Topical Questions

Transport – in the House of Commons on 30th January 2020.

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Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

I have visited Cambourne, and the answer is simply yes.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Minister (Transport)

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?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

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.

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

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?

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

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?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

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?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

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?

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

I met the hon. Lady’s predecessor, Anne Main, and local constituents just before the election. I am well aware that the PIR is overdue and I am very keen for the CAA to get on with it. I am happy to meet her.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

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?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would be delighted to meet her and the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, who is in the Gallery.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

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?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

Owing to the hard work of Andy Street and this Government, work is well under way to bring the west midlands metro line to the black country. How can the Government further help to extend that line to the jewel in the crown of the urban west midlands, which so happens to be my constituency?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

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?

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh

Many of my constituents have been waiting for decades to be reconnected to the Liverpool-Manchester line. Will the Minister meet me to discuss restoring Leigh to the national rail network?

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I have been working with Hertfordshire County Council on plans to improve accessibility to Hitchin station in my constituency. Will the Minister advise me on how best to work with Network Rail and the Department to progress this? We think it will cost £3 million to £4 million.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

Our ancient woodlands and veteran trees, such as in Prior park in my constituency of Bath, are irreplaceable habitats and areas of beauty. What efforts are being made to avoid the destruction of ancient woodlands and chalk streams in the construction of HS2?

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

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.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

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?

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

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.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

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?

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

My right hon. and learned Friend always makes interesting comments about HS2, but I listen to Radio 2 in the morning, and that was not covered in its news bulletin.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary)

Does the Secretary of State believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland taking an RAF flight from Cardiff to London is helpful in decarbonising the transport sector?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

This is cheap political point scoring. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland is one of the best Secretaries of State that Scotland has ever seen, and he strengthens the Union with every action he takes.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

The Secretary of State will be aware of the implications of his announcement a few minutes ago about the preferred route of East West Rail for housing growth in the east of my constituency. Will his Department commit to looking once again at realignment of the A1?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

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?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport

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.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

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?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am writing to the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that that card is rolled out across the whole of our country.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

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?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

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.