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The Secretary of State will be aware that the rail network is carrying more passengers and more freight than at any time since the 1940s, and projections predict further growth. That is why we promised an additional 1,300 carriages by 2014 and we were well ahead of schedule in providing those. In fact, at the last
Transport questions, both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives asked us to provide more carriages even more quickly. Now that they are in government together, can the Secretary of State tell us how many more carriages than 1,300 they will provide and how much sooner than 2014?
The Department's principal task is to support economic growth and the Government's 2020 carbon reduction targets, and we have to demonstrate that we can deliver them in tandem. Approximately half the HLOS--high-level output specification--rolling stock has already been contracted and will proceed, but no further contracts will be signed during this financial year owing to the disastrous public finances. When the spending review is completed, we will review where we are with the programme and make a further announcement in due course.
Sadiq Khan: One would have thought that if the Secretary of State was serious about moving people from road to rail, he would encourage more carriages, so that people would be encouraged in turn to use the rail system. He will be aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is a passionate advocate of reform of rail fares; in fact, in his last question at a Prime Minister's questions, he challenged the then Prime Minister to change the rail fares formula to 1% below inflation. I am sure that he remains a passionate advocate and is not simply window dressing, so now that they are hon. Friends, will the Secretary of State confirm how soon he will announce a change in the rail fare regime and how much below inflation it will be?
Mr Hammond: It is amazing that the right hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the last Government, appears to come to the Dispatch Box with no recognition of the deficit we are facing and the financial challenges that the Government have to deal with in order to clear up the mess that he and his hon. Friends left behind. We are committed to fair rail fares, but we have to do everything within the context of the fiscal inheritance that we have received.
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I urge my right hon. Friend, when considering how best to expand rail, to consider branch lines off high-speed rail links to service some of the commuter towns disfranchised under the Beeching review.
Mr Hammond: Although we want to continue to increase passenger usage of the railways, we have to operate within a tightly constrained public spending environment. Our first priority must be to maintain and improve the trunk railway network that we have already. I will consider any proposals for reopening branch lines, but I have grave doubts about whether it is likely to be affordable in the foreseeable future.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): We support rail electrification because it helps to reduce carbon emissions and cut running costs. However, we are in the early stages of the new Government and Ministers are considering the full range of transport policy to ascertain what is affordable.
Kevin Brennan: I welcome the Minister to her post and thank her for her answer. In considering those matters, does she understand the importance of electrification on the line between Wales and London? I am glad that she did not simply repeat the mantra of her right hon. Friend, which is becoming as boring as a vuvuzela at the World cup-the one-note symphony we are getting from the Government. However, does she understand the importance of this kind of infrastructure? It is not just about the budget deficit, but about the future growth of the economy.
Mrs Villiers: I understand the importance of this issue, including in Wales, but the previous Government, of which the hon. Gentleman was a member, had 13 years to do this and failed. Just a few short years ago, the 30-year strategy they published for the railways had virtually no place for electrification. Then we had a last-minute change of mind, made at a point in the cycle when, as Labour's outgoing Chief Secretary made clear, there was very little money left. We support electrification-it was in our manifesto and the coalition agreement-and we will take forward those projects that are affordable in the light of the deficit left to us by the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He worked long and hard to win his seat and he thoroughly deserves the success that he has now enjoyed.
The first priority of this Government must be tackling the country's unsustainable level of debt. Once the spending review is complete and the Department has settled its budget, we will review all existing schemes, whether road or otherwise, on the basis of the economic benefits that they deliver.
Robert Halfon: Is the Secretary of State aware that Harlow has just one entrance to a motorway, whereas similar towns, such as Welwyn Garden City, have two or three and Basildon has four? Is he aware that traffic in Harlow is gridlocked and that residents in my constituency are crying out for an extra junction on the M11? With the road review under way, and when finances allow, will he give strong consideration to providing the road infrastructure that Harlow so desperately needs?
Mr Hammond: I can tell my hon. Friend that we will be happy to consider proposals from local authorities and the Highways Agency for improvements, but he will understand that they will be affordable only once the deficit has been eliminated.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): A few moments ago, the Secretary of State said that one of the key priorities was supporting economic growth. How does suspending the decision on the Mersey Gateway project help economic growth in Merseyside and Cheshire, particularly given the support from the Conservative councils in Cheshire? And he should not give us that nonsense about a black hole in the finances.
Mr Hammond: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the black hole in the finances is nonsense, he needs to go back and do a little more homework. It is the most serious problem facing our country today and the most urgent challenge for this Government. However, let us be clear about the Mersey Gateway project. All we have done is suspend the progress of the scheme until after the current spending review is completed. We believe that it would be wrong to encourage or allow local authorities to incur significant additional expenditure on a large number of projects when some of them clearly may not be able to proceed on the original timetable.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is my right hon. Friend going to treat the A1 as a national strategic road, rather than a regional road, and develop plans for full dualling of it when resources allow?
Mr Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister has the wrong brief. I may be mistaken-if I am wrong, I apologise to her-but she is answering a question about the Surrey Canal Road station on the East London line. That is what is of interest to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).
A value for money assessment of the proposed Surrey Canal Road station was carried out by Transport for London and Lewisham council last year. The Department for Transport has some concerns regarding the business case. I have asked officials to provide full advice on the matter and expect to make a decision in the near future.
Joan Ruddock: I welcome the right hon. Lady to her position, and I am grateful for that reply. However, she needs to remember that Transport for London has found that the proposal more than meets the business case that was applicable to all other stations in London, and that it is pivotal to the development of 2,500 new homes and to the job prospects of the 2.9 million people expected to use the station. Will she meet with me to see how to get the station built now, alongside the construction of the railway?
Mrs Villiers: I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady as soon as possible to discuss this important issue. She has fought hard on the campaign, and I am looking into the proposal with great care. I am discussing it with officials and, as I have said, I have asked them for extra briefing. It is important to take into account local views, TfL's views and the views of other stakeholders. However, I must also make it clear that we need to assess such programmes carefully for affordability, given the state of the public finances and the deficit that we have inherited from Labour.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Does the Minister accept that this issue has a cross-borough and cross-constituency resonance, and that there is widespread support for the proposal across the parties? Will she meet all of us who have an interest in it? I hope that we shall be able to persuade her of its merits, because we have a very good case.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): In 2005, the Department published a document on its website detailing best practice in the process of tendering for subsidised bus services, along with examples of specimen conditions for contracts, as part of its wider guidance to local authorities. The guidance remains available, and there are currently no plans to update it. The Department's website also provides guidance on the de minimis rules for tendering.
Chi Onwurah: It was Baroness Thatcher who said that if a man finds himself on a bus at the age of 26, he is a failure. I assure the Minister that that is not the case in Newcastle, where the buses are an essential part of our economy. They are how we get to work. Will he assure us that, under the coalition Government, local authorities will have the powers to ensure that we have excellent bus services?
We recognise that bus travel is the predominant form of public transport, and we want to encourage that. We also want to get better value for the
taxpayer and the fare payer from the bus services that are provided. We also recognise the good work that many local authorities do in dealing with bus services, and I particularly want to pay tribute to the Tyne and Wear integrated transport authority, which is designing a comprehensive bus network to improve standards of accessibility for local residents.
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to his new role; I am sure that he will do an excellent job. We heard earlier that he had been unsuccessful in persuading his colleagues to change their views on carriages and rail fares. Has he had any more luck in changing their views on quality bus contracts? He will be aware that local authorities outside London want the same powers as those in London to choose to enter into quality bus contracts with bus operators. Local authorities around the country, led by all parties, are in favour of that, and so was the Minister before the election. Is he still in favour of it, and, if so, has he persuaded his colleagues to change their minds?
Norman Baker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome. He was always considerate and helpful to me when I was in opposition, and I shall try to be equally helpful to him, now that the position has changed.
The legislation on quality contracts is as it is; it was set out and passed under the previous Government, and it remains in place. The Competition Commission is undertaking an investigation into the bus market, and it would be premature for me to make any further comments until it is completed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Phases 3a and 3b of the Manchester Metrolink were approved for funding by the previous Government. Construction of phase 3a is under way. Phase 3b has been re-examined following the announcement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 17 May of a review of spending approval granted since 1 January this year.
Andrew Gwynne: With regard to the phase 3b contract for the Ashton-under-Lyne extension, it is important to note that substantial amounts of public funding have already been spent on the route, and significant advance works to provide dedicated strengthened central reserves and bridges have now been completed. Studies show that the East Manchester line will be commercially viable only if it goes all the way through to Ashton. Will the Minister confirm that all those issues will be factored into the review and that they will be carefully considered before a decision is made?
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman makes a number of pertinent points, and I understand the thrust of his argument and the strength of his case. I cannot give him a specific assurance at this precise moment, but I suggest that he will be interested to hear the statement that is shortly to be made from the Treasury Bench.
Mr Speaker: Order. I am happy to allow the questions to be taken together, but this is the first that I have heard of it. The normal courtesy is that the Government notify me of this in advance. I shall let the Minister off on this occasion, but I do not want to see a repeat performance.
The Government will not provide any more money to local authorities for new fixed speed cameras. If authorities want to put up new fixed cameras, they are free to do so using their own resources, but we strongly encourage them to use other methods and effective safety measures.
Gareth Johnson: I am grateful for that reassurance. Does the Minister agree that when speed cameras are used more as a money-raising mechanism than as a road-safety measure, confidence in them will continue to fall?
Mike Penning: There are now three times as many speed cameras in this country as there were in 2000, and the public must be confident that speed cameras are there for road safety, not as a cash cow. Under this Government, they will be.
Mr Speaker: I call Richard Harrington. It appears that not only was I unaware of the grouping of questions 12 and 15, but the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), whom the grouping directly affects, was also unaware of it, as he is not present.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Does the Minister not accept that the very good progress made in recent years in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads is partly due to speed cameras, and that the income generated has been less than the money spent by the Government on speed cameras? Will he consider the introduction of more average-time distance speed cameras and making the existing speed cameras less conspicuous?
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