Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17 November 2016.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 12:00, 17 November 2016

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

In the wake of last week’s dreadful accident in Croydon, I would like to start this topical questions session by paying tribute to the British Transport police, for which I have ministerial responsibility, to all the emergency services and to the transport staff who worked so hard in the aftermath. I want to send all the good wishes of this House to those injured and our condolences to the families who tragically lost loved ones.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

Recently published annual figures for those killed or seriously injured on our roads at the end of the second quarter of 2016 show a 3% increase on last year. For the third year running, deaths are higher than they were the year before and went up by 2% last year and this year. Thirty deaths may not sound that many out of 1,800, but for every grieving family, they are a tragedy. What is the Government’s plan to arrest and reverse this disturbing trend?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course every death on our roads is one death too many. It has to be said that our roads are among the safest in Europe and the world, but that is no reason for complacency. A trend in the wrong direction is an unwelcome one. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who is in his place alongside me, has responsibility for road safety. He is actively engaged, and will continue to be actively engaged, in looking at measures we could take that will improve things. We will look at different investment measures and different ways of educating motorists and those using the roads, and we will work with anyone who can come up with suggestions about how we can improve the situation.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The case for a Shipley eastern bypass was first made in the Airedale masterplan many years ago. The Government say that it is a matter for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, while the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council say it was the Government rules on return on investment that made the scheme an impossibility. Will the Minister get together with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council to make sure that this scheme can become a reality for the benefit of my constituents and the local economy?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am fully aware of the merits of the scheme, and I will make sure that officials from the Department, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Bradford Council sit down to sort this out. There is no reason why Government mechanisms for approval should hold back schemes in Bradford. We are seeing schemes progressing all over the country, so I shall make sure that Bradford knows what to do so that the people of Bradford can see the investment they need.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

May I associate Opposition Members with the Secretary of State’s comments about the tragedy in Croydon?

The latest statistics from the Department for Transport show a marked decline in bus patronage across the whole country—a drop of some 3%, along with a drop of 2% in bus mileage. Given that we are trying to get passengers out of cars and on to buses, is this not a mark of Government failure? What is the Secretary of State planning to do about it?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are, of course, maintaining our support for buses, which we see as the workhorses of our public transport system. They make more than 5 billion passenger journeys per year, compared with 1.7 billion on our railways. We are maintaining, for instance, the bus service operators grant and the £1 billion for the concessionary bus pass scheme, and the Bus Services Bill will be introduced next week.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

I rather expected the Minister to refer to the Bus Services Bill. Given that franchising is the answer, why is he denying the choice to many swathes of the country? Why cannot parts of England which do not take on elected mayors—and which are represented largely by his own side—have powers to improve their services as well?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I think the hon. Gentleman is mistaken when he says that franchising is the answer. All the conversations that I have had with local authorities have produced a mixture of solutions, but most of have focused on partnerships: good partnerships between local authorities and bus companies which will meet local needs.

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

At the request of the HS2 Committee, to ensure compliance with the aim to achieve

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

I have looked at the report, and I recognise the importance of protecting our biodiversity. Our country is probably more covered in woodland today than it has been for many centuries in our history, and I find it encouraging that organisations such as the Woodland Trust are continuing to plant the forests and woods of the future. However, I am sceptical about a 1:30 ratio which appears to be based on nothing more than a gut instinct. I am not sure that that is an appropriate way of dealing with the issue. What is important, to my mind, is replacing lost woodland with extra planting, and following a “finger in the air” formula may not be the best way of doing so.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Many logistics organisations, such as the Freight Transport Association, are doing excellent work in trying to establish what the most important parts of British industry need from Brexit, but what is the Department doing to ensure that the important views of the smallest operators—single owner drivers, for example—are heard and given equal weight to those of the largest businesses? Will the Minister’s officials meet me to discuss mechanisms that would allow their views to be heard?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman has already attended a round table discussion with me on just such matters, and I believe he will be attending another this afternoon. I am spending more time with him and the truckers than with almost anyone else. He can be assured that the case that he makes is dear to my heart, and that it will inform Government policy. He is right to say that we need to look after the smaller operators as well—he has taken a proud and informed stance on that—and I will ensure, through him and through other mechanisms, that they are involved in the discussions.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

As my hon. Friend knows, rural Wales is the most beautiful part of any country in the world to drive through. I wonder what more he can do to press the Welsh Government to improve investment in roads in my area, so that our world-class countryside is accessible via a world-class road network.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I do indeed know how beautiful rural Wales is, and my hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of good connections to the tourism industry. I, too, wonder what I could do to press the Welsh Government. Perhaps we could simply highlight to the people of Wales the greater priority placed on investment in infrastructure by Conservative Governments.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I welcome the Minister’s positive comments about the quality of British steel, and the fact that 95% of steel in rail is UK steel. Does he believe that that record will be matched by the steel used for HS2?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

Absolutely, but that does not apply only to the steel industry. I believe that HS2 is a great engineering project for the United Kingdom, and I was pleased to note a substantial British presence in the first set of contracts that we announced this week. I have made it very clear that the firms that hope to participate in this project should expect to leave a skills and expertise footprint behind in the United Kingdom, and that those that fail to do so should not expect to find themselves at the front of the queue when it comes to contracting.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

On the midland main line, East Midlands Trains often gets it in the neck for train delays when often the responsibility is failures by Network Rail. Will the Secretary of State and the rail Minister design a rail compensation scheme that sends the correct signals to Network Rail to raise its game?

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I recognise the situation my hon. Friend describes. We have a number of compensation schemes operating within the rail industry focusing on schedule 8 payments. I recognise the need to make sure that that remains a very clear system for passengers to understand why delay attribution occurs and recognise that there is much work to be done.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing)

Deep in the Airport Commission’s papers is the hugely costly and disruptive proposal to double the capacity of the M4 at its London end with a tunnel coming up in Brentford or Chiswick. Will the Secretary of State confirm the Government’s estimate of the cost of service transport infrastructure needed for a third runway at Heathrow, and what proportion of that will Heathrow airport be required to pay?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

There are two separate issues here. Improvements are needed to local roads in west London, and the M4 is one of those where plans are afoot now to deliver improvements way before we have a new runway in place. Heathrow airport will be expected to pay for the infrastructure improvements directly linked to the new runway. There are of course other improvements, such as M4 improvements, that are not directly linked and that have for some while been envisaged as part of the ongoing road improvement programme this Government are pursuing. My commitment is that where a transport improvement is required to make the third runway possible, that will be met by Heathrow airport.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

I thank the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, for his commitment to tackling illegal HGV fly-parking across roads in Kent and throughout the country. Does he agree that ending this blight requires not only more lorry parking spaces, but more effective enforcement?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend knows I have also held a round table on that issue—as I have said before, my table is ever more round and I always welcome hearing from hon. Members across this House. My hon. Friend has made this case forcefully; she has done so at Westminster Hall and again today. She is right that we need to look at these matters because they affect local residents in exactly the way she said. We want to get a balanced package for HGVs, but a package that takes account of the overtures my hon. Friend has made in the interests of her constituents.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

When the Minister has discussions with Leeds City Council about the light rail scheme, will he also discuss trolley buses? I drove a trolley bus for three years; they are very efficient and are a lot cheaper in infrastructural costs, and it would be a lot cheaper for Leeds and elsewhere if we had trolley buses rather than trams.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman does not need to localise it any more to Leeds or Wolverhampton. I am in constant discussion with UK Tram and am very keen to lower the cost of all options, whether it be light rail, tram, train or trolley bus, but it is for local councils to decide on the most appropriate scheme for their local area.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the reduced growth deal 3 offer made to the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership has threatened a number of important road and rail improvement schemes in Somerset? Does he also agree that driving growth through improvement to transport infrastructure should trump the devolution agenda?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

First, it is important that the funding we allocate to different parts of the country delivers real improvement, whether to congestion and connectivity, economic development or housing. I met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government earlier this week to discuss the issue. No offers have yet been made on funding to LEPs; that will happen shortly.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

The electrification of the line to Hull was included in the Government’s northern transport plan published in March. Andrew Percy, now the Minister for the northern powerhouse, said:

“The problem if you are not included in the electrification is the risk that you then become just a shuttle service connecting into the main line.”

So can the Secretary of State explain to me why yesterday the decision was made not to include the electrification of the line to Hull, and to leave the TransPennine electrification finishing at Selby, 30 miles outside Hull?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport

The train companies got there first, and the good news for Hull is that both Hull Trains and TransPennine Express are going to be running on this route with new generation state-of-the-art hybrid trains that will run on both electric and diesel, and will connect Hull across the Pennines and connect Hull to London. That is good news for the passengers.

Several hon. Members: