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Topical Questions

Volume 682: debated on Thursday 22 October 2020

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.