Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 21st March 2019.

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Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

I am pleased to announce today that I have approved more than £54 million of funding for the north-west relief road in Shrewsbury. It is an important route that will take cars away from the town centre, reducing congestion, cutting journey times and improving air quality within Shrewsbury, and it forms part of a £1.8 billion programme in the midlands alone to improve motorways and major roads.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

May I take the Secretary of State back a year to when he came with me to Alfreton station in my constituency and saw the need for level access to the south-bound platform? Now that the new funding period is starting, can I get an update on when money will be released to deliver that improvement?

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

I am aware of that issue, which my hon. Friend and I saw together, and I will ask the Rail Minister to give him an early update.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

There are just eight days until the UK leave the EU. No deal or plan is in place; there is simply chaos across the Government. However, it is the chaos across our borders that is my concern today. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Prime Minister, in making her case to the European Council to avoid a no-deal Brexit and about how essential it is to extend article 50, highlights that a border between the EU and the UK will harm trade and the flow of goods, food and medicines and be catastrophic for the logistics sector?

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

As the hon. Lady and the House will know, we do not want problematic arrangements at the border. Indeed, the deal that the Prime Minister has reached with the European Union would prevent such problems. The hon. Lady is right to say that there are only eight days left, so why does the Labour party continue to put party advantage ahead of national interest? Labour should support the deal next week, so that we can move forward with a constructive partnership with the EU.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

An issue even more taxing than Brexit and the uselessness of Southern rail in Sussex is the continued congestion on the A27, and we are still to get a decision on whether the New Monks Farm development, which will include an IKEA that will attract 2 million passenger journeys a year on to that road, will go ahead. I met the Secretary of State a couple of months ago to ask for an update on further proposals to address the congestion, so when can I have it?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As my hon. Friend will be entirely aware—he is a tireless campaigner on this issue, on which we have met—Highways England is reviewing plans for the A27 in light of feedback from the public consultation. We will hopefully have a chance to review and discuss it with Highways England and, in due course, with my hon. Friend. I look forward to it, but I cannot tell him exactly when it will be.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament)

The Secretary of State was unable to answer a written parliamentary question on the legal costs of Eurotunnel’s court proceedings and the settlement deal. Has he now done his sums, and can he give us the cost to the taxpayer of this whole debacle?

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

As I indicated in a previous statement to the House, this is being looked at carefully by the National Audit Office, which will publish all the information in due course.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

Thatcham Research is launching a consumer vehicle security rating that ranks the vulnerability of new vehicles to keyless car theft. Does the Minister agree that drivers are entitled to know how secure their cars are? What steps can the Government take to ensure that happens?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise and understanding, and I thank him for the question. Of course drivers deserve to know how secure their cars are. The taskforce brings industry, police and the Government together to see what more can be done, which includes reviewing public advice on how owners can secure their vehicles, as well as addressing new and emerging threats. We look closely at what it is doing, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

With a shortage of 60,000 HGV drivers in an industry that relies on 60,000 eastern European drivers, and with a predicted 150,000 shortfall by the end of 2020, why will the Department not urgently fund driver training and qualifications?

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

The haulage industry is, of course, a commercial business, and we expect it to provide training for new employees. The Government have put in place a wide variety of support for training through the apprenticeship levy and through other work by the Department for Education and the skills sector. It is for commercial businesses to deliver the training their staff require, and the Government will always provide whatever support we can to help them do so.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

In the past 12 months, 845 road incidents involving horses have been reported to the British Horse Society alone. There will have been many more, but those incidents resulted in 87 horses and four people being killed, as well as many injuries. What steps can the Minister take to improve horse and rider safety on the roads? Will he discuss this with Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see whether more bridleways can be provided to help alleviate the problem?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

This is obviously a very serious matter. I thought my hon. Friend would raise the announcement of the preferred route for the Air Balloon roundabout, but this is even more important. He will be aware that the cycling and walking investment strategy safety review includes consideration of horse riders. As it happens, the Department’s Think! campaign has only just launched a new “learn the ways of the road” campaign, which includes looking out for vulnerable road users, particularly horse riders. The point is well made, and I will talk to DEFRA colleagues about this issue because, as he says, getting horse riders off the road is the best way to keep them safe.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Some of the people of Knowsley are having real problems getting to work. On the one hand, they regularly face cancellations on Northern Rail and, on the other hand, if they have to use the Mersey Gateway to get to work in the morning, they have to pay £900 a year. The Secretary of State has done absolutely nothing to address any of these problems. Is it not about time he moved out of the way and let someone else get on with it?

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

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have been working hard with Transport for the North to improve the performance of Northern Rail. As he will also know, the Mersey Gateway bridge and its infrastructure were done in collaboration with Halton Borough Council to enable a substantial additional facility to be put in place for the north-west.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Conservative, Burton

On Saturday, some 15,000 people had a great day at the midlands grand national in Uttoxeter, bringing much-needed revenue and jobs into my constituency. However, had it taken place on Sunday, racegoers would not have been able to get to Uttoxeter until 2.53 pm. I am delighted that the Minister has listened to my long-running campaign and agreed to bring forward signalling on Sundays in 2021, but that is not soon enough. Will he agree to meet me, and perhaps bring along his cheque book, so we can sort this out for my constituents?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Through the next east midlands franchise, passenger services on the Derby to Crewe corridor will benefit from increased capacity, which means that trains will operate with at least one extra carriage to help satisfy local demand. This will be supplemented by additional early and late services, and improved Sunday services. The bids for the next east midlands franchise are currently being considered. Ministers just do not see those bids during that stage of the process, but as soon as there is news, I will share it with him. Of course, we will be delighted to meet him, as I always am. I cannot promise to bring my cheque book just at the moment, but I look forward to discussing the issue further with him.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Dockless bike hire schemes could have been transformative, but too many of those schemes have crashed and burned, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Despite repeated calls from across this House, the Government have not regulated. Will they soon act?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Of course dockless bikes are a source of interesting innovation, and it has been important to see how that innovation is playing out. They can be regulated under a variety of local government powers. As we see further developments, we will continue to look at this. They will also potentially be subject to the discussion in respect of the micro-mobility review we are doing at the moment, through the future mobility strategy.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Conservative, Hornchurch and Upminster

Will the Minister update us on progress on Access for All funding bids, specifically the one I made for Upminster station in my constituency, which would help disabled people at this busy hub to connect to Crossrail in Romford and which has the full backing of the Havering Association for People with Disabilities?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

My hon. Friend has made multiple representations on behalf of her constituency. The Access for All funding is about £300 million, and the decision will be made public in due course, around April.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

In response to the question from David Duguid, the Secretary of State committed the Government, on Heathrow expansion, to support regional links. Will he confirm where he expects that support to come from—the Government, local authorities or, in Scotland’s case, the Scottish Government?

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

There are two points to make. We have various tools at our disposal, including the public service obligation system, to protect routes and sometimes to support them. However, as Heathrow expands and as demand for air travel grows, I do not expect most of those routes to need Government support. This is a question of making sure that the capacity is available for routes that will be commercial.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Headcorn station, in my constituency, is used by more than 600,000 passengers each year, yet it has no step-free access, making thousands of journeys more difficult for disabled passengers. Will the Minister update me on whether Headcorn will receive funding from the Access for All programme?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

My hon. Friend raises an important point; a lot of our rail infrastructure is incredibly old, even though 75% of journeys are step-free. The decisions on the £300 million that has been allocated for step-free access are taking place at the moment. I am afraid that I cannot tell her about this right now, but the decisions will be made public in April.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

We know that the settlement for the next rail investment period has been underfunded, and my constituents want to see a train station at Parkhead. So when looking at future rail investment, will the Minister agree to look at the case for Parkhead and fund it properly going forward?

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

This is nonsense; the investment going into our rail network in the next few years is at a record level, and the money coming to Scotland, thanks to the generosity of this Government, goes beyond what the Scottish Government would be entitled to under the Barnett formula. I suggest they use that money wisely, to provide the kind of additional facility the hon. Gentleman is asking for.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

Network Rail has demolished the Leyland bridge, with no short-term plan to put a temporary structure in place so that we have not got the inconvenience and great disruption being caused to local residents and businesses. Will the Minister intervene to make sure that Network Rail urgently reviews this and finds a temporary solution to this pressing problem?

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

I am aware of the issue; my hon. Friend has raised it with me. I simply say to him that I have asked for this matter to be looked at carefully. I do not want improvement works to be done at the disadvantage of his constituents.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

Which is the greatest danger to the Secretary of State’s Department—no deal, or no Brexit?

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

As far as my Department is concerned, we will prepare for all eventualities, and are doing so.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

Recent vegetation management alongside the railway has destroyed huge swathes of the Erewash landscape. Will the Minister outline what further steps have been taken to ensure that Network Rail does vegetation management responsibly and does not take the drastic measures it has taken throughout my constituency? It is really affecting the wildlife, as well as my constituents’ wellbeing.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

We have been reviewing Network Rail’s environmental performance, and the consequences of the recently published new environmental strategy should follow through all areas of Network Rail’s work. We obviously need to maintain a safe rail network, but we also want to see the embankments and all the Network Rail land deliver environmental benefits. The two are not incompatible. I do not know about the specific area around my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I am happy to look at it. As regards the overall picture, we have seen some real change and progress in this policy area, and it will be a priority for the future.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Transport Committee

Electrification is clearly the optimal solution for intensively used rail lines, and the Railway Industry Association has shown that it can be delivered at costs that are 33% to 50% lower than those for past projects, if it is part of a rolling programme. Why will the Secretary of State not electrify the midland main line and give Nottingham the cleaner, greener and cheaper services it deserves?

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

I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that under my stewardship, in the past three months the Department for Transport and our transport system has opened three times more electrified railway than the Labour party did in 13 years in office, so I am not going to take any lessons from the Labour party. We continue a programme of modernisation of our rail network, which includes electrification and extra capacity and gets cars off the roads and people on to the railways.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State update the House on when he expects Crossrail to start running? What investigation has been carried out into the scandal of its finances and budget and the overspending that has taken place?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The new management team at Crossrail is working through the project and will be advising everybody next month, I think, as to when there will be a target opening date. I do not think that information will come soon enough—I know that Londoners, including those represented by my hon. Friend, are hungry for it—but the scheme will be fantastic for London and the rest of the country when it opens. On the financial performance, the budget is managed by Transport for London, and the London Assembly has done some investigation work. In terms of the Department’s role, TfL and the Mayor came to the Department seeking a loan to help with the delivery of the project, and we were happy to help them. A further £2.1 billion has been made available, and that should be enough to see the project through to completion.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

My train home on Monday night was cancelled and the train that I was trying to get in on yesterday was advertised as 20 minutes late when I gave up on it. That is just two of the seven trains I have caught so far this week, and it is a regular experience for my constituents. I raise the issue in the Chamber regularly. Will someone just come to the Dispatch Box and tell me, “We hear your pain” and that Ministers are going to do something about the Southeastern rail franchise?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am acutely aware of the service levels of all our rail franchises throughout the country. I am also aware that 2018 was a difficult year and that some of the problems have continued. At the same time, it is fair to point out that we are seeing a service that is delivering more passengers and more services, at record levels of safety. In respect of the individual services that the hon. Gentleman tried to use, if he drops me a line I will look into them, take the matter up with the rail franchise and find out why the services were cancelled.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

We must make the most of all the transport links that we already have. The Cotswold line is in urgent need of further upgrades, including further redoubling, to help with reliability and capacity. Will the Minister meet me so that I can make the case to him?

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I press the Rail Minister again in relation to the Pencoed level crossing in my constituency? I have been asking for almost three years now for Transport Ministers to engage in getting the level crossing closed. The Labour-led local authority and the Welsh Labour Government have put forward funding for a transport plan. Wales Office officials are attending these meetings to close the level crossing. Will the Minister commit to sending officials to the next meeting to work towards closing one of the most dangerous crossings in Wales?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I will certainly make sure that officials are fully engaged on this issue.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was said by the Minister, Jesse Norman, that I had made no mention of cycling in my speech to the Institute for Government yesterday. I made five mentions of it, and there were 300 words devoted to the subject. The Secretary of State then added that yesterday Labour announced hiking the cost of going on holiday. Mr Speaker, I do not want to stray into using unparliamentary language, but that is not true. I seek your guidance as to what we can do to ensure that Ministers come to the Dispatch Box to correct the record.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Well, the Secretary of State appears to wish to say something. [Interruption.] Order. We are not going to continue the debate. If the Secretary of State wishes to correct the record or to explain in a sentence why he does not feel any need to do so, that would be acceptable.

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

I simply refer to the section of the hon. Gentleman’s speech where he says that air passenger duty has been frozen. He goes on to say:

“This is not a sensible approach to transport policy.”

So it is exactly what he says.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Well, very well. The matter will have to rest there. I simply say to the shadow Secretary of State that I might well have been intrigued to read the speech anyway, but in light of the fact that there are these five references, which he has just advertised to the House and the nation, I am now impelled to do so. It sounds a diverting read and it will form part of my late-night consumption in the days and weeks ahead and I am deeply grateful to him.