route? Will he ensure that Network Rail delivers the necessary improvements to track in East Anglia in CP5 and CP6?
Mr McLoughlin: Yes. I am very glad to say that we have been able to issue the invitation to tender in relation to the East Anglia franchise, something on which my hon. Friend has been very persistent. Services to Norwich in 90 minutes and services to Ipswich in 60 minutes form part of that tender. She is right about the other improvements we need to look at as well. She can take my assurance that I will raise them with Sir Peter Hendy when I meet him later today.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with Network Rail regarding the electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester line that passes through Widnes and Warrington?
Mr McLoughlin: I think I need a bit more direction on what the actual question is. There has been electrification of the line between Liverpool and Manchester, which is very welcome. We now have electric trains running on that line and there will soon be more. If the hon. Gentleman has a more specific point, perhaps he would like to write to me.
Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): During the great storms in the west country in early 2014, we found our main line route to Cornwall floating in the sea. The Peninsular Rail Task Force put together three proposals, including the Okehampton link. Have any conclusions been reached? It would add huge benefits to our economic potential in North Cornwall.
Mr McLoughlin: I well remember the situation at Dawlish. I also remember the valiant way Network Rail worked to restore that link. It did an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances, so even at this stage I would again like to add my thanks to all the people who worked on that scheme to restore the link. My hon. Friend is quite right about the taskforce that the peninsular group has brought forward. We are looking at its report and will have further comments to make once the re-planning of CP5 is undertaken by Sir Peter Hendy.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The very welcome creation of the National Training Academy for Rail will help to plug some of the skills shortage, which is behind many of the delays to electrification, but does the Minister share my concern that the proposed 40% cut to the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will undermine the academy’s ability to deliver on the skills shortages?
Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the academy at Northampton, which I visited a few months ago and which my hon. Friend the rail Minister opened just a few weeks ago. It will play an important role in upskilling, but it is not just about upskilling the state; it is about upskilling the whole industry and bringing it together. That is one reason I asked Sir Terry Morgan, the chairman of Crossrail, to co-ordinate an apprenticeships programme right across the transport sector.
Skills Development (Infrastructure Programmes)
- Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to support skills development to help deliver the Government’s transport infrastructure programmes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): On 21 August, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the appointment of Terry Morgan, the chair of Crossrail, to develop a transport and infrastructure skills strategy. The strategy will help ensure that the transport industry has the right people with the right skills at the right time to deliver the Government’s unprecedented programme of transport infrastructure investment.
Stephen Metcalfe: I was recently fortunate enough to visit Prospects college of advanced technology in Basildon, which has created a unique partnership between engineering and construction companies to train the next generation of skilled technicians. May I invite my hon. Friend to look closely at its model and perhaps even to visit PROCAT, with a view to widening that range of opportunities across the whole country to give our young people the skills they will need to deliver our plans?
Andrew Jones: I will certainly look at the approach taken by PROCAT, and I would like to visit, because it is vital that colleges and universities work in partnership with employers to ensure that young people get the skills the industry needs. Skills are particularly crucial within the transport sector, as more and more skilled people are required. I will also highlight the work of PROCAT to Sir Terry Morgan as he develops our skills strategy.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The road haulage industry is an important element of the transport infrastructure, as it contributes to the smooth running of the economy and helps the Government to drive up exports. This week, it reported a recruitment shortage of 54,000 drivers, which is likely to increase because of the ageing population. What discussions has the Minister had with the Business Secretary to ensure that young people are encouraged to take up the opportunities available within the transport road haulage industry?
Andrew Jones: The industry has a responsibility to bring new people in, but I am aware of the recruitment challenges it faces. There is also a retention issue. I have met with the industry several times and will continue to do so. It is most important that this critical industry brings people into it. Without our logistics industry performing at a high level, our country would grind to a halt in a couple of days.
- Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What progress his Department has made on assessing the viability of reopening Plymouth airport.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Chancellor announced in the March 2015 Budget report that
“The government will commission a new study into the possibility of reopening Plymouth Airport.”
I am keen to determine the final form and scope of the study, and how best to take it forward.
Oliver Colvile: As my hon. Friend knows, Plymouth will be the focus of global attention in five years when, during the Mayflower 2020 celebrations, we commemorate the date the Mayflower set sail to found the American colonies. Does my hon. Friend agree that if these celebrations are to be a major tourism success, it is important that people can get to Plymouth, and that this means improved roads and railways and better air links?
Mr Goodwill: Well, that new colony certainly worked out well.
My hon. Friend is right that investment in infrastructure is vital to the economic development of the south-west, which is why we have committed £31 million to improving the resilience of the Great Western route. We have already heard about the £40 million used to fix Dawlish and the long-overdue investment in the A30 and the A303, which have long been the scourge of tourists and business people travelling to the south-west.
Cross-Channel Transport Links
- Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to ensure that cross-channel transport links remain open.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Recent improvements to security measures include fencing, additional security guards, dogs, and improved CCTV and thermal imaging cameras. In addition to these measures, the French Government have committed very significant police resources to the Calais area.
Karen Lumley: On my summer business tour, I met lots of exporters in Redditch having terrible trouble getting their goods into Europe. Can my hon. Friend assure me and Redditch businesses that his Department is doing everything possible to ensure that my businesses prosper in the future?
Mr Goodwill: The channel link is certainly vital to the whole UK economy, and particularly to the haulage industry. I was recently at Folkestone and saw some of the problems at first hand. In particular, there were issues with regard to just-in-time delivery of parts for the motor industry, steel rails produced in Scunthorpe that are exported to the continent, and lobsters produced in my constituency that travel in trucks across to customers in France and Spain.
Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): This summer the M20 through my constituency was closed for 32 days. I am grateful for the attention that the ministerial team is giving to solving the problem. Will the Secretary of State update me on the progress being made to avoid a repeat of this summer’s closure next summer?
Mr Goodwill: The key to preventing any recurrence of the problems we have had this summer is sorting out the issues in France. I am pleased to say that the MyFerryLink industrial dispute has been resolved, so we do not have that additional problem. The Government put in place a contingency plan at Manston, which would have relieved the problem further. It is certainly important to look at how to improve the situation when, for whatever reason, we have disruption on the channel.
Airports Commission Report
- Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on the Airports Commission’s final report, published on 1 July 2015.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I have had no representations on this particular topic, but I look forward to a productive engagement with all the devolved Administrations on this subject.
Peter Grant: The Minister may not be aware that as part of the very expensive lobbying campaign undertaken on both sides of the airport expansion debate, passengers using Scottish airports are being deliberately targeted in an intense scaremongering campaign, trying to persuade us that if the decision goes the wrong way, Scotland will be cut off from the rest of the world. That is clearly just scaremongering, as that is not going to happen. Depending on how the decision goes, it has the potential to bring significant benefits to Scotland, but also the potential to cause significant damage to Scotland. Will the Minister give an assurance that when the time comes he will make representations through the appropriate channels to ensure that all Members can play a full and equal part in the debate?
Mr Goodwill: I have to say that the representations I have received from Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland underline the importance of having good connectivity to international routes, which may be brought about through additional runway capacity in the south-east. Indeed, we have already provided some help to the Dundee service to allow passengers to reach the capital, albeit not to a hub, in that way.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that expanding Heathrow and connectivity with Scotland and the Scottish airports is one of the best things we could do to strengthen the United Kingdom?
Mr Goodwill: The Government will make an announcement in response to the Airports Commission’s report in due course, but I think it would be premature to make any additional comment at this stage.
Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): In his statement on the Airports Commission, the Secretary of State for Transport promised a decision before the end of the year. On the subject of regional airports, we agreed at that time about the commercial, economic and social connectivity that is required. The Secretary of State referred to
“The slots needed by Scottish airports and other airports that have lost them, and I hope we can address that. I want to reflect on that point while considering the whole report.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1486.]
Does he still agree about the importance of this development for Scotland’s regional airports such as Inverness and Dundee, and has there been any progress in his thinking on a review of route development and public service obligations?
Mr Goodwill: I have always made clear the importance with which I view local airports and regional international airports and how big a part they play in the economic development of areas, particularly in Scotland. We need to look at aviation as a whole. Certainly the representations I receive stress the importance of connectivity—whether it be through Amsterdam, Schiphol, Paris, Frankfurt or indeed to slots that may become available in the south-east.
Drew Hendry: Given that recognition of the importance of this issue, will the Minister confirm that any decision on the development of a third runway at Heathrow or development at Gatwick would not have to go through an additional stage in the legislative process? With a veto on Scottish MPs suggested by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), an assistant to the Scottish Secretary, what will the Minister do to make sure that this subject will be “delivered from EVEL”?
Mr Goodwill: I think it would be premature to enter into that particular discussion. I am always in favour of jumping one’s fences when one reaches them.
- Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): How many of the 47 recommendations ignored by the Airports Commission would have benefited Scotland, and would those recommendations have increased the number of domestic flights, unlike the Heathrow option, which would decrease it?
Mr Goodwill: One of the concerns that I have picked up around the country, outside the south-east, is that owing to the pressure for slots at both Heathrow and Gatwick at peak times, connecting flights coming in from other parts of the country are always an issue, and we are well aware of the acute need for that issue to be addressed.
Railway Upgrading (South-west)
- Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): What progress his Department has made on upgrading and enhancing the railway in the south-west.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): We are making significant progress in upgrading and enhancing the railway in the south-west by investing in track and stations, upgrading and delivering new trains to carry more people on faster journeys, and, as we heard earlier, improving resilience to ensure that the region can stay connected.
Kevin Foster: The Devon and Cornwall peninsula rail task force recently published its interim report on a 20-year plan for Devon and Cornwall’s railways. Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s primary aim is to secure the resilience of the Great Western main line through south Devon, and that any other options that are considered will be additional measures, not alternatives?
Claire Perry: I have the report here, I have read it, and I am happy to confirm that the other options would indeed be alternatives, not replacements.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What impact will the delay and cost overruns affecting the electrification of the Great Western main line have on the investment that the Minister has just mentioned?
Claire Perry: I am so sorry, Mr Speaker. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to repeat his question?
Mr Speaker: The Minister was busily chuntering away to her colleague, with scandalous disregard for the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr Bradshaw: The Minister should actually listen to questions, rather than talking to her colleague. My question was this: what will be the impact of the cost overruns and delays affecting the electrification of the Great Western main line—from which we in the south-west are not benefiting beyond Bristol—on the investment that the Minister has just trumpeted?
Claire Perry: I apologise, Mr Speaker. I misspoke in my previous answer, and I was reassuring myself about that. I want to make it clear, if I may, that the new routes will be additional, not alternatives, to the main line.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that an enormous amount of investment is taking place in the south-west: investment in resilience, and in the new, faster AT300 trains. I wish he would get behind the Government’s attempts to connect this vital region, rather than keeping on shouting about things.
East-West Rail Line
- Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): What progress his Department has made on re-opening the east-west rail line.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I will try to get it right this time, Mr Speaker.
I am sure my hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the first section of the east-west rail line was opened on Monday. It will allow people to travel from Oxford Parkway to London Marylebone, and will give them alternative opportunities when they make that vital journey.
Iain Stewart: I welcome the new Chiltern service, which will run along the first stage of the east-west line. There is a strong business case for that service, as there is for the project as a whole. Will my hon. Friend do everything she can to ensure that the Hendy review does not delay East West Rail as a whole?
Claire Perry: I most certainly will, and we shall know more in a few weeks’ time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and to other Members whose constituencies are along the route: they have left us in no doubt about the importance of the east-west rail link.
T1. Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Since I last addressed the House at Question Time, I have seen at first hand the work that Network Rail is doing as a result of the Government’s £38 billion investment in the railways. That includes the £44 million regeneration of Manchester Victoria station, which will finally make it a station of which Manchester can be proud—in 2009, it was voted the worst station in Britain—the £750 million rebuilding of Birmingham New Street, which is transforming a station that is at the heart of
Britain’s rail network, and the reconstruction of the Farnworth tunnel, which will allow electric trains to run from Manchester to Bolton and on to Preston. Once completed, it will allow diesel trains to be used on other routes in the north-west, providing over 30,000 more seats per week and helping to build a northern powerhouse.
Mr Betts: You will be pleased to learn, Mr Speaker, that I shall not begin by referring to Sheffield Wednesday’s impressive victory over Arsenal the other night. [Laughter.] What I will do is refer to Sir David Higgins’s report, in which he describes transport links between Sheffield and Manchester as a matter of national concern, and as probably the worst links between any two major cities in Europe.
Will the Secretary of State seriously consider two proposals? The first is that HS3 should link not merely Manchester and Leeds but Manchester and Sheffield, and the second is that serious consideration should be given to the building of a road tunnel under the Pennines. That is the only serious way in which to link Sheffield and Manchester without damaging the national park.
Mr McLoughlin: I agree that more needs to be done to improve the links between Sheffield and Manchester, and I very much hope that when we announce the new franchise for both TransPennine and Northern Rail we will go some way to meeting the demands for that. The two projects the hon. Gentleman specifically talks about are huge projects. Work is being done at the moment by Colin Matthews on whether a tunnel is the right way forward, and we will expect more updates on that by the Budget of next year. I do understand the hon. Gentleman’s points on HS3 and the infrastructure commission will look at them.
T6. David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Figures released by the Department show that the Severn bridge is currently generating about £78 million-worth of profit over and above the cost of maintenance of that bridge. Does that not go to prove that as soon as it goes back into public ownership on 1 April 2018, there is a great opportunity for this Government to slash the tolls on the bridge—bring it down to under £1 per car —and still have enough money to pay for the maintenance of it?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): The toll levels are currently set by the concessionaire, Severn River Crossing, to repay the construction, finance, maintenance and operations costs. We are expecting the costs to have been recovered early in 2018, and at that point the concession will end and the crossings will revert to the UK Government. We are currently working on what the future of tolling might be. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said and I will keep him updated on progress.
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): We will shortly hear whether the north-east plans for local oversight of bus services are recommended for approval. We on this side of the House have always supported Labour’s councillors on Tyne and Wear, including when they were subjected to appalling abuse over this issue. I welcome the Minister’s late conversion to the cause of bus tendering, but does he agree that the powers in the buses Bill must be available to all communities that want them, including in rural and isolated areas?
Mr McLoughlin: May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? She knows what is going to come next: I have been doing this job for a little over three years and this is the fourth shadow Secretary of State I have seen. Shall we just say we will see whether there are more to come?
The hon. Lady sort of asserts that she knows what is in the buses Bill. Considering that it has not yet been published, I am interested to know how that has been achieved, but the simple point is—we are being very open about this—that there will be extra opportunities for areas where elected mayors are put in place, and they can take advantage of them.
Lilian Greenwood: I was hoping for a straight answer to a straight question, but let us try again. With more than 2,000 routes lost or downgraded and fares up by 25% since the last round of spending cuts, will the Secretary of State today rule out any plans to slash support for buses even further in the forthcoming spending review?
Mr McLoughlin: I am not in a position at this stage to announce what the spending review will be. I am afraid that the hon. Lady, like every other Member of the House, will need to wait until the spending review is announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25 November. I hope that is a very straight answer.
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in addition to the many defects of the Type 317 rolling stock that operates on the West Anglia line, there occurred this week a case of a train stopping—screeching to a halt—between Bishop’s Stortford and Sawbridgeworth apparently for lack of air? Does this not suggest that more importance should be attached to awarding the franchise to the bidder that can bring forward the most solid assurances for new rolling stock?
Mr McLoughlin: I will make inquiries into what my right hon. Friend has just informed me about. I do not know about the specific case, but I can assure him that I will do by later on today. He is absolutely right about the need to improve the rolling stock availability and that is one of the things I hope the invitation to tender on the line will do.
T2. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): What measures is Network Rail taking to ensure that skilled rail jobs no longer appear on the tier 2 shortage occupation list?
Mr McLoughlin: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, of the huge amounts of steel bought by Network Rail, the vast majority—some 95%—is bought from UK production, but if I have understood his question wrongly, perhaps he could write to me and I will write back to him.
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The Secretary of State mentioned the great success of the Norwich in 90 campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). As he will know, Worcester is just six miles further from London than Norwich is, as the crow flies, and 15 miles further away by car, yet it regularly takes my constituents more than 150 minutes to reach the capital by train. Will he do everything he can to lean on Great Western and Network Rail to get our service down to under two hours on a regular basis?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): My hon. Friend and other Members—including the one my officials like to call “the MP for Witney”—have campaigned extremely hard on this very issue. There is a lot of work being done on finding ways to improve journey times, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest there is a lot to be done. We have started the work on delivery.
T3. Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): Rail commuter routes into Manchester are soon to lose trains to London Midland, raising memories of the TransPennine Express rolling stock debacle, which cost taxpayers £20 million and led to some services being downgraded. The Secretary of State had the opportunity to prevent the loss of TransPennine trains, but he chose not to use it. Did he have a similar option in the latest case? Is not this yet another example of fragmented railways letting passengers down?
Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman talks about franchising letting people down, but I think he should just wait and see what comes out of the two franchises involving TransPennine and Northern. It is worth remembering that in 2004, when that franchise was last let, it was let on a no-growth basis. That is what the last Government thought about the northern powerhouse and the services that were required in that area. That is not the way in which this Government are approaching it, and I invite him to see what announcements we will make shortly.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Will the Minister give me an assurance that the new stations fund will be accessible to applications from all councils? As she knows, the proposal for a new station at Haxby in my constituency has one of the strongest business cases anywhere in the north of England, and my constituents would benefit hugely from such a station.
Claire Perry: I would be delighted to review that matter with my hon. Friend. The new stations fund announced in the Budget is of course open to all applicants.
T4. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Sheffield city region, now strengthened by Derbyshire Dales, is a real hub for manufacturing in the rail industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that this presents a real opportunity for forward planning to get the manufacturing companies together to prepare bids for HS2?
Mr McLoughlin: Much as it causes me pain, I will agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that the companies in the Sheffield and Derbyshire areas, as well as other companies, are in a position to take advantage of HS2.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Pendle residents are concerned about the state of local roads across our area. Given that the Government have made £6 billion available for pothole repairs, how can we encourage local authorities to deliver the repairs that we all want to see?
Andrew Jones: We are providing local authorities with financial support amounting to a record £6 billion between now and 2021 for highways maintenance. We are also encouraging them to look at the way in which they manage their programmes, and 85% of local authorities in England have now signed up to the highways maintenance efficiency programme. This is how we are supporting councils. We are talking about a significant investment here: it is enough to deal with 18 million potholes per year, and it is making a difference to the quality of our road network.
T5. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The port of Newport is the second largest steel handling port in the United Kingdom and it is likely to suffer grievously from the current steel closures. What has the Minister done to assess the consequential job losses in transport and elsewhere as a result of the Government’s neglect of the steel industry? Will he persuade his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to end his policy of gifting British jobs to Chinese workers?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): As the Minister with responsibility for ports, I am all too aware of their importance in getting exports out of our country and getting imports in. Yesterday I was at the port of Bristol, which is going to benefit from developments in the nuclear industry, which will be partly financed by the Chinese, and I am going to Felixstowe later today to see the developments there.
Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The Government’s commitment to dual the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston and improve the Chowns Mill roundabout was warmly welcomed by east Northamptonshire residents. Will the Minister now update us on that work?
Andrew Jones: I shall have to check the immediate progress on those schemes and write to my hon. Friend.
T7. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Many of my constituents rely on the No. 44 bus to get to Southport hospital, but the service has been axed as a result of cuts by the Secretary of State’s Department. He talked earlier about the opportunity of having directly elected mayors, but is it not the case that if the cuts continue, the additional powers will be meaningless and of no help to my constituents or to anybody else?
Mr McLoughlin: I want to see an expansion and a widening of services to all our constituents, which is why the Government are supporting record transport investment in this Parliament.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): There are swathes of motorway that are under a 50 mph restriction. There is a 20 mile stretch of a 50 mph zone on the M62 and M60, with people working on a very, very small section of that road. Will the Minister tell the Highways Agency that the work should be done for the convenience of the road user and not of the agency?
Andrew Jones: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Long stretches of roadworks frustrate drivers, especially as they near completion. I have raised that matter with Highways England and challenged it to deliver its work in sections that are shorter in length and over a shorter period of time. It has undertaken to do so by reducing the length of works to between a third and a half of their current size and by having more intensive and longer hours of working, including more night-time and weekend working.
Mr Speaker: If the Minister can get it sorted out, who knows, he might be carried aloft in the House.
T8. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In an earlier answer, the Minister referred to linking up the great cities of the north, but again did not refer to Hull. Given that we have had the pausing and the unpausing of the electrification of several routes, when will the Secretary of State give the green light to the privately financed initiative to electrify the line all the way to Hull?
Mr McLoughlin: I do apologise to the hon. Lady. I am at a slight disadvantage because of your rulings, Mr Speaker, because if I were to mention all the great cities in the north, I would be ruled out of order.
Diana Johnson: There are not that many.
Mr McLoughlin: Well, I think there are a number of great cities in the north. I am very proud of those cities, but if I named them all, I would get into trouble. I fully accept what the hon. Lady says about the importance to Hull, which is why I have been able to move forward with some of the infrastructure investment for the A63, which is very important for her area. As for as the extra money we gave to take the scheme that she is talking about up to GRIP 2, I am awaiting for further reports on that particular scheme.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, there was an important point of order from a Plaid Cymru Member in which he pointed out how excellent the Transport Department is in answering questions compared with the Treasury, which is very poor. Has the Secretary of State been contacted by the Chancellor to find out how it is done?
Mr McLoughlin: I am sure that that is meant to be a helpful question. In the run-up to the spending review, it is not.
T9. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): As a chartered engineer and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, I was horrified to learn that software engineering had apparently been used to cheat legitimate regulation and possibly undermine public health. The Secretary of State has criticised Volkswagen, but what discussions has he had with the professional bodies, the Minister of State for Skills and the automotive industry to ensure that this sort of dark engineering has no place in our cars?
Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. As far as that matter is concerned, industry across the piece is very embarrassed by what has happened, and I am pretty sure that it will take proper action to ensure that the right regulatory measures are taken.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Could my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress is being made to bring Crossrail 2 through Harrow and Wealdstone station?
Mr McLoughlin: We are out to consultation, and I would have expected my hon. Friend to say what a great job we are doing as far as Crossrail 1 is concerned, However, as I have come to learn in this job, no sooner have we completed one major infrastructure project, than people are always talking about the next one. I am glad that he is in a position to talk about Crossrail 2, because it means that Crossrail 1 is being built.
Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Last week, the British Airline Pilots Association wrote to the management at Loganair, which operates air services throughout the highlands and islands, about its concern that aircraft are being returned to the line despite being unserviceable. It said:
“In some cases aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety and in others have restrictions placed upon them which render the aircraft effectively unusable in our operating environment.”
These are lifeline services to some of the most economically fragile communities in the country. What can the aviation Minister do to ensure, either through his Department or the Civil Aviation Authority, that our local communities can retain full confidence in these crucial services?
Mr Goodwill: I regularly meet BALPA; indeed, its general secretary, Jim McAuslan, is a good example of how unions can work with Government to promote their members. Safety is our top priority for air travel in the UK, and all our airlines have to meet strict safety maintenance requirements. Compliance with these requirements is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority. I understand that the CAA is aware of Loganair’s recent difficulties, but is satisfied that the company is operating safely and maintaining its aircraft in accordance with the necessary safety requirements. The matter will, of course, be kept under review.
Mr Speaker: We have overrun, but I want to hear a brief inquiry from a member of the Select Committee. I call Mr Martin Vickers.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): In recent weeks, passengers on the Cleethorpes to Manchester rail services have had to put up with regular cancellations due to driver shortage. Passengers do not care whether that is the company’s problem or ASLEF’s. Will the Rail Minister use her good offices to sort the matter out, please?
Claire Perry: I would be delighted to do so, or to try to do so. This is why the new invitations to tender and franchises have customer service and passenger experience right at their heart.