Skip to main content

Transport

Volume 682: debated on Thursday 22 October 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Transport Sector: Support and Covid-19 Emergency Funding

What steps the Government are taking to ensure that covid-19 emergency funding support is fair and equitable across transport operators. (907935)

What (a) financial and (b) other support he plans to provide to the transport sector in the next six months. (907939)

What (a) financial and (b) other support he plans to provide to the transport sector in the next six months. (907941)

The Government continue to provide the support that is necessary to maintain public transport throughout this pandemic. It may be helpful to the House if I let Members know that the Department is expecting to spend between £10.6 billion and £12.6 billion on supporting the transport sector in response to this pandemic.

If there is, as many predict, a disruptive end to the transition period, with long delays and blockages at the EU border and the inevitable financial costs this will bring to hauliers and traders, will the UK Government financially support and compensate these businesses and workers for the costs inflicted on them by this Tory Government’s failure to secure anything bearing any semblance of a deal with the European Union?

I have just described the between £10 billion and £12.5 billion of support this Government have provided to the transport sector through covid. The hon. Gentleman talks about what will happen at the end of the transition period. I hope he is reassured to know that I am leaving from this House to go straight to Kent to review the many plans that are very advanced and in place to ensure that the transition is smooth.

Covid-19 has resulted in the transport sector being hit hard in the north-east. I hear what the Secretary of State says, but will he commit to providing long-term emergency funding support beyond the end of the financial year to cover the damage caused by restrictions on the economy to prevent major service cuts and job losses in the transport sector in the north-east?

I hope the hon. Lady will accept that an enormous amount of money, as revealed today—between £10.5 billion and £12.5 billion—has been put into the transport sector throughout this crisis, and it has taken many different forms. I will say a bit more about, for example, light rail, which I know will be of interest in parts of the north-east, later. But, yes, we will commit to ensure that our transport sector continues to function, and in particular to ensure that key workers through this difficult period are able to continue to travel and able to serve people in this country, particularly NHS and care workers.

A constituent of mine worked as a member of the cabin crew for British Airways out of Edinburgh for over 21 years. They have been forced out of their job and pressured to sign an agreement that has no transparency of the pay breakdown; frankly, they have been totally shafted by BA. Does the Transport Secretary recognise that, on the one hand, there is an urgent need for more financial support for the aviation sector, but on the other, companies such as BA need taking to task, and the fire and rehire Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) would be the perfect way to do that? Would he also commit to meet my constituent and me, so that he can hear at first hand their horrendous experience?

I know this is a subject that the whole House has been concerned about. The Select Committee on Transport has spent some time looking into this and has made a number of different comments on the matter. It is the case, of course, that these are extraordinarily difficult times for many businesses in this country, but I do not think that any are more impacted than the aviation sector. The most important thing we can do to help the hon. Member and her constituents is to make sure that the sector gets going again, which is why things such as test and release are very important. But I will certainly ensure that a meeting can take place between the aviation Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—and her constituent.

The independent coach sector must be unique in the impact that covid has had on its business and the level of support—in other words, not very much—that it has had from Government. What can this Government do to support private enterprises such as JP Minicoaches in Forfar and Black’s of Brechin to weather what has been a disastrous summer followed by a catastrophic winter looming?

About 3,000 coach operators in the country employ 40,000 people in businesses worth about £4.5 billion, and it is true that they have been at the forefront of this crisis. They make a lot of their money from tourism, with the remainder coming from things like school runs. I am pleased that through the return to school, the Department for Education made available £70 million, which has assisted in getting some of those often family-run businesses up and running again.

Until we recover from covid, coach operators will not be able to run at full pelt. They have been able to access some of the ground-breaking additional assistance that the Chancellor has made available, but we will continue to work with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, and other Government Departments, to ensure that coach operators are able to continue as best as possible through these difficult times.

When it comes to financial support, the railways have had billions, and I am grateful that they continue to run. The Williams review to reform the railways envisaged a “guiding mind” body that would be at arm’s length to the Department for Transport, the train operators and Network Rail, in order to properly oversee and run the railway. There is some concern that that arm’s length body may end up as Network Rail, which sounds a little like the days of the old British Rail. Can the Secretary of State assure me that there will be that independent “guiding mind” body to run and oversee both train and track?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the Transport Committee, and the close attention that the Committee pays to these subjects. Clearly, the rail network has been going through extraordinary times, with much of the support that I described earlier going to rail. As we move forward, it is important that we do not end up back with the old British Rail, with bad sandwiches and the rest of it, but at the same time we bring a fragmented system back together. That is what the Williams review aims to do, and in some ways covid has enabled us to accelerate that process. I assure my hon. Friend that the outcome will not be some conglomerate with no real “guiding mind” and all the worst from the past, and we will move forward with the Williams reforms.

Despite failing to deliver the promised sectoral support, the Secretary of State has said time and again that his Government are listening to and working with the aviation sector. How does that tally with the Government ignoring every response to a Treasury consultation on abolishing the airside shopping VAT exemption, which will cost Glasgow and Edinburgh airports combined £10 million-plus? Does he agree that the last thing his Treasury colleagues should be doing is pursuing policies that will cost yet more jobs in that beleaguered sector?

The aviation sector has enjoyed a significant amount of support from the public purse. I do not think I have previously drawn this figure to the attention of the House, but the covid corporate financing facility scheme, which is run by the Bank of England, has lent 11% of the money that it has lent to aviation, so there has been a huge amount of money. I am aware of the changes in airport shops to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Treasury has been consulting on that issue for some time and I will ensure that his comments are reflected back to it.

Let us try a much simpler question, to which I am sure the Secretary of State can give a straightforward and categorical answer. With the news that the black hole known as HS2— the English-only HS2—needs another £800 million ploughed into it, when will the UK Government update the Scottish Government on the timing and amount of Barnett consequentials that should flow from the project, so that those funds can be spent supporting and revitalising transport in Scotland?

The Barnett formula is a matter for the Treasury, but at the moment the £800 million is entirely within the budgets. One thing we have done—the Minister of State, Department for Transport ensured that this happened—is to come to the House with six-monthly updates, so that no big surprises suddenly appear in the HS2 budget. I would say in general though that the benefits of HS2 will be felt by the whole United Kingdom. That means, potentially, ultimately, a journey from London to Edinburgh in three hours or so. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that levelling up and connectivity throughout the Union.

Our country faces an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus, and I pay tribute to transport workers—bus drivers and others—who have risked their safety at this very difficult time. At this difficult and dangerous time, will the Minister explain why the Government are spending £7 million on a pointless rebranding exercise for Highways Agency rather than spending the money protecting lives and saving jobs?

Tilting Train Services: West Coast Main Line

What plans he has to maintain tilting train services on the west coast main line after the completion of High Speed 2; and if he will make a statement. (907925)

No decisions have been made relating to the types of rolling stock required for the west coast main line after the completion of HS2.

I am grateful for that answer, which was very different from what HS2 told me in a meeting recently. Lichfield is one of over 20 stations along the west coast main line that will not be served by HS2; the nearest station will be half an hour or more away. At the moment, we have the tilting Pendolinos, which are very fast, but HS2 told me that when they are phased out, they will not be replaced by any fast train, and the west coast main line will be used only for slow commuting trains. Can the Minister assure me that HS2 got it wrong at that meeting, and that stations such as Lichfield Trent Valley will still have a fast service down to London once HS2 is completed?

I am always happy to provide reassurance to my hon. Friend. Fast inter-city trains will continue to run on the west coast main line once HS2 opens. One of the key aims for future service patterns is that all towns or cities that currently have a direct service to London will retain broadly comparable or better services once HS2 is completed.

With reports of further overspends on High Speed 2, it now appears that the Government are abandoning their commitment that the track will connect all the way to Leeds. For all their soundbites and promises of levelling up, once again, the north is being punished by the Government’s failure to get to grips with the financial management of this project. I hope I am wrong, so let us find out. Can the Minister confirm categorically, right here today, that if HS2 is to be delivered, it will be delivered in full, and that it will benefit, among others, the good people of Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds?

As the shadow Minister is well aware, when the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead to HS2 in February this year, he said that we were committed to delivering phase 2b but how phase 2b was delivered would be subject to the integrated rail plan. We have been making significant progress with the integrated rail plan. Sir John Armitt and the National Infrastructure Commission have already published their interim report. We look forward to their further recommendations and to responding to them before Christmas.

Rail Network: Accessibility for Disabled People

The Government have recently made £350 million available to make accessibility improvements at a further 209 stations through the Access for All programme, ramping up provision across the country. We also require the industry to comply with current accessibility standards whenever they install, replace or renew station infrastructure.

We are now heading up to Manchester with Afzal Khan—or we hoped to be. I call Navendu Mishra.

Currently, nearly 40% of stations in Britain do not have step-free access. Some upgrades are planned for Davenport and Heaton Chapel stations in my constituency of Stockport, but if updates to stations continue at this rate, our rail network will not be fully accessible until 2070, so what plans does the Minister have to ensure that more trains and platforms are made accessible?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, because, as he knows, much of our station infrastructure is Victorian and therefore not accessible to many disabled passengers, and it is a huge shame that it is taking a long time to rectify that. Only around a fifth of stations have step-free access to and between all platforms, although 75% of journeys are through step-free stations, compared with 50% in 2005. However, there is a lot more to do, and we have an ambitious target to get this all sorted as quickly as possible.

Walking and Cycling Rates

It is for local authorities to determine prioritising investment in local transport. The Government are taking steps which were outlined in the Prime Minister’s cycling and walking plan, published in July, with a £2 billion budget.

The Minister will be aware that areas experiencing the largest growth in new housing are some of those most interested in investment in cycling and walkways. With Central Bedfordshire Council and Bedford Borough Council experiencing some of the highest growth in the country, will the Minister give special consideration to their active travel network plans?

My hon. Friend’s county borders mine and I know it has very ambitious plans, with Bedford Borough Council, to enable it to develop a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan that is positive and engages lots of people. Where possible, we are working with local authorities, but it is for local authorities within Bedfordshire to work in tandem and consider what sort of approach is appropriate for the locality. Should they wish my Department to offer any extra advice, we will, of course, be happy to do so.

Rail Bridge Upgrades

What steps his Department is taking to support local communities in meeting the cost of upgrades to rail bridges to tackle congestion. (907928)

Local authorities in England have benefited from this year’s £1.7 billion transport infrastructure investment fund to repair and improve bridges, as well as the £12 billion local growth fund. Future funding will be subject to the current spending review.

Crewe is proud of its heritage as a historic railway town, but it does create challenges. It is criss-crossed by railway lines, with some very old and narrow bridges that create quite enormous congestion. The cost of replacing them sits outside the ordinary maintenance and repair budget. Will the Minister explain what the process might be to get support for such big capital expenditure and agree to meet me to discuss, for example, replacing Earle Street bridge.

I remember the layout of Crewe very well from walking around it in a by-election a few years ago. As my hon. Friend knows, the future arrival of HS2 in the town provides a unique opportunity for Crewe to undertake a comprehensive review of its transport infrastructure requirements. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to engage with local partners, agreeing priority projects that will facilitate growth and address the traffic constraints he outlined. They can form part of the discussions he would like to have with us. I would be delighted to meet him, as would the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has responsibility for HS2.

Maritime Workers’ Pay Protection

What steps the Government are taking to ensure that maritime workers receive pay protection equal to other sectors. (907929)

The maritime industry has submitted a £1 billion bid through the comprehensive spending review to kickstart maritime decarbonisation. That will boost wages and create jobs in coastal communities like Ynys Môn across the UK, and help the UK to lead in green maritime technology. Will the Minister confirm that his Department supports the bid, and that he will commit to meeting me and MPs from coastal communities to discuss this matter in more detail?

I thank my hon. Friend for her passionate advocacy on behalf of the coastal communities of Ynys Môn. I cannot go into the detail of draft proposals, but I can reassure her that across Government the issue of decarbonisation and the need to achieve net zero is central. Decarbonising shipping is essential to achieve the target of net zero emissions across the economy by 2050. I would be delighted to meet her and other parliamentary colleagues to discuss that further.

A303 Dualling

The second road investment strategy, published in March, continues our commitment to create a high-quality connection for the south-west along the A303-A358 corridor.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She will know how important the A303 is to us here in the far south-west—it is one of just two arterial roads into this region. Can she confirm that work on delivering the dualling of the A303 from Stonehenge to Taunton will begin on the ground shortly? We have had many promises over the years from various Governments. The people of the far south-west would like to see some action. Can she please confirm that work on dualling this important road will begin in the very near future?

Let me assure my hon. Friend that the Government absolutely recognise the critical importance of the A303 for journeys across his part of the south of England for the people who live there and for the economy of the region. Our second road investment strategy provides the funding for removing the bottleneck at Stonehenge and underlines our commitment to find solutions to the remaining issues along the A303, with the next phases of construction likely to take place after the Stonehenge tunnel is completed.

Covid-19 Quarantine: International Travel

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the duration of covid-19 quarantine required after international travel. (907931)

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the duration of covid-19 quarantine required after international travel. (907946)

The global travel taskforce is considering how to implement a testing regime for international arrivals to reduce self-isolation.

The restrictions on air travel have had many further consequences, not least for coach operators. When the pandemic first struck, the Government introduced a very generous package for coach operators that saved many businesses and jobs. Now that coach operators such as J&C Coaches in my Sedgefield constituency are back up and running again, the Government’s package has stopped. However, fleet insurance is back to normal, the vehicles all have to be taxed and the drivers are back to work. All the coach operators have to fund these expenses on very basic school contracts. There are no swimming baths, no Beamish, no Hadrian’s wall, no excursions, no football and no nights out in Darlington, Durham or Newcastle. Will the Secretary of State please encourage his right hon. Friend the Chancellor to find something from somewhere to support this industry that is part of the glue that connects our citizens?

I very much understand the pressures that the coach industry in particular is under, as I mentioned in a previous response. It is a fact that those parts of the economy, many of which my hon. Friend described, are not up and functioning right now, so the Government need to do things to provide support to the sector, which we have been doing across all UK businesses—in particular, through the 24 September winter economy plan from the Chancellor—to try to assist, while also recognising, as I know right hon. and hon. Members do across the House, that the Government do not have a magic-wand solution to ensure that business is running at its usual capacity while we are tackling covid. I referred earlier to the 3,000 coach operators. I understand the pressure they are under, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I are very much focused on other ways that we can find to assist the sector.

I have heard from a number of constituents in the travel and tourism industry who are very concerned about staying in business over the next six months. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent proposal to reduce quarantine to seven days and on the use of testing capacity at major airports such as Heathrow. What can the Government do to help smaller regional airports, such as Southampton, to create their own testing capacity?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That links to the previous question inasmuch as we have to get this economy going if we are going to have to live with coronavirus for quite some time. We need to do that by ensuring that economic activity can continue and that people can continue to travel by coach, covid-safely, and by air. The global travel taskforce is working on the implementation of some really quite complex issues related to, for example—she mentioned testing at airports—whether testing at airports actually provides the solution. As we know, what is required at the moment, according to the best science, is still a period of self-isolation, followed by a test, which could take place either at an airport or perhaps even in a more convenient, more local location. That is what the global travel taskforce is working on with the airports, the travel sector and academics, as well as medical experts, in order to implement exactly that kind of system to assist the entire industry.

Sixth Carbon Budget

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on including (a) international aviation and (b) shipping emissions in the sixth carbon budget. (907932)

I am pleased to hear it, but what are the results of those discussions? Aviation accounts for 8% of our UK emissions and international flights for 80% of that, so is it not time that the Government actually acted on the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change and included those emissions in carbon budgets, so that we can face up to our climate responsibilities?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Emissions are a global problem and they require a global solution. The UK is working with international partners, and leading with international partners, through organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, and I think that that is the approach we should take.

Can I get some clarity on the timing of this? In last week’s response to the Committee on Climate Change, the Government said that we would ideally be looking at negotiating a long-term emissions reduction goal for aviation at ICAO in 2022, and that we would be working at the IMO in advance of its revising its strategy for shipping in 2023. That would all be too late to put anything in the sixth carbon budget, particularly if there is insufficient progress at those talks. It would push action into the 2040s. Why are the Government stalling when it is very clear that we need action on international aviation and shipping emissions now?

It is important to realise that the Government are not stalling. When we look at the leading role that the Government have in both of those organisations and the progress on programmes such as the carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation, we can see that the Government are driving ahead and taking their international partners with them.

International Roll-on Roll-off Ferry Services

What assessment he has made of the future viability of international roll-on roll-off ferry services from the UK. (907933)

A mid-year financial health assessment of carriers has provided assurances for the continued flow of freight on international roll on, roll off services.

I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for their helpful engagement with me over P&O ferries threatening to scrap the Hull to Zeebrugge route. International shipping routes are critical to our economic future yet P&O is threatening to walk away. Does the Minister agree that the time has now come for the company to be told to invest in our area, step up and, instead of paying millions to its Dubai owners, put something into our local economy?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for our recent meeting. He is a powerful advocate for his area, its identity and its economic vitality. Although these are commercial decisions, I want to see a commitment from all operators to the UK workforce and the coastal communities for whom these routes are so important.

We wish my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) well. There was a fire on the Pride of Hull last night, but all hands are safe.

Brexit talks between the Prime Minister and the maritime sector this week have been poorly received and it is a failure of statecraft that the Department has had to award £77 million worth of contracts to secure vital medicine in the event of no deal. To be fair to the Secretary of State—and I am fair to him—at least he awarded these ferry contracts to companies that actually own some ships this time. What undertakings has the Minister pursued to ensure that they will actually employ British seafarers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the Pride of Hull. I was concerned to hear about the incident, but I am glad to confirm that the ship is safely back at berth. I commend all those who were responsible for responding to the incident. I am relieved that nobody was seriously injured, and I thank the crew for ensuring that everyone on board was safe.

There are, of course, ongoing conversations among all parts of Government to ensure that we have an appropriate response to the end of the EU transition period whatever the result of negotiations.

Covid-19: Transport in Newcastle

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on transport in Newcastle; and what support he is providing to public transport operators in that city. (907936)

The Department is in regular contact with Nexus and Transport North East and has a number of schemes in place to support transport operators at this difficult time.

The Minister will know that many of my constituents, particularly those on low and insecure pay, cannot work from home and are still taking the bus to work, so are still paying significantly more to go a few bus stops across Newcastle than it would to cross the whole of London. The Government talk about levelling up. When is he going to level down bus fares?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we are putting huge resources into supporting the bus sector at this time. On 8 August, we announced additional funding of £27.3 million per week to support the bus sector. We are developing a bus strategy and I am sure that fares and the fairness of fares across the country will be part of that strategy.

A27: Worthing to Shoreham

What recent progress has been made on tackling congestion on the Worthing to Shoreham section of the A27 in West Sussex. (907937)

We are committed to improving this part of the A27 by 2025. We have been discussing options with local councils and will be going to public consultation in due course.

Last week, we had the welcome news about the preferred route for the Arundel bypass on the A27 at a likely cost of more than £250 million. Yet just down the road on the A27 in my constituency of Worthing—a town 10 times the size of Arundel—we were allocated just £70 million on the road investment strategy, RIS 1 scheme, back in 2014. All we have seen so far are inadequate plans for tinkering with junctions and improving cycle routes. Will the Minister step in to help progress a proper scheme to deal with the much worse and worsening congestion on the Worthing-Shoreham stretch of the A27 and perhaps come down to visit and sit in a traffic jam with me and see the problem at first hand?

I would be delighted to accept the invitation. However, this would be a matter for my hon. Friend in the other place, Baroness Vere, as this is her portfolio, but I am sure she would also be delighted if her diary allows. To answer my hon. Friend’s question, he is absolutely right to be committed to alleviating congestion. Highways England is making progress on developing options for improvements on that important stretch of road, and it is keen to work with local stakeholders to scope the best options for local communities, at which point it will be ready to look at delivering for the local communities.

Regional and National Transport Links

We are committed to supporting regional and national connectivity, and we recently launched the union connectivity review.

The A66 is a vital route for residents of Barnard Castle and right across the north-east—[Laughter.] This happens every time I say that. Can my right hon. Friend please give me an update on the dualling of the A66, and will he meet me to discuss the issue of the Rokeby junction?

A popular question, Mr Speaker. I thought my hon. Friend was going to rise to discuss the A68 and the Toft Hill bypass, on which I know she has campaigned a lot, but the A66 is in the second road investment strategy—the RIS 2—for the period 2020 to 2025. Earlier this year, I launched the preferred route for the A66. That is completing its analysis, and it will then go for a statutory consultation, so it is moving at pace. I can confirm that someone has even set up a Twitter account about the A66, which she might like to follow.

The HS2 East Midlands hub will be located in Toton in the heart of my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the construction of the eastern leg of HS2 to deliver vital jobs and investment into Broxtowe and the wider region?

As the House will know, the eastern leg is called the 2b, and, as the Prime Minister has said from this Dispatch Box, it is not a question of “to be or not to be”—it will be; it will be constructed. I think my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that, through the integrated rail plan, we will ensure that we can properly connect up the midlands to the north, going up to Leeds on the eastern leg, and do so in a way that now takes into account the many plans that have evolved since HS2 was originally dreamed up 10 or 15 years ago.

No Agreement with the EU: Preparedness

What recent progress his Department has made on its preparedness in the event that there is no agreement on future relations with the EU after the transition period. (907940)

Our priority is to ensure that road and air transport continue to operate between the UK and the EU. We are making extensive preparations to ensure good flows and, as I mentioned, I am off to Kent immediately after I finish at the Dispatch Box to update on progress.

The Republic of Ireland is preparing by creating new port facilities and supporting new direct ferry routes to Europe. Rather than seeking to turn Kent into a car park or sustaining south-east ports that can never materialise, would it not be more appropriate to provide the resources to ensure that new routes and port and ferry facilities can be established both in Scotland and north-east England?

I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Gentleman. We have a curious situation where an awful lot of goods passage through the so-called short straits from Dover, but that is not by any means the only port in this country. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ports. He might have missed it, but I recently launched the £200 million port infrastructure fund to further boost the capacity of ports around the country, and that is in addition to the large amount of additional infrastructure spending that has been put in place over the past few years as we have got closer to the end of the transition period.

Rail Connections: North of England

We announced nearly £600 million of investment in the rail network across the north in July alone. This is part of the £48 billion being spent on rail between 2019 and 2024.

Leyland has some exciting plans for development with the Government’s towns fund, and an important part of that is the reopening of Midge Hall station, but at the moment we have the nonsense of trains stopping there but passengers not being allowed to get on or off. Will my hon. Friend give every consideration to that as part of the restoring your railway fund?

That was an excellent Lancastrian question, from an excellent Member of Parliament. For the second round of applications to the restoring your railway ideas fund 51 proposals have been submitted to the expert panel. The recommendations have now been made and we are considering them for funding. We will be announcing the outcome of the second round in the coming weeks.

Covid-19: Rural Bus Routes

The Department is working closely with local authorities and operators to ensure that the bus routes people most rely on continue to run throughout the pandemic.

The Government have announced a £5 billion package to support buses, including 4,000 energy-efficient buses. Will the Minister look at local routes in my area, such as the 15 and 16 in and around Brixham, to see how we might extend them in the future, given the vital services they provide in a community that has few bus links?

I understand that my hon. Friend recently met the Minister responsible for buses to discuss this very issue, and I pay tribute to him for the campaigning he does on behalf of his constituents. We are creating a £20 million rural mobility fund to support innovative solutions to transport problems in rural areas, and we will also be taking rural transport into account in the national bus strategy, which we aim to publish by the end of the year.

Transport Funding in London

What recent discussions he has had with Transport for London on the adequacy of funding for transport provision in London. (907945)

The Department regularly engages with Transport for London and the Mayor in order to understand the impact of covid-19.

In the past 48 hours, Conservative Members have already begun campaigning about what they are describing as the Mayor of London’s proposed extension of the congestion charge. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to confirm to the House today that he wrote to the Mayor in these terms:

“We propose that you maintain the congestion charge at its current level and hours…we also propose the extension of the…congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone and at the same time, October 2021.”?

It is important to understand that the Government have already provided funding of £1.6 billion to TfL. The Mayor is now back for another tranche of funding, which is understandable in part because of covid. However, in other parts, for example through not having maintained fares with inflation previously, he has left a gap. We have gone to the Mayor with a long list of different things he could do. It is up to him what he does, but I want to make it clear to the House that it is his choice and we are not going to require him to extend the congestion charge anywhere.

Carbon Emissions: Aviation

The Government are committed to net-zero aviation. This year, we established the Jet Zero Council to drive delivery of that, by encouraging the development of clean technologies, sustainable aviation fuels and regulatory changes.

We all appreciate that the aviation industry is under immense pressure, and we want to see it recover through covid-19, but will the Government ensure that part of the support and encouragement for the aviation industry is tied to those developments of fuels, and that the UK oil and gas industry is also involved in finding alternative fuels?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to say that alternative sustainable aviation fuels are a major part of this. The Government have made £20 million of capital funding available through the future fuels for flight and freight competition, which is for projects that produce low carbon, waste-based fuels, and we will be looking further at what else we can do.

E-scooters

We have started trials of this innovative new mode of transport, the e-scooter, in 15 areas of the country, with more to start soon. We are thoroughly gathering data on journeys. A lot of very positive feedback is already coming through and we are assessing the wider impacts.

My constituent Mark Rawinski recently bought an e-scooter, and he has been telling me that it is far more affordable than a car or a motorcycle and drawing my attention to how much better it is for the environment. There is a strong case that e-scooters should be classified as personal electric vehicles, in the same way as electric bikes are, as they have similar power and speed. Does the Minister agree?

I am absolutely delighted to hear of the support of my hon. Friend’s constituent for this new, clean, green, convenient and, as he said, much more environmentally friendly mode of transport. We do support active travel and active transport, which is why we are trialling e-scooters and gathering the evidence. The evidence that we gather will inform the decisions that we make about whether to legalise e-scooters in the future. Until then, it is important to say that privately owned e-scooters should not be used on the public roads.

Maritime Safety

Tugboats operate in our port night and day 365 days a year, and the pandemic has not stopped this. I recently went aboard a tugboat on the River Tees and was told of the lengths that the team at Svitzer Teesside goes to to ensure safe tugging operations along the busiest ports on the east coast. However, the crew expressed some concerns that other tug services do not conform to the same safety standards. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the sector to see how we can level up the safety of our tugs?

Tug and work boats are critical to the operation and safety of our ports. They ensure that vessels can complete the most dangerous part of their voyages into ports in safety. My hon. Friend has done a great service to those who work on the Tees by bringing this important matter to the House’s attention, and I would welcome the chance to meet him and representatives of the sector in order to discuss this further.

Topical Questions

Today, I will be joining the great northern conference. I will not only reinforce the Government’s belief in the northern powerhouse, but announce further funding to allow trams to continue to operate, helping people to get to work and NHS staff to get to hospitals. That will go to local authorities and operators in Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, Manchester and Blackpool, which will be among those that will share £35.4 million, which I am announcing today, over the next 12 weeks to keep those essential services running.

The Government’s 2019 road safety statement once again recognised the evidence that

“restrictions on new novice drivers’ post-test driving, have proved very effective at improving the safety of young drivers.”

The Government promised to commission research to explore the social and economic consequences of introducing a graduated driving licence. Baroness Vere told the Transport Committee that the Government have abandoned work. What does that say about the commitment of the Government to tackling the tragic and avoidable road crashes that claimed the lives of 99 young drivers in 2018?

The hon. Lady, who is the former Chair of the Transport Committee, is absolutely right about the number of incidents that take place among young drivers. Let me just declare an interest: I have children who have both started to learn to drive and are about to start to drive. There is a decision for society to make as to whether it wishes to restrict the ability of young people to be able to drive their cars after, for example, 10 o’clock at night to drive back from a library or to be able to work, because graduated driving licences would restrict those rights—I see the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) asking about this. She is right to say that we have looked very carefully at this issue and come to the conclusion that there are other ways, through things such as black boxes in cars, that will provide safety without restricting freedom.

We hope, Mr Speaker. The M6 is a vital artery for the people of South Ribble and, throughout the pandemic, I know that my right hon. Friend has been working with the arm’s length bodies, such as Highways England, to keep it open, to keep food on our table and to keep business goods going around. Will he give us a bit of an update on the work that he has done during the pandemic to keep these vital arteries flowing? (907989)

It is incredibly important that those arteries continue to flow, and we have made sure that they do by working with people at Highways England and other bodies to put work in while the networks are being slightly less used.

Transport operators have been devastated by covid, and it will take some time for them to recover to strength. The Government have stepped in to underwrite all the revenue risk of rail franchise operators, despite shareholder dividends being in the region of £1.7 billion since 2011. There was a sense that we needed to keep rail going, and that that was the right intervention, but the Government have gone further, paying out operators’ profits on top of that, with even more to come. Yet here in the nation’s capital, our essential transport workers, who are working hard to keep the city going, are routinely deployed to attack the Mayor of London. Why are the Government content to underwrite all revenue risk and bail out foreign Government shareholders, but not back the people of this country?

I am slightly confused by that question, because there has not been a single bigger bail-out of any organisation—that I can think of—than the £1.6 billion has already gone to Transport for London, with another £1 billion coming along.

Whether it is Sadiq Khan in London or Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, the Government are systematically drawing political fire at those who dare to speak out. Let us be very clear: it was the Prime Minister, when he left City Hall, who handed back the subsidy and left a £1.1 billion deficit, and it was Sadiq Khan who reduced it by 71%. Will the Government right this wrong and match the intervention for rail franchises across all operations, including TfL, or have they gone from the poll tax to the polling day tax, where they deliberately seek out anybody who dares to vote for a Labour Mayor?

That is one of those pre-written questions that does not adjust to the answer. I just explained that more money has gone to the single organisation that the Mayor of London runs than any other organisation that I can think of—certainly in transport.

France has more than 80 domestic aviation routes backed by public service obligations that connect the regions of that country. By contrast, the UK has only four, and they just connect to London. What consideration has the Minister given to backing more domestic routes with PSOs to help connect the regions of our country? (907990)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that other countries certainly have more PSOs. Actually, the European Commission’s website suggests that France’s has 37 PSOs—but none the less, significantly more than this country. We are looking at all this through the regional airport review, and I know that the PSO route from Newquay has been extremely important.

In normal times, millions of people from outside London use our transport system here in London, so in order to help keep TfL afloat, does the Secretary of State think it is fair to slap a transport tax on pensioners in Whitton and Hampton in my constituency in order to subsidise commuters from Welwyn and Hatfield in his constituency? (907985)

First of all, the negotiations are still ongoing, so we need to await their outcome. Secondly, there is nowhere else in the country that gets more concessions than London; constituents in my part of the world and the constituencies of other Members in this House will not be enjoying the same concessions that are available to London. But, as I say, we will need to await the outcome of these discussions.

The Government are committed to creating a high-quality route along the A303—this is the second time it has been mentioned this morning—and the A358 from the A3 to the M5. This will be the south-west strategic route. I very much thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to this route, but consequently the Government have no plans to dual the alternative A303/A30 route between Ilminster and Honiton.

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether, as part of his Government’s power grab from the devolved nations, plans are being developed to construct a 28-mile long tunnel and bridge adjacent to the UK’s largest offshore arms dump, with over 1 million tonnes of munitions dumped at the bottom of the sea? Does he accept that such a power grab will end up blowing up in his and his Government’s face? (907987)

The hon. Gentleman may know that we recently launched the Union connectivity review, led by Sir Peter Hendy; we look forward to hearing what he says. The hon. Gentleman may also know that this Government at least are very keen to connect all four parts of the Union together as best as we possibly can, and will look at any good ideas to get that job done.

I have previously sent a letter highlighting the benefits of a freight terminal in Huncoat, which will support my businesses and attract new, and will really be a step towards levelling up Hyndburn and Haslingden. Will the Minister ensure that the Department considers this idea, and will she meet me to discuss it further? (907992)

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is a champion of levelling up for her area. I am aware of these proposals. As with other rail freight terminals, we expect the private sector to bring them forward, but we are working together closely on improving connectivity in Hyndburn.

T10. Under the cover of covid, the Department has been pushing councils to bypass normal procedures in order to rush in anti-car road-blocking measures. Two fine examples are on the dual carriageway in Smethwick, Tollhouse Way, and in London on the route to the M40 at Park Lane. These are creating traffic jams, longer journey times, and increasing pollution. When is the Secretary of State going to get a grip on this situation and get our roads moving again? (907994)

The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight our focus on encouraging active travel through a huge investment in cycling and walking that has been welcomed by communities up and down the country. However, we are aware of some schemes, such as the ones he highlights, where better consultation with local communities and businesses would have resulted in better schemes. Local communities should be consulted fully before schemes are implemented.

For some time now, I have been pushing to get improvements to Eaglescliffe train station to improve disabled access, to get additional car parking and access from Durham Lane, and to hook it up with our incredible business park. Thanks to the Chancellor, the combined authority and Network Rail, we have the money and we are ready to roll, but patience is not a virtue that I possess. When can we get the shovels in the ground and get the thing going? (907993)

My hon. Friend has taken me to that station, and I am very keen to see matters progress. I am afraid that we will have to try his patience for just a little bit longer as these things work through the latest round of the Access for All projects.

Will the Secretary of State confirm, because it is an important matter of fact that he has so far not acknowledged this morning, that before coronavirus, Transport for London’s debts had been reduced by 71% from the level the Mayor inherited from the Prime Minister, his predecessor? Will he also confirm that the Government’s instruction to people in March to stay at home and not to use public transport resulted in a collapse of more than 90% of Transport for London’s revenue? Will he stop playing politics with London’s transport system and work with the Mayor of London to keep it going? (907998)

When it comes to playing politics with these issues, I think we can hear where it is all coming from. The simple fact is that we have already funded £1.6 billion, and we are talking to the Mayor about another large injection of money. I will do this, politics aside, to make sure that we get the best deal for Londoners.

HS2 Ltd likes to talk about being a good neighbour, but countless daily examples in my constituency, such as its heavy-handed possession of the Calvert Jubilee nature reserve or unannounced HGV movements through the village of Quainton, demonstrate that it is anything but a good neighbour. While I thank the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), for his responsiveness to me on these matters, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that HS2 Ltd keeps to its commitments and that it faces real consequences if it does not? (907995)

The residents of my hon. Friend’s constituency are lucky to have such a dedicated champion. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has recently requested a review of the land and property acquisition process to ensure that people along the route are supported, fairly compensated, and treated with compassion, dignity and respect.

As the Minister knows, I am very keen on increasing the number of electric vehicles in my constituency. Will she agree to meet me and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles to consider the possibility of allowing the rapid charging fund to be utilised in towns such as Hitchin in my constituency as well as on the strategic road network? (907997)

The Government are providing £500 million through the rapid charging fund over the next five years to support the roll-out of the infrastructure for electric vehicles. It would be a huge pleasure to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

My constituents in the more rural parts of Coventry North West often have to contend with bus services that are late and routes that are routinely missed out, made worse by the fact that they have to contend with being unable to board buses due to a lack of capacity. I am proud of the fact that the bus drivers are doing all that they can to ensure that social distancing measures are in place. However, will the Government commit to increasing bus services so that my constituents who use them, many of whom are essential workers, can safely get from one place to another without worrying about being late or being unable to enter the bus? (908003)

The Government have increased funding to subsidised bus services in the hon. Lady’s constituency throughout the pandemic, but more than that, we are publishing a national bus strategy to address all these issues. We want to see bus services improved across the country.

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 suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.