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UK Transport Connections

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

The Secretary of State and I have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues regarding transport connections, which are particularly important for Northern Ireland, given its unique geography. The recently announced independent Union connectivity review will consider how connectivity across the UK can support economic growth. Both the Secretary of State and I have met Sir Peter Hendy and look forward to hearing his recommendations in the summer.

Does the Minister agree that good transport links between all parts of the United Kingdom are vital, and it is therefore extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government are refusing to engage with the Union connectivity review, thereby depriving my constituents of good transport links in all parts of Scotland and better links with other parts of the United Kingdom?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Every part of the United Kingdom can benefit from investment in our shared infrastructure and connectivity. Unwillingness to engage with the review risks Scotland missing out, and I would certainly urge the Scottish Government to rethink. They should follow the example of the Minister for Infrastructure in the Northern Ireland Executive, who has been engaging constructively with the review.

My father left Northern Ireland in the 1950s and settled in Wolverhampton, which has a large Northern Irish community. It is the same for many communities across Great Britain, including in Scotland. Does the Minister agree that excellent transport links to Northern Ireland are absolutely crucial, and will he make that clear to Sir Peter Hendy as part of the Union connectivity review?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I recognise, having many Irish and Northern Irish constituents myself, that it is vital that there are excellent transport links across the Irish Sea for trade, for tourism, for the Union and to bring families together. The review will make recommendations on how best to improve connectivity across the UK, including across the Irish Sea, and in the long term certainly we will be making that case to the review.

The main threat to our connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom over the winter is the unprofitability of airlines due to the covid restrictions. In the medium term, new routes need to be opened to business centres in Europe. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will discuss with the Treasury, first, the reduction or suspension of air passenger duty for a limited period of time and, secondly, what help can be given to opening new routes between Northern Ireland and business centres in Europe?

The Secretary of State and I work closely with colleagues across Government and in the Executive to support the Northern Ireland economy and make the case on air connectivity. There have been discussions with the Department for Transport and, indeed, the Treasury on those matters. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Treasury is reviewing the air passenger duty issue.