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Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): Following the decision on the inter-city high-speed trains, does my right hon. Friend agree that the award of the contract to Hitachi/Agility Trains means that if the manufacture
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of the trains does not involve many UK parts, there could be a sharp decline among companies in the supply chain for the rail industry in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend rightly represents effectively the interests of his constituents. He has put his case firmly to me, both on the Floor of the House and in private conversations, and he has been understandably vigorous in arguing for the people he represents. However, I emphasise to him that, as the House will be aware, decisions of this kind are governed by clear rules. We have followed those rules scrupulously in reaching the decision that I recently announced to the House.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): It has taken 11 years for the Government to get to the stage of talking about a high-speed rail link—one that would go all the way up to Birmingham. That is where we are, but will the Secretary of State ensure that the interests of the north-east are considered? Given that the joint economies of Leeds and Sheffield alone, the two drivers of their region, total more than £30 billion—never mind the two city regions—will he ensure that at the next stage, the high-speed plans are brought to Yorkshire, and not only to Manchester? Frankly, we are sick of people seeing Leeds as a suburb of Manchester, as the Conservative party seems to believe it is.

Mr. Hoon: I encourage the hon. Gentleman to go along to St. Pancras station and see the existing high-speed line that provides services to the channel tunnel and that will very soon provide high-speed services to the commuters of Kent and the south coast. We have built a high-speed link on time and on budget. He is right that it is important that the benefits of that link should be extended across the country; that is precisely why we set up High Speed 2 as the company to advise us on the practical steps that we need to take next in order to deliver that.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend address the possibility of the electrification of the midland main line? As he will know from his experience of commuting to London, we are somewhat the poor relation. We were pleased to see that identified as a possibility in recent Government soundings. Can he give us more information on when we might know more about the timetable for that?

Mr. Hoon: I share my hon. Friend’s view. It is important, as I set out on 15 January, that we look at capacity questions on our network, including a consideration of electrifying the Great Western main line as well as the midland main line, which serves his constituency. I anticipate that I will receive further reports about that later this year and will make an appropriate statement to the House.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): We have heard the Secretary of State confirm this afternoon that the Government will make an announcement on a high-speed rail proposal next year. Will he pledge to the House that that proposal will match the Conservative commitment to building a high-speed rail line connecting London, Manchester and Leeds?

Mr. Hoon: I made it clear that that announcement would happen this year. The difference between the two proposals is that ours will be a thought-through, well-considered, carefully costed proposal by experts in the
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railways, in contrast to the large envelope on which the hon. Lady scribbled a few lines to produce the Conservative plans. I challenge her on this; she can write to me or put out a press release. The shadow Chancellor has indicated that his priorities for spending for a potential Conservative Government include handing out large amounts of money in the form of reduced inheritance tax to a handful of multi-millionaires ahead of any efforts that she has been able to make to encourage a Conservative Government to spend money on transport.

Mrs. Villiers: I think we can take it that the answer is no. The Minister of State yesterday and the Secretary of State today confirmed that, even if the Government decide to go ahead, the only routes that they are asking HS2 to consider for the proposal that it is publishing, whether this year or next year, are between London and the west midlands. In February, the Secretary of State told the Lancashire Evening Post that the proposal that is being put together is for a line that gets only as far as Rugby—a mere 80 miles from London. Why does not he just admit that Labour is struggling to catch up with the agenda that the Conservatives have set on high-speed rail and that it is manifestly failing to match our vision and commitment to a high-speed rail future for the north of England?

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry, but nothing that the hon. Lady says about transport can be taken seriously when she proposes to cut £840 million from the transport budget. If she cannot persuade her own shadow Cabinet colleagues of the importance of transport, how does she expect to persuade the House or the country of anything that she says on the subject of transport?

Trains (Catering Services)

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet representatives of train operating companies to discuss catering on trains. [261708]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Secretary of State for Transport has no plans to meet representatives of train operating companies to discuss catering on trains.

Mr. Bellingham: That is a pity. Does the Minister share my anger and dismay that at a time when train operators on the continent are extending and expanding catering services, companies here are doing quite the reverse? Is he aware that First Capital Connect has cut the trolley service on the King’s Lynn line and that the Norwich line is about to lose its restaurant car? Is not that very short-sighted at a time when train companies should be trying to attract new customers?

Paul Clark: I hope that all train operators will bear in mind the travelling experience in the round for all passengers, particularly on long-distance journeys, through the provisions that they make for the travelling public. The main concerns for us and the travelling public will be punctuality, reliability overcrowding and affordable fares. That is where we have concentrated our efforts as a Government, and we have ensured that we deliver in that way.

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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): When the Minister next speaks to London Midland about catering, could he also talk to it about the lack of punctuality, the appalling performance and the dreadful conditions on Milton Keynes Central station since it has closed the travel centre and not sufficiently staffed—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is a far cry from catering.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Speaking from the nationalist Bench, East Anglia branch, could I ask the Minister to look at the franchise of National Express East Anglia, not only relative to its catering obligations, which are clearly laid down in the franchise, but also to the fact that it is sacking 300 workers in total?

Paul Clark: In the franchise provision for National Express East Anglia, there is a requirement for a catering facility based on a trolley service, and I understand that National Express is providing over and above that requirement through an at-seat service for first-class passengers. I take on board and note the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but National Express East Anglia is meeting the requirements of the franchise agreement and going above them.

Integrated Ticketing

6. Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): If he will bring forward proposals for a national strategy for integrated ticketing across different modes of transport. [261709]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, work is already under way on an integrated ticketing strategy for England. The intention is to publish a consultation paper on this subject later in the year. Officials are meeting key stakeholders to make progress on the consultation paper.

Mr. Clelland: Is the Minister aware of the advanced plans from transport stakeholders in the north-east for a regional smartcard travel scheme across all modes of transport? Is he willing to discuss with the regional development agency, One NorthEast, the £5 million shortfall that is now the only obstacle to an early introduction of smartcard travel across the region, with all the benefits that that would bring?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The prioritising of schemes for regional fund allocation funding is a matter for each region. In respect of the Nexus scheme in the north-east, the Department for Transport has approved £12.8 million to replace all ticket machines on the system with modern versions that take notes and cards. That is not smartcard ticketing, but readers can be installed at a later date. I hear what he says about the shortfall and the RDA. I am always happy to look at anything that he asks me to, but obviously I cannot give any commitments on funding.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): We also need a national strategy on ticketing that includes airlines. Many of my constituents are suffering from the low-cost practices of companies such as Flybe, which do not give refunds or may demand exorbitant prices and fees for the changing of tickets due to changes made to a journey, even when given plenty of notice. What can the Government do to help travellers who are paying through the nose in these credit-crunch times—or
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even in difficult family circumstances—and who are having to pay for changes to tickets and travel without the possibility of a refund?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman’s constituents are obviously having difficulty in securing refunds. The regulator would be the first place to go to try to get this matter addressed. It is always difficult for constituents when there are cancellations. Criteria are set down on when refunds ought to be paid, depending on the nature of the cancellation of flights. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will be very happy to point him in the right direction.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that for a number of years, I have been urging the Department for Transport to work with Southeastern trains to ensure that the Oyster card is compatible with the reader machines on its network. It has promised that it will do that by the end of the year, but can I impress upon him the need to keep a tight rein on Southeastern trains to make sure that that change is implemented for the long-suffering commuters of south-east London?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I can advise my hon. Friend that we are close to reaching a deal with Transport for London and the relevant train operators to introduce Oyster pay-as-you-go on rail services throughout London. As part of the same agreement, ITSO will be accepted in due course on the bus and underground networks in London. We are monitoring that carefully and closely. We know that most commuters are very keen to see it happen, and we will do what we can to ensure that it happens as soon as possible.

Railway Ticket Offices

7. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with train operating companies on changes to ticket office opening hours at railway stations. [261710]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): Officials in the Department for Transport have recently discussed ticket office change proposals made by South West Trains, First Capital Connect, National Express East Anglia and National Express East Coast. Some of those are small changes and some outline proposals.

Sandra Gidley: I thank the Minister for that reply. At many stations operated by South West Trains, staff have been replaced with ticket machines. Those stations are often the smaller ones, and disabled constituents can no longer access a train at the station of their choice. Despite his well-meant access for all programme, is it not the case that access for disabled passengers is being restricted by penny-pinching initiatives by the train operating companies?

Paul Clark: The hon. Lady will be well aware that South West Trains made a substantial number of proposals, many of which were in fact rejected by my noble Friend the Minister of State, Lord Adonis. Indeed, many of those proposals were made on the basis that there would not be unfettered continuation of ticket supplies
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to the travelling public where there was clearly demand for it. Decisions were taken about some ticket offices, but many proposals were rejected. I draw attention to the work that we, and indeed the hon. Lady, have done on access for all, secure stations and the assisted passenger reservation service.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that First Capital Connect’s far-reaching proposal to reduce ticket office opening hours affects 28 constituencies and a large number of stations, including Enfield Chase and Gordon Hill in my constituency. It will affect security, and it represents a reduction in customer services and is not good value for money. I hope that the Minister will reject the proposal when he considers it, taking those grounds into account.

Paul Clark: I know that my right hon. Friend has campaigned extensively in respect of the stations that fall within her constituency. She will be aware of the benchmarks that my noble Friend Lord Adonis put in place with South West Trains, one of which is that if there is an average sale of 12 tickets per hour in the hours that would be affected, a proposal will be rejected outright. That benchmark has required First Capital Connect to withdraw its proposals for 56 stations. Indeed, we have asked it to revise them again on that basis. I know that my right hon. Friend will be meeting my noble Friend in due course once First Capital Connect has made new proposals.

Topical Questions

T1. [261724] Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Following my statement to the House on 15 January, work is now well under way on developing proposals for a second high-speed rail line in the United Kingdom, as I set out to the House earlier. On 12 February I announced a funding package for London that included an extension of the East London line to Clapham Junction. Transport for London has committed to completing the new line by 2012.

Last week, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, I announced that the independent Environment Agency will police the EU emissions trading scheme, which, by capping net carbon dioxide emissions from aviation, will cut carbon emissions substantially right across Europe and provide real incentives for airlines to play their part.

Yesterday, I published a consultation document on proposals to reform the economic regulation of airports. Those proposals are designed to put the interests of passengers at the heart of a new regulatory regime, ensuring that airports make the best use of existing capacity while also having regard for the environmental impact of their operations.

Martin Linton: Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the most popular thing that he has done as Secretary of State for Transport is to give the go-ahead to phase 2 of the East London line extension? That will fulfil our manifesto commitment, create a London orbital
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network and link Clapham Junction to the tube. Can he tell the House when it is expected that work will be completed on that project?

Mr. Hoon: Another station at which I got out was Clapham Junction, where I was delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who has campaigned long and hard for the extension. I pay tribute to his determined efforts, which have now been rewarded. As I said, Transport for London is committed to completing the new line to Clapham by 2012.

T4. [261727] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Under the Traffic Management Act 2004, the Secretary of State is meant to introduce plans to deal with the proliferation of street works. If he has had the privilege of driving from Croydon to Westminster in recent weeks, he will realise that the journey has been considerably slowed by an endless stream of roadworks—adding to congestion and pollution—and, in one case, traffic lights only 300 yd apart. When will he introduce the plans and stop dithering on that important issue?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): We have been in consultation with several London authorities and, indeed, with Kent county council, about proposals for dealing with roadwork schemes. That consultation continues. The schemes have to be robust and meet the requirements, but I recognise motorists’ frustration about the major roadworks to replace some of our major utilities. We are well aware of that, and I am in dialogue with the national joint utilities group to ensure that we make progress.

T2. [261725] Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): The statement about the High Speed 2 project is welcome, especially the commitment to take seriously a trans-Pennine link. However, National Grid has made it clear again today that it is not prepared to support continued funding to maintain the Victorian tunnels on the Woodhead line. Will a Minister from the Department meet me to discuss that worrying development?

Mr. Hoon: First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s determination to maintain the availability of the Woodhead tunnel? She is right to ensure that that facility remains available in the long term, in case decisions are made that require its use. I am aware of the issue that she raises, and I would be delighted to meet her and any delegation that she would like to bring with her to discuss it.

T3. [261726] Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Northern rail services have been disrupted by the new timetable for the west coast main line, with many trains shortened and my Hazel Grove constituents left standing on the platform, unable to get on jam-packed trains. Will the Minister agree urgently to redeploy the trains on the Oldham loop, so that the hard-pressed commuters of Stockport can at least get to work?

Mr. Hoon: I am aware of the consequential knock-on effects for the hon. Gentleman of the significant improvements on the west coast main line. We will carefully consider addressing those problems.

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