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Topical Questions

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 9 September 2021

Today is World EV Day, celebrating electric vehicle ownership worldwide and right here in the UK—one of the best places to drive an electric vehicle. Our extensive network of 25,000 publicly available charge points means that we have more rapid chargers for every 100 miles of key strategic road than any other country in Europe. We have made real progress, with more than half a million electric vehicles on our road. I am pleased to say that just last month, through grants and tax incentives, one in six cars sold in this country had a plug on the end of it.

I have been working closely with local councillor Sheila Lennox-Boyd to get improvements to the A38, including the roundabout at Carkeel, which is a National Highways responsibility, and the bridge, which is run by local councils. Will the Secretary of State meet us to discuss this key route into Cornwall?

I commend my hon. Friend for her very determined efforts in campaigning for road improvements, not just there but elsewhere in her constituency. I know that the roads Minister will be very happy to meet her to discuss the matter further.

Back in July, speaking about the Prime Minister’s pledge to buy 4,000 UK zero-emissions buses by 2025, the Secretary of State said that

“there are 900 buses in production right now”—[Official Report, 14 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 408.]

Allegedly, this is the Government’s flagship policy, yet the roll-out of these buses seems to be little more than rhetoric, given that every British manufacturer of buses I have spoken to says that they have no knowledge whatever of any orders. Will the Secretary of State now tell the House exactly where those buses are being made right now, as opposed to being potential on a DFT internal spreadsheet or more greenwashed PR spin from this Government?

I will tell you what I will do, Mr Speaker: not only will I write to the hon. Gentleman, but I will publish a copy of the letter in the House, for the House’s greater benefit. He will be interested to see that those buses are not just ordered or in production; some are actually on the road.

T2. The restoration of the through rail service from Lowestoft to Liverpool Street is vital to levelling up and improving accessibility to the Waveney area. While it is a requirement of Greater Anglia’s current franchise, it has not yet been delivered. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that it is a priority for Great British Railways. (903296)

The current timetable structure and track capacity on the Great Eastern line south of Ipswich have not allowed any new direct services to be implemented to Liverpool Street at this time. I am aware of the problem; my officials have asked Greater Anglia to continue to see whether there might be opportunities to introduce direct services between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft, as I very much recognise the importance of the direct service.

T3. Coventry City Council is leading the development of a groundbreaking very light rail system that will offer small and medium-sized cities like Coventry an affordable tram system. Will the Minister pledge support for the securing of funds for the prototype route in Coventry and ongoing development of the concept to enable full autonomous operation, and will he commit himself to a review of the legislation governing the installation and operation of very light rail to enable a rapid roll-out of systems across the country? (903297)

As the hon. Lady knows, I am very fond of her city, which is very near my own. I do not know much about this particular project, so I am very willing to meet her to go through it and see how we can take things forward.

My hon. Friend will know that there is a bid in at the moment for the shovel-ready scheme to convert the freight-only railway line from Lichfield to Burton into a regular passenger service. It is backed, in a personal capacity, by his fellow Minister, the roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths), and—most important of all!—by the West Midlands Mayor, because of the connectivity. It will be driven, incidentally, by a hydrogen-powered locomotive if it is given the go-ahead. Will my hon. Friend come up to Lichfield to see for himself how vital this rail service will be?

In his normal shy and retiring way, my hon. Friend has given me an invitation that I simply cannot refuse. As he knows, we have received a bid for the restoration of passenger services between Lichfield and other places in round 3 of the restoring your railway ideas fund, and I look forward very much to my forthcoming visit.

T4. The Williams review proposed the consolidation of funding streams for accessibility improvements at railway stations under Great British Railways, an issue that has been raised with me by local groups including East Renfrewshire Disability Action and Clarkston Community Council, but to date there has been no detail on this or on how the current arrangements, whereby Transport Scotland bids for improvement cash from the Department for Transport, will be improved under GBR. Will the Minister commit himself to providing details of this funding, and help to make our stations accessible to everyone? (903298)

I thank the hon. Lady for her very good question. As I mentioned earlier, Great British Railways is in its formative stages, but I will happily work with her and the accessibility groups that she mentioned so that we can help to guide people through any new systems that come forward.

T8. My hon. Friend the estimable rail Minister—the antidote to Dr Beeching—is doing sterling work with the restoring your railway schemes. Perhaps he can provide an update on the bid to reconnect Rose Hill Marple, Romiley and Bredbury with Stockport. This is a cross-party effort with diverse support from me, from the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), and, indeed, from the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). (903303)

Antidotes and doctors! Following his question to one of my colleagues yesterday, I was not sure that my hon. Friend was all that keen on vaccines—or vaccine passports, at least.

I am obviously well aware of my hon. Friend’s bid for the Ashton-to-Stockport line, including the Rose Hill connection, which is in round 3 of the restoring your railway ideas fund. He has kindly given me a great deal of information about the bid, and I have met him and the other proponents of it. I promise him that we are assessing the bids, and expect to announce outcomes very shortly.

T5. I want to bring the Secretary of State to the Rhondda, if I may, and shove him down a tunnel. It is a tunnel that belongs to him, in fact: it is the tunnel between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi. It is a disused railway tunnel, and there is a great project to try to get it opened up again. It would be a massive tourism opportunity—it would bring lots of people to a very poor but very beautiful part of south Wales—and it would also be a real opportunity to enable more people to get to work on the other side of the mountain. Can I please have a meeting with the Secretary of State fairly soon to explain the whole project, and can I then persuade him to come and be dangled down into the hole in the Rhondda? (903299)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), says he has received an offer he cannot refuse. Also, I would be very happy to come and visit when the diary allows.

T6. I am still not happy with the answers given to my colleagues about the lack of HGV drivers. The problems facing Carntyne Transport in my constituency are absolutely due to Brexit and the shortage of EU nationals to work for the company. Telling it that we will have sorted all this out in x months or a couple of years’ time just won’t wash. Given that the Government were repeatedly warned what would happen if they pressed ahead with Brexit, and given that that has all come to pass, what guarantee can the Minister give that his Department will at least listen and put solutions in place before pressing ahead with damaging legislation? (903300)

I am all in favour of having a science-led emphasis on everything to do with policy, and the fact that they are 123,842 lorry drivers short in Poland suggests to me that this is not a Brexit-only issue. I have explained the measures that are not only going to happen next year or the year after but are happening now with 50% more tests, and this will happen very quickly with the consultation result that I have already discussed.

T9. There has been a major increase in reports of speeding hotspots in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale, leading to an escalation in reported accidents and near misses. However, the ability to address this issue with road safety measures such as speed cameras is hampered by the Department for Transport’s 2007 circular. Does the Minister agree that prevention is better than cure, and that a review of the current guidelines is urgently needed? (903304)

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I share his concern, and I know that he is a passionate advocate for safer roads in Dewsbury. I can tell him that the Department is currently working to redraft that circular, with a new version to be published by the end of the year.

Two of my constituents, a Danish national and a British citizen with Danish residence, were denied boarding a BA flight by the airline’s staff because they did not accept my constituent’s proof of Danish residence even though it was consistent with Danish travel advice. Despite a letter that I received from a Foreign Office Minister confirming that my constituents were right, BA has refused to issue a refund and is standing by its misinterpretation of the advice. Does the Minister agree that airlines need clearer guidance on international travel documentation post-Brexit, and will he raise the issue with the airlines, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary to ensure that this does not happen again?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this matter. It is difficult for me to comment on an individual case, but perhaps we could meet and if he could give me further details I would be very happy to take this up.

This week the Transport Committee has launched yet another inquiry on international travel, and we will shortly be hearing from the chief executives of leading airlines and airports as to why they are doing less than 20% of the business they were doing in usual times while mainland Europe is now up to about 70%. They will be concerned that furlough is coming to an end, and they will want to know whether the barriers to travel will be reduced to make up the shortfall. I know the Secretary of State has done a lot already, but can he offer some optimism and encouragement on how the rules will change to allow the business to do more transactions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who does a terrific job chairing the Transport Committee. We do want to see the recovery, and I can inform him that I will shortly chair the second meeting of the G7 Transport Secretaries to discuss exactly his point. We will discuss how we can roll this out internationally using the principle of fully vaccinated travel and how we can try to reduce the costs and the imposition of the tests along the way. However, those decisions have yet to be made, both domestically and internationally, so I do not want to overly raise my hon. Friend’s hopes but I can reassure him that we are focusing on this.

The SMMT estimates that, in order to have the correct charge point coverage by 2030, 700 new charge points will need to be installed every single day. Can the Minister advise me on how many are currently being installed, and whether we are ever going to reach the target of 700 a day?

In our infrastructure strategy that is to be published shortly, we will set out clearly how we are going to meet the charge point targets that are required. I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that we are installing 500 charge points every month across the country, and that by 2023 we will have six rapid chargers in every motorway service station across the country.

Our very popular rail Minister is aware of the excellent work being done by the North Cotswold Line Task Force. Could he update colleagues and councils along the North Cotswold line on his conversations with the Treasury about doing more business casework on redoubling a stretch of the North Cotswold line?

I had a recent meeting with the taskforce, and I am due to have meetings with Treasury colleagues at which I have said I will raise this issue. I believe I am waiting for a tiny piece of work from the taskforce, so I look forward to receiving that and trying to move the project forward with my hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State agree that as London returns to work and commuters begin to get back on the trains and into their cars, it is important that we encourage people, as much as possible, back on to public transport? In my constituency we expect the construction of some 1,500 flats over the next few years. Does he agree this is no time to be cutting South Western Railway services to North Sheen, Mortlake and Barnes?

As I said to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), South Western Railway is undertaking a consultation that will shape the future of services. It is important that that consultation is viewed as one that we will listen to, and we will listen to it. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) will have seen that recently, following consultation, we decided not to proceed with the east coast main line proposals because of stakeholder reaction, among other things, so it is vital that the consultation is replied to in great detail, and I hope she will do that.