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12 Feb 2009 : Column 1534

The Secretary of State says that 12,500 jobs will be created or safeguarded. Will he admit that the assembly plant to which he referred will assemble items manufactured overseas rather than being what is normally understood to be a manufacturing plant? Will he place in the Library a copy of the research that he has undertaken to substantiate his claim about 12,500 jobs? What is the split between the jobs that will be created and those that he believes will be safeguarded? Will he comment on Hitachi’s press statement today, which says that the new factory will initially employ only 200 staff, with the potential to employ only 500 staff in future?

Is the Secretary of State claiming that today’s announcement will safeguard jobs at the Bombardier factory in his Derby constituency? If so, how can the news that Hitachi, not Bombardier, has won the inter-city express programme contract possibly give that guarantee? How can the announcement that Bombardier might—I emphasise “might”—get the contract for extra carriages, reannounced yet again today, for Stansted Express give that guarantee of safeguarding jobs in Derby? Is not the announcement on Stansted Express and Bombardier simply a cynical attempt to hide the bad news for the train factory in his constituency?

The Government’s excessive micro-management of our railways is now holding up the process of delivering the extra rolling stock that passengers desperately want. We could have had extra Pendolinos on the west coast main line months ago, but Department for Transport dithering has held them up. The inaptly named Thameslink 2000 is now running around 15 years later than planned. Not one, not two, but three Secretaries of State for Transport have promised us 1,300 extra carriages, some of which were reannounced today, yet only four have been delivered. The Government’s complacency is unacceptable and today’s announcement will do little to reassure commuters who suffer daily from today’s desperately overcrowded railways.

Mr. Hoon: I was grateful for what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) described as her support for the decision, but she spoiled the effect by her subsequent observations. I have read carefully the Conservative party’s proposals for the future of the rail industry. Nowhere does that interesting document refer to something that I thought the hon. Lady might mention today—Conservative party proposals to cut our transport budget by some £840 million. It might help us all to understand those proposals if the hon. Lady stated whether she intended to cut Crossrail or bus subsidies, or whether she would withdraw the concessionary fares scheme for the elderly and the disabled. An understanding of what the Conservatives intended to cut would put her proposals for railway transport into better context. The title of the Conservative document should have been “Mind the Gap”—the gap between Conservative theory and practice.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I say to the Secretary of State that that was a somewhat irrelevant preface? I want concise answers, as far as possible, and, of course, brief questions.

Mr. Hoon: Clearly, my preparations for answering the hon. Lady’s questions were longer than they should have been.

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I emphasise that the jobs are real jobs in the UK. I was interested in the hon. Lady’s failure to mention a word that I thought would feature in any spokesperson’s observations about a major commercial decision—“competition”. Nowhere did she mention the fact that such important commercial decisions are subject to competition, or that that is exactly how the issue was resolved. Bombardier is a great train maker. It has an order book of some 2,000 carriages, which, as I have indicated, will be added to by the announcement that I have just made, and it is bidding—with some prospects of success, I anticipate—for further orders in due course. That is important to the United Kingdom’s economy, as is the decision that I have announced today.

We anticipate that something in the order of 2,500 new jobs will be created, and that would have been the case whichever consortium had been successful. The contract is for both the construction and the maintenance of carriages. That means that a significant number of jobs will be created in the maintenance sector across the United Kingdom. It also means that jobs in the supply chain—the estimate is up to 10,000 jobs—will be protected and safeguarded, as they support the manufacture. Three quarters of the value of the contract will be spent in the United Kingdom. That figure means that the great majority of the benefit will be provided for United Kingdom jobs and the United Kingdom economy.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement and the investment that goes with it. May I suggest to him, as he knows the midland main line very well, that the welcome announcement about the completion of its electrification be accompanied by an announcement on the relevant rolling stock that he has announced for the east coast and Great Western main lines? The Meridian trains that are now being inflicted on passengers on long-haul journeys to Sheffield are appropriate for short-term sprints, but they are noisy, they vibrate, passengers cannot use mobile phones appropriately on them and they are not suitable for long-haul inter-city work. Given that, perhaps he could encourage the possibility of expanding manufacturing, so that we get not only a high-speed rail line but the high-quality rolling stock that we deserve.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s observations. I am sure that others will have heard his words and will take appropriate note. For the reasons that he mentioned, I am particularly keen to see the electrification of both the Great Western main line and the midland main line, which is something that I announced to the House quite recently. The trains that are being procured as a result of the announcement that I have just made will have advanced technology, allowing them to operate on both the electrified and the non-electrified parts of the network. That means that they will be very flexible and will be capable of operating across our network. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, from time to time train sets are moved from one line to another.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The £840 million cut is one bit of transport policy not copied from the Lib Dems.

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Let me express my disappointment that the statement was announced to the markets first. If the markets had to be told separately, they could have been told simultaneously. I resent the fact that, yet again, this House has learnt about such matters after the general public. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome any new investment in railways, particularly in rolling stock and jobs. However, the Secretary of State will understand that there is some scepticism about his announcement, given the fact that of the 1,300 new vehicles announced in July 2007, and reannounced at regular intervals since, only 423 have so far been ordered, according to a parliamentary answer that I received only this week.

Will he also accept that the fact that we have such a desperate shortage of rolling stock—there is none spare anywhere in the country—is not a good reflection on 12 years of this Government? Is that dramatic shortage not a consequence of the Treasury-driven franchise arrangements, which until recently encouraged train operating companies to reduce the number of their carriages? In effect, what we have heard today is a U-turn.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the industry is dubious about the bi-modal train—jointly a diesel and electric train—that he appears to have settled on? The industry believes that it will push up costs and add weight unnecessarily to the vehicle, and that more flexibility would be provided if a locomotive were simply added at the point in the network where the electricity supply runs out and diesel traction is required. Is it not the case that, as a consequence, the vehicle that the Secretary of State is ordering is much more expensive than need be?

When will we have longer platforms in place to accommodate the new rolling stock that the Secretary of State has announced today? Can he also give details of the timings for the electrification of the midland main line and the Great Western railway? Lastly, to repeat the question that was asked but not answered a moment ago, when will all 1,400 trains—or, as the statement says rather carefully, “up to 1,400” new carriages—be in service?

Mr. Hoon: Normally, the hon. Gentleman urges, encourages and exhorts me to spend more on railways, but I come to the House today with a £7.5 billion announcement on railways and I fail to detect a welcome from him or any sign that he thinks that this is a good thing. However, in the light of his previous observations, I will take it as read that he does think it a good thing. Today’s announcement is important for the rail network, for passengers and for the rail industry in the United Kingdom.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman made the observation about not informing the House. I followed a well established practice in the House of ensuring that sensitive decisions were communicated to the markets at their opening this morning. That is not an unusual practice when commercially sensitive issues are decided on. It is right that we should not affect the markets by, for example, coming to the House in the middle of the day when the stock market has been open for many hours. I know that the Liberal Democrats do not worry unduly about matters such as the commercial implications of these decisions. Nevertheless, they are matters to which responsible Governments have to have some regard.

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I am not going to get into a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the advantages of bi-modal vehicles, although I could. One of the clear benefits is that, in order to operate electrically powered trains, not every part of the network—that includes, for example, maintenance depots—has to be electrically powered. His suggestion of fitting a diesel engine to the front has been done in the past. However, it slows things down and is rather wasteful—I would have thought that he would be concerned about the impact that such decisions have on the environment—and does not serve the purpose of a modern, 21st-century rail network.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I ask my right hon. Friend to ignore the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers)l; I would remind him that the Tories cancelled the high-speed train for the west coast main line. I am pleased that John Laing, which started as a small building company in my constituency, is playing a major part in the project. However, the reality is that we get new trains from various suppliers, yet in this country we still do not have an adequate test track. If we are not careful and if we do not get that test track, we will build the trains but send them to Germany to be tested. Will my right hon. Friend look at that?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about testing. Providing space on the network for the kind of high-speed running that is required to test new vehicles is an issue when our existing network is so busy, so I will certainly look at his suggestion.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): In agreeing with what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said about the Meridian trains on the east midlands line, when does the Secretary of State anticipate that the new trains will be available for that line, or is it a line that he just wishes to ignore?

Mr. Hoon: As someone who travels up and down that line very regularly—even more often than the right hon. Gentleman, I expect—I do not think that anyone could accuse me of ignoring it. Although I have promised the House that I will always mention electrification of the great western line before the midland main line, I am nevertheless committed to the electrification of both. Therefore, I think that we will see significant changes on the midland main line in years to come.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made, the Secretary of State’s father probably tested the 125s on the test track in north Leicestershire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the east midlands location referred to in the statement is even more specific, in that it would be in North-West Leicestershire, close to the town of Ashby de la Zouch, where there is a well developed supply chain and a long tradition of high engineering skills, which spin off into Toyota, Rolls Royce, Bombardier, Brush in Loughborough and elsewhere? What influence will the Government have on the eventual decision and is it a commercial one only? Finally, will my right hon. Friend see me about the planning implications of the location of any manufacturing plant in or near Ashby, which, as things stand, is currently crowded in by all sorts of planning pressures?

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Mr. Hoon: I well understand why my hon. Friend would want to speak up on behalf of the benefits of such a major investment going to his constituency, and I would certainly be willing to meet him to discuss the proposals, although not to discuss any specific planning matters that are not part of my responsibility. I assure him that this will be a commercial negotiation conducted by the company. No doubt he will want to make representations to the relevant local authorities and, indeed, to the company itself.

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): The Minister will be aware from recent discussions that we have had, and from his recent visit to Crewe, that Bombardier is one of the largest employers in Crewe and that it continues to overhaul trains in this very difficult climate. Today’s announcement will be a huge disappointment to many of the workers at Bombardier, who, as recently as November last year, saw 45 of their fellow workers being laid off. In relation to the 120 trains, for which Bombardier is the preferred bidder, is it correct that up to 70 of them might be built in Japan? The Secretary of State said that another contract, for which Bombardier is tendering, will be announced shortly. When will that announcement be made? The biggest problem for Bombardier is the peaks and troughs between contracts, which mean that it cannot sustain a high-level, long-term, experienced work force at a time when those people so desperately need the work.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to speak up for the interests of his constituents. As the child of a railway family, I probably spent more time than I care to remember sitting on Crewe station. Anyone who has travelled regularly on our railways will appreciate the splendours of that particular place. It is vital that we recognise that the announcement that I have made today will protect and safeguard jobs in the railway industry right across the United Kingdom, including, I believe, at Bombardier. Necessarily, a great railway company such as Bombardier will have wanted to win this particular contract. There has been a detailed, thorough and competitive commercial contest to determine how the orders should be set out.

Incidentally, I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about the prospect of some 70 trains being built in Japan, but I will certainly look at that. I do not see why Bombardier would provide that order to Japan. It is important to recognise that there is now a significant programme of orders in railways stretching forward, and that Bombardier is very well placed to win some of those orders.

Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): This is a very welcome piece of news, and I am very appreciative. I know that all those who have access to the Great Western line stations will be very pleased indeed. They will not care who heard what when; they will just be pleased to hear this news. The improvements in reliability will be important to those who regularly use the railways in my region, as will the reductions in the duration of their journeys. May I, speaking as a geek—a railway person who, rather like my right hon. Friend, sat on railway stations as a schoolboy, in places such as Keynsham and Bristol Temple Meads—ask him whether the top speed on the Great Western network will be increased above the 125 mph limit that it has had for a long time?

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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. These are exciting times for the Great Western line and, indeed, for passengers all down the line. We have announced a programme for electrification, and today’s announcement will provide for higher speed trains perhaps even going beyond the extent of electrification. The bi-modal nature of the trains—if I may out-geek my hon. Friend for a second—means that they will be able to go beyond the electrified part of the line and therefore provide excellent services well beyond the limits of electrification. I do not anticipate the maximum speed needing to be exceeded at present. As a result of the new trains’ lightness of construction, they will accelerate more quickly, which will reduce the time intervals between station stops. That will result in a significant improvement for passengers.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): Having campaigned for them, I welcome the confirmation of the 120 new carriages on the West Anglia route. May I press the Secretary of State on two important delivery details? First, on rolling stock, when will the new carriages enter service? Secondly, a year ago—or possibly more—we were promised longer platforms and more track on that vital route. There have been a lot of delays and uncertainties about that. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government still hold that commitment, and tell us when the work will begin on the track?

Mr. Hoon: I have made it quite clear that capacity constraint is an important part of the work that we need to do to improve our rail network, and there are some significant steps that can be taken. Today’s announcement on inter-city trains, which will have greater carriage capacity, will be part of that, as will the continuing work to lengthen platforms. The negotiations between the manufacturer and Anglia will proceed in relation to Stansted, and I anticipate that the carriages will be in service by 2011-12.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which is very welcome. May I just check that a single train travelling from, say, London King’s Cross to, say, Skipton will be able to change from electric to diesel power in that one journey? The reason why I ask is that the part of the Airedale line that runs from the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) through Keighley and up to Skipton was electrified under the previous Conservative Government but, unfortunately, the cabling is such that if a 225—an electrified high-speed train—goes on to it, it drains the power from the whole line so that nothing else can use it. Up to now, therefore, trains going from King’s Cross to Skipton have to be diesel-powered 125s. A lot of my constituents will be pleased to hear that the one train that travels each way between Keighley and King’s Cross can be a fully modernised train that is much more comfortable than the 125s that we are using at the moment.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is probably beginning to exhaust the limits of my technical competence in the details of electrification. I know that there are various kinds of electrification, but as I do not know the arrangements in and around her constituency, I will not tempt fate by either agreeing or disagreeing with her. I will, however, ensure that she is written to and that an explanation is provided.

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Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Platform 20 at Waterloo is now available for domestic services, but I understand that the trains needed to run those services have not yet been ordered, even though the need for them was recognised two years ago. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the production lines for the class 450 Desiros have now, sadly, been closed, and that new orders cannot be delivered before 2011? Will he also confirm that the cost of those trains will now be 30 per cent. higher because of the collapse of the pound against the euro? And will he tell us whether we are going to get those trains at all?

Mr. Hoon: I have consistently made it clear since getting this job that relieving congestion and improving capacity on our network is of paramount importance. Bringing into service the platform at Waterloo is part of that process, and the investment that I announced today is part of a much wider £20 billion investment in new rail capacity.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I welcome this news, which stands in stark contrast to the do nothing attitude of the Conservative party. May I point out to the Secretary of State, however, that high speed does not necessarily mean high quality? In the past year or two, the east coast line has seen job cuts resulting in reduced services for the people on board, so can we please be clear that, while high speed is good, other things also need to be put in place? Will he also have a word with National Express, which needs to get its act together?

Mr. Hoon: Certainly, my emphasis has not been on speed itself, as I made clear in response to an earlier question. This is not simply about increasing the maximum speed; it is about improving reliability and efficiency and, crucially, about improving the experience of passengers in higher-quality vehicles. I therefore agree with, and welcome, my hon. Friend’s observation.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): In his statement, the Secretary of State said that from December this year, commuters will be able to use high-speed rail services between London and Kent. That, of course, is literally correct, but high-speed locomotives are of little value if their progress is impeded by poor track, out-of-date signalling, bad bridges and level crossings. When may we expect that the line between Canterbury and Manston airport will be upgraded in every respect, so that we can take advantage of the possibilities for Manston to play its part in aviation in the south-east and so that commuters from east Kent can travel to London at something like the speed at which they used to be able to travel in 1927?

Mr. Hoon: Well, I cannot remember what it was like in 1927, but I can remember what it was like under the previous Conservative Government. As someone who has always been a strong and consistent supporter of investment in the railways—I am delighted that I have the opportunity today not only to talk about it, but to provide it—I am determined to ensure that we improve the quality of our railways right across the country, including in Kent. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House rather longer than I have; I only hope that I can find an example of his referring to the appalling way in which railways were treated by the past Conservative Government.

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