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Topical Questions

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

Following up on the conversations earlier, I am delighted to inform the House that in the next few weeks we expect a milestone in the number of rapid chargers being available, with 3,000 different locations and 25,000 public charging points. That means more charging point locations than petrol stations in this country. As mentioned, that is on top of £2.8 billion of Government support for the transition to zero emissions, with companies such as Gridserve, BP Pulse and Shell committing to significant investment in charging infrastructure and working together to back up the fact that in this country we now have more rapid chargers per 100 miles of major road network than any other location in Europe.

Last week, Oxfordshire County Council, the Vale of White Horse District Council and I applied to the levelling-up fund for the snappily titled B4044 strategic cycle link between Botley and Eynsham. This project would significantly boost sustainable travel between Oxford city centre and the new housing planned around Eynsham, linking through more deprived communities. Does the Minister agree that this is exactly the kind of active travel initiative that we need more of in areas of high housing and economic growth, especially given our desire to achieve a zero-carbon Oxfordshire by 2050?

I have not seen that particular application yet, but we do know that the Government have put in a record amount of more than £2 billion of active travel funding for walking and cycling. I know that the hon. Lady will be delighted that Oxfordshire investment has now reached £355 million in different transport environments, and that is on top of the £760 million for East West Rail, so when it comes to investing in her constituency in Oxfordshire, this Conservative Government are really going for it.

Is the Secretary of State hearing, as I am, that our airports and Border Force are getting people through arrivals more quickly and therefore more safely? Is he confident that we will be in a position to get more people who have been double-jabbed through arrivals with digitisation and the NHS app delivering proof of a double jab?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last few weeks have seen a remarkable digital transformation in the background, which means that people coming in from green-list countries have been going to e-gates that have been updated, both physically and with software, or going to see a Border Force officer and having their passports scanned in one way or the other. That has been automatically linked back to the passenger locator form that they filled out before they left their country of departure, which tells Border Force whether they have had a pre-departure test and whether they have future tests booked. This links the whole machinery together, so yes, the automation is really starting to get into place now.

Yesterday, hundreds of workers in the aviation and tourism industry held a demonstration outside Parliament urging the Government to protect their jobs and those of 1.5 million people employed in aviation and the wider supply chain. On behalf of the countless staff and trade unions I spoke to, will the Secretary of State finally deliver on the sectoral deal that his Government promised but have so far failed to deliver? When he makes an announcement later on the traffic light system, which, it should be noted, is not being made to this House, will he publish the criteria, the country-by-country assessment and the direction of travel for each country, to give travellers confidence to plan for this summer?

I find the hon. Gentleman’s policy confusing, only because, as I understand it, he has previously called for all countries to be put into the red category, meaning that there would be no travel at all. In addition, the former shadow Chancellor has said that Labour would never provide financial support to these companies, yet Labour is now saying that it wants more support to be provided and the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not want to follow his own policy. Having a red, amber and green list enables people to see which countries are in which category, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is publishing the data on the website to show why particular countries are in each category.

I can give you an assurance, Mr Speaker, that I have tried my hardest to get the Transport Secretary to fully understand our sectoral deal and the way we have laid it out, but I cannot help the confusion that continues to reign with this Transport Secretary.

Let us now move closer to home. We have had two questions today on the DVLA in Swansea, and the Transport Secretary did not give a convincing answer to either. It was reported last week that a deal had been reached with staff, trade unions and the Government to finally resolve the industrial dispute over health and safety failings at the DVLA in Swansea, but that it was pulled at the last minute by a Minister. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he or senior members of the Department pulled the deal, and, if so, why? He and his Department are now squarely against the loyal workforce at DVLA Swansea. What will he now do to restore trust and confidence in those fantastic workers?

The Public and Commercial Services Union continues to take industrial action, which is targeting the services and having a negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society. The fact of the matter is that the safety concerns have been signed off by Public Health Wales, the Health and Safety Executive, the Welsh Government and the UK Government, yet this strike continues and now is apparently not about healthcare, but about demands over money instead. Will the hon. Gentleman actually ask people to go back to their work in order to help vulnerable people in this country? That is the question and this House needs to know.

Next question, Andrew Griffith. He is not here, so let us go to Scottish National party spokesperson, Gavin Newlands.

I have lost count of the number of times I have asked this Government about their long-abandoned commitment to specific support for the aviation sector. Despite the Secretary of State’s tinkering with the traffic light system, it looks increasingly unlikely that there will be any summer season. It is clear to the dogs on the street that an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package and a targeted extension of furlough is now an imperative, so how does he plan to better support the sector and its workers, such as those who were at the travel day of action protest yesterday on College Green, as has been mentioned?

The Department does recognise the severe impact that the covid-19 pandemic has had on regional air travel. We have supported critical routes through policies such as public service obligations and the airport and ground operations support scheme. The Government are working on a strategic framework for the sector, which will focus on building back better and ensuring a successful aviation sector for the future. What the sector will certainly be glad of is that it is this Government who are looking after its interests, not the Scottish Government, who have been accused of sacrificing the industry by the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association.

I welcome the new flexible season ticket that was introduced this week. It will save someone travelling from Stanford-le-Hope into London three days a week more than £120, and someone travelling from Basildon more than £100. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as more and more people move to hybrid working, it is important that we have flexibility in our public transport systems? (901698)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw some coverage of the flexible season tickets, and it is true to say that ticketing is complex across the network, but, compared with somebody who would otherwise buy a regular ticket, somebody travelling two or three days a week will always be at least 20% better off with a flexible season ticket.[Official Report, 29 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 6MC.]

A constituent of mine who was blind tragically died last year when he fell in front of a train owing to a lack of safety measures, a lack of audio announcements and a lack of tactile paving on the platform. I know that the Government have plans for tactile paving, although they are unclear at the moment, but while we are waiting for this to happen, will the Minister commit to introducing audio announcements, which provide safety information at railway stations, as a matter of urgency to keep people safe and to prevent another person from losing their life? (901696)

I am familiar with that absolutely tragic case. Indeed, I know that my hon. Friend the Rail Minister met the partner of the deceased last week and discussed all of these matters, including the integration of audible announcements, which we consider to be very important indeed. We are speeding up the introduction of tactile pavements on railway stations and, in particular, close to the rail tracks.

Improving our air quality is a major priority for my constituents. Both they and I remain very concerned about the ongoing number of drivers who continue to idle their vehicles when parked at the kerbside. A single minute of idling an engine of a car creates 9 litres of CO2. Unfortunately, regulation 98 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 does not adequately equip local authorities with the power they need to deter repeat engine idlers, only with an £80 fine. With that in mind, does my hon. Friend agree that we should now be considering increasing fines for drivers who continue to idle their engines, making it a genuine effective deterrent? (901699)

I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner on this issue and I completely agree that it is vital that we take action. Ultimately, it will be better technology, such as stop-start and zero-emission vehicles that will solve the issue. The UK is a global leader in the development and the manufacture of electric vehicles and we will continue to work to foster that position.

Experts have warned that the carbon impact of the Government’s £27 billion roadbuilding programme could be around 100 times greater than the official Government estimates. Why will the Government not reassure us by committing to a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the plans? (901709)

In the same session, we have managed to hear the hon. Gentleman be, first, anti-air, and now anti-road. I have just explained to the House how we will ensure that this country stays well connected, that we serve the people we represent, and that we foster technology, because it will be technology that will give us the answer to the zero-carbon emissions challenge.

Ending financial support before demand has returned could leave bus and light rail operators facing a cliff edge. What plans do the Government have to ensure a smooth recovery for operators, such as Blackpool Transport, so that they can expand their timetables on routes such as the 2C, which runs through to Knott End-on-Sea via many other villages? (901710)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that bus transport has required a huge amount of support. We have put in hundreds of millions during this pandemic. We have also launched the Bus Back Better strategy, which puts a lot of money into buses—some £3 billion. In the meantime, I will ensure that we return to this House to talk about further ways that we can support our bus sector and ensure that those essential local links that she describes are maintained.

The Calder Valley line is a major strategic passenger and freight line, which was placed as the top priority in the 2015 Northern Sparks report, which highlights that the Calder Valley line is long overdue in playing its part in decarbonising the local transport network. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on when we may expect the publication of the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan? (901701)

Yes, the transport decarbonisation plan is central to our lead-in to COP26 and it is absolutely essential that we get this right and that it is ambitious enough to match the scale of the problem that we face. My hon. Friend will not have to wait long, and I think he will be impressed by the ambition.

I was recently contacted by the McKenna family in my constituency in regard to the availability of driving tests. Ross had to travel to Blackpool to sit his theory test, and is unable to sit his practical test in a timely manner because there is a backlog of tests. This issue is impacting many of my constituents, so will the Department speak to the relevant agencies to obtain additional funding in order to make available more localised testing? (901711)

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the House and to her first question at Transport questions. Secondly, may I say that in my household I have two teenagers who literally ask me the same questions every day of the week. There is a very large backlog—about 440,000—due to the pandemic. The agency has a recovery plan to increase the number of tests carried out every day. I will personally be seeing that it keeps on track with that recovery plan because, as she says, young people need to be able to take their tests and pass

Lorry drivers such as my constituent Stewart have kept the country going through the pandemic, but they face the threat of robbery and assault on a regular basis. He tells me that there are not enough facilities where drivers can take their legally required breaks, forcing many to park in lay-bys, and that even the facilities that exist can be inadequate and insecure. Will the Minister look at that issue and work with the industry to increase the number of secure truck stops for these drivers, who are a critical part of our economy? (901702)

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to hauliers such as Stewart, who have literally kept the country moving over the past 18 months. My Department will continue the work started last year to engage with stakeholders, including the freight associations, to encourage the development of more safe, secure and high-quality lorry parking.

Improving our railway stations and improving connectivity across east Lancashire is key to levelling up and making sure that we spread opportunity, but we still have accessibility issues at some of our stations, such as Oswaldtwistle. Can the Minister outline whether there will be further support to improve accessibility across areas such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden? (901703)

All the funding currently available to Access for All has been allocated to projects, including nearby Accrington station, with works due to be completed by 2024 at the latest. When further funding is available, any station without an accessible route into the station and to all platforms will be a potential candidate.

Ministers are aware that E10 fuel, due to be introduced from September 2021, is not compatible with all motor vehicles, and that older vehicles in particular can suffer serious damage if they use it. What extra measures do the Government intend to take, therefore, to ensure that motorists are fully aware of these dangers, so that they do not in error fill their vehicles with the wrong fuel? Can the Minister also assure me that the information on the website on whether a vehicle can run on E10 fuel or not is completely up to date, comprehensive and correct?

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that that website is already up to date and will be accurate. It is the case that some older vehicles and historic vehicles—the type of cars which I know he is very keen on—cannot run on E10 fuel. It will be clearly marked, and he will be pleased to hear that E5 will continue to be available, so that historic cars can continue to travel on our roads.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.