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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019


The Secretary of State was asked—

Transport Sustainability

I want to echo the sentiments expressed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regarding the awful events in Grays, Essex. Inquiries are ongoing, but, having worked with the haulage industry over the past few months, I feel keenly the tragedy that has taken place, and the Department stands ready to assist in any way we can.

On 15 October, I announced that the Government would develop a world-leading transport decarbonisation plan. That will bring together the bold and ambitious programme of action across transport that is needed to achieve our net zero target by 2050.

I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State about the terrible tragedy yesterday. The Scottish National party and Members across the House have been deeply shocked by it, and we hope that matters will be investigated thoroughly so that those who are guilty of this terrible crime are brought to justice as quickly as possible.

The Government’s electric car strategy is obviously not working, with sales still only at approximately 2%. Transport for London figures confirm that any successful scrappage scheme requires central Government support. The SNP has been calling for such support for years. When will the UK Government invest in a proper diesel scrappage scheme?

The figure is 2.6% for low emission and electric cars, and the hon. Lady will be aware that there has been an 122% increase in sales of electric cars this year compared with last year—indeed, I am proud to make up one small percentage of that percentage by owning one. Electric cars are fantastic, and for that reason we are about to see a big increase in the number of them on the road. There are already more public charging locations than there are petrol stations, and we will be doing a whole host of things—40 or 50 different measures—that I will describe in the decarbonisation plan. I think the hon. Lady will be pleased with a lot of the things that she sees coming along.

On aircraft emissions, will the Government agree to incentivise the use of aviation biofuels? Does the Secretary of State have ambitions similar to those of the Scottish Government, who are seeking to introduce electric aircraft in the highlands and islands?

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that just the other day I went to see the aircraft that is being developed at Cranfield University by Britten-Norman for electric flights in the highlands and islands. The day before yesterday I had a meeting about biofuels, which are very important for meeting our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 in aviation.

Road improvements are a key part of making transport sustainable for the future. The A30 goes all the way from London to my home town of Penzance, and part of it runs through villages and has traffic lights. Will the Minister meet me to ensure that improvements to the A30 are included in road investment strategy 2?

My hon. Friend has been fighting hard on this issue, and I would be more than happy to meet him, with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who has responsibility for roads.

Sustainability also includes safety. Last November, my constituent Priscilla Tropp suffered a fatal fall at Mill Hill Broadway station. Staff did not follow the emergency plans, and people walked over her as she lay dying. At her inquest, Govia Thameslink said it would introduce a new local incident response plan, but that has not been introduced. Can the Secretary of State advise whether that is the responsibility of the Office of Rail and Road, or some other organisation, because sustainability and safety at stations is not happening?

I am very concerned to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent Priscilla and the way that that incident unfolded. Rail safety, in all its forms, is clearly a big concern to Members across the House, and I propose a meeting between my hon. Friend and the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), on this issue.

More than half of total carbon emissions in the UK come from cars on our roads, yet so far the UK Government have refused to introduce mandatory E10 fuel, which would reduce emissions. Unlike in Scotland, the UK Government remain wedded to cars that use fossil fuels until 2040. Will the Secretary of State heed the assertion by the Committee on Climate Change that action is required if the UK is to meet its targets for 2025 and 2030, let alone have zero emissions by 2050? What corrective measures will he take, and will he tell us about the exiting new measures that he spoke about earlier?

For the record, let me correct the figures given inadvertently by the hon. Gentleman. About a third of emissions come from transport, and about 90% of those are from vehicles. On the specifics, and E10 in particular, yes, I intend to move on the issue very soon.

Norway has the highest per capita sales of electric vehicles in the world, and an average of 50% of new cars sold there in the first half of this year were electric vehicles. Second and third in the world are Iceland and Sweden. The UK still hovers at an average of about 2%, although the Secretary of State said 2.6% earlier. Is it not the case that Scotland could fulfil its ambitions and commitments like those Scandinavian countries if it was only independent?

The interesting thing about the countries the hon. Gentleman cites is that largely they do not produce cars. It is very, very easy if you are not a car manufacturer to introduce all sorts of measures that essentially mean that only electric cars will be favoured and sold. In this country, we have a big car manufacturing sector and we export 80% of the cars we produce. I am very anxious to move the sector to a faster timetable, but to protect jobs as well as the environment it is a question of doing that at a programmed pace. We have managed to do that so far.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks concerning the terrible tragedy in Essex? The nation is reeling from that abject horror. We send our sympathies to all the families of the deceased, wherever they may be across the world. I reassure the Secretary of State that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will want to co-operate and work with him to take whatever steps are necessary, legislative or otherwise, to reduce the likelihood of this terrible event ever happening again.

We are in a climate crisis. Transport is the most emitting sector of the economy and the only sector where emissions have risen in recent years. Given that the Government have slashed subsidies for electric vehicles and failed to invest money promised for charging points over two years ago, does the Transport Secretary seriously believe his announcement earlier this week for a consultation on whether to introduce green number plates for electric cars is really going to save the planet?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the events in Grays, Essex yesterday. We will work together on that.

Green number plates are just one very small part of a very, very large package that includes £1.5 billion to subsidise the take-up of electric cars; £400 million on a charging infrastructure investment fund, which I announced earlier in the summer, to help to supercharge the number of charge points; and many, many other activities. As I say every I time I stand at the Dispatch Box, electric cars are fantastic. They are available new and on the second-hand market. The cost of ownership overall, because it costs £5 or £6 to drive from here to Manchester and refuelling with those charge stations is much easier, is something that everybody can invest in now.

I am afraid the Transport Secretary ignores my warnings, but will he listen to the Government’s own advisers when they say the UK is way off track to meet their climate targets? Labour would invest £3.6 billion in charging networks, introduce 2.5 million interest-free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles, and target a 2030 phase-out for the sale of new diesel and petrol cars. The Government are attempting to disguise their lack of action on the climate crisis with a lick of green paint. Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed at his poverty of ambition?

As I have already said, I passionately believe in bringing this forward. I have already said that I am going to investigate moving forward from 2040 to 2035 a commitment given before the 2050 net zero, and I have a package of measures, which I was referring to before, that will be in the decarbonisation plan to ensure we meet all those targets.

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Industrial Action

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency on industrial action by its staff. (900109)

May I say, Mr Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be back under your chairmanship in this new role as Minister of State for the future of transport?

On 7 October, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency entered into talks with the Public and Commercial Services Union. They have met three times. The DVSA is expecting to continue the talks, which are supported by ACAS, at the start of November.

On 30 August, I met DVSA employees in Nottingham who are taking industrial action, as they want to work in an environment free from bullying and where they are listened to and valued. My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and I wrote to Baroness Vere of Norbiton requesting a meeting to make these representations. She declined. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State take that meeting instead, so that they can hear important feedback from critical members of staff?

For the benefit of the House, I should say we are talking about the modernised employment contract for DVSA staff. This is a matter between the DVSA and staff. The impact will be two hours extra a week for training, which increases the working hours from 35 to 37. Lunch breaks are being protected. We very much hope that the union returns to the negotiations with the DVSA. I might perhaps gently ask the Labour party, which is reliant on the unions, to exercise its good influence on behalf of the travelling public.


3. What recent discussions he has had with Douglas Oakervee on potential alternative routes for High Speed 2 phases 1 and 2a; and if he will make a statement. (900110)

I understand the intense interest that there will be across the House in this issue. The Oakervee review is ongoing and will consider all three phases of the project. I met Douglas Oakervee last week for an administrative discussion about the review, and once the review is finalised the Department has committed to making it public.

It is not just the cost of HS2, but the route: it does not even connect with Birmingham New Street or Heathrow, or meet its original intention of connecting with the channel tunnel. It does none of those. Doug Oakervee has told me that the amount of time they have to consider all this is very limited—it is very challenging indeed—and there is not enough time to consider alternative routes, so will the Minister consider giving them more time to do just that?

As I say, we have not put any time limit on Mr Oakervee’s findings, and he will report when he is ready to do so. As my hon. Friend will know, the current plans for phase 1 would see passengers connecting to Heathrow via Old Oak Common, and services would also call at Euston where passengers can make onward travel plans, including to Eurostar at King’s Cross St Pancras.

Any change to the route of HS2 is likely to lead to further delays and extra cost. Is not the solution to HS2 to put competent people in charge of delivering it, and not to mess about with it and give an advantage to those who are opposed to it?

I have no doubt that Mr Oakervee is watching proceedings here carefully this morning to hear what colleagues have to say. That will be one of the issues that comes within his terms of reference and he will be reporting on.

It is reported in New Civil Engineer this morning that the advisory panel to the so-called independent Oakervee review has been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements in an attempt to stop leaks. How can it be right that a publicly funded project is again trying to conceal information about its viability by gagging the very people who have in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of this dreadful project?

Mr Oakervee is trying to ensure that he works consensually with the panel to ensure that they reach a single report. The management of the panel and the individuals on it, who cover a wide range of views, is a matter for Mr Oakervee.

HS2 is an investment for the north of England, but it would be a lot more popular in the north of England if the trains actually stopped somewhere in the far north of England. At present, there are no plans whatsoever for HS2 trains to stop in Cumbria, even though the Lake District is the biggest visitor destination in the country after London. Will the Minister fix this immediately?

The hon. Gentleman is perhaps tempting me to go a little too far in presuming that everything is going ahead. I do not want to pre-empt Mr Oakervee’s report, but he will be aware that under the previous plans, classic-compatible trains will run north of Wigan and will therefore be able to stop at a range of stations, including Kendal, Oxenholme in the Lake District and Carlisle. That is part of what the West Coast Partnership will be able to consider.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) on his moderately demonstrative tie.

From you, Mr Speaker, I take that as a compliment.

Will my hon. Friend instruct HS2 Ltd that it and its contractors should follow its own construction code and give local residents along phase 1 due and proper advance notice of the enabling works that it intends to carry out, instead of the high-handed, peremptory and arrogant approach that HS2 Ltd is currently taking?

I am disappointed to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say and I am more than happy to meet him to obtain further details. It is very important that HS2 Ltd continues to work with local communities rather than acting upon them when it carries out these works. I look forward to hearing further details.

Not only has the Williams review yet to see the light of day, but the Oakervee report is ready. His team has pulled out all the stops to get this to the Minister next week, so why is the Secretary of State saying that he will not publish it until after the general election? Is it because he intends to cut off the economic opportunities of the north, or is he worried that it will upset voters in the south?

I will take no lectures from the hon. Lady on how to support the north economically, or indeed, in transport terms. I am delighted that she lives in a world of alternate reality—neither the Secretary of State nor I have received Mr Oakervee’s report. She clearly knows more than I do, or maybe she is making it up. [Interruption.]

Rail Performance

I take the performance of the railway very seriously and think that trains should run on time, which is why I have changed the industry’s performance standard from trains being five or even 10 minutes late to their being on time to the minute.

Commuters in west Oxfordshire have long been frustrated by reliability problems on the Cotswold line. What support can Ministers offer me and the Cotswold line promotion group? The group is campaigning for further redoubling on the line, which will not only improve reliability but will give us scope to increase the services available.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tireless campaigning for improvements on the Cotswold line. The line will benefit very soon from the Great Western Railway timetable change in December, which will offer shorter journey times and more frequent services to key locations. Moreover, services from North Cotswold via Oxford and London will be restructured to deliver more, and more consistent, services. So I feel that my hon. Friend’s campaign is making progress.

Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the investment in Ely north junction, which is pivotal to the introduction of a half-hourly service from London to King’s Lynn as well as improving services from Cambridge to Norwich? Will he work alongside Network Rail and local authorities to ensure that this vital scheme is delivered?

I certainly will. The project is currently being scoped, and I should be happy to work on it with my hon. Friend and Network Rail.

As my right hon. Friend is well aware, in my borough of Bexley we suffer from a very poor rail service operated by Southeastern. We experience regular cancellations—including the cancellation of my train this morning—and persistent short delays. What more can my right hon. Friend do to get our train company to improve punctuality and reliability?

I know that my right hon. Friend recently met the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). He is absolutely right: poor services are unacceptable, which is why the Williams review is so important. I do not agree that nationalisation is the answer, not least because railway numbers have doubled since privatisation. [Interruption.] It has a lot to do with the £6 billion invested by the private companies. However, there is much, much more to be done, and we will be doing more in time.

Will the Minister elaborate on the plans to open the proposed Market Harborough line as part of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway and the benefits that it will bring to the local economy, especially around Northampton?

I understand that the reopening is at a formative stage, but I am very supportive of it. Indeed, I support the reopening of many of the smaller lines that were closed as a result of the Beeching cuts under a Labour Government, and I should like to see as many reopened as possible.

I, too, would like to meet the rail Minister, to talk about the Southeastern franchise, the tender for which has been postponed. I should like to see trains from Victoria on the new Eltham to Mottingham line; I should like to see them retained on the Eltham and Falconwood line; and I should like to see extra capacity, so may I have a meeting with the Minister to discuss how we are going to do that?

My hon. Friend the rail Minister has informed me that he has met many of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and will be happy to meet him as well, as will I.

20. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is keen to reopen railway lines, but a short section of dual track is needed between Manchester and Sheffield, two of the least connected cities in the north. That has now been put on hold again, and my constituents are very disappointed. They have written to the Secretary of State, but have yet to receive a reply. (900128)

I think that the hon. Lady may be referring to the Hope Valley line. I should be very happy to speak to her about it in more detail and look forward to our meeting up.

Confidence in Northern Rail has collapsed among commuters in my constituency as a result of delays, cancellations and poor-quality rolling stock over a number of years. Just how bad does the service have to get before Ministers take action and take the franchise away from this failing company?

Perhaps the hon. Lady missed it, but I mentioned to the Transport Committee last week that I had already issued a request for the proposal, which, as she will know, is the first stage towards either a direct award or a last-resort operation. I agree that poor service is unacceptable, and the financial problems are well documented.

The Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line is critical to Blaenau Gwent’s economy, but with growing demand we urgently need physical improvements in the line. There is a complicated UK Government, Welsh Government and Network Rail problem here. Will the Secretary of State, or one of his Ministers, meet me, Welsh Government Ministers and transport officials to discuss this important issue?

Yes, and the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I had a conversation yesterday about setting up exactly such a meeting for those purposes. So the answer is yes.


Bus patronage varies across the country, and as a bus champion I am pleased to say that catching a bus is the most popular form of public transport. Hon. Members will want to know that we continue to invest in our bus services with further additional funding of £220 million through the better deal for bus users package, which will also include £30 million paid directly to local authorities to improve current or new services.

For many people, including those in my constituency, bus routes are a lifeline, but Tory cuts to bus funding have meant over 3,000 routes have been cut or withdrawn in England alone. Does the Minister think it is right that people and communities are cut off from work, leisure and healthcare facilities by the withdrawal of routes, and what is her plan, beyond what she has already mentioned, to ensure she restores lost connectivity?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question which enables me to elaborate on the further funding that is available, but of course we know the importance of bus services; not only do they get people to work, but they ensure connectivity across our communities. As well as the £220 million of additional funding, we have the £1 billion for concessionary fares, but also the transformative £2.5 billion for the transforming cities fund, which also looks at reducing congestion. The hon. Lady talked about the reduction in services in England, but she may want to know that the highest number of bus services cut in the United Kingdom are of course in Labour-led Wales.

Bristol has bucked the trend of declining bus use, and under the Bristol bus deal we are investing in bus prioritisation measures and infrastructure, and in return the bus operators are investing in new commuter services, but we remain the only core city without a mass transit system; what can the Government do to help us realise our ambitions on that front?

I was pleased to visit Bristol and jump on a bus there, and it does indeed have a fantastic service. Patronage has gone up by 50%—[Interruption.] Well, it is getting better and better, and the numbers are indeed going up. One reason why the numbers are going up is that bus service operators are open to working with the local authority and making data available. One thing that we are doing, because of our Bus Services Act 2017, is ensuring the bus open data digital service is available for even more people. We know what people want, especially younger people: absolutely accurate detail on when their bus is arriving, how along the journey will take, and how much it will cost.

24. With no rail links in North Cornwall, the public are pushed on to rural buses, and they welcome the new One public transport system, which specifically allocates money for things like the £1 around town initiative, which will be really beneficial for many of my rural constituents. Can the Minister confirm the benefits of the One public transport system, and is it possible to get direct buses to the general hospital from my major towns? (900132)

My hon. Friend is a good champion for North Cornwall, and of course the fantastic £1 around town initiative will be hugely successful. Rural buses are absolutely key for rural constituencies, including mine in Wealden, and from 2020 the One public transport proposals for Cornwall will integrate buses with rail services to provide passengers with better public transport solutions, low fares and higher frequency buses.

When pensioners in my constituency go to visit friends and family in England, they find that their concessionary bus pass does not work, so will the Minister please speak to the Welsh Transport Minister about making the bus passes in Wales and England compatible? It surely cannot be a difficult problem to fix and it is regularly raised with me as a source of frustration among pensioners.

That is indeed not a difficult problem to fix and I am more than willing to sit down with my Welsh counterparts to ensure that that is done. We have made more than £1 billion available for concessionary bus passes, and it is absolutely key that older people and those with disabilities can use our public transport system.

There is no doubt that our bus services are in crisis. Funding has been slashed by £645 million a year in real terms since 2010; over 3,000 routes have been cut, as we heard earlier; and fares have soared by two and a half times the increase in wages. It is hardly surprising that passenger numbers have fallen by 10%. Millions of pensioners, young people and commuters who rely on buses deserve an apology, so will the Minister now apologise for her Government’s complete and utter failure in this area?

It is remarkable that the hon. Gentleman, who represents a Reading constituency, will not even recognise the progress that has been made with local bus services in Reading, where numbers are going up. Even in places such as Liverpool, where better packages have been put together for younger people, numbers are definitely going up. I am more than happy to come to the Dispatch Box and talk about the new £220 million fund that is being made available. The hon. Gentleman talks about bus fares. They are indeed an issue for local authorities and train operating companies to take up, but unfortunately, Opposition Front Benchers have forgotten their history; when they were in office, bus fares went up twice as fast as they have under this Government.

No-deal Brexit: Airports

8. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on airports of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (900115)

Flights between the UK and the EU will continue whatever the outcome of our EU exit. We are working with airports to ensure that freight can continue to flow and that any disruption to passengers is kept to a minimum. Aviation security in the UK will remain among the best in the world and passengers will not notice any change to airport security screening at UK airports as a result of EU exit.

Maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft is a major and growing industry at Prestwick airport in my constituency. With the Prime Minister’s preferred Brexit deal just one week away, what has already been put in place to provide the engineering licences and aircraft safety certificates currently provided by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency?

The first obvious point is that if the hon. Lady voted for the deal, we would go into the revised political declaration, which commits both the parties to uphold high safety and security standards and make arrangements to maintain close co-operation between the CAA and EASA. However, the Commission has already published proposals to extend its contingency measures for aviation until October 2020, were we to leave without a deal.

Whatever happens to Brexit, some of us have been greatly encouraged by the comments of the Secretary of State, of the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and yesterday of the Prime Minister in their lukewarm response to Heathrow expansion. Can the hon. Gentleman help resolve the contradiction between the official Government policy of encouraging airport expansion at Heathrow and their unofficial policy of opposing it?

I believe those arguments are entirely sustainable, and I am happy for the right hon. Gentleman to continue that conversation with the Prime Minister.

Transport Infrastructure: London Region

10. What plans his Department has to construct new transport infra- structure to serve growing towns on the outskirts of London. (900117)

Transport in the Greater London area is devolved to the Mayor and delivered on his behalf by TfL. The Department continues to fund investment in major transport projects benefiting London, such as Crossrail and the Thameslink upgrade. The Department is also working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to plan transport infrastructure as part of sustainable house building, particularly through the housing infrastructure fund and the garden communities programme.

I thank the Minister for his response, but has he looked into the possibility of expanding his investment programme to the Gallows Corner area of my constituency—a major hub from Essex into London? Its 50-year-old structure now needs to be replaced. Is it not time that the Government stepped in to make sure that this happens?

I am delighted to confirm that we are indeed stepping in. My hon. Friend is a dogged advocate of the needs of Romford and, along with his companion Buster, has done more than anyone to put this subject on the map. I know that as well as Brexit he wants “Hexit”—he wants control of Havering taken back into Essex. However, I can confirm that we are looking at this scheme with TfL to develop a series of major structural renewals at Gallows Corner, as announced by the Government in October 2018.

I am pleased that last week, TfL launched its new consultation on the Bakerloo line extension. Will the Minister commit to exploring funding options for that scheme with HM Treasury and TfL?

Those conversations are ongoing, and I am aware that the hon. Lady met the rail Minister last week.

On the grounds that Thurrock is somewhat more geographically deserving than Truro and Falmouth in respect of this question, I call Jackie Doyle-Price.

Plans to deliver 3,000 new homes in Purfleet in my constituency have ground to a halt following Highways England’s decision to reject any planning application for more than 250 houses due to pressure on the A13. I find it difficult to explain to my constituents why Highways England is putting a new motorway through Thurrock while preventing us from planning and delivering new homes. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the matter?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. She will be pleased to know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport are working on the much closer integration of housing and transport.

High Speed 1 is one of the most successful pieces of infrastructure at enabling commuting into London. Indeed, it is so successful and reliable that many services, particularly at peak hours, are massively overcrowded. In the Department’s radical look at the future of the rail network, will Ministers consider the provision of extra rolling stock on HS1, so that my constituents in Ashford and people in other places along the lines can have more comfortable journeys to and from work?

My right hon. Friend makes a typically excellent point, and I am delighted to confirm that the rail Minister met the relevant decision makers yesterday to discuss that proposal.

Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989

On 23 July 2019, the Government announced a review of the available evidence to see whether a more flexible approach to the regulations permitting the use of red flashing lights by road recovery operators may be appropriate. The Department is in the process of commissioning the study, and a decision to review the regulations will be taken once the study has reported.

I am grateful for that response. The partner of my constituent Sam was killed while recovering a vehicle on the M25. Since then, she and others have been campaigning for the roadside recovery industry to be able to use red lights, rather than amber, during recoveries. The police and others have now dropped their objections, and the science shows a difference in reactions to amber light and red light, so will the Minister now give the green light to the change?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaign, and the whole House sends its condolences to her constituent. Our motorways are actually the safest roads, but she raises an important point. If the public feel that the use of red lights will help them feel safer, we will be minded, after looking at the evidence, to approve the change.

My constituent Jason Mercer is dead because of the Government’s ill-conceived all-lane-running scheme on the M1. Will the Minister please meet me and Claire Mercer, Jason’s widow, to discuss the safety implications of the scheme and the stopping of next year’s roll-out?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady, as will the Roads Minister, Baroness Vere. I am also delighted to confirm that the Secretary of State will be announcing a short review so that we can deal with that problem quickly.

Many of my constituents have told me about car headlights that seem undipped or exceptionally bright. This is a slightly different issue from the one we are discussing, but will there be regulations to ensure that headlights do not have an impact upon vehicles coming the other way? These lights can cause accidents.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are going to take a quick look at the evidence and introduce a framework to ensure that people are safe on the edges of our motorways and that drivers know that the right regulations have been put in place for them.

Transport Infrastructure

13. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. (900120)

14. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. (900121)

17. What steps he is taking to ensure that all regions have sufficient transport infrastructure to support economic growth. (900125)

Since 2015, we have doubled our capital investment in the transport system, and we are investing over £72 billion in transport infrastructure in the five years to 2020-21. The Prime Minister has set out his commitment to enhancing and levelling up connectivity across the country, and we are investing an average of £248 per person in the north, compared with £236 per person in the south.

One of the main projects that has been identified as essential for future economic growth in the midlands is the A5 upgrade in north Warwickshire. Will the Minister commit to working with me, the A5 partnership and Midlands Connect to help deliver these vital improvements?

Yes. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we are in discussions right now on that important golden triangle. We will shortly be announcing our plans for the A5 in the road investment strategy.

Middlewich is clearly on the Government’s map for both road and rail investment, with £50 million for a bypass and funding for the business case for reopening the railway station. Will the Minister assure me that both projects are continuing at pace, and will he meet me to discuss it?

Yes, I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that we will make sure the pace is kept up and that the change in political control does not slow it down. We will make a decision on the final funding once a business case has been properly considered.

On the reinstatement of passenger rail services via Middlewich, my officials are now working with local partners on the development of that business case, which we will consider with Transport for the North.

The A64, which runs through my constituency and the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is desperately in need of dualling. Will the Minister answer the calls of all MPs, businesses, local authorities, residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists and commit to this very important project?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner for the A64, and I can assure him that his message, both today and in his various correspondence and meetings, has been heard loud and clear. We will shortly be announcing the second road investment strategy, as promised in the first. We have plans for the A64, so I urge him just to wait for a few weeks and months.

For economic growth to be properly supported, transport infrastructure needs to be properly accessible, so will the Minister and the Government commit to making sure that every local railway station, such as Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road in my constituency, is fully accessible?

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point—I have a railway station in my constituency that is in desperate need of disability access—and that is why we have launched the Access for All programme. We will be looking to make sure that all those stations with the most urgent access challenges are sorted in the right order.

Buses are a very important part of transport infrastructure, and my constituents will benefit enormously from the announcement by the metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, of a new metrocard. When will we improve bus service integration across the country by ensuring that we have a single smartcard, not different cards in different parts of the country?

I note the omission of thanks for the major package of investment in bus infrastructure, and I simply make the point that the Mayor has those powers. I am leading the Department’s work on smart ticketing, and we are keen to see Transport for the North and the Mayor lead that programme so people in that area can have integrated ticketing.

I am sure the Minister shares my frustration that rail passengers in the north will have to continue enduring the use of Pacer trains well into 2020, despite assurances from Northern that they would be taken out of service by the end of this year. Does he believe that passengers should be compensated as a result?

The Department shares the disappointment that the new rolling stock has been delayed. Pacer trains are not fit for purpose for the 21st century. Northern retired the first of its 102 Pacers in August, and it plans to remove two thirds by December 2019. Northern advises that, subject to receiving appropriate dispensation, up to 34 Pacers will remain in the fleet, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to make sure the fleet is properly modernised.

Labour knows the true value of connecting towns and cities across the north. Our integrated transport plan will invest in public transport, in public ownership, to work for the passengers not the shareholders. We will start by investing £39 billion in the whole Crossrail for the north project. How much will the Minister commit to the project today—only £15 billion?

I think the nation will be interested to hear the Opposition Front Bench team announcing major plans for investment, given that their economic plans will see a massive loss of investment in this country and massive economic damage. We can fund good transport infrastructure and a good NHS only when we have economic growth. The truth is that this Government are proceeding with the biggest investment package in road, rail and infrastructure in this country since the Victorians—£72 billion—and we are spending more per head on passengers in the north than in the south. This Government have the interests of the north at their heart.

Heathrow Airport: Third Runway

15. What recent assessment he has made of the financial viability of the proposed Heathrow third runway. (900122)

My Department and the Civil Aviation Authority have conducted assurance work on the financing and affordability of expansion proposals. This has concluded that, so far as can be assessed at this stage and assuming current market conditions, Heathrow is in principle able to privately finance expansion, but we will continue to monitor this as plans mature.

Given the compounding costs and constraints on a third runway at Heathrow, it seems unlikely that it will ever be built. What Heathrow has succeeded in doing is blocking its more competitive rivals from building extra capacity. In that light, when will the Government review their decision?

The airports national policy includes a requirement that any developers should demonstrate that their scheme is cost-efficient and sustainable, and that it seeks to minimise costs over its lifetime. It is a responsibility of scheme developers to follow the process set out in the Planning Act 2008 and to submit proposals to the Planning Inspectorate. We will consider the merits of potential schemes before referring them to the decision-making Minister with the recommendation.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) says it is “bonkers”, the Transport Secretary doubts that it stacks up financially and yesterday the Prime Minister told me that he has “lively doubts” about it. When will the Government stop playing with the lives of millions of people in the west of London and cancel this disastrous project?

The prudent thing for the relevant Minister to do is stick within the airports national policy, which was endorsed by this House with a large majority, and the decision by the House to back a third runway at Heathrow, which was also endorsed by an overwhelming majority.

Does the Minister at least agree that it is important to give people and local communities the information they need to understand the decision that has been taken? Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s words in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Department is still pressing ahead with this very unpopular transport project and neither reviewing, nor reversing it.

In an attempt to seek some degree of agreement with the right hon. Lady, since I came into this role I have made a point of meeting community groups across the south-east, as well as the airports, to understand their concerns and how we can try to resolve some of the trust deficit that clearly exists between the two sides.

Given the direct air connectivity between Northern Ireland and Heathrow, and indeed the Greater London airports, will the Minister ensure that he discusses with the Treasury the ongoing issue of air passenger duty, where our airports are at a significant disadvantage to those in the Irish Republic?

I am always cautious at the Dispatch Box not to trespass on the territory of APD, which is a matter for the Treasury, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome the renewal of the public service obligation to service the City of Derry airport.

Thomas Cook

16. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the collapse of Thomas Cook. (900123)

Now that the repatriation of those Thomas Cook passengers is complete, my focus is on the next steps, including the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the airline insolvency review will be turned into an Act of Parliament.

May I first pay tribute to the staff of Thomas Cook in Glenrothes, who for a great many years have provided my constituents, and indeed myself, with a very professional and courteous service? Last week, the Government finally admitted that no Minister had spoken to Thomas Cook directly before the company collapsed. The Secretary of State claimed that the company could not be saved, but then some parts of the company in other countries were indeed saved. Will he now accept that if the Government had engaged sooner with Thomas Cook, they could have mitigated the impact of this failure, fewer people would have lost their jobs, the cost to the taxpayer would have been less and fewer people would have seen their holidays ruined?

That is simply not correct. I met the chief executive of the company on 9 September, and I have checked my closing words to him at that meeting, which were—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might want to listen. My closing words to that company and to the chief executive were: “If there is anything that Her Majesty’s Government could do then please get in touch.” The response was: “There is nothing that can be done at this time.” Later, on 18 September, he wrote to the Government asking for not the £200 million that has been reported, but up to £250 million. That decision would have required accounting officer sign-off for a company with debt of perhaps £1.7 billion or, we now hear, perhaps even £3 billion. It simply would not have stacked up. We would have spent all the money that has been spent on repatriation in any case, as well as money to bail out a company that had enormous debts.

The travel industry has a proud record of pulling together when a company goes under, and that happened in the Thomas Cook case. Thomas Cook would have had an air travel organisers’ licence, so the money that was used to repatriate people from abroad should be recovered from that fund, which is levied on the travel industry. The net cost to the Government should therefore be very small.

My hon. Friend is right, at least in part. The ATOL coverage will cover a large proportion of the cost. However, the company was an airline as well as a travel company and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, airlines are not currently covered under ATOL—that is part of the review. In any case, we will ensure that laws are in place to make sure that the fleet can be used regardless.

The truth is that it is shocking that this Government let down Thomas Cook staff. They lost their livelihoods while the gaffers got rich off their bonuses. The subsidiaries Condor in Germany, Thomas Cook in Spain and Thomas Cook in Sweden are still flying. The Government have stood by and let the business in the UK fail. When the Secretary of State gets to his feet, will he just say sorry for letting down all those hard-working staff and the British taxpayer?

The whole House and, indeed, the whole country is aware that those on the Opposition Front Bench do not understand how an economy functions.

If there was any possible way to ensure the survival of a company whose directors were allegedly being paid millions of pounds—it is interesting to hear that the Opposition want us to have backed those millions of pounds of bonuses with yet more money from the public purse—we would have done it, but, as I said, it would have required accounting officer direction, because it simply did not stack up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the reality is that Hays Travel has come in and rescued many of those jobs, because well-run companies survive. Poorly run companies cannot survive.

Observers of our proceedings will doubtless have heard the sedentary exclamations of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who is further validating the assertion that I make to audiences around the world, which is that he is the loudest Member of the House.

Topical Questions

Mr Speaker, this is my first topical questions session and my last opportunity with you in the Chair. I have been in post for 93 days and, with your permission, will give a couple of quick updates.

I know the House is concerned about smart motorways. I have heard those concerns being raised today and previously, and I have asked my Department to carry out, at pace, an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.

As we have heard, my Department was involved in Operation Matterhorn, which successfully repatriated the most people to this country since the second world war. We are also getting ready for Brexit and, of course, decarbonising transport.

There was widespread disappointment across the taxi and private hire sector last week when the Secretary of State indicated to the Transport Committee that he would not be bringing forward legislation to tackle some of the safety issues relating to licensing. He will know that councils can introduce high standards but cannot enforce them against drivers who are licensed elsewhere. Will he think about that again?

The hon. Gentleman pressed me hard on this matter in the Select Committee sitting, and I have done some work on it before and since. We intend to go down the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards approach, with standardised checks and a national database. I have spoken to Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, who is present in the Gallery and who chaired the task and finish group. I invite the hon. Gentleman, along with others in the House, to join us in that programme, and I thank him.

T4. It may have been Dr Johnson who said that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, but there can be no hope without safety. Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq’s report, which I commissioned, had public safety at its heart. Will the Secretary of State do all he can through secondary legislation and statutory guidance to make people safer when they travel in taxis, and meet me and the hon. Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) to discuss how he will go about that? (900136)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work on this matter, and particularly for action in commissioning that task and finish group. I absolutely look forward to working with him, other Members across the House and the maritime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who deals with this issue as well.

T2. Following on from previous speakers on the taxi issue, we have been raising it now for well over 12 months, probably nearer two years. We have had Adjournment debates and questions on it. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State now to say that we are going out to consultation on some minor parts of it. We should have the full report and it should be debated in this House and amended if necessary. (900134)

I should just clarify for the hon. Gentleman that we are not going out to consultation; we are in fact acting on statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards.

T6. The Minister will be aware that transport affects the whole Greater London area, but beyond that, is it not time that this was reviewed so that places such as Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire have a say about transport policy in the Greater London area? (900138)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course, that Transport for London has a big impact on constituencies outside, including mine in Welwyn Hatfield. I do note, however, that there are widely differing views, including in my area, for example, where people would welcome more Transport for London involvement. In his area, perhaps the opposite is the case. I do think that it is a case of making sure that whatever we do fits in with the Williams review and the White Paper, which is to be published shortly.

T3. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) mentioned that Transport for London had launched its new consultation on the Bakerloo line extension. There is a growing risk that this vital piece of infrastructure could be prevented by premature development coming forward on key sites along the routes. Will the Secretary of State commit today to issuing safeguarding directions to the proposed route as soon as possible? (900135)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I actually met her about this and other subjects only a couple of weeks ago. My officials, along with Ministry of Housing officials, are currently working with TfL to understand the case for the Bakerloo line extension and how it interacts with housing proposals, and I expect to be able to report more very shortly.

T8. On 3 September, the Secretary of State said that he would discuss with the Chancellor the case for updating the costs and benefits of HS2 to current prices to ensure transparency, but he also said that“there is no future for a project like this without being transparent and open, so we will be candid when challenges emerge.”Has he met the Chancellor? Does he have the updated costs, and how does asking the independent panel to sign non-disclosure agreements fit with his statement about being transparent? (900140)

My right hon Friend has campaigned on this issue, quite rightly, for a very long time, and she gives me the opportunity to correct something that was suggested from the Front Bench earlier, which is that I somehow have a copy of the report, which I absolutely do not. I have not seen any of it, not even its emerging conclusions. When Oakervee is ready, he will present that report. I stick with everything I said. This is very important. As soon as we have this information, I will make it available to the House. As for non-disclosures, there are, of course, sensitive commercial matters involved in these things, and it is important that all members of the panel work together without releasing those inadvertently in a manner that would be commercially problematic. None the less, I do agree with the basic principle that, as soon as the information is available, this House will have it.

T5. It is two and a half years since the Bus Services Act 2017 was passed, yet we are still waiting for secondary legislation to make talking buses a reality for blind and visually impaired passengers. When will this finally happen? (900137)

We have put together a £2 million fund to help smaller bus companies make audio-visual information available, and that should come into place next year. It is a part of our inclusive transport strategy and I believe that we are the first country to have such a strategy: to align ourselves with UN goals to enable people with disabilities to access public transport as easily as those who do not have disabilities.

T9.   The permanent closure of the Army and Navy flyover has created a transport emergency across Chelmsford and mid-Essex. Can the Minister confirm that officials from the Department for Transport are working at pace with Essex County Council and focusing every effort on developing, funding and delivering a long-term solution to this junction? (900141)

I am delighted to say that the noble Baroness Vere who deals with these issues and I met yesterday, and we both commend my hon. Friend for her leadership on this issue. This has been a very serious emergency situation, causing huge congestion in her part of the world, and we are determined to ensure that we get the solution right. That means not necessarily rebuilding what was there before, but getting a proper state-of-the-art solution.

T7. At Highways England, a Government-owned company of which the Secretary of State is the sole shareholder, over 60 executives—mostly men—now enjoy six-figure salaries, while the vast majority of staff have been told to expect their pay increases to remain capped at 1% until 2025. When will the new shareholder be challenging company directors to address these pay disparities? (900139)

The hon. Lady may be surprised to hear that I agree with her. Some of these salaries—in both road and rail—have gone off the scale, and I am already addressing the issue.

Many of my constituents think that, as far as the Government are concerned, “northern powerhouse” only means Leeds and Manchester, so will the Secretary of State prove my constituents wrong by unequivocally committing to a station stop in Bradford for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is vital for the local economy?

I am sure that my hon. Friend has heard what the Prime Minister has had to say on this matter. He will also know that Transport for the North is looking at options including Bradford for trans-Pennine links. I am immensely sympathetic to his argument.

T10.   What progress has been made with the Department’s feasibility study regarding the reopening of the Skipton-Colne line for both passengers and freight? (900142)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the work that has been done on this issue by other Members of Parliament, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). The feasibility work is still in progress, and we are pressing further to assess whether the proposed scheme can be made affordable, will attract sufficient traffic and is part of the right long-term solution for all trans-Pennine rail traffic. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that the issue featured in the rail network enhancements pipeline publication earlier this week.

Constituents across Gloucestershire will be delighted with the additional 5,000 seats a day of rail capacity between Gloucester and Paddington. Can the Minister tell me when we might also expect additional capacity on the important and very popular Gloucester to Bristol line, which would be welcomed by the Mayor of the West of England, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and our excellent candidate in Stroud, Siobhan Baillie?

My hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue, possibly since the day he was born; he is certainly in my ear about it all the time. Increasing frequency on local Great Western Railway trains is the best way in which to provide additional frequency and seats on the route, and this is likely to be provided as an extension of MetroWest additional services for Bristol to Yate, with the Department funding Yate to Gloucester. MetroWest proposals are under development by GWR as part of the next franchise, which will start in April 2020.

In relation to Operation Yellowhammer, may I ask the Secretary of State what role the 300 troops and 180 police officers who are to be put on standby will play in policing the transport network in and around the port of Portsmouth, and how many other troops and police may be deployed at other ports?

It is always a pleasure to respond to the happy-go-lucky Member for Carshalton and Wallington, especially on the matter of Brexit because I was reading his website last night, on which he says,

“clearly this was a democratic vote and we must abide by this decision”

—something that he has forgotten, I believe. My Department is operationalising Yellowhammer, and I will happily write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details he requires.

Ah, let us call a Member who used to have responsibility for buses and various other forms of transport at different times—Mr Andrew Jones.

After a widely supported and successful campaign against a relief road in Harrogate, the transport authority is now looking at a package of sustainable measures to take transport forward in the area. What support will the Government provide to North Yorkshire County Council and other such councils developing sustainable transport packages?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. We are currently in the midst of talking to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about a much more fundamental integration of housing and transport through the housing infrastructure fund. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to talk this through to make sure that it works for local places so that housing comes with proper transport.

Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on the intention to carry out a review of the safety of smart motorways and all-lane running, he will know that the Transport Committee questioned Highways England on this yesterday. Is that review being carried out in the Department or by someone independent? I would be grateful if he clarified that.

I watched with great interest the evidence from Highways England in front of the Committee yesterday and noted the comments of the chief exec. I will ensure that the Department is making decisions on this, because some of the statistics have been difficult to understand. We know that people are dying on smart motorways. We also know that 70 or 80 people a year die on full motorways. Understanding whether smart motorways are less safe, the same or safer turns out not to be as straightforward as Members might imagine. I want all the facts and I want recommendations that could be put in place to ensure that all our motorways are as safe as they possibly can be. I will get this done in a matter of weeks.

Growing towns and villages in my constituency need investment in cycle and walking infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State join my representations to the Treasury at the forthcoming Budget to make sure that there is dedicated funding for villages and towns to expand this infrastructure?

TransPennine rail services between Leeds and Manchester through Stalybridge and Mossley are clearly vital to this country. The previous Government changed their mind quite a lot on improvements, including on full electrification. What is this Secretary of State’s policy on TransPennine rail upgrades, and will he meet me to hear some sensible suggestions on the way forward?

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State will have heard my exchange with the Prime Minister yesterday when he agreed with me on submitting proposals for free port status for the Humber ports, an upgrade to the A15, and improved east-west rail freight capacity. Will the Secretary of State indicate his support, and will he agree to meet me and a delegation to discuss the matter?

It is good to see my hon. Friend back on his feet promoting everything in his constituency, including free ports. I will of course be more than happy to sit down and meet a delegation, although I am a bit concerned about how large it will be. I am pleased to be working with the Department for International Trade and the Treasury to ensure that the ports that want it get the free port status that they require.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. In our exchanges on Question 3, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised her concerns about the delayed publication of the Oakervee report. The Minister responded by saying that she was making it up. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that when my hon. Friend comes to the Dispatch Box she does not make things up—she tells the truth. If the Minister has inadvertently used language that he ought not to, perhaps he could come to the Dispatch Box right now and withdraw the slur that he has laid against her immediately, without any qualification.

It is incumbent upon a Minister to own up if he or she considers an error to have been made. I would simply say that as a matter of fact Members must be assumed to speak what they believe to be true. It all happened very quickly, and I did mutter at the time that a Member will say only what he or she believes. So it was, I think, infelicitous, at the very least, and a gracious withdrawal would be appreciated.

I have not received the said report, but I am happy to clarify the point and I withdraw the exact comment.