COMMONS

Today's House of Commons debates - Thursday 05 March 2015

Version: Uncorrected | Updated 18:20

Oral Answers to Questions

Transport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Airports Commission

1.

What recent progress has been made by the Airports Commission.[907868]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin):

The Airports Commission recently completed a consultation on 3 February on its assessment of proposals for additional runway capacity. The commission is continuing to undertake further analyses on the shortlist of runway options before publishing its final report in the summer of 2015.

Mary Macleod:

May I congratulate the Government on their policy on no third runway at Heathrow? Does the Secretary of State agree that the aviation industry would be best served by a solution that encourages competition; can be delivered sooner, cheaper and easier; takes into account the impact on local residents; and does not require billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money?

Mr McLoughlin:

My hon. Friend has been very consistent in her opposition to any third or fourth runway at Heathrow, and I know she supports the expansion of other airports. I look forward to receiving the commission’s recommendations and report this summer and to my hon. Friend’s comments on it.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab):

Have we not just wasted another five years? The coalition has delayed building new runway capacity for the south-east because the Liberal Democrats are in denial about aviation being a very important economic instrument. I think the Conservative party now get it. Why have we had to wait another five years?

Mr McLoughlin:

I will not take any lessons from a party that wasted 13 years in not doing anything about extra capacity. It is a bit rich of the hon. Gentleman to accuse the Government of not taking action. The truth is that all the options that are being discussed by the commission are very different from the proposals considered by the previous Government.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):

Has the Secretary of State asked the Airports Commission to examine the cumulative impact of any runway extension at Heathrow and how it would affect the local area if it coincided with other projects, such as the construction of HS2, the Amersham waste transfer station and the development of Newland park? What assessment has been made of the impact on the local area?

Mr McLoughlin:

The commission is doing a comprehensive piece of work looking at all the options relating to aviation capacity in the south-east and the associated infrastructure projects that any project it suggests will affect, so I am sure it will have considered the points made by my right hon. Friend.

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con):

Notwithstanding whichever decision the Davies commission comes to, does my right hon. Friend agree that connectivity to Heathrow is now being sorted pretty efficiently through Old Oak Common and that there is no further need for the Heathrow spur should HS2 go ahead?

Mr McLoughlin:

This may be the last time I am able to address my right hon. Friend in this Chamber. It has been a great pleasure to work with him over many years. He has made a huge contribution, not only to the House of Commons and the Conservative party, but in standing up for his constituents in Uxbridge.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that these matters need to be addressed very carefully. Of course, at the moment the whole question of HS2 is being studied by a Committee. I am not going to trespass on the valuable and important work it is doing, but my right hon. Friend makes some valid points. The importance that Old Oak Common will have to the infrastructure of this country is vast indeed, and I hope to be able to say a bit more about that shortly.

Rural Railway Stations

2.

What recent discussions he has had with train operating companies on increasing the use of rural railway stations; and if he will make a statement.[907871]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin):

Officials regularly meet train operating companies where usage is a key discussion point. We are working hard with the industry to increase rural station usage. We recognise the important social role of stations in building communities, and have therefore introduced a new policy requirement to develop social and community development plans in new franchises.

Mr Robertson:

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does he agree that one way we can get cars off the road and reduce congestion on our motorways and, indeed, on smaller roads is to develop rural train stations? We have one at Ashchurch for Tewkesbury, which is a very good station, but it is underused at the moment. Can we try to make such stations better used by train operating companies?

Mr McLoughlin:

The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. Ashchurch for Tewkesbury station has the potential for more use. I would welcome that, as I am sure my hon. Friend would too. For new franchises we ask operators to look at such questions in great detail. I acknowledge his comments, and no doubt Gloucestershire county council will make such points in due course.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con):

As a result of the landslip on the Chiltern line, kiosks and shops at rural railway stations have suffered a drop of at least 50% in their revenue. Will the Secretary of State urge Network Rail to look at mitigation, such as reducing rents, during the period of disruption?

Mr McLoughlin:

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I hope that there will be an announcement soon about the full reopening of the line. If that has not already been announced, I think it will be announced shortly. I will discuss her very good point directly with the chief executive of Network Rail. People with businesses who are renting from Network Rail have been directly affected by that landslip.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con):

One issue with encouraging the use of Ambergate station in my constituency is the strange fare system. Even though a fare to the next station is relatively cheap, the cost of a fare to Birmingham from both stations can be very different. Is there any way that the Secretary of State can fix the fare system to get rid of its anomalies?

Mr McLoughlin:

I know Ambergate station very well, as the line goes up to Matlock and down to Derby. There are indeed anomalies in ticket purchasing on that line, and I am only too well aware of such frustrations. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I certainly want to look at. There are huge opportunities in ticketing, including with the development of smart technology.

Bus Lanes

3.

What plans he has to review vehicular access rights to bus lanes.[907872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill):

Decisions on the use of bus lanes, including any exemptions or exceptions, are for local authorities.

Andrew Rosindell:

I am sure that the Minister will be aware that a number of local authorities still do not allow ambulances to drive in bus lanes unless they are responding to an emergency. Does he agree that if an empty taxi returning to a taxi rank can drive in a bus lane, an ambulance returning to a hospital should be able to do so?

Mr Goodwill:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although an ambulance can use a bus lane when responding to an emergency, it is otherwise up to a local authority to use its discretion on that matter. Indeed, local authorities such as Labour-controlled Manchester and Sheffield do not allow ambulances in bus lanes. I have written to every local authority in the country to make that point and ask them to bear it in mind when they make their local decisions.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab):

The Minister has talked in detail about privatising buses and bus lanes, but the process needs more than warm words from the Government; it means bus lanes with strong local management and control of funding. Why will the Government not sign up to our franchising proposals to allow communities and councils to plan a network that includes the bus lanes they need? Why, instead of real localism, have this Government presided over a failed record, with bus fares up 25% and 2,000 routes cut, and a broken bus market, which lets users down, but which Labour will fix in government?

Mr Goodwill:

The Government have a very good record on buses. Bus companies, including the one in my constituency, have very full order books, because they are investing as never before in new buses on routes such the one north of Whitby in my constituency. We have a very good record to protect.

Greater Anglia Franchise

4.

When he expects to publish the invitation to tender for the Greater Anglia rail franchise.[907874]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin):

The procurement competition has been live since the issue of the procurement documentation on 19 February, and applications are due on 15 April. An invitation to tender will be issued in August, with tender returns due in December 2015. Any delays in the process will result in a delay to the provision of any new rolling stock or services on the line.

Sir Alan Haselhurst:

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many of my constituents expect that the successful bidder will be required, or at least incentivised, to bring in new rolling stock on the Great Eastern and West Anglia lines to replace the type 317 and 321 trains, which by now are old, uncomfortable, unreliable and inefficient?

Mr McLoughlin:

We expect to ask bidders to provide a rolling stock strategy that meets the needs of all passengers in East Anglia, while providing a cost-effective solution. They will be in no doubt of the desire of all passengers using that route for substantially new rolling stock, and the rolling stock that my right hon. Friend rightly describes should be taken out of service in due course.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con):

May I stress to my right hon. Friend that if there is no new rolling stock with the award of the franchise, there will be considerable disappointment among commuters and other users, and it will totally undermine all Network Rail’s improvements to the infrastructure? Current rolling stock on the commuter lines is so outdated that it has problems with acceleration and braking.

Mr McLoughlin:

I completely understand the desire of my right hon. Friend for new rolling stock on that route and for improvements on the route overall. Norwich in 90, a very effective campaign, has been launched, and services to other towns are also quicker.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):

Commuters from Colchester pay some of the highest fares in the country, and successive Governments have failed significantly to improve the railway infrastructure. Does the Secretary of State agree that without implementation of the East Anglia rail manifesto, whoever wins the Greater Anglia rail franchise will find difficulty in improving the service between Colchester and London?

Mr McLoughlin:

We have just seen the launch of the new east coast main line franchise. It is committed to reducing the cost of rail tickets, and I hope that anyone who competes for the East Anglia franchise will come forward with new ideas that will not only increase the capacity on that line and improve rolling stock, but look at the cost of tickets.

Railway Stations: Traffic

5.

What plans he has to improve railway stations to cater for increased rail traffic.[907875]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry):

To keep up with the unprecedented growth in rail traffic across the country since privatisation, including a 5% jump in passenger rail journeys last year, the Government have committed to significant investment in improving stations across the network by 2019. That includes £160 million in Access for All schemes, £100 million in station commercial projects, and £100 million for the station improvement programme.

Richard Graham:

The Secretary of State recently had a chance to visit Gloucester and see the importance of an additional entrance and new car park at our train station, which will also be a catalyst for wider growth and regeneration. Will my hon. Friend confirm when she expects the Department’s negotiations with First Great Western on its franchise extension proposals, which include the improvements at Gloucester, to be completed?

Claire Perry:

I thank my hon. Friend for his specific and helpful recommendations about the development of Gloucester station. He is a champion for rail travellers in his constituency. The Department is currently in negotiation with First Great Western about the new directly awarded contract that will provide services for three and a half years from September 2015. We carried out a public consultation last year, and I expect to conclude negotiations this month.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):

The chaotic and dangerous scenes at London Bridge station come after the major disruption at Christmas. How can the Minister ensure that the whole rail sector works together to put the interests of passengers first?

Claire Perry:

Although I am a strong champion of the unprecedented investment programme going on right across the country, including the rebuilding of one of the most complicated and busiest stations in Europe, that cannot be done at the expense of passengers. I have had several conversations with the chief executive of Network Rail—most recently before questions this morning—and we are in constant contact with the station management team. It will take a joined-up approach from operators, Network Rail and the British Transport Police, and the system is feeding that service to ensure that passenger safety and comfort is not compromised. Clearly nobody wants crowded platforms—but this is not crowd control; this is passengers trying to get home after a long day at work.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con):

Further to that point, we all want to see improvements to these stations, but the deplorable failure of Network Rail in what is, of course, a very complicated scheme in any event and the failure of the train-operating companies to deliver new timetables within such constraints has led to inexcusable delays and inconvenience for my constituents. Will my hon. Friend consider giving all those people who have had to travel into London Bridge during this period compensation for the cost of their tickets to reflect the very serious conditions with which they have had to deal?

Claire Perry:

I thank my right hon. Friend, who has been an assiduous commentator and critic of the current system. Like me, he is absolutely determined that this unprecedented investment is felt by passengers. That is why the Government are spending £38 billion on passenger improvements. I completely agree that a compensation scheme is required, and we are currently looking at providing one.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op):

Many stations in Yorkshire and the north will be affected by HS2. Has the Minister seen the startling information blogged this morning by Tom Edwards, the BBC transport correspondent, that evidence to the HS2 Committee suggests that hidden costs will raise the overall cost of the HS2 project from £50 billion to £138 billion? Are the Government misleading this country about just how much this folly of HS2 is going to cost?

Mr Speaker:

I am not sure that what the hon. Gentleman said is as closely related to the terms of the question as he would have wanted, but the Minister is a dexterous character.

Claire Perry:

I did not see the information because I was on the phone to the chief executive of Network Rail. A budget is a budget. Unlike the hon. Gentleman’s Government, this Government have a track record of bringing in major infrastructure projects such as the Olympics on budget and on time.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):

Travel to the west country is often massively disrupted by incidents between Reading and Paddington. Given the huge investment that has gone into Reading station, is it not possible to find alternative means of connectivity between Reading and London—Reading is virtually becoming a London station—so that people from the west country can get in and out of London perfectly easily?

Claire Perry:

The hon. Gentleman—like me, he travels on that line—will have seen the many improvements to Reading station. It is not just a beautiful new station; there has been significant remodelling of the train paths, including a flyover of the freight line to reduce disruption for passengers. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Crossrail interchange, which will go to Reading, will lift about 10% of traffic off the rail network, giving passengers going to Reading a whole series of other options for connectivity right into central London.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab):

Rail passenger numbers have doubled compared with 20 years ago—thanks to record investment under the previous Labour Government, including in stations such as the magnificent St Pancras. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like it, Mr Speaker, but it is true. Government Members try to take credit for projects we began, such as Reading, but we should look at their broken promises and record of failure instead. They make the dodgy claim that they are electrifying 850 miles, but only 18 miles have been finished, while electrification costs have doubled, essential projects have been delayed and the Transport Select Committee has warned that vital schemes may never be delivered. Is it not time for a change of Government, so that passengers get the services they deserve?

Claire Perry:

It’s the way the hon. Lady tells them. It is not 850 miles of electrification, but 889 miles—as opposed to the 10 miles delivered in the previous 13 years of supposedly record economic growth. I know that the hon. Lady is a frequent traveller from Nottingham station, which has benefited, of course, from £100 million-worth of investment under this Government. We will take no lessons from her.

Lincolnshire Roads

6.

What steps he is taking to develop the north-south road network in Lincolnshire.[907876]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes):

It says here that strategic roads play a key part in driving economic growth in my Lincolnshire constituency and elsewhere. Most of the north-south roads in Lincolnshire are the responsibility of the local highways authorities. Nevertheless, equipped with our new statutory authority to ensure that route strategies are consistent and coherent with our national road strategy, I will make certain that my Department works with them and the local enterprise partnership to deliver optimal improvements. By the way, I think a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and me might serve that purpose.

Nic Dakin:

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome his offer to meet me and other hon. Members from northern Lincolnshire to discuss the nature of the A15, which is a significant link from the developments on the Humber port down to Lincoln. It is a neglected road. The road system south of Lincoln is good; it is this bit of road that really needs looking at. I welcome the Minister’s offer and look forward to taking him up on it.

Mr Hayes:

I know the road well and I think there is a case for further improvements on the A15, A16 and A17 in Lincolnshire. Of course, the A15 is Ermine street, a Roman road. It seems to me we should be no less ambitious for our world than the Romans were for theirs.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con):

I welcome what the Minister has to say. As he will know, the A15 is a vital road for access to the port of Immingham in my constituency, the largest port in the country. It is Government policy to improve access to ports. Will he make that a major consideration when he meets me and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin)?

Mr Hayes:

I am conscious that Humberside MPs met, I think in 2013, to discuss just these issues in the Department. I was with my hon. Friend in his constituency very recently looking at transport matters. Actually, I think the Government can do better in co-ordinating the relationship between road investment and ports and other modes of transport. I think all Governments have neglected that and we can do more. I will certainly take up what my hon. Friend suggests.

Cycling and Walking

8.

What steps he is taking to increase levels of cycling and walking.[907881]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill):

The Government are committed to increasing walking and cycling. We have more than doubled the funding compared with the previous Administration. We added a section to the Infrastructure Act 2015 that places a commitment on Government to produce a cycling and walking investment strategy. In addition, our funding for bike and rail has put us on track to triple the number of cycle places at rail stations.

Stephen Timms:

I am delighted that an excellent campaign forced Ministers to concede the cycling and walking strategy in the Infrastructure Act. When are we now going to get a strategy with proper resources and targets? When will Ministers implement the powers in part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, so that councils outside London are finally able to enforce those powers against driving in cycle lanes?

Mr Goodwill:

I am very proud of this Government’s record. Indeed, when we discussed this with officials on the Infrastructure Act they said, “But Minister, it doesn’t need to be in there. You are doing this already.” I said, “Put it in anyway to underline that fact.” I am very proud that, while we inherited £2 a head spending on cycling, we have increased that to £6 a head and in our cycling ambition cities we are already delivering £10 a head. However, I know that driving in cycle lanes is an issue of great concern to cyclists, whose safety is paramount.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):

I suspect the Minister will be too busy in May to attend the Isle of Wight walking festival, but if he would like to see initiatives that really work to increase the level of cycling, and indeed tourism, may I invite him to attend the Isle of Wight cycling festival in September?

Mr Goodwill:

I must make a terrible admission: I have never visited the Isle of Wight, but I now have two very good reasons for doing so.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con):

Thanks to this Government, more than £35 million is being invested in roads in Basingstoke to reduce congestion. Will the Minister explain what he will be doing to ensure that that important investment will also benefit cyclists?

Mr Goodwill:

We have made it absolutely clear that all our new road schemes must be cycle-proofed to ensure that we do not have a situation where a new roundabout or bypass prevents cyclists from making their journeys too.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):

Confidence in road safety is key to increasing rates of cycling and walking, but after decades of progress, last year saw three consecutive increases in road deaths. Answers to parliamentary questions have revealed a dramatic reduction in the number of prosecutions for dangerous drink-driving and mobile offences at the wheel. With the number of traffic officers down by 23% since 2010 and apparently two years without any at all in Devon and Cornwall, whether these things are the fault of Transport Ministers, Home Office Ministers or even the Prime Minister himself, is it not the reality that the Government have failed to protect front-line policing and keep our roads safe? Is it not right for the next Labour Government to reintroduce proper targets to cut the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads?

Mr Goodwill:

We do have targets for the Highways Agency network, which we have control over. Other roads are the responsibility of highways agencies. When I stood at the Opposition Dispatch Box five years ago and put it to the Labour Government that we should introduce drug-driving legislation, they said it was impossible. I am proud to say that on Monday this week we gave the police the tools they need to prosecute those who put other road users in danger by drug-driving, and we now have the legislation on the statute book to do that—something that Labour said was impossible.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):

I note that the Minister has not been to the Isle of Wight, but has he been to Ribble Valley, where we have some of the best cycling areas and walking routes through some of the greatest beauty that one will find in England? Does he believe, like me, that if we can encourage more youngsters, in particular, to cycle and to walk, that could help with the problem of obesity, and that perhaps we could get Government, schools and local authorities working together to encourage people to have step monitors to give them some focus so that they can become healthier human beings?

Mr Goodwill:

I have indeed been to Ribble Valley, which is a very beautiful part of the country despite not being in Yorkshire. It is very important that we get young people on their bikes. That is why I am delighted that we have delivered 1.6 million Bikeability places, mainly to young people, and we expect a further 280,000 places between April 2015 and March 2016.

A69: Dualling

9.

What recent progress his Department has made on the feasibility study on dualling of the A69.[907882]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes):

A round-table discussion was held with Transport for the North, local authorities and other interested stakeholders at the end of February 2015 regarding the scope of the northern trans-Pennine strategic study. That study will consider the possible dualling of the A69 or the A66, or both, and technical work will start in the summer of 2015.

Guy Opperman:

Dualling the A69 is needed for the long-term economic plan of the true north and is supported by all the local MPs and businesses, and by a number of petitions put forward by constituents of mine and constituents in Carlisle. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and I were able to show those to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), last week, and I urge the Department to keep acting on them.

Mr Hayes:

You know, Mr Speaker, that Ruskin said that quality is never an accident and always involves intelligent effort, and my hon. Friend’s effort has been intelligence at its very height. He is right that this road, which runs alongside Hadrian’s wall, is an important route, for the reasons he gave—for the well-being of local people and the local economy. That is well understood by this Minister and by this Government.

Mr Speaker:

From the Romans to Ruskin: the right hon. Gentleman, who is, by common consent in the House, an extraordinary individual, never disappoints.

A27: Worthing and Lancing

10.

What recent progress has been made on the proposed improvements to the A27 between Worthing and Lancing.[907883]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes):

Prior to the announcement of the road investment strategy in December 2014, I had the joy of touring the A27. Since then, the Highways Agency has started to realise our commitment to improve that road at Worthing and Lancing. To date, agency officers have held initial meetings with key stakeholders and begun work on the detailed traffic models required for this exciting scheme’s development.

Tim Loughton:

The Minister will recall that there was dancing in the streets back in December when the Secretary of State announced the enhancements to the A27 around Arundel and Worthing. That dancing has subsided a little as the feasibility studies go on. Will he update the House on progress, on when we will hear further news about the likely work, and on the possibility of including some tolling at pinch points and flyovers, including on the old Roman bit?

Mr Hayes:

It has been said, Mr Speaker, that I never disappoint, but I do sometimes surprise. I am delighted, therefore, to tell my hon. Friend that I will not merely update him on progress but can reveal that we will publish the feasibility study, a result of his efforts and our endeavour, immediately. I will let him have this report, which details exactly how we intend to move forward, shaped and informed by his efforts and those of his friends.

Rail Delays: Compensation

11.

What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of compensation payments to passengers for delayed rail travel.[907884]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry):

It is absolutely right for passengers to be compensated when their journeys are delayed. The Government have introduced tough new measures to ensure that that happens, and compensation payments across the network have increased sixfold since 2011. As the hon. Lady will know, we are introducing a 30-minute “delay repay” scheme on lines that have not already been making payments—as well as other enhanced compensation opportunities—during franchising negotiations and, when we can, during existing contracts. However, recent estimates by Passenger Focus suggest that only 12% of passengers who are delayed by 30 minutes or more go on to claim compensation. I am determined to address that, and, as operators will know, I believe that they need to do much more in this respect.

Heidi Alexander:

The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who is no longer in the Chamber, was entirely right to call for compensation for commuters who experience severe disruption because of the works at London Bridge. Overcrowding on trains from Lewisham is even more severe than normal, and is actually dangerous. How can a compensation regime that pays up only when services are delayed by 30 minutes or more be relevant to my constituents, who can barely get on to a train irrespective of whether it is late or not?

Claire Perry:

I genuinely pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who is an assiduous campaigner for commuters in her constituency. It is very refreshing when Members in all parts of the House participate fully in the cross-party summits at which we hold the industry to account.

The hon. Lady is right. There is not adequate compensation under the scheme to cover the metro-style train journeys that many of her constituents take. As she will know, some operators which have similar service patterns, such as c2c, have introduced minute-by-minute refunds—or will be doing so—but I intend to continue to work on a compensation scheme specifically for those affected by the works at London Bridge.

Great Western Franchise

12.

When he expects negotiations on the Great Western rail franchise to be completed.[907886]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry):

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that we expect to conclude negotiations with First Great Western and to finalise the second directly awarded franchise contract during this month, and expect the provision of services to start in September.

Duncan Hames:

I thank the Minister for that news. When I led a group of 10 Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to meet the Secretary of State before Christmas, we urged him to include in the new franchise local services on the existing line between Oxford and Bristol. Does the Minister accept that even a service between Swindon and Bristol would be a great start in relieving overcrowding on that part of the line, and would be a vital first step towards the reopening of the station at Corsham?

Claire Perry:

The hon. Gentleman continues to make a persuasive business case for that new service. As a Nailsea girl who was lucky enough to go from Nailsea comprehensive to Oxford university, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it would have been a great service for me. As he knows, the Secretary of State has invited Members whose constituencies are on the route to work with their local authorities and the local enterprise partnership to present a collective business case. He may be right in saying that, as a minimum, a westward service from Swindon would be helpful.

Topical Questions

T1.[907897]

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin):

My Department has continued to operate apace as we move towards the Dissolution of Parliament. Last week we introduced the new invitation to tender for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express services, and transferred East Coast back to the private sector. That is a major step in a franchising transformation that places passengers at the heart of services.

We also continue to invest in our roads. Fifteen strategic road schemes have been completed since 2010, and a further 16 are under way. Because local roads are equally important, we have committed £6 billion to them, up to 2021, in addition to the 27% increase in funding that has taken place since 2010. Funds for cycling have doubled since 2010, and we are committed to a new long-term investment strategy.

Glyn Davies:

In my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), there has been a decades-long campaign for a new bypass at Llanymynech, which lies between the two constituencies. Will the Minister join the Welsh Government in developing a scheme for that purpose?

Mr McLoughlin:

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Such a scheme has been identified in the draft national transport plan for Wales as contributing to access to services. We will discuss the matter further with Welsh Government officials to assess their priorities, but no one could have campaigned harder for it to be examined than my hon. Friend.

Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab):

This week, following the Government’s privatisation of East Coast, Stagecoach released a trading update announcing that the privatisation would “significantly enhance” its profits. We know that the chief executive of Stagecoach, Martin Griffiths, is scraping by on £2.2 million a year—which, by the way, makes him eligible for the Government’s tax cut for millionaires, so his week is getting better and better. At the same time, Stagecoach is threatening to withdraw its buses from the north-east, simply because the local transport authority wants to do something about the fare rises and bus route cuts that have marked the Government’s failure and broken promises. When will Ministers condemn what Stagecoach is doing in the north-east? Do we not need a Government who deliver for the travelling public, not for the Stagecoach shareholders?

Mr McLoughlin:

What we need, and what we have, is a Government who are investing record amounts of money in our transport infrastructure—far more than the last Government invested in both capital projects and revenue projects. I can only take what was said in Transport Times by the editor, David Fowler, in his latest edition this week:

“On rail franchising and speed cameras”

Labour’s policies

“seem to be going against the weight of evidence.”

We have seen a dramatic improvement in our services, provided by the private sector. The Labour party is so opposed to the private sector and everything it stands for that it wants to destroy it, on the back of our seeing one of the most successful turnarounds of the rail industry in this country.

T3.[907899]

I am grateful to the Minister of State for meeting me to discuss problems at the A5 Wall island, but while he is considering it will the people’s Minister ask the Highways Agency to look at the other end of the A5, the congestion from Tamworth to the M42—congestion made worse by more traffic trying to merge on to the A5 from Pennine way?

Mr Hayes:

Every meeting I have had with my hon. Friend has been a joy, as was the one yesterday. I have diagrammatic and photographic representations of the issue he raises, which I will deliver to you, Mr Speaker, and make available to Members on request. I will send officials not only to look at the matters we discussed yesterday, but to look at the matter my hon. Friend raises today, to see what can be done, but I have to say I think we should act in accordance with his recommendations, because I know he always champions his constituents’ interests.

T4.[907900]

Fare evasion is obviously a serious issue for the rail industry, but I have seen a number of recent instances where train companies have over-zealously pursued minor cases against constituents who have either been given the wrong information or might have made an innocent error. What is the Minister doing with train companies such as Arriva to ensure that there is clarity for travellers and to make sure that the rules are applied reasonably?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry):

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I recently launched a public consultation on exactly this matter, and I have urged the train companies to pursue such cases where necessary—where there is genuine fare evasion—but to be much more sensible where there are genuine mistakes. She is welcome to make her views and those of her constituents known in that consultation, and I would like to make those changes.

T5.[907901]

Tactile indicator cones play a valuable role in making pedestrian crossings safer for all people, and especially those who are blind and partially sighted. Unfortunately in Wiltshire they cannot be sure of finding these cones at pedestrian crossings when they need them. Will the Government incentivise all local authorities to retrofit these tactile indicator cones to pedestrian crossings and open up our streets to everyone?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill):

Tactile cones are probably one of the best kept secrets of our transport system. If one feels underneath the box on a pelican or puffin crossing, there is a small cone which, if held, rotates when the lights turn to green. It is very helpful for people with vision problems. They were developed by the university of Nottingham and there are 10,000 out there, and I encourage local authorities to retrofit as many as possible.

T6.[907902]

In October last year the Prime Minister visited York and expressed publicly concern about congestion on the outer ring road, and in January a petition from business leaders in York asking for the dualling of the ring road was delivered to Downing street. What action has the Department taken since the petition arrived?

Mr Goodwill:

I had a meeting with the chief executive of North Yorkshire county council, who works closely with City of York council, on addressing the problems on the northern ring road, and I hope that any scheme that is brought forward can also mesh in with the Hopgrove roundabout project which has already been announced. If City of York council wants to help the motorist it should think back to what it did on Lendal bridge and the atrocious way it persecuted motorists using that route.

T8.[907904]

I recognise this Government’s enormous investment in our railways, but I am keen to know when we might see some improvements in the London to Portsmouth line. It is still faster to get to Doncaster, which is twice as far.

Claire Perry:

My hon. Friend will know that the Portsmouth to London line is not only hugely important for her constituents but a vital artery for people who are travelling up and down through the counties. One problem has been the inability to run longer trains into Waterloo station, where the “throat” has effectively been blocked for many years. We are now investing to increase platform lengths there, to unblock some of that complexity. Also, the draft Wessex route study is being undertaken right now to determine how faster trains can be run from my hon. Friend’s constituency.

T7.[907903]

I hope that the Minister will have been given notice by Baroness Kramer’s office that she is due to sign off £200 million-worth of funding for a bus rapid transit scheme in Bristol. I am very keen for the overall scheme to go ahead, but we have real concerns about one particular element of it in my constituency. Will the Minister tell me whether it is too late to seek alternatives to that element, which would ruin a wonderful community food project on my patch?

Mr McLoughlin:

If I am correct, the hon. Lady is talking about the opposition to the M32 bus-only junction. It is not for the Government to determine the design of the scheme, which is being promoted by the local authority as it knows the area best. Local authorities should listen to the campaigns led by local Members of Parliament relating to that scheme, to see whether the concerns can be addressed, but it would be difficult to change the scheme at this late stage and I know that the hon. Lady would not want to put it in danger of not being signed off in the next few days.

T9.[907905]

Ever since the Romans built the Fosse way and the Great North road through our town, road hauliers have been an integral part of Newark’s economy. However, those hauliers have had to compete with foreign competitors on an uneven playing field for too long. Will the Minister update us on the success of the HGV road user levy?

Mr Goodwill:

They say that Rome was not built in a day, but I was not the foreman on that particular job. I am delighted to report to the House that, despite being told when we were in opposition that we could not introduce a lorry road user charge for foreign trucks, we have done so. We predicted that it would yield £25 million in revenue, but it is on track to yield more than £45 million in the first year, levelling the playing field for hard-working British hauliers.

T10.[907906]

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the Government ignored the views of the people of the north-east when they ploughed ahead with the privatisation of the east coast main line. Will they back the wishes of the people of the north-east in introducing a quality contract scheme for the operation of our bus services, so that the buses can be put into the people’s hands and taken out of the hands of profiteers?

Mr McLoughlin:

The simple fact is that we will see fantastic benefits from the new operation on the east coast main line. We will see more services to towns that have not been served before, and more services to the north-east. One of the things I was keen to do last week, in relation to the invitation to tender and to the north-east, was to consign the Pacer trains to the rubbish heap. It is important to get rid of them, and that is something that this Government, unlike the last Government, will deliver on. The bus scheme for Newcastle and the north-east is currently before the Department, and it would be inappropriate for me to take a view on it at this time.

Mr Speaker:

Time is against us, but I call Mr Alan Reid.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD):

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am glad that Machrihanish is on the shortlist to become the UK’s first spaceport. It is far from any centres of population, it has a 3-km runway and the facilities of an RAF base, and I believe that it is the ideal candidate. I hope that the Department for Transport will support Machrihanish’s case.

Mr Goodwill:

We are certainly looking at all the candidates in Scotland, Wales and England, and we believe that Britain will be at the forefront of the space race to get satellites into space cheaply and to introduce space tourism.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

House of Commons Management

1.

What recent representations he has received from catering, maintenance and other staff of the House on the management of the House.[907887]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross):

The Commissioner has received no recent formal representations from staff in those areas on the management of the House. The staff have, however, had a number of opportunities to express their views to the management, including in the recent staff survey.

Mr Sheerman:

The right hon. Gentleman will know of my long campaign for the House to be not just an average or good employer but the very best exemplar of an employer. It is no secret that I want us to adopt the John Lewis model for the staff in this place, who work so hard for us. When are we going to engage those members of staff and stop employing them on short-term contracts or using agency staff on a long-term basis? Let us have secure employment and a decent way of living.

John Thurso:

I have enjoyed throughout this Parliament the exchanges I have had with the hon. Gentleman on this matter, and the direction of travel he indicates is one that we are very much seeking to take. The recent leadership and management survey shows that on all leadership and management criteria we have improved our score over that of the civil service generally, and on nine out of 10 such criteria we have improved our score on last year’s. There have been some uncertainties, for example, on the security services, and we have done the right thing in bringing those in hand. That has reduced uncertainty and is very much in line with what he wishes. I am sure that in the next Parliament the Commission will continue in that direction.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con):

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which Members of this House could show their appreciation for their staff and ensure the security of their employment is by using our facilities much more heavily than they do?

John Thurso:

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend and salute all he has done with his Committee to make that a realistic possibility.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Public Bill Committees

2.

How many sittings of Public Bill Committees took place in the last Parliament; and how many such sittings have taken place in this Parliament to date.[907888]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake):

There were 935 sittings of Public Bill Committees in the 2005 to 2010 Parliament, and there have been 797 sittings so far in the current Parliament.

Sir Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab):

It is clear that the work rate of Public Bill Committees in this Parliament has been considerably lower than that in the previous Parliament, and I say that as a member of the Panel of Chairs. Will the Government now look at allocating more time for Public Bill Committees to consider private Members’ Bills, so that more private Members’ Bills get through the House and get Royal Assent?

Tom Brake:

First, I should perhaps correct the impression that the hon. Gentleman wants to give that this Parliament has not been busy. The 2010 to 2015 Parliament will sit for 734 days, which compares with the 718 in the 2005 to 2010 Parliament. Of course, for individual Bills there have been more Public Committee days or sittings than there were under the previous Government. I have heard what he has said about private Members’ Bills. I know that the Procedure Committee has some strong views about private Members’ Bills, and I suspect that we may have to return to the matter in the next Parliament.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab):

The reality is that too many Bills have been leaving the House of Commons without adequate scrutiny and have to be salvaged in the other place. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has proposed a new stage for Commons scrutiny—the whole House scrutiny stage. Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that we need to improve scrutiny in this place, rather than simply using the Lords to bail us out?

Tom Brake:

I do, of course, accept that in this House we need scrutiny, but the Labour party is responsible for scrutiny and what we have seen in this Parliament is that far more Bills have finished early than was the case in the previous Parliament. I am afraid that is because the Opposition are not undertaking their job of scrutiny effectively.

Government Accountability

3.

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of parliamentary mechanisms in holding the Government to account since 2010.[907889]

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague):

Changes introduced during this Parliament have increased the House’s ability to hold the Government to account. The introduction of the Backbench Business Committee, the election of Select Committee Chairs and allowing adequate time for debating legislation have all contributed to an increase in scrutiny of the Government.

Mr Nuttall:

As these are the last questions to the Leader of the House before my right hon. Friend leaves the House, may I just thank him personally, and on behalf of his many admirers in my constituency, for his 26 years of service to this House and to the country?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the value of the Backbench Business Committee, to which he referred, can be demonstrated by reference to the debate it gave me time for on the holding of a referendum on our membership of the European Union? Even though the motion was defeated at the time, it subsequently led to Government policy being changed, at least in the Conservative part of the coalition.

Mr Hague:

I, in return, pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his constituents; I have never forgotten the black pudding I ate in Bury market during the last general election campaign and I look forward to still more in the future.

The Backbench Business Committee debates have often had an influence. I hope the debate he refers to will have been the precursor of a referendum on the European Union before the end of 2017, held by a Conservative Government. But other debates on issues, such as VAT on air ambulances, Hillsborough and contaminated blood, have also contributed to changes in Government policy.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):

Does the Leader of the House agree that one of the essential ingredients in effectively holding the Government to account is Back Benchers who are prepared to be critical of the Government and to vote against them from time to time?

Mr Hague:

Of course, up to point. My hon. Friend’s question allows me to pay tribute to him, as he is obviously referring to himself. I do pay tribute to him and would only point out that there are many, many occasions on which Government policies merit support as well.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):

For once in my lifetime, I agree with an intervention of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Would not holding the Government to account be more effective if Government Members resisted the urgings of the Whips to put questions to the Prime Minister, particularly at PMQs, or to Ministers on other occasions? That does not show independence of mind and it certainly does not show the sort of accountability that is required. In some respects, it makes a mockery of Prime Minister’s questions, which is the unique way of holding the Government—and the Head of Government—to account. It should not be undermined in the way I have described.

Mr Hague:

The hon. Gentleman is speaking after two of my hon. Friends who are very skilled at resisting any orchestration by the Whips or anybody else. I do not think he can accuse them of that. I must say that I have noticed on occasions a certain degree of co-ordination—not necessarily very successful—of Prime Minister’s questions on the Opposition Benches.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Transgender Visitors

4.

What training and advice is provided to House staff on how to deal with transgender people visiting the parliamentary estate.[907890]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross):

All House staff dealing with the public are expected to undertake mandatory diversity and inclusion training, and the same standards are expected from all service providers, including the Metropolitan Police Service.

Kerry McCarthy:

On 4 February, there was an LGBT history month event here. I had complaints made to me by two people who attended the event that security guards at the Cromwell Green entrance had repeatedly addressed them as “sir”, even though they had made it quite clear that they did not wish to be addressed in that way. The Met is looking at this—I think the House of Commons Commission has referred it to the Met—but will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that they do not have to suffer such treatment in future?

John Thurso:

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that case to our attention. Indeed, as I believe she knows, this has been referred to the Metropolitan Police Service, whose staff these were. It is taking this extremely seriously and we have made it clear to the Met how seriously we take it. As far as our own staff are concerned, diversity and inclusion is a key part of the core induction and training for all visitor assistants and all staff generally. We take these matters very seriously and we are determined to make sure that this is not repeated.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

E-petitions

5.

How many e-petitions which have been signed by 100,000 or more people have been debated in the House?[907893]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake):

Since the launch of the Government’s e-petitions site, more than 3.7 million individuals have given their support to the 37 petitions that reached the qualifying 100,000 signature threshold for debate. The topics of 32 have been the subject of debate in the House of Commons, most as a direct result of the e-petition.

Sir Greg Knight:

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Procedure Committee on its work on this and other issues? Does he agree that the introduction of e-petitions has perhaps done more than anything else to start to reconnect this Parliament with the public?

Tom Brake:

Yes, I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the Procedure Committee on the work it has done on this issue. It is a fact that since August 2011, more than 10 million individuals have signed one or more of the 30,000 petitions initiated. I, and I hope all Members of the House, look forward to a Petitions Committee being established in the next Parliament, which will allow perhaps a wider range of petitions to come before the House and, for instance, for petitioners to come and give oral evidence to that Committee.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Parliamentary Estate: Recycling

6.

What proportion of waste on the parliamentary estate was recycled in (a) 2010 and (b) the most recent period for which figures are available.[907894]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross):

The percentage of all waste arising from the parliamentary estate that was recycled or recovered in 2010 was 52.1%. In 2014, it was 62.8%. This shows a fairly considerable improvement; however, we are a little below what we need to be to make sure we are on track for our 2020 target.

Mr Hollobone:

Which recyclable waste streams are in practice the least recycled, and what are the plans to improve that in the next Parliament?

John Thurso:

My hon. Friend asks me a question to which I do not have an accurate answer—or, rather, to which I do not have an answer. I am sure that an accurate answer exists, but I just do not have it. I should make that distinction quite clear. However, what we do is operate to the waste hierarchy, of which I am sure he is aware. First, we try to ensure that the waste does not happen. When it does happen, we seek to recycle it in the most effective way possible. We only dispose of it if it is absolutely necessary.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Select Committees

7.

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Select Committees since 2010.[907895]

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague):

During this Parliament, reforms have been implemented to elect Chairs of Select Committees and to allow them to make statements on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall. That has led to a stronger mandate for Chairs of Select Committees, increased visibility of their recommendations and therefore a corresponding increase in their effectiveness.

Chris Heaton-Harris:

Using his 26 years of experience of this place, will the Leader of the House agree that the election of Select Committee Chairs has been a significant development in the reform of this place and in giving power back to Back Benchers? What ideas does he have to give more power to Back Benchers in the future?

Mr Hague:

It has been a very significant reform. Indeed, it is one of the most significant reforms since the establishment in 1979 of the Select Committee system as we know it today. Both that reform in 1979 and this reform in 2010 took place under Conservative Leaders of the House of Commons. Members across the House will continue to use the increased opportunities that are now provided for greater independence for Back-Bench Members, but consideration of what procedural changes are needed for that are really now matters for the next Parliament.

Mr Speaker:

I confess that I have several ideas on that front. I will send the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) a copy of my lecture to the Hansard Society of last Monday. If he fancies a cup of tea with me at any time I am happy to encourage him.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab):

I speak as a member both of the Public Administration Committee and of the European Scrutiny Committee. Does the Leader of the House accept that the effectiveness of such Committees depends more on the Government responding to their conclusions and recommendations than on what the Select Committees do?

Mr Hague:

Of course that is an important part of it. The Government do respond thoroughly to Select Committee reports and bring many recommendations to the Floor of the House. We will be announcing in Business Questions a debate on the Floor of the House on two recommendations of the European Scrutiny Committee. Of course it is important for Governments to respond constructively.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con):

Select Committees are a highly effective way of holding Governments to account. Does the Leader of the House agree with the all-party group on women in Parliament, ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), that, on the day we will be debating international women’s day, it is time to set up a women and equalities Select Committee, which is led by this House, to ensure that continued progress on these important matters is maintained?

Mr Hague:

The all-party group on women in Parliament made some very interesting and important recommendations that need to be considered by parties in the House as well as by the House as a whole. With regard to the specific recommendation to set up a Select Committee, it is not feasible to do so in the final few weeks of a Parliament; that is a matter for a new Parliament. Personally, I have a lot of sympathy with the idea, but it will be necessary to find a reduction elsewhere in the number of Select Committees to accommodate a new one.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):

Does the Leader of the House agree that sufficient time should be allowed for the pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees? For example, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, of which I am a member, was critical of the way in which the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was steamrollered through Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister in 2011.

Mr Hague:

It is of course important to carry out such scrutiny whenever possible. In this Parliament, we have a good record in that regard; there has been more pre-legislative scrutiny than has happened before under any previous Parliament. There will still be scope for improvement in Parliaments to come.