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Topical Questions

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

The House will be aware that yesterday the High Court ruling on the proposed expansion of Heathrow found that my Department acted lawfully on all counts. It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to thank all those in my Department who worked on the case for their exemplary work, not only through the preparation period for the national policy statement but on the case itself. I also express my thanks to the business community, to the trade unions, including Unite in particular, and to the vast majority of Members of Parliament who have supported expansion. We must now get on with delivering that expansion for Britain, although always mindful that the expansion scheme must fit in with the UK’s climate change obligations.

With new fleets on order for London Underground, the midland main line and High Speed 2, what is the Secretary of State and his Department doing to ensure that rolling-stock manufacturers maximise the UK content on trains?

I have said to all those who are commissioning new trains, particularly when my Department has a role in the procurement, that I expect manufacturers, when they deliver trains—this is an important point going back to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said earlier—to leave a skills footprint and a technology footprint in the United Kingdom. One thing we can all do through the procurement process is to be absolutely insistent that that skills footprint is left behind. That does more than anything else to ensure that trains are and will be built in the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State is in charge of the worst-performing Department when it comes to emissions. Transport emissions have risen since 2010. The Committee on Climate Change said that

“the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s.”

Is the Secretary of State content with this failure, or will he commit to honouring the UK’s own legal and international climate change commitments?

First of all, I am part of a Government who have presided over a fall in Britain’s carbon emissions. Indeed my hon. Friends who have spoken on this matter over the past two days have set out ways in which this Government are among the leaders in the world in seeking to reduce carbon emissions and to deliver actual results in doing so. Members should look at what we are doing in pushing for a transformation of other vehicle fleets on our roads and in getting hydrogen trains on to our rail network as quickly as possible. If they look at the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) is doing to promote cycling and walking, they will see that we are spending more than previous Governments have done. There is, of course, much more to do, but we are working harder than any previous Government to deliver real change.

The Government contributed to the UN’s special report on 1.5°C, yet failed to take into account its contents when designating the airports national policy statement. Similarly, the Secretary of State admitted that the Paris agreement, ratified years ago by the UK and by almost every country in the world, was not considered when designating the ANPS. Given that the UK Government have now accepted that we are in a climate emergency, will he review the ANPS in the light of Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the Committee on Climate Change advice—if yes, when?

When we prepared the ANPS and when the Airports Commission prepared its recommendations, it was done in the context of the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. We have continued to work with the Committee on Climate Change, and I am confident that we will deliver that expansion and continue to fulfil our obligations to reduce carbon emissions and move towards what was set out this morning.

T3. The new east midlands train franchise is likely to increase capacity southwards from Kettering, but will it improve connectivity north on the midland main line? The previous Labour Government cut our half-hourly service northwards and it is about time that we had it back. (910695)

I can confirm that, compared with today, there will more trains from Kettering going north. The trains will be new, so they will have more seats, which means that, in terms of capacity, there will be more trains and better trains. On timing, we will see the start of more services for my hon. Friend’s constituents from December 2020.

T5. Train commuters faced 35,000 cancellations last year owing to driver shortages. That is purely because train operators are running the service on the cheap. What will the Government do about that? (910697)

I simply do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. This service is not being run on the cheap. We are seeing record levels of investment—both private and public investment is at a record level. Perhaps I should point out to him that his party’s policy is to nationalise the railways, which will result in more cash required from the Government, but of course the Labour party has not yet said where it might come from. We are focused on delivering the enhancements to the network, which will meet our aspirations for a high-capacity, environmentally clean rail network underpinning the UK economy. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot really agree with the premise of the question.

When it comes to maritime emissions, we can look at the work of the International Maritime Organisation, which is opposite us on the Thames. A huge amount of work was done earlier this year to look at driving down greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050. It is interesting to note that this Government led the high-ambition coalition to get that agreement made, so we are not only leading nationally, but driving down greenhouse gas emissions internationally as well.

Ministers will have seen the National Audit Office report on the sale of railway arches by Network Rail, which includes some criticism. It is of some concern that the impact on tenants was not an explicit sale objective and was considered only late in the sale process. Ministers were aware—we had meetings with the Minister responsible before the sale took place—but they seemed indifferent to the significant potential for massive rent rises for the businesses in the railway arches across the country. Given this NAO report and its criticism, what will Ministers now do to safeguard the interests of those businesses and to make sure that they are not subjected to massive rent rises by the new leaseholder management company?

When I took on this sale, I ensured—in the work we did to prepare for the sale and with potential buyers—that additional safeguards were put in place for those tenants. Whether the arches had remained in the public sector or been sold, it would always have been right to ensure that a market rent was charged. There is no expectation of rent increases out of line with market rents. In the public sector, it would not have been proper use of public money to provide subsidised rents for businesses.

On airport security, given the stresses and strains on many police forces, not least the Met police and Sussex police, what further consideration has the Transport Secretary given to allowing the British Transport police to have responsibility for the security of British airports?

That suggestion has been put to me on a couple of occasions. At the moment, because of the nature of the threat around our airports and the fact that so much airport security—particularly at our principal airports—is done through the Metropolitan police, who co-ordinate anti-terror work nationally, I am not yet convinced that it would be the right thing to do, but I am always open to considering change if it will deliver improvement.

Constituents have contacted me again this week to highlight the eye-watering increases in the cost of commuting by rail to Bristol, and how that is forcing them into their cars. After yesterday’s climate emergency debate, is it not time for Ministers to act on extortionate rail fares?

We are in the sixth year of capping regulated fares in line with inflation. Also this year, we have introduced the railcard for 16 and 17-year-olds—effectively extending child fares up to their 18th birthday. The hon. Lady should recognise the action that is taking place and remember that Labour gave us a 10% fare increase during its last year in office. Where Labour is running the devolved railways, it is also increasing fares in line with inflation, so she should be backing the Government’s policy, not criticising it.

I was hugely concerned to see that, although the Secretary of State was sent a memo in November 2017 outlining how many millions of people would be affected by the third runway expansion at Heathrow—up to 13 million people were planned to be part of a publicity campaign letting them know what was going on, and 5 million people were to be leafleted directly—that campaign never took place because it was vetoed by officials at the Department. We effectively had a vote in this place when communities and the people who represent them were entirely unaware of the extent of extra noise from Heathrow. How can the Secretary of State be confident that there really is public support for this project when the public are wholly unaware of its impact on them?

I assure my right hon. Friend that nobody in my Department has vetoed any consultations. We have carried out all the consultations that we are statutorily obliged to carry out. Of course Heathrow airport is now also so obliged, and has been carrying out consultations itself, so we cannot veto it; this is part of a process. As I have said all along, a central part of the proposal is that Heathrow delivers a world-class package of support to affected communities, and that is central to what we will insist that it does. That is an absolute given and an absolute red line for the Government.

Is the ministerial team aware that an all-party group of Members of Parliament came together to secure the seatbelt legislation many years ago? After 13 failed attempts, we actually got it through on the 14th, and the number of lives saved and serious injuries prevented has been substantial. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which I chair and which is still a vigorous cross-party group, is concerned by the report today that seatbelt wearing is declining. A quarter of the people killed on the roads last year were not wearing their seatbelts. Could we make it an enforceable offence with three penalty points? Can we take action on this?

We absolutely recognise the original achievement of passing that legislation. I thank PACTS for the work that it has done on this report, which I warmly welcome. Needless to say, we are working very closely with it. We will look very closely at the report. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have a road safety refresh statement coming up over the summer, and we will look at this in that context as well.

There is a huge problem with congestion at Kibworth in my constituency. What development funding will be available to work up a bypass scheme, and will there be any money available as part of RIS—road investment strategy—3?

I am not aware of the scheme that my hon. Friend has specifically raised. The RIS 2 announcement will not be made until towards the end of this year, and RIS 3 will not begin until 2025. However, I would be very happy to meet him to discuss the issue in more detail, because it is obviously very important to his constituents.

Now that this House has taken the lead in supporting Labour’s climate change emergency motion yesterday, does the Department for Transport not agree that it is time that we made sure that there can be no new roads without cycle lanes, unless there is a damned good reason why not, and no new housing without cycle locks and electric car charging points?

Of course we will continue to seek to expand the cycle network. Given the nature of the hon. Lady’s constituency, I hope she will welcome the commitment and the money that this Government are putting into MetroWest that will help to reduce congestion in the centre of Bristol, get people out of their cars and create a cleaner environment for people in her city.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, that I have moaned previously about the fact that there was a bridge knocked down in my constituency, near to the Corby constituency and right by a business development centre, leaving people stranded. Thanks to the efforts of a local community action group, ROAR—Reinstate Our Access Road—plus Councillor Gill Mercer, and, in particular, the intervention by the excellent Secretary of State, that bridge is now going to be rebuilt. Does the Secretary of State agree that local democracy, hard work and a Secretary of State can get things done?

I am very pleased that we managed to resolve the problem. My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. When the unexpected happens or an unintended consequence disrupts a community, the ministerial team and I will always try to do everything we can to ameliorate or change it.

Yesterday’s judicial review on Heathrow was concerned only with the legality of the decision, not the merits of airport expansion. Given that this House has overwhelmingly affirmed that we face a climate emergency, surely a swift and easy way of meeting our obligations would be to cancel the third runway at Heathrow. Not only will it pollute my constituents’ lungs, but it is costing us the earth—literally.

I gently remind the hon. Lady that this Parliament voted with a majority of nearly 300 to designate the national policy statement because we recognise that we need to provide jobs for the future, economic opportunities, and indeed the wealth that will deliver the environmental technologies that will clean up this country and help to clean up the planet. As I said earlier, we have sought, and the Airports Commission has sought, to make sure that these expansion plans are consistent with those obligations. International aviation does present a challenge, but I do not believe that we are suddenly going to see it disappear in the future. International aviation is only likely to disappear if the cost of holidays and the cost of travel is put up by Labour.

The Rail Minister will recall that on his recent visit to my constituency, Associated British Ports and the other business representatives present expressed concern about east-west capacity for freight haulage. The Secretary of State referred to this earlier. Will the Minister agree to meet me, ABP and other representatives to see how we can further increase capacity?

I had a very interesting visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency. He laid on an extremely good range of businesses, so I have clear insight into the concerns of the business community that he serves. I would of course be very happy to meet him. I can confirm that increasing capacity and having more freight services in the UK is a Government priority.

Holywell Town Council, in conjunction with Tesco, has recently put in place the first electronic vehicle charging point in a town centre in my constituency. I know the Minister will agree that the Government need to do more, so will he give an update on what progress has been made since the fanfare announcement last July of support for electronic charging points? How many have been introduced as a result of a Government initiative?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we take that matter very seriously. We are about to launch the charging infrastructure investment fund, which will see £200 million of public money matched by £200 million of private sector money. We expect a rapid roll-out to what is already one of the largest charging networks in Europe.

Will the Minister confirm that the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge expressway started life as a project under the coalition Government, with Liberal Democrats in the Department at the time? Does he agree that the best opportunity to mitigate its effects for local villages is for it to go west of Oxford?

I can certainly confirm that the project originated in the coalition Government, and it would be quite disingenuous of any political party that was part of it to seek to distance itself from that decision. Of course, I can make no statement whatever about the direction, since that is the subject of a continued process of consultation and review.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) in thanking the excellent Secretary of State for getting the Leyland bridge issue sorted out. My constituents in Irthlingborough are delighted that the bridge will be rebuilt, but will he join us in keeping the pressure up, to ensure that it is done as quickly as possible? The inconvenience is unacceptable, and that would be very much appreciated.

I will indeed give that assurance. We continue with the biggest investment programme in the railways for decades and decades, and indeed the biggest investment programme in our roads for decades and decades—an investment programme that will help motorists, but which the Labour party wants to scale back, as part of its war on the motorist. I give a commitment that, as we seek to invest in the future of this country, we will do everything we can to minimise the disruption. I cannot promise that there will be none, but we will try to minimise it.

I seek your advice, because I believe that the buses Minister may have inadvertently misled the House. In our exchanges, she claimed that all local authorities have powers to franchise buses. I believe that the Bus Services Act 2017 only allows metro mayors to do that, and there is a very small number of them, whereas there are hundreds of local authorities.

The Minister is champing at the bit. She clearly wants to respond, and we are happy for her to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not say “franchising”; I said “partnerships”. The Bus Services Act introduced new powers for local authorities and operators to work together through partnerships and franchising. Mayoral authorities have those powers automatically. All local authorities must approach the Department if they wish to get permission. They need to prepare business strategies and put together programmes of work, but we are ready and waiting to work with them, as we do already. Mayoral authorities can franchise, and local authorities can put together partnerships. I am more than happy to put that on the record.