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Topical Questions

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 2 July 2020

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to say a word about how we would like to pay tribute to the transport workers who have, as Members have mentioned, lost their lives during this crisis. Many of them are providing the food on our tables and helping the key workers in the NHS and care workers to get to work to support us all. We would therefore like to set up a commemorative memorial for transport workers, and I can think of no better location than Victoria station, where Belly Mujinga was an employee who sadly lost her life.

UK steel producers, including British Steel in Lackenby, are able to supply more than 90% of HS2’s phase 1 steel requirements. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should do all we can to support UK manufacturing in the construction of HS2? If we are going to build, build, build, let us make it British, British, British.

My hon. Friend has absolutely nailed it; he is spot on. That is of course what we must do. I can report to him that 98% of the purchasing for HS2 so far been from British suppliers. There is of course a supply chain involved, but I absolutely support my hon. Friend’s ambition and I know he will do what Network Rail does—it buys nearly all its steel British.

British, British, British Airways, easyJet, Airbus and Jet2—every day we get more news of staggering job losses across the aviation industry. Our world-class airports and their supply chains are at critical. The US, Spain, Germany and France have all agreed specific aviation deals so that their countries bounce back more strongly. If not now, when will the Government implement a comprehensive package for our aviation sector matching Labour’s commitment?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the critical importance of our aviation sector, which is the third biggest in the world. These are extremely worrying times. As the air bridges start to unlock, that will help, and we will hear more about those soon. It is not the case that there has not been a massive package. He forgets the £330 billion to support the economy, which has included a number of measures that the aviation sector has been able to take specific assistance from. It is okay to discount it, but that is money it has been using all the way along. In addition, the aviation sector has been able to access a process that other sectors have not necessarily been able to, putting it directly in talks between the Department for Transport and the Treasury. It has been accessing money and cash through that process, as well.

The Government have devolved a great deal of responsibility to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has to deliver on the Greater Manchester spatial framework and a transport infrastructure required to meet the demands of increased house building. The whole project has suffered delay after delay, so vital infrastructure such as the Westhoughton bypass is not being delivered. What can my right hon Friend do to remove the roadblock in the Mayor’s office? (904180)

We have devolved significant power and funding to metro mayors, including to the metro mayor of Manchester, to ensure that he can deliver the transport schemes needed to unlock housing and growth, so that Greater Manchester’s economy can thrive as the heart of the northern powerhouse. The bypass is one scheme for the Mayor to consider prioritising and thereby, we hope, deliver. We will happily work with him to ensure that conversation continues at pace.

Funding for buses in South Yorkshire has been cut by 40% in the past decade. Will the Minister commit to the additional funding needed to implement the recommendations of the South Yorkshire bus review? (904181)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, £504,000 has been provided to Sheffield City Region Combined Authority to date through the covid-19 bus service support grant. In addition, we are spending a huge amount of money—£3 billion—on a bus strategy going forward. I would like to think we can work together to deliver the service that her constituents require.

As the Secretary of State will know, many of my constituents in Chesham and Amersham depend on Heathrow for their work. Do the Government plan to introduce a covid-19 testing programme at airports, and is he working with our trading partners to establish a common international standard for health screening to accelerate the recovery of the aviation sector and rebuild consumer confidence in our airports and our aviation industry? (904182)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important to ensure we can provide reassurance for passengers, but also do something useful with the screening, perhaps beyond what just asking people to take a temperature check provides. We are actively working with Heathrow and other airports to put exactly those types of schemes in place, and I will be saying more about those in time for the following review of air corridors.

Our transport sector has been devastated by the covid-19 pandemic. Out of this human tragedy, there is an opportunity not just to build, build, build, but to build back better, with health and wellbeing for all at the heart of it. Will the Transport Secretary commit to “The Time is Now” pledge and ensure that any Government investment in the transport sector announced next week will be conditional on the early decarbonisation and increased accessibility of fleets and infrastructure? (904184)

The hon. Member will be interested to hear about the transport decarbonisation plan, which I think she will find goes way beyond even the ambitions that she has set out. She will not have to wait too much longer to see that in detail, but I have already mentioned the net zero board, which is driving exactly the change she seeks.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comment in response to the previous question that he is considering introducing testing at airports. Will he consider backing the scheme that Swissport and Collinson are proposing as a pilot? (904185)

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I am in touch with Swissport and I am following those proposals carefully. As I said in response to an earlier question, we believe that it is important to provide international standards, which may well include specific types of testing. So the answer is yes.

The Secretary of State is determined to remove free travel from children and young people in London —a move that is opposed by the Mayor, London councils, many in the education sector and at least 160,000 Londoners who have put their name to a public petition. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be a public consultation before these controversial changes are made, especially with regard to travel arrangements for 16 to 18-year-olds who will need to get to their colleges when courses resume later this year? (904187)

It is indeed very frustrating that so much revenue failed to be collected in the previous four years because prices were not changed to keep up with inflation. There were no changes in the congestion charge either. Effectively, £700 million of take was left on the table by the London Mayor, meaning that the Government have had to come in and bail out Transport for London for £1.6 billion. A large chunk of that is uncollected revenue, and changes are having to be made for youngsters’ travel. Members across the House must recognise that it is fair that people in other parts of the country do not unduly subsidise the Mayor, who failed to collect the funds.

As I am sure my right hon. Friend will be aware, a number of local authorities, such as Dudley Council, can derive a significant income from their shareholding in local airports. Will he and his colleagues in government do all they can to mitigate the negative impact of a substantive loss in income during the pandemic, as that income would have paid for services? (904186)

The Government recognise the impact on many local authorities that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. We have announced a vast package of support for local authorities, and we are consulting across government on the issues that he has raised today.

A worried constituent of mine who has worked for BA for 30 years has helped the Government with vital repatriation flights, which put him at risk and meant heartbreaking self-isolation from loved ones between flights. BA has paid my constituent and his colleagues back with a jobs betrayal that the Transport Committee has called “a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic”. Unite and the BA Betrayal campaign have called on the Minister to act if BA continues with these plans by amending BA’s access to lucrative UK landing slots. Please will the Government agree to this? (904188)

The hon. Gentleman reflects a concern that we have heard expressed across the House today and previously, and the Transport Committee has done excellent work. The Government are concerned about this. We have put in a lot of money through the furlough scheme to support jobs. We now expect British Airways, other companies and the unions to sit down and sort this out properly.

My right hon. Friend may be the northern powerhouse Minister, but he knows that when it comes to levelling up, towns such as Hastings need to be part of such measures too. The A21 is the principal link between London and Hastings, but between Pembury and Lamberhurst it is like a country lane. To upgrade it, plans need to be made. Will he bring forward plans so that Hastings is not left behind? (904189)

I am aware that my right hon. Friend and other colleagues met the roads Minister recently on the important subject of the A21. I absolutely share his passion. I know that it is currently earmarked for RIS 3, but we are setting up the speed unit in DFT—the acceleration unit—to try to ensure that we can deliver this important infrastructure faster. We undertake to work with him to bring forward what I know is not an enormous scheme but would make a huge difference.

NATS air traffic control centre in my constituency has invested millions in modernising flight path management to cut fuel usage and reduce carbon emissions. Without action, covid threatens thousands of jobs in UK aviation and aerospace, so will the Secretary of State commit to a sector-specific package to protect jobs and promote a green aviation recovery? (904198)

As I mentioned in an answer a few moments ago, we have already put billions of pounds into supporting this sector. The hon. Lady may be pleased to hear that there is something she can do, and that is to ask the Scottish Government to join with us to ensure that we can have air bridges in place nationwide as quickly as possible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; what else would you put on for Transport questions? My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has already outlined the concerns about Transport for London’s finances. Will he update the House on his discussions with Transport for London and the Mayor of London about the long-term issues with TfL’s finances? Will he also nail the lie that it was a Government requirement to extend the congestion charge to seven days a week from 7 am to 10 pm, which will strangle London’s recovery from this pandemic? (904190)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I explained a few moments ago, after failing to collect £700 million of fares in various forms and then coming to Government with a request for £1.6 billion, it stands to reason that something has to give. He is absolutely right to mention that it is the Mayor’s decision to extend the remit and the time of the congestion charge, although I have to say that the Mayor left himself with precious few options, having failed to collect that money for all those years.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that transport infra- structure will be at the heart of this Government’s levelling up agenda, and that the £100 million that was announced for roads in the Prime Minister’s new deal for Britain is only the start? May I also ask the Minister to spare a thought for the roads and potholes of Beaconsfield? (904191)

The Government have a massive agenda of levelling up this country and providing transport infrastructure that is fit for years to come. We are doing that, and we are investing in it. We look forward to supporting my hon. Friend in filling potholes in her constituency, too.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.