I am pleased to confirm that today the Government will announce the preferred route for the Bedford to Cambridge section of East West Rail. Following public consultation, we have accepted the East West Rail Company’s recommendation that route E, which runs from Bedford Midland—a new station between Sandy and St Neots—to a new station at Cambourne and through to Cambridge, will be taken forward to the next stage of development.
All five proposed routes for East West Rail pass through my constituency. South Cambridgeshire has a town, Cambourne, that is so gridlocked that in rush hour, although it is only 10 miles from Cambridge, it can take people an hour to get to work. Will the Secretary of State support the East West Rail route going through Cambourne so that we can get South Cambs moving again?
We have a real problem with predatory capitalist shipping companies using flags of convenience to get round British maritime rules. This encourages dangerous work patterns and it is costing British seafarer jobs. Some of the worst offenders are P&O Ferries, paying £1.83 an hour on Bahamas-flagged vessels between Hull and the continent; P&O’s Norbay, a Bermuda-flagged vessel between Liverpool and Dublin, paying less than four quid an hour; and Irish Ferries’ Cyprus-flagged vessels between Holyhead and Dublin, paying £4.66 an hour. When will the Minister make sure that Britain has the maritime workforce it needs and deserves? Will she meet me and the general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, to discuss what we do to sort this mess out?
I am aware of this case; it was brought to my attention. The hon. Gentleman will know that I regularly meet up with Mick Cash. I am due to meet him quite shortly. I have raised the case with the UK Chamber of Shipping. The hon. Gentleman will know, as he represents a port constituency, that last year we signed ILO 188, a convention that ensures the rights of seafarers—everything about their basic needs, whether it is the time they should be sleeping, where their sleeping spaces should be, mealtimes, or decent pay. There are some contradictions between the cases that he presented and what the UK Chamber of Shipping is putting forward, so I suggest, if he finds it appropriate, that we sit down with the chamber and P&O to thrash this out.
When the Secretary of State meets the Prime Minister and the Chancellor later to discuss HS2, will he stress that it is of course all about capacity, but also that it is not either/or, because as well as HS2, we need the TransPennine upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail, a direct Huddersfield to London service, and an upgrade to the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield line? This would show this Government’s real, true commitment to levelling up our country and our economy.
Like any good northerner, I read my newspapers from the sports pages backwards, so I have not got to the HS2 stories yet and cannot really comment on what they might include. We need a drumbeat of improvement across the north in our rail investment, starting with the TransPennine rail upgrade, moving on to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and then who knows what next?
I would also like to wish the Minister a happy rail nationalisation day. I was rather anticipating a statement on it today, but I thank him for the letter that was sent giving some details. In preparation for the handover in March, will he look at capacity issues? All too often, the line is overcrowded, and trains have only two carriages, particularly on the Durham Coast line through my constituency. When I contact Northern Rail, it says that it simply does not have the carriages. Can we please ensure that we invest in the necessary rolling stock to provide people with the service they need?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There is a huge amount of new rolling stock coming on to the Northern network, which will take off all the Pacers by the end of May. However, I would be delighted to meet him to talk about those issues, because there is a job of work to be done.
A number of my constituents in rural areas of Rushcliffe have difficulty getting buses to towns such as Melton and Loughborough. I am pleased that the Government announced a £20 million fund to trial on-demand bus services in rural areas last year. Can my hon. Friend update me on the timetable for making that funding available and how communities can apply?
Absolutely. We are investing £220 million to ensure that we have much better bus services in our urban and rural areas. Like my hon. Friend, I represent a rural constituency. We have set aside £20 million for demand-responsive buses. I believe that an announcement will be made next month, which is just a few days away. In the meantime, I suggest that she look at organisations such as Arriva, which is providing fantastic demand-responsive buses, so that her community knows what sort of pitch to put in.
The recently leaked Network Rail paper, which showed that the alternative to HS2 was 29 years of weekend closures and interminable delays, should be all that we need to know why we must get on with HS2. Will the Government not only commit to it but get control of the MPs who are constantly undermining this country’s most important infrastructure project?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that MPs who represent their constituents, whichever side of the debate they are on, are somehow undermining democracy—quite the opposite, in fact. This is the biggest infrastructure decision that this country has ever made and the biggest in Europe. It is quite right that it is properly and carefully considered, using not only that Network Rail evidence but everything else. The good news is that he will not have to wait too long.
I welcome the fresh new approach of this Front-Bench team. Given the importance of sustainable transport and sustainable housing, do Ministers agree that building low-density housing on greenfield sites is bad for sustainable transport, bad for sustainable housing and bad for our environment, because it is so car-dependent, which is why so many of our constituents object?
I commend my hon. Friend on that point and his “Island Manifesto”, in which he makes that point. We are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we move the dial on much better integration of cycling, walking and public transport in new housing.
Many of my constituents have been affected by the redesign of airspace, as many live below the flightpaths in and out of London Luton airport. The Civil Aviation Authority promised a post-implementation review of the changes, and the review of one such route is now overdue by more than two years. What assessment has the Minister made of whether the Civil Aviation Authority is fit for purpose and adequately resourced, and will he meet me and St Albans campaigners to discuss residents’ concerns?
Yesterday, Highways England published the latest plans for the proposed lower Thames crossing. In that set of plans, the proposal for a Tilbury junction, which would divert HGVs from my constituency road network, has been removed. Does the Minister agree that, if we are going to get a road that the community does not want, it is incumbent on Highways England to ensure that it works for us?
Given that nearly three years have passed since the all-party parliamentary group on taxis laid out the case for reform of legislation governing the taxi and private hire industry, and a year has passed since the Government accepted that case, when can we finally expect them to legislate for the reform we need?
I know that the hon. Member has been working incredibly hard, along with members of the Transport Committee. We put together a task and finish group to ensure that taxi services up and down the country are far more equal in their service, while providing security and safety for passengers. We will be issuing statutory taxi and private hire standards shortly. Having had many conversations with the hon. Member, I think he can be quite confident that most of the issues raised will be addressed.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is obviously going to be a doughty campaigner for Stourbridge. This Government have worked to make sure that progress continues. We have devolved £321.5 million to the excellent Mayor, Andy Street, in the West Midlands Combined Authority, as part of the £2.5 billion transforming cities fund, of which £207 million has been allocated to fund this extension.
I of course welcome any review of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, but my constituents are worried that it is going to lead to more delays to improvements on the A34, in particular safety improvements and work on the Lodge Hill junction, which I understand is further delayed. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that there is no way any dither and delay on the Oxford to Cambridge expressway will affect improvements to the A34?
My residents in Erith and Thamesmead deserve decent transport. I share the concerns raised by neighbouring colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), about the adequacy of Southeastern services, and I also welcome the earlier answer from the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris. However, what my constituents want to know is when TfL will take over the franchise to start delivering decent services. When is that date, Mr Minister?
I hate to disappoint the hon. Lady in her first Transport questions, but a whole bunch of conversations need to take place first, including the working up of a detailed business plan. We are working with TfL on these matters—there is no blockage in the system—but these things do take time. I am afraid that I have to disappoint the hon. Lady and not give her a date at this point.
My hon. Friend is probably one of the busiest correspondents with my Department. I will happily meet him—again—to talk about this matter, because it is of vital importance.
As the hon. Member will know, we paused any clearance of ancient woodlands during the course of the Oakervee review, and that remains the case. I regularly meet the Woodland Trust—its arboricultural expertise will always far exceed mine—and I listen to it very carefully.
Commuters from my constituency too often experience delays, so I welcome the Williams review, but evidence shows that the vast bulk of the problems are caused by Network Rail. Will my right hon. Friend commit to a complete review of Network Rail’s performance and of solutions, including its possible break-up into regional companies?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the railways are too fragmented. They are not, as Andy McDonald suggested, being renationalised, but we do want to simplify the operation of our railways. Network Rail is just one of the dozens and dozens of companies involved, and it leads to an impossible fragmentation that means solving problems is just too difficult. So, yes, that is absolutely what we will commit to with Network Rail.
As a long-time campaigner for the line to Fleetwood to be reopened, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State was in Poulton-le-Fylde this week, announcing £100,000 for a feasibility study into the line. However, I was concerned that he said in his speech that one of the reasons why we are at the front of the queue is that we have all the stations on the line already. Of course, we do not; we do not have a station in Fleetwood. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the line will be reopened all the way to Fleetwood?
As the hon. Member will know, the feasibility study will look at all options for Fleetwood to Poulton. I recognise the point she makes about Fleetwood, but I am sure she will join me in praising the work of the Poulton & Wyre Railway Society, which has been campaigning for this since long before either she or I were anywhere near the political scene.
Is it not true that the Government can remain committed to the delivery of high-speed rail, but deliver it better than with a project that, at the moment at least, will cost roughly double what its perpetrators say it would cost, and the route of which is designed only for speed although its justification is about capacity? Do not the substantial delays in the delivery of HS2 weaken fatally the arguments against taking the time to find a better way to deliver high-speed rail?
My hon. Friend has been active in making representations on this issue, which we hear loud and clear. Following the announcement, I look forward to talking to him, to councils, and to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the proper integration of housing, rail, and the A1 junction.
Like my hon. Friend Grahame Morris, I am a little surprised that the Secretary of State did not make a statement about taking back Northern rail into public ownership. It only affects in excess of 15 million people, so it cannot be that important and need a statement from the Secretary of State! The new publicly owned railway will have the same problems of poor infrastructure across the north. We need significant new investment—when will it come?
I was trying to get an agreement from those who manage the business on the Opposition Benches for me to make an oral statement during yesterday’s Opposition day debate. That is why there was no oral statement—I wanted to make one, but I did not get a response, and that is why I was unable to. Investment will now flow through from the decision made yesterday, and through the operator of last resort.
Armed forces veterans deserve to be treated equally wherever they are in the UK. Will the Minister promise that when we roll out the veterans rail card later this year in England, it will also apply in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere?
My constituent, Marjorie Johnson, was badly injured when, as she crossed the road, a mobility scooter hit her full force. Seven months on, injuries to her legs still restrict her mobility. Because the scooter driver was not insured, no action has been taken against him. What will the Secretary of State do about that?
As part of the regulatory review of future mobility and mobility scooters, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to ensure that the issues involved in that case are properly addressed.