Transport (North West)

– in Westminster Hall at 11:30 am on 7th April 2010.

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[Mr. George Howarth in the Chair]

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East 2:30 pm, 7th April 2010

According to the timetable motion, there could be Divisions on an hourly basis. Each of the three debates this afternoon will be given its full allotted time, regardless of any Divisions.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr. Howarth. You have a justified interest in this debate as a north-west Member. It is always good to have the opportunity to discuss our great region, especially its transport links. This debate will be a journey round the north-west and down its links to other parts of the country.

Last week, there was a debate on the wonderful high-speed rail link to which the Government are committed. I tell the Minister that we welcome that link, but we do not like the low-speed build that the north-west faces. When the east and west of America were joined by the railways, construction did not start at one end and end up at the other, but started at both ends and met in the middle. Starting with the UK's third city of Birmingham instead of its second city of Manchester is a disaster. We need to link the great cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. I would like construction to start in the north-west and the south and meet at Birmingham in the middle.

I would welcome that, because it would provide much-needed construction jobs in the north-west. It would not only benefit our transport communications, but it would provide vital construction and engineering skills. The high-speed link with the low-speed build can be changed. The challenge is to build from both ends and provide construction jobs. It is strange that London will have the benefit of the construction for the Olympics and Crossrail. Many jobs could be created in the north-west by the high-speed rail link.

There must also be electrification of the triangle of the three cities of Liverpool, Preston and Manchester, as that would ensure that our region not only contains the second city in the UK, but rightly becomes the most influential region. Every economic indicator tells us that the link should go to the north-west first and benefit the north-west. The route must then go on to link the major cities of Europe with the north-west. I welcome the high-speed rail link, but I would like to see some manoeuvring so that it is recognised that the north-west should not be put at a disadvantage. The north-west is the engine room of the economy, and we cannot afford to fail it. If we are serious about ensuring that we come out of recession and do not have recessions in the future, we need skills and transport links.

I was pleased when the Government recognised the importance of the Blackpool to Manchester line, as electrification is greatly needed. That line is a misery for commuters because it is over-crowded and the rolling stock needs to be extended. With electrification, the trains will not only be faster, but greener. It will also bring the benefit of linking Blackpool, Preston, Manchester and Bolton in the middle. Within that hub is Chorley and we must not forget its importance and relevance. It is well placed logistically at the centre of the three cities and can offer great benefits.

I am pleased that there is good cross-party turnout for this debate. I look to the shadow Minister, Mr. Goodwill, to confirm that if the Conservatives win the election and form the next Government, they will support the electrification and place as much importance on it as this Government.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to put that on the record. I know that he is an honourable man and I am sure that he can be tempted to do so.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tempting me to expand on that matter. There is a section in my speech on electrification, but I am sure that Mr. Howarth would think it too long to read now. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will refer to electrification in my winding-up speech.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

I welcome that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will distance himself from the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Mrs. Villiers, who, I understand, in an interview for a railway magazine, could not commit to the electrification. That was a major disappointment for people between Blackpool and Manchester, as a huge population relies on those trains. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put right that wrong, and I look forward to him doing so.

On jobs, it is unacceptable that Jarvis is laying people off when we should be investing in the railways, as they have a great future in this country. I am disappointed with Jarvis, and many hon. Members have rightly signed up to the early-day motions that have been tabled on that matter. However, I want to dwell not on that, but on transport. The other great link to the north-west is the M6, which is important to us. Some people say that they do not want the M6 to be widened, but I tell the doubters that we have the stupid situation of having the four lanes at Warrington going down to three lanes and then back up to four north of Chorley. That bottleneck is not good for the environment because queues develop. There is nothing worse than standing traffic with the engines running. That happens because there has not been investment between south Preston and Warrington. I say to the Minister that it should be a priority to put that right. I know he is taking that on board and that he will consider it seriously because it will make a difference. The problem of exhaust fumes in the Chorley area is caused by slow and standing traffic. We could improve the lives of the people who live near the motorway, so it is important that we try to stop the bottleneck and the traffic jams.

Along with the widening, Chorley would welcome a link to the M6. Chorley has a population of more than 100,000 people and there is no doubt that it plays a major role in the economy. It is the 34th richest constituency based on disposable income. However, more than 50 per cent. of the working population travel out of Chorley to work so there must be good transport communications. That is why it is so important that electrification, environmentally friendly trains and the M6 link all come together.

Of course, there has been good news in Chorley, as we have the wonderful new railway station. Chorley used to be dominated by a great organisation called the Royal Ordnance factory. At its height, more than 35,000 people worked there. The casing for Barnes Wallace's bouncing bomb was made there. The factory has fought its way and played its part through all of the wars up to the beginning of the Afghanistan war, but it no longer exists. It is good that we no longer need big armaments factories, but there was a dividend to be paid-a huge brownfield site that had to be decontaminated. We now have about 800 to 900 acres of brownfield land, which is the biggest single piece of land available for redevelopment in Europe. We are redeveloping it, which is wonderful. However, it was said at the time that it must have a railway station, but that still has not been built. As part of the section 106 agreement, Chorley borough council got about £3.5 million and stuck it in the bank. However, it sat on the money for too long instead of spending it and the cost of the station went up.

Chorley borough council ended up with a shortfall of £3.5 million. It took a Labour Minister to listen-I was knocking on his door and chasing Ministers around-and make up the difference of £3.5 million. I thank the Minister for the fact it is a Labour Government who have ensured that the railway station goes ahead. The only thing I would say is that the money is in the bank, but the spade is still not in the ground. I want to know why Network Rail has not started, because the money is there. We do not want to be in this stupid situation, where we have the £7 million but by the time we get around to constructing the station the cost has gone up to £8 million. I ask the Minister to put pressure on Network Rail and make the railway station happen now, not later.

Chorley borough has played a crafty one. While I was banging on to the Minister to give us £3.5 million, another chunk of Royal Ordnance land came along and Chorley borough got section 106 money-£3.5 million for transport. Of course, it does not need that for the railway station, because the Government are paying for it. I say to the Minister that it is important to consider that there is £3.5 million extra in Chorley's coffers. Chorley is not a transport authority; it is a borough council. I am not sure what it is going to do with the £3.5 million that it is sitting on, but I know that as part of the 106 agreement, they have that money.

Perhaps we ought to hand the money over to the county, which is the transport authority, because it could make a real difference. That £3.5 million could be spent on bus services, such as the 124 between Chorley and Blackburn. That bus no longer uses its old route, because unfortunately the subsidies have gone, but we have £3.5 million that we can put into subsidising the routes and buses in Chorley. I urge the Minister to pressurise Chorley borough to deliver a transport service that is second to none. With £3.5 million in the bank for transport, we can make a real difference to the people of Chorley. That is what we need to be doing.

Of course, it is fantastic that people in Chorley have benefited from the freedom pass, and that pensioners can go out on the buses for free. However, we should extend the pass to trains. Perhaps we ought to run a pilot scheme. There is £3.5 million in the tiny district authority account waiting to be spent, so perhaps we ought to trial a young people's freedom pass. If we could give the schoolchildren and teenagers of Chorley the freedom pass, it would make a real difference. We should consider that challenge, because it would mean that young people in Chorley would benefit, just like young people in London, so it is a good idea. Using the £3.5 million in such a way would make a difference, and if people have a freedom pass when they are at school or college, it will get them into the habit of using public transport. We cannot force people to use public transport; we have to make public transport attractive, and my proposal is a way of doing so.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to see the scheme in operation in Kent, which was brought in by Conservative-controlled Kent county council? It established a young people's freedom pass and it is working very well indeed. That could be the model for other local authorities up and down the country.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

Absolutely. In Chorley, such a scheme would not cost the Government or council tax payers a penny, because the money is there as a result of the section 106 agreement. We could trial the scheme without any cost, then we could say, "Has it been good or has it been bad?" I suspect that everyone would say such a scheme was good, and we could then begin to roll out a programme. We have a real opportunity to test such a scheme.

The issue is about those trains; it is about Buckshaw village; and it is about the railway station and electrification. There were some listed arches-called the flying arches-between Chorley and Euxton, which were taken down by Network Rail, and stored up at Garstang. Network Rail keeps saying to us, "Don't worry, we're going to put them back." I have to tell the Minister that they have not reappeared. I am highly suspicious that Network Rail is hoping that people will forget. The arches are listed, and I wonder if the Minister can get Network Rail to ensure that it takes up the agreement, which was that the arches would be replaced once the work had been carried out. The work has been done, but the arches have not returned, so if the Minister could consider the matter, it would be useful.

On the frequency of train services, as time goes on, more and more people commute from my wonderful village of Adlington-it is just outside Chorley and there is a wonderful railway station. We used to be able to get on the train and go direct to Manchester Piccadilly, but all that has changed. Network Rail has suddenly decided that the train gets too overcrowded before it reaches Bolton. It seems to me that if the train is too overcrowded before it gets to Bolton, more carriages and trains should be put on. Network Rail does not agree. It has said that trains will not stop at Adlington station any more, so that some capacity will be left when they get to Bolton. That is not the answer; we are deluding ourselves. People in Adlington have decided to drive up the line and park on the park-and-ride.

Network Rail's response does not make sense environmentally, and it does not achieve the objective. If it is struggling with capacity, provision should be extended, but that has not happened. Network Rail is still failing the people of Adlington and the railway station there. I hope the Minister will take the matter up, ask Network Rail to reconsider its decision, and make sure that we return to having the same number of trains to Piccadilly that we used to. People do not want to change trains at Bolton, and doing so offers no advantage because it simply leads to crowding at Bolton. I would be really happy if the Minister looked into that issue.

I also wish to raise the Preston to Southport line and the benefits of it being single track. Part of my constituency that I am unfortunately losing is at the Croston end of that line. We need major investment in that single-track line and we must ensure that it has a strong future. We need to put the beneficial extra curve into that line. If the Minister looked at that, I would be grateful. As I said, I will lose that part of the constituency, but I do not believe that we should give up the argument of ensuring that the track is developed.

I do not know whether this is the case in other constituencies, but in a town such a Chorley, which is a growth area and, logistically, a great place where people want to live and commute from, huge estates have been built by developers, but unfortunately the roads have not been adopted. It suits the developers not to finish such roads properly and the local authority will not take over the roads because they are not up to standard. The problem is that the people who live on such roads pay full council tax, but receive absolutely no benefits. They are living on roads that are not up to standard, and thousands of households in Chorley suffer as a result of living on unadopted roads. We need to pressurise developers to ensure that those roads, bus shelters and litter bins-everything that goes with adoptions-are of the appropriate standard. I hope that we can do something for those people who pay full council tax and receive no benefits. If the road is flooded, nobody wants to know. If the road is iced over and needs salting, nobody will grit it because it is not the responsibility of the Highways Agency.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that local councils should insist as a condition of the development going ahead that the roads are brought up to adoptable standards, so that the borough council will adopt them?

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

Of course. That is what was agreed in the beginning, but it never quite happens. At one time, a bond had to be put up. However, these days, I understand that people do not bother with a bond; they have a licence and other things. The developers build the houses and put in a basic road, but the road needs a finished surface, which never gets done. In addition, the manholes are often raised, but not finished.

Developers are on their uppers at the moment, so not bringing the roads up to full adoptive standards is a way for them to avoid spending money. It is right that an adopted road is not put in before the houses are built, because when heavy traffic is put down the road, it churns it up. The developers put in roads that are not of a complete standard, which should come when the estate is finished. The best way of ensuring that that is the case is to have a bond, so that if the developers fail to finish the roads, the local authority can do it through a bond. The answer might be for local authorities to use the bond system and say, "You aren't doing it. We've got the money; we will finish it off." We need to ensure the local authority has enough money to do so. The incentive would then be for the developers to ensure that the road is of an adoptable standard.

The same issue arises in relation to bus shelters. No one takes responsibility for the bus shelters-sometimes they are broken, smashed up, sprayed or vandalised. If the roads are not looked after, the same problem quickly spirals to a new area. That is why it is important to ensure that roads and footpaths are adopted at an early stage. I would appreciate the Minister's help in ensuring that that happens. Hon. Members from the north-west who are here will rightly want to put their case in relation to that. As I said, when we look back, we can see that the Government have done much for transport, and much has been envisaged for the future. I want to see the high-speed rail link and electrification, and I want to see young people's bus passes trialled.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a great champion for transport in the north-west and in his constituency. He mentioned the future and jobs. Is not one of the key schemes in the north-west, and one that would also be affected by the M6, the proposed Mersey gateway bridge, because the capacity of the current bridge has been far exceeded, leading to congestion? Furthermore, its building would lead to hundreds of construction jobs, and 5,000 to 6,000 jobs would be created for economic benefit. Is not that also the sort of scheme we want to see in the north-west?

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

I totally agree, because we could all benefit from that. Such a major bridge would lead to many construction jobs, as my hon. Friend has said. The building work and the steel needed for such a bridge would all lead to good, valuable jobs. The best way to come out of a recession is to have a thriving construction industry, so of course I back that proposal. The opening up of the Mersey gateway is important to us. Anyone who has been on the old Widnes bridge will know what a problem crossing it can be. It is a beautiful bridge, of course, but that is not the answer-we need a second crossing. It is about the north-west, but it is not about being parochial. Chorley is the centre of the north-west, but I recognise that people from other areas could take advantage of that proposal.

With regard to Network Rail, we have a serious problem at Rylands crossing-a level crossing with an unmanned gate where people walk across the line. There have been fatalities at that crossing and serious injuries. The link between the east of Chorley and the town centre where people cross the railway line is crucial, but we must put safety first, as it is important to us. Network Rail is committed to building a footbridge over the crossing. Can the Minister assure us that he will chase that up on our behalf, because it is crucial that the footbridge goes ahead? That would make a real difference for trains, as it would save them having to slow down, sound the horn and do everything they must do when approaching the crossing. That would make a real difference for people who live on the east side of Chorley when they travel into the town centre. Overall, I say well done to the Minister, but we can do more and need the return of the Government to do it.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby 2:51 pm, 7th April 2010

Mr. Howarth, you might well ask why a proud Yorkshireman such as myself-I look forward to the clashes in June between Yorkshire and Lancashire at the cricket ground in Headingly and intend to be there-is contributing to a debate on transport in the north-west. I will not try the patience of Members for long because I know that several wish to speak, but I want to contribute for some of the reasons indicated by my hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle, whom I congratulate on securing the debate and on introducing it with his usual passion and verve. Transport links in the north-west are important not only to the north-west, but to the whole of the north of England. I intend to refer briefly to two matters where that is certainly true: the trans-Pennine rail link and Jarvis Rail's maintenance work, which is so important across the north of England.

I have a particular regard for Stalybridge railway station, which has a magnificent pub on the platform. At one stage in my life, when I was working in Wolverhampton during the week and returning to Yorkshire on a Friday, my weekend began when I arrived at Stalybridge and its magnificent pub. It is one of only a few such pubs on railway station platforms in England-Huddersfield station has another, I think. The trans-Pennine link is so important, and I praise the current operator First Trans Pennine, which has definitely improved the service enormously. The line's punctuality figures are among the best in the country, even though they were among the worst when the operator took on the franchise. There has also been investment in the rolling stock.

Whatever party forms the next Government, real consideration should be given to extending that franchise, which I understand is a possibility under its terms. That would lead to certainty on the line, and I think that the operator has done broadly a good job. Incidentally, we are probably looking at having high-speed rail in the future, so I hope that we will not abandon the ambition of high-speed rail across the Pennines.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

I welcome that, because if we start construction from Manchester to the south, there is nothing to stop the construction team going to the east at the same time. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

I agree entirely. I also think that in the shorter term we need to look at track configuration and investment in the track around Manchester, because there is a need for investment. Some of the track is not up to the best standards, and that really clogs up the whole of the north of England. Investment is needed in Manchester in particular to improve the efficiency of the train network there.

Incidentally, I also think that Manchester airport is a beacon in the north's economy and that it is important not only to the north-west, but to Yorkshire. It is ridiculous that there are no rail links to Manchester airport on Boxing day, its busiest day of the year. Many airports in the south of England, such as Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, are all linked by train on Boxing day. The next time the trans-Pennine franchise is up for renewal, I hope that it is specified that services should be provided on that line, which is so important for the economy of the whole of the north of England, at least 364 days a year and on Boxing day. Direct links from Manchester airport to Selby, my constituency, have been cut, and I hope that they can be restored at some stage, perhaps the next time the trans-Pennine franchise is negotiated. There are proposals for an open-access operator to compete with the franchise operator on trans-Pennine links. That might be a good thing. It has certainly helped with the east coast main line.

The other matter I wanted to discuss is Jarvis Rail, and it affects both the north-west and Yorkshire. I got the job figures from the administrator, Deloitte, earlier today. In the north-west, 63 jobs have been lost in Manchester and 10 have been lost in Liverpool. In Yorkshire, on the other side of the Pennines, 302 jobs have been lost in Doncaster, 62 have been lost in Leeds and 213 have been lost in York. I am not sure that the response of either the Ministers or Network Rail to the crisis for Jarvis and for all of those whose jobs have been affected has been up to scratch.

Ministers could have invoked the powers of the Railways Act 1993 and set up a railway administration order. That would not have prevented Jarvis from disappearing, but it would have meant that the contracts had to be funded by the Department for Transport or Network Rail. It would have meant that the appointed railway administrator had to keep the contracts intact and that people would have been paid last week over the Easter holidays. The railway administrator would then have had to sell on the contracts in an orderly way. That was envisaged under the terms of the 1993 Act, so I am not sure why it was not called upon last week. The whole of Jarvis, including Jarvis Rail, is now in administration, so we are where we are, as they say.

I sought advice from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Chris Mole. He told me that that is in the hands of Network Rail, which is now responsible for deciding what happens to the important maintenance contracts Jarvis was undertaking. He suggested that I contact Network Rail and seek a meeting. I did so and received a reply from Iain Coucher, who, incidentally, is paid £555,000 a year plus a £250,000 bonus. He said he was not prepared for Network Rail to meet me and possibly MPs from the north-west. He had taken legal advice and was not prepared to do that, although I had been advised to go to his office by the Minister. It is disgraceful. He has a responsibility to the whole rail industry and there are many constituents in the north-west who have been made redundant and who are eager to learn what will happen to Jarvis's contracts and whether there is any possibility that they will get work in the future.

Many constituents have rung my office and asked whether the railways are safe now that Jarvis has gone into liquidation and what is happening to the maintenance work it was doing as part of its contracts. Those are questions that Network Rail should be prepared to discuss with elected representatives. Incidentally, Mr. Coucher-£555,000 a year and a £250,000 bonus-last week refused me a meeting on the station car park at Selby, which we want to be developed, not least so that more people can go to Manchester airport on the trans-Pennine rail link.

In my 13 years as an MP, I have never encountered such an arrogant attitude from an organisation. The spokesman from Network Rail said that it was not a public organisation, as if that was an excuse. An organisation that exhibited capitalism red in tooth and claw would not decline a meeting with an MP.

I very much hope that in the next Parliament MPs from the north-west, Yorkshire and across the north can make Network Rail a little more accountable for the money that it spends on our behalf. I hope that even at this late stage-Parliament will not be dissolved until Monday-the Minister, powerful man that he is, can perhaps get Network Rail at least to speak to concerned MPs about the future of the rail contracts that were lost last week, which were important to the north-west and Yorkshire.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley 3:00 pm, 7th April 2010

The great transport revolutions in this country happened in the north-west. The first canal, the Bridgewater canal, was built in the region. Incidentally, the last major canal built in this country, the Manchester ship canal, was built there too. The first passenger railway station was built between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in the early 1830s. Most people have forgotten, but the first part of the motorway system was the Preston bypass, which was built in the region. The rest of the motorway system came out of it.

The Secretary of State for Transport has said that high-speed rail is part of a new revolution. It is certainly a change in the order of magnitude in terms of transport, but it is not starting in the north of England. It is starting in the south, and I want to examine some of the reasons for that and explain why I think that it should not be happening.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle on bringing this important matter before the House. He has been a distinguished MP for Chorley. One only has to listen to his speech to know how deeply he has the interests of his constituents at heart, and how much he understands the area that he represents.

If one looks at the expenditure figures per head of population for the north-west, the north of England, Yorkshire or, in this case, for the slightly wider area covered by passenger transport executives, which includes even the west midlands-I shall use those figures because they make the case more powerfully-one sees that the ratio of expenditure per head of population is £836 for London and the south-east and £269 for the PTE areas. Those figures are from the Passenger Transport Executive Group. Not only are they wide apart, but they are getting wider apart. The rate of expenditure growth in the south is about twice what it is in the regions, and one gets an even greater ratio when comparing London and the south-east with, for instance, Yorkshire. As a member of the Transport Committee, I have for many years been asking for a justification of that, but there is not one, as far as I can see. I have the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister and others, but they have never adequately explained to the Committee why that has happened.

The Select Committee has just done a report-I assume it is a coincidence that we got a reply in our pigeonholes today-on "Priorities for investment in the railways". We took a tangential look at the situation. One of our conclusions states:

"Too often, however, the Government prioritises its spending on rail projects based on current and forecast demand, which has contributed to a disproportionate increase in the ratio of investment into London compared to the regions."

That is supported by the figures that I just gave.

The response to that point is long, for a Government response. They have never really had a reason for doing what they are doing, so they waffle a bit about wider implications. Our conclusion states that if they carry on following demand, they will fuel it and will always put investment in the south-east while ignoring other social and economic impacts in their assessments. Part of the Government response states:

"While this advice"- about those wider implications-

"is not mandatory because it is still being refined and a method for applying the advice being developed by taking outputs from the appropriate transport model, it has been used in the case of several major projects including HS2"- that is, High Speed 2.

That is not satisfactory. If we continue to use models of demand, all the money will go to the south-east, and that will carry on, in effect subsidising congestion. If more money is put in, more people will go to the south-east, so greater demand will be projected, so more money will go to the south-east. That is not acceptable.

Given that we have Thameslink, Crossrail, the investment in transport for the Olympics and the mess that the public-private partnership for the tube is in-billions and billions of pounds are going into the tube system-I think that high-speed rail should start in the north of England for some of the reasons that my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley and for Selby (Mr. Grogan) gave. It could easily start with a link between Manchester and Leeds to give a crossing time over the Pennines of a matter of minutes, and then, like the motorway, railway and canal systems, it could move southwards. If this or any other Government are serious about dealing with economic priorities, they have to change the way in which they assess and invest in major infrastructure projects, and look at social and economic benefits, and the economies of the regions, which are underutilised.

I respect my right hon. Friend the Minister, and I think that the ministerial team that the current Secretary of State has put around him since he has been in power offers a breath of fresh air. It has been a peculiar delight and pleasure to see officials and Ministers coming along to the Select Committee and saying exactly the opposite on investment in the high-speed rail system to what they had been saying for the previous 11 or 12 years, when they poured cold water on it. In cahoots with the Treasury, they initiated the Eddington report, which said that we did not need high-speed links, and that the network was good enough. It is a Treasury view, is it not, that everything will be fine if we just widen a few pinch points in the network. It will not be fine. We need serious investment in the infrastructure.

As far as I am concerned, my right hon. Friend the Minister and the transport team have killed off Eddington, and I hope that they have educated some of the officials in the Department who have been giving such appalling advice. Having listened to them give advice against high-speed rail over the years, I thought that if they had been around in 1820, they would have been telling us what a jolly good thing the stagecoach was, and that those newfangled railways would never catch on. The advice on high-speed rail was of that ilk.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

Is the Conservative party in favour of stagecoaches?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will not be tempted. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the new Secretary of State's change of tack on high-speed rail had anything at all to do with the announcement by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers, at the Conservative party conference two years ago that we were backing high-speed rail, not only to Birmingham, but to Manchester and Leeds?

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I am pleased that the Conservatives and, for that matter, the Liberal Democrats support high-speed rail, but, to answer the question directly, no, I do not. If people look back at what the Secretary of State has said, they will see that he has been a long-term supporter of high-speed rail. He has a clear case to make-a much clearer and better case than the Conservative case, which came about simply because that party needed an answer to a question put to the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. In order to win an election-we all want to do that, so I understand him-he said that he was against the third runway at Heathrow airport, but there had to be an answer to the question, "What will you do?" The answer was high-speed rail, but, having announced it, the Conservatives are a bit confused about where they want it to go, how it will be funded and whether they will support it. The Conservatives came to their view to win the mayoralty in London, whereas the Secretary of State based his conclusions on a clear analysis of what the country needs, which is being linked to the continental high-speed system.

I want to mention two or three other things, such as the Manchester hub-now called the northern hub-and the pinch points in that system. Part of the case for high-speed rail is linking the great economic generators, the great cities of this country: Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and eventually Liverpool, Hull, Glasgow and Edinburgh. We should get the investment-it is a shame not to have had it earlier-to take out the pinch points and to create the Manchester hub but, even if we do, the journey time predicted by Network Rail between Manchester and Leeds is 43 minutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby might have a better recollection of the distance between Manchester and Leeds, but I guess about 40 miles-only averaging 60 mph. In 2010-when completed, in 2018 or 2019 possibly-we should have better connections than that on routes dedicated to just one form of transport. The issue of pinch points, therefore, is dealt with by the Manchester hub, which ought to be prioritised by the Network Rail capital programme period between 2014 and 2019, as the Select Committee recommended. I understand that Network Rail is doing feasibility work, and I hope that, on conclusion in 12 months, it and the Government will support that investment.

The other way of dealing with capacity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley said when talking about Adlington station, is to increase the number of coaches in the north-west. At the start of the current Network Rail investment period, 182 new coaches were thought necessary-according to Government and Network Rail figures. Many people in the passenger transport executives involved with the Northern Rail franchise-I think it is five-thought the figure was too low. However, of those 182 carriages, 18 have been ordered, and I understand that 50 for the northern franchise are waiting for a signature. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister told me whether that contract will be signed before Parliament is prorogued, because we are right at the last minute, and certainty about the matter is important. The Secretary of State has been good enough to see my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd and me about the issue on two or three occasions. I hope for confirmation of the good news about the contract before we all go to fight elections, retire or do whatever we shall do over the next four weeks.

I would also like a firm commitment about where we are on phase 2 of the contract. Can the Minister give any more reassurance about whether we shall get new or refurbished trains? I would like him to tell us as much as he can about the latest situation on the 50 carriages and on the second phase of the scheme.

The north of England-not just the north-west, but the whole of those regions of England-have not had a fair deal in transport compared with the investment going into the south-east of England, partly because of the methodology used at the Department for Transport. My hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues have made a fantastic start, but I hope that they get into the guts of the technicalities, so that they can follow their natural political instincts and ensure a fair deal on transport investment for all the regions.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:15 pm, 7th April 2010

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Howarth.

I compliment Mr. Hoyle on securing the debate, which I am sure is of great interest to his constituents, just as it is to mine. He referred to the debate a few days ago on high-speed rail, to which a number of us present today were lucky enough to contribute. Some of the arguments might well be repeated but, frankly, they bear repetition, because of their importance.

I want to start with the issue on which most people so far have spoken in detail-high-speed rail. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of high-speed rail, not only to the north-west, the most important region of the country, but to the rest of the nation. High-speed rail would encourage a modal or paradigm shift to rail from private car transport and, I hope, from domestic aviation as well. High-speed rail would have a big impact on business travel in particular in the north-west. Surveys show that 70 per cent. of rail journeys in the north-west are made for business or commuter purposes. Passenger journeys overall increased by fully 20 per cent. between 1999 and 2005.

On the economic front, we know that high-speed rail construction could create as many as 10,000 jobs over seven years, according to High Speed 2 studies. A further study by KPMG earlier this year showed that high-speed rail might create between 25,000 and 42,000 extra jobs, boosting the UK economy by 2 per cent. by 2040. The greatest economic gains, of course, would come in such regions as the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, Scotland and the west midlands. A lot of support for high-speed rail comes from the business sector. A survey of 500 businesses of various sizes was carried out in December 2008. When specifically asked which would help their business more, almost four in 10 of the businessmen surveyed chose the high-speed rail link and fewer than one in 10 the third runway at Heathrow.

High-speed rail will also free up space on the established or classic rail network. The background to our debate today is the increase in rail travel: up by more than 50 per cent. in the past 26 years, and by 36 per cent. in the past decade alone. In an area such as the commuter station of Gatley in my constituency, rail passenger numbers have increased by 130 per cent. in the past 10 years. Our railways clearly have an awful lot more potential if the capacity is available. However, the picture is not all rosy. In 2008-09, 18.8 per cent. of trains on the east coast main line were running late, as were more than 26 per cent. of all Virgin trains, with which those of us who use the west coast main line regularly are familiar. If and when we get high-speed rail, trains will be capable of travelling at up to 250 mph and journey times will be significantly reduced: London to Birmingham 49 minutes, down from an hour and 24 minutes; London to Manchester an hour and 20 minutes, down from two hours and eight minutes; and London to Edinburgh three hours and 30 minutes, down from four and a half hours as now.

I want to make an important, if parochial, point: we do not want to lose stops that are well established and well supported by the travelling public. I am referring to the stop at Stockport; the station is just outside my constituency but is well used by residents of the wider area and is at risk because of the new high-speed rail line. I have asked Ministers to guarantee that any new high-speed rail link would continue to stop in Stockport, but that guarantee has not been forthcoming. It is obvious that the train operating companies are looking to reduce journey times by cutting out established stops that are well used and well liked by our constituents.

The Liberal Democrats regard high-speed rail not as an alternative to other rail schemes, but as a complement to them. There is, as we have heard, currently a huge transport spending gap between London and the north. It is crucial that that be addressed in this debate. Spending per head on transport is far lower in the north than in London. As we know from the Transport Committee report of 2009, the north-east and Yorkshire receive only 72 per cent. of the UK average per head of population. London, by comparison, receives 195 per cent. per head of population and Scotland receives 162 per cent. There is a similar gulf in capital investment. In the five years to 2008, investment rose by 35 per cent. in the north-east and 37 per cent. in Yorkshire, but over the same period investment in London rose by 80 per cent.

We are committed to electrification of virtually the entire network by 2050. At the moment only 39 per cent. of our rail network is electrified, compared with more than 50 per cent. in Germany. In France, fully 90 per cent. of passenger traffic travels over electrified lines. Why is this important? Put simply, electric trains emit around 20 to 35 per cent. less carbon than conventional trains.

We would like the Government to give greater consideration to reopening old lines. We have said that we would set up a rail expansion fund worth up to £3 billion, from which councils and transport authorities could bid for more money to pay for rail improvement and expansion projects. That would be paid for by cutting part of the major roads budget. I shall be clear on this point. We are suggesting not a moratorium but a presumption against new road schemes, except where there is an exceptional case. Hon. Members might ask what I mean by "exceptional case". I have a perfect example right in the middle of my constituency: the A555 relief road that links a roundabout on the Bramhall-Woodford boundary with a roundabout on the Heald Green-Handforth boundary. If that relief road is not completed, it will stand as a permanent testimony of the follies of short-term transport planning.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I am resisting caricaturing the hon. Gentleman's party as the one in favour of potholes. Can he give us a list of Lib-Dem Members who do not want an exception for their constituents in respect of road schemes?

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I find that temptation utterly resistible. I am happy to confirm that the earlier part of his jibe is fallacious. I will give him a further example. Liberal Democrat-led Stockport council has this year put an additional £2 million into its road repair budget. I hope that he will consider further the point that he made.

There is potential for reopening thousands of miles of railway lines across the UK, once again establishing a truly national rail network. As we have seen from the figures mentioned earlier, and from what other hon. Members have said, the public at large are clearly interested in and willing to use trains as a better method of transport. The simple problem at the moment is that the capacity and the infrastructure do not support the demand.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I should like to give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to reconfirm the Liberal Democrat pledge to cut the major roads budget by 90 per cent. There will not be a lot left for the marginal Lib-Dem seats.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Order. Before Mark Hunter proceeds, it would be helpful if, from time to time, he related his argument back to the north-west, which is what we are debating today.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you for the observation, Mr. Howarth, but my constituency is in the north-west of England, the schemes that I have mentioned are transport schemes and the title of the debate is "Transport in the north-west". I await further guidance on that matter.

Mr. Goodwill made a point about the reduction in the major roads budget, but he knows that my hon. Friend Norman Baker, our party's Front-Bench spokesman, has already dealt with that question. For reasons of time, I do not wish to go over that again.

I want to say a word or two about overcrowding, because the 2007 White Paper forecast the need to provide additional capacity for in excess of 4,000 people in morning peak times and to ensure that the average load factor on the trains was no more than 45 per cent. The Department for Transport's rolling stock strategy, published in 2008, identified 182 additional carriages for Northern Rail, as the hon. Member for Chorley mentioned, which covers the north-west of England. Later that year, the Department announced a plan to purchase 200 diesel carriages, including those 182 carriages that I have already mentioned. That plan has since been cancelled, owing to the higher than expected procurement costs. The DFT has issued a revised proposal that will introduce 80 to 100 carriages in the first phase. As other hon. Members have indicated, an update from the Minister today on those carriages would be most appreciated, not least by the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority, which has been in touch with the Transport Minister about this matter, which is of great concern to us.

The issue of buses has not been covered in this debate so far-

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg your pardon. That subject was touched on by the hon. Member for Chorley, but it needs to be given a little more time if we are to do justice to it in the wider context.

The cost of buses has increased more than the cost in any other sector since the current Government came to power. Between 1997 and 2008 the real cost of motoring declined by 10 per cent. and the real cost of coach and bus fares increased by 13 per cent. That is not to say that the cost of motoring is too low, but it is an argument for saying that the cost of bus and coach fares is too high. The background is that the vast majority of local transport journeys are made by bus or coach. In 2008-09, 5.2 billion such journeys were made, compared with 5.1 billion in 2007-08. Between 1985-86 and 2006-07, the number of bus journeys fell by 30 per cent. in Scotland, by 28 per cent. in Wales and by 22 per cent. in English non-metropolitan areas.

With prices and operating profits going up, and journey numbers going down, the whole system must be revaluated to provide a better deal for passengers in the north-west and beyond. The Liberal Democrats would like the Tories' bus deregulation of the 1980s to be reversed, with local authorities being given much more control over pricing and planning services.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

The hon. Gentleman is generous with his time. I agree with his arguments. I supported the Transport Act 2008. Can he tell us why the Liberal-led integrated transport authority does not use the powers in that Act to bring in quality contracts in Greater Manchester?

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

Having recently met the chair of the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority, I know that it is concerned about this matter, which is currently receiving attention. Following your guidance earlier, Mr. Howarth, to stick to the main subject, I do not propose to be diverted further, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that discussions on that matter continue.

I should like to talk about concessionary fares, which the hon. Member for Chorley mentioned earlier. As he rightly said, the scheme is hugely popular-the take-up rate across the country in 2006 was some 60 per cent., including 85 per cent. in London and 79 per cent. in metropolitan areas, such as those in the north-west-but many local authorities across the region have found that the DFT-provided funding is insufficient to cover the real costs of providing the national scheme and have therefore been forced-

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

Some local authorities got more than they should have, while some did not get enough, and the ones that got too much would not hand anything over to the ones that did not have enough. The problem was that the funding was there but its allocation seemed to go wrong.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am minded to say, "'Twas ever thus." Those of us familiar with the arguments about central Government funding for local authorities can testify that the argument is not always that there is not enough money in the pot, but simply that it is not appropriately allocated, and this is another example of precisely that. With his intervention, the hon. Gentleman has saved me from having to go on to the other point I was going to make about the disparity between what different areas receive.

There have also been changes to eligibility. In December 2009, the Government announced that the age for eligibility was to change from 60 to 65. From this month-April 2010-anybody turning 60 has to wait an extra month before qualifying for free travel. As we know, the threshold for eligibility will be raised-

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Order. May I help the hon. Gentleman? Each of the Front-Bench spokespeople should have equal time to speak, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has just about taken up his share of the 45 minutes available for all three of them.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you, Mr. Howarth. Yes, I was keeping an eye on the clock, and you will be pleased to know that I am coming to the end of my remarks.

As I was saying, the proposals on concessionary fares will mean that 3 million people over the age of 60 will no longer be eligible for a bus pass. This year alone, some 92,000 people will be denied the bus pass they were expecting.

I conclude by referring to a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes in an interview with The HouseMagazine in September 2008:

"With climate change the greatest threat facing us today and aviation the fastest growing source of carbon emissions, we cannot afford not to invest in high-speed rail. The government needs to sever its unhealthy ties to the aviation industry, stop its small-scale tinkering with the rail network and make the step-change necessary to accommodate fast-growing passenger numbers and encourage a switch from air to rail."

Our constituents deserve nothing less, and I acknowledge that, with their announcement of support for high-speed rail, the Government have finally made a small step in that right direction.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:32 pm, 7th April 2010

I congratulate Mr. Hoyle on securing the debate. He talks passionately about the issue. The north-west-the north in general-has been the poor relation in transport funding. Department for Transport figures show that in 2008-09 the north-west received £309 per head, Yorkshire and the Humber £239, and the north-east £235, compared with per capita funding in London of £826-more than two and a half times as much. The Transport Committee stated in its report "The major road network":

"It is unacceptable that some parts of the country are discriminated against in terms of transport investment."

That is disappointing, particularly bearing in mind the large number of Labour Members of Parliament who represent the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber, and the fact that fairly recently we had a Secretary of State representing a constituency in that part of the world. Not only is the north-west losing out, but some hard-earned taxpayers' money has been wasted due to Government incompetence.

A case in point is the controversial Mottram-Tintwistle bypass. The three-and-a-half-mile bypass was originally budgeted at £183 million, and would have taken thousands of vehicles a day away from village roads on the edge of Tameside, relieving traffic jams from the M67 through Mottram and boosting jobs and investment in the area. As all road schemes have an environmental impact, the Highways Agency should have been in a position to present a case at the public inquiry that began in June 2007 and was expected to last 10 weeks. In January 2008, the Manchester Evening News reported that the hearing had been adjourned indefinitely after five unsuccessful attempts to draw up the right plans for the scheme.

There has been a catalogue of errors. I tabled a parliamentary question on 6 May 2008 for Mr. Harris, who was the Minister at the time. In the answer, he said that the public inquiry had met for only 15 days between 26 June and 18 December, and that since August 2004, £15 million had been spent on design, publication of draft orders, environment statements, draft modelling, legal costs, Highways Agency staff and the public inquiry. When I tabled a further question in 2009, I was informed that an additional £1,176,000 had been expended, which means that more than £16 million has been spent on the bypass and not a single square metre of tarmac has been laid. The scheme was finally cancelled by Lord Adonis on 23 July 2009. That was interesting timing-just before the parliamentary recess. No doubt it was another day to bury bad news. According to the Government, the scheme could be resurrected in 2016-17. When the Minister has the chance to comment, will he say whether he takes any responsibility for the fiasco and whether he can think of better ways of spending £16 million in the north-west?

The hon. Member for Chorley mentioned the concessionary travel scheme, which has been a real boon for pensioners. He pointed out that at the start, some local authorities were inadequately funded and others received a surplus, but the Government have tackled some of the funding problems and the situation is now much better. I wish to put it on the record that a fallacy is being put around the country by some perhaps not-so-well-advised parliamentary candidates and also, dare I say, by the Prime Minister. At Prime Minister's questions today, he stated that the pensioners concessionary travel scheme would be under threat should a Conservative Government be elected. I reassure pensioners up and down the country that we do not intend to scrap the scheme. It is a brilliant scheme, from which many of my constituents and others across the north-west benefit.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I am grateful for that clarification. What plans does the Conservative party have for the bus service operators grant-BESOG? Has the party pledged to maintain that subsidy to bus operators?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is one of the matters that we will have to keep under review, and I would not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman by giving an answer off the top of my head.

Labour's proposals risk getting high-speed rail wrong for the economy and the environment. The Government Command Paper talks about High Speed 2 going to Birmingham, but mentions only the possibility of its being extended to Manchester and Leeds. The proposed line to Birmingham leaves the north, Scotland and Wales out of the massive social, economic and regeneration benefits of high-speed rail. Failing to take high-speed rail through Heathrow will be a big mistake and a major lost opportunity for the environment. Labour's deeply misguided support for a third runway has distorted the party's approach on high-speed rail. The whole point of taking high-speed rail to Heathrow is to connect it to Manchester and Birmingham and their airports. That is not a fudged policy that was cobbled together-it is part of a co-ordinated approach to greening our transport policy. It would ensure a twin-hub approach, similar to the high-speed rail connection between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol. If a destination is served by planes that often travel half-full or even emptier, a high-speed rail connection between airports makes it possible to keep those services going, and high-speed rail between Manchester and Heathrow would ensure that that is the case.

The overall cost of building a new line would be about £20 billion, and taxpayers' contribution would be £15.7 billion, with both figures at 2008 prices. The building would require £1.3 billion from the taxpayer in each of the 12 years that the rail professionals tell us construction would take. Since the planning and preparation process would take at least four to five years, we would target construction to take place between 2015 and 2027. It is important to remember that the major cost of the project will not kick in until that point. I am always surprised to be told that our policies for high-speed rail are not costed. We have announced the figures, and they add up.

On the rail review, the long-term project for high-speed rail should not be at the expense of improvements to the existing network. That is why when we costed the project, we ensured that it would not consume the whole railway budget, but would allow for continued investment in improving services for all, including electrification. Furthermore, if we are elected to form the next Government, we will implement a host of changes to the rail industry that will have a more immediate impact on the quality of rail travel in the north-west and other areas. We will extend the length of passenger franchises, allow train operating companies to carry out short-term capacity enhancements, reform the governance of Network Rail, and reinforce the regulator's role. Labour has shied away from reform, but the Conservatives will not.

I want to make a brief point about the Manchester hub. Network Rail's recent report highlights many of the problems around Manchester and the wider north-west that we have long recognised. Despite its pledge in 2000 to deliver a Manchester hub as part of its 10-year plan, Labour has singularly failed to deliver the capacity improvements needed in the north-west. A Conservative Government are committed to bring high-speed rail to the north of England via Manchester, and we have set out clear plans to reform our rail network to deliver the better stations, better services and new trains for which passengers are crying out.

The hon. Member for Chorley mentioned electrification, and there is no doubt that if we are to meet our long-term environmental targets of reducing greenhouse gases by 90 per cent. by 2050, rail electrification is important. Further electrification of our railways is an important way of improving efficiency and reducing carbon emissions from transport, but the Government have failed to come clean about the cost to taxpayers. Yet again, Labour is maxing out Network Rail's credit card, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. After Lord Mandelson's announcement of swingeing cuts to the transport budget, how can we believe that Labour's announcement of billions of pounds of new spending will not impact on existing transport commitments or put further strain on public finances, which are already stretched to breaking point? Labour should come clean on what current projects it plans to cut to provide the funding.

Having said that, the big hit for obtaining environmental improvements is reducing reliance on aviation. Until we have a sustainable electricity supply in this country, we must consider carefully how to phase in electrification. People in countries such as Spain and Germany would not dream of flying distances as short as the one between Manchester and Heathrow. There would be a high-speed rail link. We are catching up with other countries.

On rolling stock, the Northern Rail franchise in particular is suffering from the Government's failure to deliver new carriages. We have heard the 1,300 new carriages being announced, re-announced, then re-announced again. The delay in publication of the revised rolling stock plan has caused great uncertainty for the industry. The recent announcement of 16 class 150 vehicles for Northern Rail is welcome, but it is nowhere near enough, as the franchise was promised 182 in the original rolling-stock plan.

The difficulty that we and others have experienced in trying to tie down exactly how many carriages will be delivered, when and to whom, is indicative of the horrendously complex system used by the Department for Transport for buying new rolling stock. Conservatives believe that the Government's role in buying rolling stock should be radically scaled back. The detailed involvement by civil servants is delaying the delivery of new capacity and driving up costs for both taxpayers and fare payers in the north-west. The Competition Commission's recent report highlighted the fact that the Government's meddling in the procurement of rolling stock was preventing the rolling-stock companies from getting more trains on to the network.

Our proposed changes to the franchising system will give train operators a much stronger incentive to invest to improve the quality of service that they offer and to provide new capacity to help to tackle overcrowding. Our approach may provide a realistic option for passenger operators to save money by buying their own rolling stock rather than leasing it. We have had a good and interesting debate. My only criticism-dare I say it?-of the hon. Member for Chorley is that he came up with a very long shopping list.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

It was a shopping list, but part of it was funded, because the money is already there. The rest is down to commitment, so there is no real expansion in spending.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

The problem with transport, as in so many other areas, is that although the hon. Gentleman has a shopping list, his credit card has already been maxed out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many of the long-term aspirations to which he refers will have to be viewed in the context of the overall economic climate and this Government's unprecedented level of borrowing, which will have to be repaid some time or other.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:45 pm, 7th April 2010

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Howarth, for what will probably be the last major debate on transport in this Parliament before we secure an historic fourth term at the general election. It is right and proper that we have a Chair from the north-west. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle-he is indeed a friend-secured a one-and-a-half-hour debate on this important issue. I am not being patronising when I say that if a parliamentary candidate ever wanted to see how an MP can secure investment in his community and improvement in his region, they should read this debate, particularly my hon. Friend's speech. For the record, it is not just his ability to raise these important points in Westminster Hall and the House that is important-he doesn't half hassle Ministers in the Lobby to obtain the best for his community. He is always courteous, sometimes forceful, and always passionate in trying to secure the best for his community.

I thank all hon. Members, including my hon. Friends and Opposition Members, for their contributions to this important debate. It is important to begin by putting the record right on what we have achieved during the past 12 years. My Department is proud of the investment that we have put into improving transport in the north-west. Over the past five years, total public expenditure on transport in the north-west increased by 38 per cent. from £1,548 million in 2003-04 to £2,136 million in 2008-09. The north-west was allocated just under £672 million for local transport and maintenance for the period 2008-2011, and in addition the regional funding allocation included £1.3 billion for major projects, which has already helped to deliver large-scale new infrastructure.

People on the doorsteps who read the scare propaganda that they receive through their letterboxes sometimes ask, "Why didn't you fix the roof when the sun was shining?" Of course we built new schools, we built new hospitals, we employed more nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers, but we also invested in transport in the north-west.

In respect of the north, we need to defend our record proudly. My hon. Friend Graham Stringer referred to this matter. Figures from the Treasury and from the Department for Transport show that from 2003-04 to 2008-09 there was greater percentage growth in transport spending in the north, which includes the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber-I see my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan here-and the north-west, than in the greater south-east, which includes London, the south-east and the east. The figures are 37 per cent. or 38 per cent., depending on whether the figure is levelled up or down, compared with 29 per cent. That was done because the region deserves that funding, not because we were seeking to influence the electorate, as has been claimed. Hon. Members here for the debate have been powerful advocates for their communities' need to receive additional funds. I am pleased to put on record the huge investment that the area has secured thanks to the Government accepting the worthiness of the case articulated today.

I am also pleased to be able to highlight the excellent delivery of major transport schemes achieved in the north-west. Since 2006, the region has completed nine schemes, and a further nine are already under construction. That is an excellent record. During the last financial year, we announced full approval for a further eight schemes in the north-west, amounting to approximately £330 million in conventional funding, plus £158 million in private finance initiative credits. Let us be clear: that was in the last financial year, when some people advised us to make a 1 per cent. real-terms cut in spending, which would have meant a cut of £840 million in spending on transport. Imagine having cut £840 million over the last financial year, and add to the equation the advice that we have been given to make savage cuts in 2010-11 and further cuts thereafter. It is important that prospective candidates read the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley regarding how an MP should effect change in Parliament. I hope that voters around the country, especially those in the north-west, will read Hansard with due diligence tomorrow to see a record of delivery versus one that would have led to huge cuts.

My hon. Friend made a number of excellent points, which I will deal with as quickly as possible in the short time that I have left. He congratulated us on the plans announced for high-speed rail-those are proper, detailed plans, not something done on the back of an envelope after someone was kiboshed by the Mayor of London in an announcement on the eve of a conference. However, those plans are subject to an important caveat-public consultation. Everything is up for grabs. The idea of high-speed rail is up for grabs; it is not a done deal. We will be consulting formally from the autumn on whether there should be high-speed trains, and we will also consult on the route. That consultation should include the issue of where construction begins. My hon. Friend raises an important point, which prays in aid as a tour de force the history of people from the north-west as pioneers of transport over the past 200 or 300 years. Why should that not continue? I encourage people to get involved in the consultation process.

My hon. Friend reminded us of the importance of the Liverpool, Preston and Manchester triangle. He will be aware that an announcement about the electrification of those lines has been made by the Government over the past 12 months. Imagine if we had taken the advice to make cuts of £840 million over the last financial year, on top of the savage cuts that we have been advised to make this financial year, which began this week. Could those lines be electrified over the next period, as we intend them to be?

My hon. Friend was right to remind me that Chorley is not simply the centre of the universe, but the centre of an important triangle in that part of the region. He made an important point about the job losses at Jarvis, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Selby. I am surprised that people at Network Rail are not willing to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Selby, and I will ensure that a letter is sent today from my private office to Network Rail. The civil service works very hard and some people in it get a far smaller salary than some people in other industries. I will try to send the person in question-or someone else senior if he is not available-a transcript of what my hon. Friend has said, and suggest that a meeting is arranged to discuss the two issues that have been raised, both of which are important not only to my hon. Friend, but to his constituents and users of Network Rail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley raised an important point relating to the Royal Ordnance factory and the development of the station. He was right to pay tribute to the announcement of the £3.3 million from the community infrastructure fund. When I heard his contribution, I was concerned about the section 106 agreement, and the questions about whether there had been a "double reward" for monies that may or may not be spent.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

Quite rightly, in Chorley there was a double insurance. Lobbying took place and the Government picked up the £3.3 million. However, another section 106 agreement was added, so that another £3.3 million was awarded for the railway station if plans had gone ahead. That allows us £3.3 million to spend on transport for the benefit of the people of Chorley. The people of Chorley can win with this, as long as the money is spent as agreed.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My point was that, to avoid the perception of the council pocketing a gain for the community, people should read the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend. They will need to ask how the money is being used to the benefit of transport users in that part of the community. The whole point of a planning gain is to ensure that the community benefits, and it is important that that is the case. The lobbying that my hon. Friend undertook in getting investment for transport in his constituency does not simply benefit his constituents; it also benefits the wider community.

My hon. Friend raised an important point about the arches, and I will write again to Network Rail to see how soon it will be getting those arches back and to find out what the delay has been. He noted the short-sightedness of the policy at the village of Adlington on the Piccadilly service. I am not in charge of the timetable, and the best thing I can do is send Network Rail a verbatim account of what my hon. Friend said and ask it to explain why it has made those changes.

The point raised about new developments is important. It relates to weak local authorities-some are borough councils or district councils-that do not enforce planning conditions. My hon. Friend points out that in the current climate, some developers may seek to reduce their costs, which could mean that roads are built that are not of adoptable standards. I am keen to ensure that local authorities protect their communities and put the conditions in place for having roads that are adoptable, so that residents can benefit from roads, bus shelters and sewers that are properly maintained. That is important. I will write to Network Rail separately on the issue of Rylands crossing and that safety issue. My hon. Friend also raised a point about the footbridge, and I will look into that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby raised a number of important points. I have already responded to the point about Network Rail and Jarvis. He raised other points about the quality of ale at the pub, Stalybridge station, Boxing day and other matters. He asked how we can improve franchises when future contracts are given out. I will take those points on board and ensure that my officials do, too. However, on the choices that we make and some of the advice that we are given, we are sometimes accused of micro-managing contracts. If micro-managing involves ensuring that those who have contracts provide a good service, ensuring that franchises are written in a way to get the best quality of service for commuters, and holding train operating companies to account in relation to bad timetabling arrangements, I plead guilty. We will not allow train operating companies to take commuters for a ride-forgive the pun.

When preparing for a Select Committee, when it is the turn of my hon. Friend Graham Stringer to speak, my heart beats slightly faster, and I was slightly nervous when he got up to speak today. He made a fantastic contribution to the debate, and was right to put on record the huge contribution made by my noble Friend Lord Adonis since he became Secretary of State. We have tried to engender an attitude whereby transport is at the centre of everything that city leaders, councils and others do in matters of planning, land use and other issues. My hon. Friend raised two specific questions about the rolling stock contract and phase 2. He will appreciate that things have moved fast over the past year in relation to that, not least because of the delay with the Thameslink programme contracts. I will write to him before Parliament is dissolved to answer the important questions that he raised.

Let me put on record the fact that Mark Hunter has been a constructive partner in securing recent improvements in infrastructure, not least in the role that he played in meetings on HS2 and with the Secretary of State, and there has been a constructive dialogue about how we get the best for our country in a consensual manner. I compare and contrast that with how those who wish to form the next Government and appoint the next Secretary of State for Transport have behaved in relation to High Speed 2. We should put aside party political issues to try to get the best possible deal for commuters around the country. The hon. Member for Cheadle raised some important points, and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley picked up on some of the possible perceived inconsistencies between what his party says nationally and what it may do locally.

Last year we spent £2.5 billion on buses-that is more money spent on buses than at any time in recent history. More people are using buses now than at any time since they were deregulated by the Conservative party. The quality contract is one way in which local authorities can secure the franchise deal that London has secured. Only one party goes into the election with a commitment to abolish quality contracts. It is not the party of the hon. Member for Cheadle or my party; it is the Conservative party.

Mr. Goodwill has the breathtaking audacity to talk about how his party would run the transport system at the same time as making the huge cuts that it wants to make this year, and those that it will inevitably make in future. His shopping list has no way of being met by his spending envelope, and so electrification, High Speed 2, Crossrail, motorway widening, quality contracts, bus passes for those of pensionable age and those who are disabled and further schemes to improve transport around the country would not happen.

I conclude by saying that this has been an excellent debate secured by an excellent MP who is doing the best for Chorley, together with other colleagues who are doing their best for the north-west.