Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 19th December 2013.

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Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood 9:30 am, 19th December 2013

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

Millions of people will be travelling long distances to see family and friends over the coming days. All key transport operators have contingency plans in place to deal with disruption if the weather deteriorates. As in previous winters, the Government are monitoring road salt supplies on a regular basis. The current stocks are robust, totalling 1.7 million tonnes

As we head into Christmas, I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the anti-drink-drive campaign that we launched earlier this month. It reminds drivers of the snowballing consequences that can await those who get behind the wheel after drinking, including job loss, a criminal record and prison. Our message this Christmas is simple: if you’re going to drink, don’t drive.

May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, on behalf of all my colleagues, to wish you and all the members of staff a merry Christmas and a contented new year?

Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood

Labour-run Lancashire county council is purporting to cut its subsidised bus routes by 50%, which means that most of the villages and outlying council estates in Lancaster will have no buses in the evenings or on Sundays. Is it not about time for a serious review of the need to maintain vital bus services for rural and difficult-to-reach areas?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a very important point. The truth is that, while we have seen a huge amount of growth in the railways, more people are using buses every single day, particularly in rural areas and rural communities, which rely on bus services. My hon. Friend raises important issues and his ideas certainly merit further consideration.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

As we are on the subject of Christmas largesse, could the Secretary of State explain why the Airports Commission, as part of its costing for extra capacity at Heathrow, gave the airport an extraordinary present by excluding the cost both of the rail link to HS2 and of motorway enhancement around Heathrow but included such surface access costs in its assessment of the alternative in the Thames Gateway?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I am not responsible for the Airports Commission report—it is an independent report—but I will certainly draw the right hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of Sir Howard Davies so that he can consider whether his report properly reflects all the arguments.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

The London Cycling Campaign’s safer lorries, safer cycling initiative has measures for improving safety for cyclists. Will the Department commit to working across Government to ensure that all of our contractors and our supply chain sign up to this initiative?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We must certainly continue to improve the safety of cyclists, which, despite recent negative publicity in London, has improved markedly over the past decade. As I made clear in my recent evidence to the Transport Committee, we need to co-ordinate how lorries on the streets of London are designed and used, but there is no single magic bullet. The fact that we have doubled spending on cycling in this Parliament compared with the last one shows that we are committed not only to increasing the number of people who cycle, but to improving the safety of cyclists.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Will the Minister look into the situation in the west midlands, particularly in Coventry, where pensioners’ free rail passes seem to be under some sort of threat, and will he discuss that with Ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I am sorry to say that I did not quite catch all of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will certainly look into the points he makes. Perhaps he and I could have a discussion after this question session.

Photo of Karen Lumley Karen Lumley Conservative, Redditch

Happy Christmas, Mr Speaker. May I support the earlier call for Birmingham International station to be renamed Birmingham Airport, but will the Secretary of State work with me to ensure that that happens now, even before HS2 is built?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I repeat that that is an eminently sensible suggestion. I certainly would not advocate naming the station after either a footballer or a politician, although Lumley Junction has a certain ring about it, does it not?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch

Further to the response to Mike Freer, many of my constituents killed by lorries have died at junctions, including some at the notorious Bow roundabout. Will the Minister look into the number of heavy goods vehicles that have exemptions from safety mechanisms, particularly for just-in-time deliveries, such as skip lorries, and will he pledge to tackle this scourge of London streets?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The issue certainly focuses on skip, refuse collection and construction lorries. I have noticed that many of those I see on the streets of London as I cycle there have such mechanisms fitted. We also need to look at other types of vehicle, including the batch concrete mixers that are currently outside the regulations.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

Mr Speaker, may I wish you and the staff of the House a happy Christmas? Following the Secretary of State’s very kind meeting with the two constituency Members of Parliament to discuss the missing link on the A417/A419 between the M4 to the M5, he asked us to establish local consensus, and we have started to do so. This week, Cotswold district council unanimously passed a motion supporting the brown route. The local enterprise partnerships are beginning to come on board, as are Members of Parliament from the wider area. Will the Minister say whether his Department is looking into the feasibility of the link?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

Following my meeting with my hon. Friend and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), I am pleased that he is moving in the right direction with that consensus, and I will certainly work with him to see whether we can get the long-term answer that he desires.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Tragically, it is not just in London that cyclists have been killed in accidents involving HGVs; there were two cases not so long ago in Edinburgh. Will the Minister ensure that his focus is not just concentrated on London, but looks at what can be done across the country, particularly in Scotland, where although spending is devolved, such legislation is still a reserved matter? Will he ensure that he works with the Scottish Government to ensure a similar focus on preventing the deaths of cyclists caused by HGVs?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Yes, certainly. We recently announced our six cycling cities, where imaginative ideas are being brought forward. I am sure that we will work with the devolved Administration north of the border, as part of the United Kingdom, to make sure that we share best practice where we can.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

Bournemouth continues to delight in the town’s football club’s promotion to the championship—a mere stepping stone on the way to the premiership, no doubt. The slip road from the A38 to the stadium functions well, but there is no access back on to the dual carriageway. Now that a school is to be built in the same area, may I ask the Minister to look down the back of the sofa and see whether some pinchpoint funding could be found for this urgent infrastructure project?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I know that my hon. Friend was disappointed that the scheme in Bournemouth was not included in the recent tranche of 25 pinchpoint jam-busting schemes. When Bournemouth is promoted to the premiership, it will be even more important that disappointed away fans do not have to go into Bournemouth on their way home, as the Cherries continue to advance through the tables.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

One of my biggest postbags in recent weeks has been from a campaign called “time to cross”, which is a campaign on behalf of pedestrians—the vast majority of people travel on foot. What are the Government doing to support that campaign and to ensure safety for us all, but particularly for the young and the old?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Highways authorities use the speed of 1.2 metres per second for people crossing the road, although we understand that many elderly or disabled people may need longer. It is possible for local authorities to extend the time. The use of puffin crossings, rather than pelican crossings, allows sensors to be fitted that allow people more time. In parts of London, the use of countdowns on lights has also helped.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

The Secretary of State made it clear yesterday that he hopes that Birmingham airport can expand. Currently, the 15-mile journey between Tamworth and the airport takes 45 minutes by rail. Does he therefore agree that infrastructure projects such as the Whitacre rail link, which would reduce the journey time to 18 minutes, could be beneficial to my constituents and the airport?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend is right that good service access is essential for airports. He is right to point out that the Secretary of State said on Tuesday that we regard Birmingham and Manchester not as regional airports but as important national airports in their own right. I am happy to look at the Whitacre link proposals. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to discuss the development of the business case with the local enterprise partnership and Centro, so that it can be brought forward.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the Wrexham-Liverpool line, where capacity constraints are inhibiting further development of one of the strongest industrial areas in the UK?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that point. I would point out that we are spending a huge amount of money on train services that link into the north. The northern hub will bring a substantial improvement. Huge improvements are also going on at Manchester Victoria station.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Sir David Higgins takes up his job as the head of HS2 in January with instructions to bring the costs of HS2 down. Will the Secretary of State promise that any reductions or savings will definitely not come from the compensation for people whose lives are affected by HS2 or from the costs of protecting and restoring our precious environment?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

As I said earlier, one of the reasons the costs have increased, which my right hon. Friend often attacks, is that we have gone to extra lengths to protect the environment. There will be a huge amount of tunnelling in her constituency, which will cost more money. Sir David Higgins is a well respected engineer and has been a leader of great projects in our country, including the Olympics, which were delivered on time and below budget. I am sure that when he takes up this post, he will bring that expertise to the job.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Will the Transport team look at two places where we could link the north-west of England with north Wales? The first is the Halton curve, which my hon. Friend Derek Twigg mentioned, and the second is the Wrexham-Bidston line. Like Scrooge, I am not asking for those things for Christmas past or Christmas present, but perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, the Secretary of State could look at those issues for Christmas future?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my reply to Derek Twigg and the response that the Secretary of State gave to Ian Lucas about the Wrexham line. We are looking into those matters and I have said that I am happy to meet the hon. Member for Halton. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will want to join him.

Photo of Stephen Gilbert Stephen Gilbert Liberal Democrat, St Austell and Newquay

The proposed public service obligation on the economically vital Newquay to London Gatwick route will run for four years, but funding might be in place for only two years. What assurance can the Minister give that funding will be in place for the duration of the public service obligation on that route?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman should have directed that question to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who made an announcement on that matter recently. As Newquay is more than three hours from London and has a current operator, it is a potential applicant that would almost certainly be seen in a positive light.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Opposition Whip (Commons)

Electrification is very welcome, but it is creating mayhem in my constituency, with cuts to services and terrible overcrowding. The Prime Minister told The Bolton News:

“I will go away and look into it.”

However, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Stephen Hammond, has washed his hands of the issue and said:

“It is for Network Rail and operators” to solve the problem. Who is right and who will provide more rolling stock for my constituents?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Secretary of State for Transport

If one is quoting between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State or any other Minister, it is usual to assume that the Prime Minister is right. I will look at the case. The hon. Lady is right that we cannot make such major improvements without causing inconvenience. However, at the end of the day we will get a far, far better railway. I am pleased that we are investing in the electrification of the railways, which the last Government singularly failed to do.