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House of Commons Hansard
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02 July 2020
Volume 678

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19: Economic Recovery

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What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. [904120]

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What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. [904126]

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What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. [904151]

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I have frequent conversations with the Chancellor about the vital role that transport plays in our economic recovery.

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Yesterday, I met the Argyll and Bute climate change group, which is dismayed by the recent report showing that the UK Government have missed almost all their own climate change targets. Given that transport accounts for about a quarter of UK carbon emissions and that there are growing calls to link the economic recovery to meeting emissions targets, does the Secretary of State agree that only by enshrining annual targets in legislation will this Government be able to hope to meet their legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I take issue with his numbers: I think that transport accounts for about a third of greenhouse gases, rather than just a quarter, so he is right about the urgency of the situation. We absolutely believe in tackling this problem. That is why this country has legislated to be zero-carbon by 2050. When it comes to transport, he will be interested to hear that I am setting up the net zero board to push forward with all these important targets.

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The Secretary of State will be aware that British Airways continues along its Dickensian path of threatening to fire staff and rehire them on substantially poorer pay and conditions, which affects many of my constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. Does he accept that the conduct of British Airways executives such as Willie Walsh is bringing the industry into disrepute at a time when support for public transport is critical if we want an aviation industry in the future?

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I am very concerned about the plight of aviation employees not just at British Airways but at other companies. I urge British Airways and the unions to sit down to talk this through, which I know is not happening—the British Airline Pilots Association has done that, but the other unions have not. Important support has been in place through the furlough scheme, and I want to ensure that people are treated fairly and properly throughout this crisis.

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The constituents I met as part of The Time is Now climate lobby on Tuesday want Government at all levels to move further and faster to tackle the climate emergency and build back better from the covid pandemic. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the decision in Glasgow to make the hire of nextbikes free for the coming months, so that people can reduce emissions, keep fit and get about in a safe and socially distant manner, and we can learn lessons across the United Kingdom for the future?

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The hon. Gentleman will be familiar, I am sure, with the £2 billion announcement I made at a Downing Street press conference for cycling and walking, of which £250 million was made available immediately in England. Through the Barnett consequentials, that will allow for a massive expansion of cycling across the whole United Kingdom.

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Given the restrictions on public transport at the moment, it is vital that we look for alternative forms of transport to boost our economic activity. I welcome the news that e-scooters will be rolled out. The Transport Committee began its inquiry on that yesterday, so the timing is appreciated. There was some confusion as to whether driving licences will be required for e-scooters, which I believe may be due to a technicality. It would be a great shame if e-scooters were available only to those who drive a car.

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My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.

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I pay tribute to our transport workers and reflect on those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Our economy is experiencing major shock. There is no doubt that the foundations were weakened after a lost decade of austerity and the failure to invest properly in our regions that make up the northern powerhouse. Had the north seen the same per-person investment as London over the past decade, it would have received £66 billion more. Even before the pandemic hit, estimates by the UK2070 Commission recommended investment of £15 billion each year for 20 years. Will the Secretary of State outline how much capital investment has been awarded to the north?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the northern powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, so I take this very seriously indeed. I do not want to disappoint him, but there are so many different elements of funding going into the northern powerhouse right now that it is difficult to provide an immediate figure for the total. I would be happy to undertake to write to him with those precise details, but I can tell them that it is billions.

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I am not sure that my pre-prepared response quite expected the Secretary of State not to know the answer to the question about how much money has been allocated, but we can guess: it is a drop in the ocean. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the historic funding gap of £66 billion. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the £15 billion annual allocation, as recommended by the Commission.

We were promised a plan to level up Britain. We were told that we were at war with the virus, yet when it came to a Marshall fund, the nation was failed. The Government failed on ambition; they failed on scale; and in doing so they failed the hard-working people of the north. Let us be generous and accept that what has gone has gone. Today, will the Secretary of State commit, in future allocations, to the north receiving no less than the capital?

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That is a lot of rhetoric, but, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will go into some of the money that is being spent. For example, there is the trans-Pennine route, a multi-billion pound upgrade of the route from Manchester to Leeds. Then we have an extra £10 million initially to sort out the Manchester corridor, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. There is the High Speed North project, which runs into multi-billions. I will write to him, and I hope that he will come back to the Dispatch Box surprised and perhaps withdraw his words when he sees the multi-billion pounds that are being spent in the north right now.

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Swissport, 321; Rolls-Royce, 700; Menzies Aviation, 160; and hundreds and hundreds more between British Airways, NCP, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Flybe, BA CityFlyer, TUI and SSP. These are not national statistics, but the aviation job losses in my constituency alone. Might this sector finally get some good news in the Chancellor’s statement next week? If the Secretary of State will not comment on specific aviation companies, will he tell us in general whether he personally thinks it fair that employees can be fired and rehired on slashed terms and conditions?

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As I mentioned in my previous answer, I think the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned. We need to ensure that there is fair play for employees. Everybody understands that it has been an incredibly tough time. Everyone knows the furlough scheme and many other measures—£330 billion-worth of measures—have been there to support the sector. There has also been an individual process that companies—whether ground handlers, airlines or airports—have been able to go through with the Treasury to access additional money. I would appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible and be reported to the House. I am very keen to get the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, on board so that we can get this thing announced.

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Alexander Dennis is a world-leading bus manufacturer, but that sector is also on its knees due to the coronavirus crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s re-announcement on bus investment, but it needs to be brought forward in full now. I ask the Secretary of State not to rule out investing in low-emission Euro 6 diesel buses to replace some of the older high-polluting models, helping to reduce carbon emissions more quickly and saving thousands of highly skilled jobs across the industry to boot.

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Absolutely. The £3 billion, which is going into new buses, will help us to produce 4,000 additional buses. We want them to be low and zero-carbon electric buses, of course, but also hydrogen buses, so we will certainly be taking that forward. I will be saying more about that very shortly.

Covid-19: Bus Routes

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What steps he is taking to support commercial bus routes that are in service during the covid-19 outbreak. [904121]

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When he next plans to meet with representatives of bus and coach operators. [904123]

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What steps he is taking to protect rural bus routes. [904147]

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The Government are providing significant funding for the bus industry at this time. Our covid-19 funding package for England’s buses totals £651 million. The Government provide £43 million annually to local authorities for supporting socially necessary services, plus £30 million of additional funding in 2021 to support, improve or restore services. Ministers and officials meet regularly with key stakeholders, including local transport authorities and operators to discuss a wide range of matters.

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The Government’s public messaging to discourage the non-essential use of buses, and of open-access trains for that matter, is deeply damaging commercial routes that rely on public fares to remain viable. Will the Minister commit to reviewing that message and to safeguarding those commercial routes, such as the rural bus routes in my constituency of West Dorset?

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My hon. Friend is right. We obviously keep all measures under review at all times, but our priority is always to keep the public safe. Thanks to the support that the Government have put into the bus industry, the vast majority of bus services in England are currently running.

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My hon. Friend failed to respond to the question about coach operators, which rather indicates that, as the coach industry feels, the Government regard them with contempt. Will she now tell us when there is going to be a meeting, and a response to the request first made by the coach industry more than two months ago and repeated in a letter signed by 550 coach operators to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When are the Government going to do something to help our coach industry?

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I assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the concerns of the coach industry incredibly seriously, recognising the key part it plays in the tourism industry. That is why it has been able to access £330 billion of Government support, along with all parts of our economy. We are working extremely hard to get tourism up and running, and the coach industry will benefit from that.

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A number of bus routes in my local towns, including Brixham and Dartmouth, have been cancelled or reduced in the past few weeks, which is, obviously, a massive disservice to the residents. The Government have announced a supreme package of support for our bus networks, with grants and the forthcoming review. I urge them to put a long-term strategy planning mechanism in place to allow bus companies to plan their future for many months to come.

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The Government absolutely recognise the crucial role bus services play in rural communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, up and down the country. That is why we are providing a five-year, £5 billion funding package for buses and cycling. That will include a £20 million demand-responsive transport scheme. We are also bringing forward a national bus strategy to address exactly these concerns about rural services, which play a vital role.

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I wish to start by paying tribute to our bus workers for keeping a vital public service running, in rural areas and across the country, during the coronavirus crisis. Bus drivers and other transport workers have made a very significant contribution—indeed, a number of drivers have died in the epidemic. We owe all these key workers a huge debt of gratitude for their service at this difficult time. As a sign of the Government’s support for our bus services, will the Minister now commit to properly funding buses, both in the next few months and in the longer term? Will she also offer financial support to the families of the staff who have died, to bring this in line with financial support for NHS and care workers?

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I join the hon. Gentleman in the comments he has made, and Conservative Members, too, pay our tribute to those key workers—those bus workers—who have played a vital part in keeping goods, services and passengers moving around the country. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their service. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that they are kept safe throughout the pandemic. As bus services start to recover, we are working closely on a bus recovery and restart package, as well as the £5 billion we have pledged to put in to keep bus services on a sustainable footing for the long term.

Direct Rail Services

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If he will introduce a direct service between Cleethorpes and London through Market Rasen. [904122]

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I recognise and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s campaign. He has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. London North Eastern Railway and Network Rail continue to assess how the service could operate.

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I apologise to the Minister for banging on about this, and so do my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), but we are talking about a catchment area of 100,000 people with no direct train to London. LNER, which we own, is prepared to give us our direct train for just £1 million, which compares with the £80 billion-plus we are spending on HS2. So we beg the Minister to do this for Lincolnshire, and we promise that if he gives us our train, we will make him an honorary yellowbelly.

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That would indeed be a great honour. Before a final decision can be taken, we need to review a business case from LNER. Sadly, some of the surveys have been delayed because of coronavirus, but they will be taking place later this summer. I am happy to commit to writing to my right hon. Friend setting out the schedule for that work, and to keeping him and his colleagues updated.

Active Travel

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What support the Government are providing to local authorities to promote active travel. [904124]

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What steps his Department is taking to increase levels of cycling and walking. [904129]

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What steps his Department is taking to increase levels of cycling and walking. [904135]

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What support the Government are providing to local authorities to promote active travel. [904136]

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The Government have provided £250 million of funding to local authorities this financial year to increase levels of active transport.

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Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating teachers, parents and volunteers who are opening school streets such as that for Albermarle Primary School in Putney, which are making streets cleaner, safer, greener and more cycle-friendly? On cycling, when will the Government publish their updated cycle infrastructure guidance for local authorities and the much promised cycling and walking plan or investment strategy, and will it be before recess?

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I congratulate the initiative on the roads, which is fantastic. My hon. Friend will know that I have announced £2 billion, and nearly £50 million of that has been made available to local authorities straightaway. I can also inform the House that a further tranche of money will be made available over the summer as well, along with the plans that she refers to.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to cycling and his investment in it. In my constituency of Barrow, we have the opportunity now to create a safe cycle route from Walney Island all the way up the A590 to Ulverston across some abandoned railway bridges. Making that work means getting Network Rail, Highways England and our county council to pull together. What advice and support can he give me to make that happen?

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It sounds like a terrific scheme, and my advice to my hon. Friend is to have the local authority work with all those other bodies, including Network Rail, Highways England and the county council. I will join him in pushing from my end to ensure that can happen.

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Bury Council has outlined plans for 70 new or upgraded crossings and five miles of protected cycle routes on busy roads, which if completed, would allow 88% of the population to use the Greater Manchester Bee Network. Implementation of those plans, however, has stalled, despite funding being in place. Will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure Bury North residents have the benefit of those improvements at the earliest opportunity?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Manchester Bee Network is extremely important. I can inform him that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has already had £3.174 million to assist in projects such as this and, of course, either myself or the Minister with responsibility for cycling will be absolutely delighted to meet him.

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I thank the Department for the support it has given Brighton and Hove Council to move forward on some of its street schemes, but the developing lungs of children are the most vulnerable, so air quality around schools is important as is, of course, the fitness that we want to encourage in children. As we have heard, London has already started taking action on school street schemes, so will the Secretary of State bring into effect part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to enable local authorities outside London to start to enable school street schemes to keep our children safe and reduce the 40,000 deaths because of poor air quality every year?

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I will.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that very direct answer. Around 40% of the lowest income households do not have access to a car, but we know from the Government’s own research that because they tend to live in more hazardous environments—so more traffic, more on-street parking, more pollution and little space for cycling and walking—they are deterred from active travel. Can we have a national strategy from the Government, not just money being sent down to local councils, to try to increase cycling and walking in our more deprived communities?

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As the hon. Lady will know, the Government are very much in favour of people being able to take active transport, but we are not against the car. That is why we are investing £27 billion in roads, but I can tell her—I am sure she will welcome this—that we think the priority for walking and cycling is absolutely essential. I think she will be very pleased with what we have to say in forthcoming guidance on the subject.

Public Transport: Face Coverings

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What assessment his Department has made of the level of compliance of public transport users with the requirement to wear a face covering. [904125]

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We are working closely with transport operators and the police to monitor compliance. Initial reports from operators suggest very high compliance.

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Wearing a face covering is an easy way to help protect us all from coronavirus, especially in more confined spaces such as public transport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford to make that small change which can help us to control the virus and save lives?

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My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of face coverings. We have seen very high levels of compliance. According to the Office for National Statistics, on the week of 26 June, it looks like 86% compliance was in existence. We did say that in the early days we would ensure compliance was enforced gently, but I inform the House that TfL, Network Rail and British Transport police will be tightening up on that. I have just signed the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020, which under regulation 8 give powers to TfL to increase enforcement.

Aviation: Decarbonisation

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What steps his Department is taking to decarbonise the aviation sector. [904127]

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What steps his Department is taking to decarbonise the aviation sector. [904145]

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I recently announced the Jet Zero Council, which will provide UK leadership and strategic direction to cut emissions.

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Britain has the potential to be world leading in sustainable aviation fuels, but for that we need to act fast. Will the Secretary of State therefore consider a request from the industry for £500 million of match funding to achieve that?

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My hon. Friend is right in his question, and he will be interested to hear that we set up the Jet Zero Council specifically to take forward the objective of being the first country to develop a jet commercial airliner to fly at zero carbon across the Atlantic. That will involve not just investment in sustainable aviation fuels, in which money has already been invested and more was announced by me at one of the press conferences, but work on electric planes, hybrid planes and hydrogen planes. He can expect to hear a lot more as we join with industry to help deliver on that ambition.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware that Birmingham airport in my constituency of Meriden will be key to the economic recovery of the region after the devastating impact of covid-19. Will he confirm that decarbonising the aviation sector is an economic opportunity as well as a green one? Will he join me in commending Birmingham airport on its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2033?

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My hon. Friend is right, and I absolutely join him on Birmingham’s commitment to that. It is joining other airports including, I think, Bristol, which has already achieved zero carbon, as well as Farnborough and some of the larger airports. What I have been most impressed with is the way in which the industry has embraced the Jet Zero Council and the idea of getting to zero carbon, signing its own pledges to get there. We are determined to meet this commitment, which we will hear a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.

Rail Service Frequency

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What steps his Department is taking to increase the frequency of rail services following reductions in those services as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [904128]

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The rail industry will deliver an uplift in services on Monday 6 July to respond to an increase in post-4 July demand. Service levels will be close to 85% of pre-covid levels.

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The Prime Minister is a big fan of buses, just as I am a big fan of trains—I do not make model trains yet, though—so I am proud to support a Government who are investing £48 billion into railways, giving them the biggest upgrade since Victorian times. Will my hon. Friend assure me that such funding will be used to ensure that communities across all parts of the country such as mine in Stourbridge, have access to reliable, punctual railways?

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I had already noted that my hon. Friend has a passion for rail as she has sponsored a bid to reinstate a railways fund for the “Stourbridge Dasher,” which I look forward to examining shortly. Yes, the Government are investing £48 billion in our railways in the period 2019 to 2024—that figure does not include HS2—with the intention to use that money to deliver a reliable rail service that helps to level up our country.

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I pay tribute to our wonderful rail workers, who have played a vital role in keeping our nation moving in the midst of a pandemic. As we come out of lockdown, I welcome the Government’s plans to increase the frequency of rail services as, indeed, I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s plans and efforts to effectively nationalise our rail services at the start of lockdown. It is disappointing to note, however, that other operators such as Hull Trains have been refused the exact same support from the Government, thereby risking hundreds of jobs.

There is no point in having lots of trains running if people are not using those services because they fear it is not safe to do so. Given the Government’s mixed messaging, with weakening social distancing requirements on the one hand and patchy compliance with the new face-covering law on the other, how does the Minister propose to protect passengers and rail workers while restoring public confidence in our network?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. We have had a conversation already and I look forward to working with him. Our railways are a very important part of bringing our nation’s economy back. It is quite straightforward: we will have a reliable train service that will be one of the cleanest on the planet. We want to get customers back when they are able to travel, given the appropriate guidance. Working together, I think we can do that.

Public Transport Access: Sight Loss

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What recent discussions he has had with transport providers on safe access to public transport for people with sight loss as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. [904130]

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The Government remain committed to delivering inclusive transport for all passengers. My officials and I meet regularly with transport providers and make it clear that they must consider the needs of all passengers as transport restarts. My most recent meeting involving a sight loss charity was last Friday.

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I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent Janice, who is blind, is anxious about how to keep safe and stay socially distant on public transport, and she is not alone. The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s director of services, David Clarke, said:

“Social distancing is near-impossible for…blind and partially sighted people which makes it difficult to go out and get food…exercise or attend medical appointments”.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the RNIB and my constituent by acting early to ensure that all transport providers in England have the funds available for new accessible signage, so that social pressure to keep to the rules does not have an unfair impact on blind and partially sighted people?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She is absolutely right in everything she says. I have been working with a whole range of accessibility groups and disability charities to try to make sure that we get our messaging right, because we want to welcome everyone back to our rail system eventually and we want it to be the most accessible in the world. We have a long way to go, but we are working with those groups to deliver that service as best we can.

Leaving the EU: Road Haulage

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What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the (a) freight logistics and (b) road haulage sector of not reaching a deal on the future relationship with the EU by the end of the transition period. [904131]

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The UK continues to work constructively towards a trade agreement with the EU. Whatever our trading relationship with the EU after 31 December, the UK logistics and haulage sector will play a critical part.

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The Dover port is used by 10,000 trucks every day. If we end up with no deal, the slightest delay means that just-in-time systems fall apart. The logistics sector says that it needs a credible plan to cover that high-risk situation. When will we see such a plan?

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The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point that I as a Minister and my Department as a whole are focusing on. We are working through detailed plans to ensure that traffic flows smoothly through Kent, so that goods and services can continue to flow to the EU and elsewhere, as they do at the moment.

Hydrogen Vehicles

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What steps he is taking to increase the use of hydrogen vehicles. [904132]

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Whether the transport decarbonisation plan will support the UK to become a world leader in hydrogen technology. [904139]

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We are accelerating the use of hydrogen vehicles through demonstration and R&D projects to fulfil our ambitions for greener transport and to level up the country. Decarbonising transport requires the sector and users to embrace new technology and innovations such as hydrogen like never before.

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I welcome the Minister’s answer. Given that hydrogen technology presents such an enormous opportunity for clean UK-made transport of the future, will she ensure that hydrogen gets an equal billing in that R&D in future as we deliver the green revolution in transport?

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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. We are totally well placed to be a leader in clean hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and that is down to our high-quality engineering and manufacturing capability. This Government, I as a Minister and the whole Department are working at pace to develop our green recovery plan, and hydrogen will form a key part of that.

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I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for the work that they are doing, in particular, on the transport decarbonisation plan that he and I started together. Does the Minister agree that to make the post-covid recovery a real catalyst both for levelling up and sustainable growth, an industrial strategy for hydrogen fuel with four, five or six green hydrogen transport hubs, from Aberdeen to Teesside, Norfolk, Bristol and Northern Ireland, and a major procurement package for hydrogen buses would really help the UK to take a lead, drive down the cost, and lead in the science and R&D of hydrogen fuel?

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I will take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his valuable contribution in driving forward this vital agenda. We are a world leader in technology, innovation and R&D and, as he will know, we have invested £121 million in UK hydrogen technology to make sure that it plays a key part in our green recovery and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He is also right that this has the potential to drive a fantastic flourishing and see levelling up across our whole country. We are working to include hydrogen and ensure that it plays a key part in the green recovery and our levelling-up ambitions.

Aviation Sector: Worker Protection

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What steps he is taking to help ensure that the terms and conditions of workers in the aviation sector are protected during the covid-19 pandemic. [904133]

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What steps he is taking to help ensure that the terms and conditions of workers in the aviation sector are protected during the covid-19 pandemic. [904143]

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The Government remain committed to an open dialogue with the sector as we work towards our shared ambition of getting aviation up and running again. We encourage the industry and unions to engage constructively with each other.

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British Airways is proposing to lay off 12,000 staff and is using this pandemic as cover to put its remaining 30,000 staff on inferior contracts. Using a global health crisis to force through such changes is a national disgrace, yet British Airways still enjoys preferential treatment as our flag carrier, with a dominant position on slots at Heathrow. If it fails to treat its staff properly, surely it is time to review whether it is fit to be our national carrier and time to reallocate those slots.

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All redundancies or any threat to jobs in this unprecedented pandemic is incredibly worrying for all workers, and my sympathies are with all those affected at this time. I have spoken to Willie Walsh and encouraged BA and the unions to engage constructively with each other. Employees should be treated fairly and in the spirit of partnership and we are working with the aviation sector on a restart and recovery plan. Of course, we will be looking at all regulations at our disposal.

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A constituent of mine who started working for British Airways more than 20 years ago faces losing their job or being rehired on worse pay and terms than when they started work. BA needs to halt its plans and the Government have still not brought forward an aviation sector deal, as promised three months ago. Will the Minister therefore confirm when an aviation deal will finally be announced and whether any deal will both extend the job retention scheme for aviation workers and include firm conditions to help to protect jobs, firms and pay?

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The Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of measures to support business and particularly the aviation sector. The Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been clear that we stand ready to talk to and hear from businesses that need further support. Of course, my absolute sympathies are with everybody affected with regards to redundancies or any kind of change within their terms and conditions. It is absolutely right that those employees should be treated fairly, and I hope that the unions and BA continue to work together to come to a proper resolution.

Decarbonisation

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What steps his Department is taking to decarbonise the transport sector. [904134]

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We are creating a transport decarbonisation plan, to be published by the end of the year, setting out a bold and ambitious pathway for the decarbonisation of transport.

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Will the Secretary of State please do all he can to bring forward the very light rail scheme in Dudley so that we can benefit not just from the environmental impact that the scheme will bring, but from the economic benefits as we bounce back from covid-19?

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I am aware of my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and support for the very light rail scheme in Dudley, and we are keen to support it. It is important to get Dudley Council working with the West Midlands Combined Authority and the local enterprise partnership. We very much look forward to receiving the detailed business case.

Electric Cycles

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What steps his Department is taking to encourage people to use electric cycles. [904137]

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The Government have simplified their cycle to work scheme guidance to help employers to access e-bikes at a discount.

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Southampton has received Government funding for additional cycle lanes, many of which lie unused for most of the day. My constituency is surrounded by hills, which is quite a deterrent for people on cycles. E-bikes and e-scooters could make a significant difference. I welcome the news that e-scooters will become legal this weekend, but without relaxing the regulations for privately owned e-scooters, a city centre hire scheme will make little or no difference in Southampton. Will my hon. Friend look again at privately owned e-scooters to encourage more of my constituents out of their cars?

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My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to capitalise on the unprecedented growth in active travel that we have seen recently, especially on bicycles and e-bicycles. He is completely correct about e-scooters; these trials will only include rental scooters. This will allow them to take place in a controlled manner while we assess the safety and other impacts. A wide range of e-scooters are available, building to different standards. I would like to think that the trials will demonstrate how useful they are in the mix for active travel.

Local Sustainable Transport Plans

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Whether the Government plan to make a sustainable transport plan implementation strategy mandatory for every local authority. [904138]

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Local areas have a key role to play in decarbonising transport and stimulating a green recovery. We welcome plans from local authorities, and have supported their shift to cycling and walking with a £250 million emergency active travel fund.

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Will the Minister ratchet up the sense of urgency on this? We need sustainable towns right across the country, and sustainable transport is at the heart of that. We could already transform taxis to electric or hybrid, and change our buses. We can do so much now. Will she put more pressure on—and give more resources to—local authorities so that they lead the way, and will she support our new commission on road air quality?

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I assure the hon. Gentleman that I completely share his desire to do things faster than they have been done to date. We have brought forward the e-scooter trials, which will see e-scooters being rolled out in Tees Valley and across the country to immediately harness the benefits of the green air that we are seeing as a result of the pandemic lockdown situation. A whole host of other measures are coming onstream, all backed up by £2 billion of Government support for active travel including cycling and walking. We will continue to work on this through our transport decarbonisation plan.

Maritime Sector Jobs

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What steps he is taking to help protect jobs in the maritime sector. [904141]

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My officials and I engage extensively with the maritime sector on the support that it needs, including unprecedented financial assistance.

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P&O Ferries, which is owned by the Government of Dubai, has pocketed millions from the British taxpayer during the covid crisis. It is now intending to make British seafarers redundant and replace them with low-paid, badly treated Filipino crews, because it says that the routes are not viable when using British seafarers. The Secretary of State told the Transport Committee that there is nothing he can do because his hands are tied by international agreement. It is not good enough. Will the Minister commit to levelling up employment conditions to prevent the likes of P&O from destroying seafarer jobs, and to unleash the potential of this brilliant maritime city of Hull?

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I note the hon. Gentleman’s particular interest in this policy area. We have had many discussions on this issue and he knows that I am committed to doing what I can as the Minister responsible for maritime to increase the ability of UK seafarers to work on our routes. We have supported the ferry sector with a with a freight support package to protect what we needed within the UK, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we want to make sure that we are able to create an environment in which we can increase the number of seafarers operating around our coastal shores.

Railways: Passenger Confidence

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What recent steps the Government have taken to increase passenger confidence in the railway. [904142]

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The Government have provided guidance to transport operators and the public so that they can travel safely. We have made it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport in England and, pleasingly, compliance is growing every day.

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Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the railways, but my constituents in Bedford and Kempston have been particularly hard hit. The Bedford-to-Corby electrification is now delayed; the long-awaited return of the East Midlands Railway service is delayed until May next year; the current Thameslink service is slow; and the Bedford-to-Bletchley trains have been stopped altogether. Does the Minister agree that this is a far cry from the transport revolution that his Government promised?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I think he is mixing up the reaction to the obvious pressures we have had because of the pandemic with our plans for the future. Some of the plans that he outlined are delayed, yes, but that is because people were not able to work safely during the pandemic. The train line that he mentioned is no longer serving Bletchley because nobody was using it. These services will all return and they will be reliable and cleaner than ever before.

Transport Project Construction

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What steps his Department is taking to fast-track construction on transport projects while fewer passengers are using the transport system during the covid-19 outbreak. [904148]

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In May, we announced £190 million-worth of investment in our road and rail networks to take advantage of lower demand.

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My hon. Friend is aware of platform capacity issues at Leeds station; will he provide an update on the construction of platform 0, which will service rail connections from Harrogate and Knaresborough?

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I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend did when he was a Department for Transport Minister. Work is now under way on platform 0 at Leeds and is expected to be completed by early next year. It will enable Northern to operate services more reliably.

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Sounds like Harry Potter, doesn’t it?

UK Seafarers

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What steps he is taking to protect the rights of UK seafarers during the covid-19 pandemic. [904172]

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We recognise our international obligations, our borders remain open to seafarers, and we are enforcing their rights under the maritime labour convention.

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Some 400,000 sailors around the world are stranded as a result of covid restrictions. That requires international action and our country needs to take a lead. Will the Minister do that?

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I very much thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I happen to be able to inform him that next week I will be holding an international summit with a particular focus on crew change and how we can do our best for seafarers internationally.

Topical Questions

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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904179]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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 he can to mitigate the negative impact of a substantive loss in income during the pandemic, as that income would have paid for services? [904186]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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We are now on the flightpath to Harrow East and Captain Bob.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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.