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Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Labour, West Ham 2:30 pm, 27th January 2009

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

On 15 January, I set out to the House a series of major announcements on transport infrastructure. That included confirmation of the Government's support for a third runway at Heathrow airport, plans for increasing capacity on some of Britain's busiest roads and the creation of a new company, High Speed 2, to develop the case for new high-speed rail services between London and Scotland. In recent weeks, I have opened the new third platform at Manchester Airport railway station and the new green station at East Midlands Parkway. Both projects will improve journeys for thousands of commuters, reduce congestion on our roads and bring significant benefits to business, as will the newly widened section of the M1 south of Luton, which I officially opened last Friday. Last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, announced new measures to crack down on uninsured drivers by reducing the additional costs and safety risks that they cause. The new measures will help to protect the law- abiding majority.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Labour, West Ham

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Constituents have raised with me the safety of our airports following the miraculous events in New York. Will the Secretary of State reassure me about the safety of our airports, in particular London City airport? Apropos of that, has he had any further thoughts about opening a new airport in the middle of the Thames estuary?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

If I may qualify my hon. Friend's remarks to some extent, those events in New York were not miraculous. They were the result of remarkable skills displayed by the aircrew, and we should all pay tribute to them.

My hon. Friend is right, in that all airports must have regard to the risk of bird strike, and each airport is required to have a control programme. That has always been taken extremely seriously, and I am sure that with a little more thought, not least in the light of the history of proposals for airports in the Thames estuary, the Mayor of London might think again about the environmental risks, and the risks of bird strike to aircraft, of siting an aerodrome in that place.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

We have regular reports of drivers being led astray by their satnav devices down wholly unsuitable roads and lanes. Indeed, in my constituency there is a low bridge in Templecombe that seems to be hit almost every other week by a heavy goods vehicle, normally driven by a foreign driver who has been told to go down that road by his satnav. Some time ago, we were told that there would be a Government review of satnav devices. Has that now been completed, and are the Government prepared to introduce a route hierarchy into satnav structures, to ensure that heavy lorries do not use roads that simply cannot take them?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Here is a short answer, Mr. Speaker: the companies that produce the technology are still working on improving satnav performance. Work is also being undertaken to produce a satnav programme for heavy goods vehicles. HGV satnav is under review, because at the start and end of journeys such systems take drivers to the major routes via roads that may not be suitable for heavy vehicles.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the fury over the quality of train services that has existed in Northampton since the new timetable was introduced. What assurances can he give my constituents about improvements to the service in the short term? In the longer term, what prospect is there that his strategic rail review and new high-speed rail network will lead to more and faster train services to London, Birmingham and the north?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I was pleased to have a very useful meeting recently with my hon. Friend, at which she put her case on behalf of her constituents in Northampton with her usual determined vigour. I was left in no doubt about the importance of the required improvements that she suggested, and I shall certainly take the matter up with the franchise holder. As for the wider question of capacity, my hon. Friend is right to say that the Government's programme of enhancing capacity on our rail network will allow for relief on crowded parts of the existing network. They are crowded because of their success, with passenger numbers now equivalent to their levels in 1946. I am grateful to her, and assure her that I shall take her suggestions forward.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Last year, 12 airlines failed and thousands of passengers were left stranded abroad. Unfortunately, more airlines will fail this year. People who book through the Association of British Travel Agents, if the operator has an air travel operator's licence, will be protected and repatriated. However, people who book directly with the airline are left stranded abroad. When will the Secretary of State stop dithering and bring in a consumer protection scheme that will cover all airline passengers?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I can advise the hon. Gentleman that we are not dithering over this. The most recent crash, of the airline Excel, affected 85,000 people, and an investigation is being held into the lessons to be learned from it. People were successfully returned to this country in an operation carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority and others, and we will be making recommendations in due course. The Secretary of State and I have had a series of meetings with a variety of interested parties, and work is well under way.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

The users of the First Great Western franchise have had to endure cancellations and late-running trains for far too long. Despite the entreaties that we have heard from the midlands today, will the Secretary of State assure the House that plans for the electrification of the Great Western line will be given equal priority? Can he give us some idea of when those plans will be brought forward?

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall continue with my self-imposed injunction always to mention the Great Western first. I assure her that the economic case for the electrification of that line is strong, and that we shall be looking at it in detail over the course of this year before we make a further announcement.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The "cycle train" at St. Matthew's primary school in Bishopriggs involves a group of children who cycle to school and back each day, under the supervision of adults. Not only does that reduce the number of car journeys, but the children arrive at school alert and energised. However, the idea of children cycling on pavements remains a grey area in legal terms, so will the Minister look again at how the problem can be addressed? We need to balance pedestrian safety with clearer guidance to encourage young children to cycle more.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Interestingly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State suggests that I should join in with what the schoolchildren are doing. [Interruption.] I shall decline that opportunity—but Jo Swinson raises an important point. We very much wish to encourage cycling for a host of reasons, not least of which is the need to reduce congestion and the number of car journeys, and to meet the requirements of healthy living. We are investing some £140 million in promoting cycling, and we are training an additional half a million young people between the ages of six and 11 in the Bikeability and national standards process. That will help to give children confidence in using roads and cycle lanes—and I am always willing to discuss how we can take forward work with schools to make children's cycle journeys safer.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

My hon. Friend will be aware of the big issue of concessionary travel, and Chorley borough council's claims that the Government are short-changing it by not giving it enough money. In fact, the treasurer stated to the editor of the local paper that the council is £250,000 short. I do not believe that he has got the figure right; in fact, I think that he is struggling with his sums. Will the Minister meet the council and me to discuss the issue, as I do not believe that the situation is as bad as the council portrays it?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The simple answer is yes. I am happy to meet any Members and their delegations. Chorley had a 33 per cent. increase over and above outturn last year—some £280,000—

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

A huge amount!

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May be a "huge...

Submitted by Mr Smith Continue reading

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

A huge amount, to help to meet the cost of the Government giving 11 million people the freedom to travel the length and breadth of England.

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Note the word 'help'. The Government often introduces legislation that it expects local...

Submitted by David Clark Continue reading

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

As I am sure the Secretary of State knows, the A38 between Marsh Mills and Ivybridge in Devon was closed yesterday for six hours. It is the third time that has happened since Christmas, and it causes problems to the local economy. I have on several occasions pointed out that that is a fast and dangerous piece of dual carriageway. When will the Department for Transport do something about the road? Will it be before there are more fatal collisions on that stretch?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I was not aware that the road was closed yesterday. For investment in roads, the process involving the priority of meeting the requirements is kept under review through the regional funding allocation process. None the less, I will certainly look into the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

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