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28 Jan 2010 : Column 931

Paul Clark: The hon. Lady is right that it is not possible to go into operational details. As regards the techniques that are available to us, we continue to receive information and consider opportunities through the intelligence agencies as to what is possible. Behavioural analysis techniques are being trialled at Heathrow with the BAA and UK Border Agency staff based there. I saw that for myself earlier this week when I visited Heathrow and discussed it with the operatives. We keep all these opportunities under review.

Mrs. Villiers: There is clearly scope for a consensus to emerge on an intelligence-led approach to security, which is welcome. However, the Minister will recall the Prime Minister's 2007 promise to deliver a data system to identify and stop terror suspects before they board a plane to come to the UK. Why have the "authority to carry" provisions that are necessary to deliver that not been put in place, given that countries such as Australia have had those systems for some years? Will the Minister admit that the e-Borders programme is expensive, late, and leaves us behind other countries that have better systems that are already in operation?

Paul Clark: The hon. Lady will be well aware of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary earlier this month, and of the Prime Minister's statement to this House on 20 January, clearly taking forward the options and rolling out further the e-Borders programme, as well as the watch list and no-fly list, which we are working on. We are in discussion with other countries, and working together where there is a security threat, before these people board flights to the UK or elsewhere.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Any additional security requirements at airports are likely to be very expensive for airport operators. What assessment has the Minister made of the financial impact on regional airports, which have already been particularly hit by the recession?

Paul Clark: The requirements for security have always been very clearly known, and meeting the costs involved is a matter for the business that is running the airport. However, we have regular discussions, and we have obviously had substantial discussions since 25 December last year with airport operators to discuss the roll-out and mechanics that are required. The costs are an operating cost that falls against the business of running an airport.


7. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to hold discussions with the Highways Agency on recent fatalities on the A47. [313716]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): I am aware of the recent fatal accident at East Winch, and I extend every sympathy to the families and friends of those killed. As part of the strategic road network, the established procedures are being followed, which involves the Highways Agency undertaking a fatal accident study following any police investigation, which may identify recommendations for safety improvements.

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Mr. Bellingham: I thank the Minister for that reply and for expressing his regrets at what was an horrendous double fatality. What are the prospects for that stretch of road being dualled? Can he ensure that when the Highways Agency sets up its safety audit it looks specifically at reducing the speed limit and installing more fibre optic flashing warning signs?

Paul Clark: Obviously, recommendations may be made arising from the investigation by the police and the Highways Agency. There are no plans to dual that part of the A47, which is, overall, one of the safer stretches of A road in our country, as is indicated by the figures on personal injury in accidents. However, any lessons that can be learned arising from a fatality will of course be taken on board.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Some of the worst accidents on this type of road are head-on collisions, when frustrated motorists attempt to overtake lorries in dangerous locations. The speed limit for large goods vehicles on single carriageway trunk roads is 20 mph slower than that for cars. Would narrowing that gap improve road safety?

Paul Clark: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that matter is part of the work we have done in the new road safety strategy for 2011 and beyond, particularly in relation to the types of roads referred to by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. We are aware that single carriage, rural A roads account for proportionately more deaths given the volume of traffic on them, which is why we are looking at a range of issues. We are considering the specific point raised by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), but equally, there is a view that such a change would not help and that it would lead to further accidents.

Gatwick Airport (Railway Station)

8. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What recent discussions his Department has had on the redevelopment of the railway station at Gatwick airport. [313717]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): Enhancements to Gatwick airport station have been discussed with key beneficiaries at three meetings over the past four months. My hon. Friend was at the most recent meeting last week, where Gatwick Airport Ltd and Network Rail agreed to negotiations that could enable work on the full improvement scheme to start by 2013.

Laura Moffatt: I am grateful for that response. Setting aside the worrying 1,500 job losses proposed by Network Rail, Network Rail will carry out a major upgrade of the track and signalling along the Brighton line. If we miss the opportunity to do the much-needed work at Gatwick airport, it will be a travesty. I know that the Department has been working extremely hard with the stakeholders-Gatwick Airport Ltd, the regional development agency and everybody else-to do that work. Can I squeeze some more out of him? Will he do a little more to make sure we deal with the current shortfall?

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Chris Mole: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the exemplary way in which she has engaged with Network Rail, the regional Minister and key stakeholders at Gatwick airport to press for progress. One might argue that she is a model Back Bencher. The full scheme would bring better connectivity and surface access, removal of a platform bottleneck, more reliable journeys on the Brighton main line and inward investment and retention of businesses around Gatwick. It is opportune to remind partners that there is a limited window of opportunity, and that negotiations need to be concluded by the end of March.

High-Speed Rail

9. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on its plans for high-speed rail; and if he will make a statement. [313718]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The Department for Transport is continuing its assessment of the detailed report from High Speed 2, which was received at the end of last year. If the Government decide to pursue proposals for high-speed rail, we will publish a White Paper setting out plans by the end of March 2010.

Tony Lloyd: In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, I say that there is enormous enthusiasm for a high-speed rail link across the length and breadth of this country, but can he persuade the traditionally London-centric Departments that this scheme is not about London? It is about connecting together the whole of our nation, which is what makes it exciting and viable.

Mr. Khan: It is not just a question of Departments; political parties are obsessed with London, forgetting the rest of the country. When some parties form a Government, they want to serve the whole country, not just the privileged few. The benefits of a national high-speed link will not simply be extra rail capacity, faster journey times and positive environmental impact, but economic regeneration and increased employment for those parts of the country that arguably need it the most.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I welcome the Government's conversion to the benefits of high-speed rail for the whole country, but will the Minister now listen to sense and, on environmental grounds, abandon his plans to build a third runway at Heathrow?

Mr. Khan: I am grateful for the question, because it gives me a chance to explain to the House the inconsistency of Conservative policy. The Mayor of London wants an estuary airport on the Thames. The Bow Group and Lord Heseltine say that there is a false choice-

Hon. Members: Order, order.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not require any help from people chuntering from a sedentary position, so they are wasting their voices. I say to the Minister of State that he will want to focus his reply on Government policy and not on that of the Opposition.

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Mr. Khan: Government policy was articulated last January-I know that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) was here then-when we made clear our support for a third runway as long as the relevant planning processes are gone through. Last week's report from the Conservative think tank and Lord Heseltine confirms that a choice between the third runway and high-speed rail is a false choice. We want intelligent debate based on evidence, not playing to the gallery.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the best way of boosting the north-east economy and ending the north-south divide is by pressing ahead with the high-speed rail link to Newcastle? Will he put his full support behind the proposal?

Mr. Khan: Absolutely right. My hon. Friend reminds me that the benefits will be not simply to London but to the north-west, the north-east, the east midlands, Yorkshire and Scotland. We are a party that believes in governing for the whole country and not just for our chums in London.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): When we finally get high-speed rail, to which all parties are apparently now committed, there is increasing speculation that one way in which the train operators will seek to minimise journey times is by reducing the number of stops. Stockport station, on the west coast main line, which serves not only my constituency but the wider Stockport area and south Manchester, is a hugely important strategic stop. Can the Minister guarantee that when we finally get the high-speed rail link on the west coast main line, it will continue to stop at Stockport?

Mr. Speaker: Order. We also need some high-speed questions.

Mr. Khan: I shall try to give a high-speed answer.

The challenge that the hon. Gentleman raises is one of those that David Rowlands and High Speed 2 had to look into. When we produce our White Paper, we will hopefully deal with some of the challenges and the balances that need to be made between stopping at more stations and the disbenefit of slowing down the trains. He makes an important point, which David Rowlands looked into.

Station Reopening (London)

10. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): If he will discuss with the Mayor of London the merits of reopening (a) Battersea High Street station and (b) other closed railway stations in London. [313719]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): If the Mayor puts forward any such proposals for discussion, I will be happy to meet him. It is for Network Rail, the relevant train operator and Transport for London to consider the best way of meeting an identified transport need in that particular part of London.

Martin Linton: If only the Department for Transport were London-centric, I would certainly be very pleased; I have not noticed it so far.

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Is my hon. Friend aware of the demand in Battersea for the reopening of Battersea station, or at the very least for a footbridge to the newly opened Imperial Wharf station? Battersea station was closed only because of an air raid during the war. It was one of 33 London stations that were closed during wars and never reopened, including Walworth, Camberwell, Wormwood Scrubs and others.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but we must have a question, not an essay. We have got the thrust of it, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Chris Mole: My hon. Friend articulates the case very well for his constituents, and I understand his point about new stations in areas of development and regeneration. We give the Mayor about £3 billion a year to sustain and develop transport networks in London, and I encourage my hon. Friend to engage with the Mayor and local councils to promote the reopening of the station.

Potholes (Highways Agency)

11. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the number of potholes and other road surface defects requiring repair on roads maintained by the Highways Agency. [313721]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): The Highways Agency has a comprehensive road resurfacing programme to reduce the potential for potholes and other surface defects. However, the severity of the recent weather has led to an increase in those defects. There is no value in the agency counting potholes, as it has a robust regime for identifying them and allocating the resources necessary for undertaking repairs. That is sufficient to keep England's motorways and trunk roads in a serviceable and safe condition.

Mr. Dunne: The Minister has obviously not read the report produced last year, before the recent weather that has further damaged the road network, by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, which reported that there is a 13-year backlog of maintenance on our road network. The Government have had 13 years, and not only did they fail to fix the roof when the sun was shining-

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to put a question?

Mr. Dunne: Certainly, Mr. Speaker.

Not only did this Government fail to fix the roof when the sun was shining, but they failed to fix the roads. What are they going to do now that the roads are in a much worse condition than they were when that report was issued?

Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Highways Agency, and I have given him an appropriate answer about the strategic road network. If he is widening his question to include local roads, those are of course matters for local authorities, many of which may well be Conservative-controlled.

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Transport Network (Cold Weather)

12. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department's response to the effects of recent cold weather conditions on the transport network. [313722]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The country recently experienced the most prolonged severe winter conditions for nearly 30 years. The Government's actions, working with local government and others, stabilised and minimised the disruption to transport systems. We are continuing the work to ensure that those systems are able to respond to further challenges.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that somewhat brief reply. Is he aware, as another junior Transport Minister clearly is, that some 17,000 trains were suspended in England and Wales during the snowy weather up to 9 January? Why were 17,000 trains suspended in that period? What are the Government and Network Rail doing to reduce that number for future occasions of inclement weather?

Mr. Khan: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will tell me that when he was in the House 30 years ago, the trains all ran on time and snow did not cause delay or cancellation-when they were nationalised. North Europe, America, Canada and other parts of the world experienced severe weather, and they also had problems with their transport systems. All major road networks were open in this country and I think that we did pretty well. We showed a generosity of spirit and a get-up-and-go attitude, which led to most of the country coping pretty well.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Southeastern Trains stopped running trains in the cold spell at 9 o'clock in the evening, yet the docklands light railway and London Underground continued their services throughout the day, almost without disruption. Why did Southeastern Trains stop running trains? If my right hon. Friend does not know, will he haul the company in and get it to explain why it completely disrupted the service?

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We did haul in Southeastern Trains, and we told the company that what happened was unacceptable. That demonstrates that we are a Department that believes in engaging with the private sector, not allowing it to get away with anything it wants to do. Southeastern Trains has learned the lessons and will ensure in future that the service is better. We know from last year that further bad weather is possible in February. We will see whether the lessons have been learned from our hauling in.

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